David Finegold (pictured)
Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell
On March 3, nearly a year after President Esther Barazzone announced that she would be stepping down, Chatham students and staff alike gathered in the Chapel to meet her successor. A Harvard alumnus, Rhodes Scholar and holder of a PhD, David Finegold introduced himself as Chatham University’s 19th president. But who is the man behind the credentials and what is his vision for Chatham?
When David Finegold was an undergraduate, he considered becoming a journalist or judge, and never imagined becoming a university president. However, while working on his dissertation, learning about education policy inspired him. Over the past 30 years, from an assistant professor to a dean, Finegold has served in almost every academic position.
But what exactly does a university president do?
“It’s a job that has a lot of elements to it. I guess I think of it as being the main sort of cheerleader and support for all of the different groups, for our students, for our faculty and staff and working with our different stakeholders and try to pull everyone together to keep our university moving forward,” Finegold said.
Having been a candidate for presidential positions at a few other universities, the self-proclaimed New Yorker described his journey to Chatham as a “long and winding” one. He would even admit that, being a man, he doubted he’d even be considered at what was recently an historic women’s college. Reservations aside, President Finegold is confident in his ability to lead the mostly female campus.
“I think it’s nice that we’re in a place now where maybe gender doesn’t matter as much for who’s in the role as much as what they’re trying to do,” he said.
Although President Finegold isn’t the first male president of Chatham, he is the first man to hold the office since Ted Eddy in 1977. There have been 10 male presidents and nine female, and although Finegold hopes to do great work during his time as president, he says he sees more female presidents in Chatham’s future.
The 52-year-old admits that although having briefly visited Pittsburgh for a conference or two throughout the years, he wasn’t familiar with the city as a whole. However, since taking the reins in July, President Finegold reports that he and his wife Susan have enjoyed exploring the city. Despite still being new to the job, he has also enjoyed partaking in Chatham traditions. Finegold spoke fondly of being serenaded by students during orientation week with his wife and judging the Battle Of The Classes Song Contest.
Finegold’s appointment has been met with somewhat mixed reception from alumnae.
Some alumnae are impressed with his resume and are looking to seeing what Finegold has to offer, such as Terri Bodnar, Class of 2002. “I was very impressed by Dr. Finegold and his passion and commitment to the university. I’m glad I attended the alumni reception and I feel energized as an alum,” Bodnar said.
Speaking of Chatham’s future in the upcoming year, in part due to his work with American Honors, an organization committed to helping students transfer from community colleges to four-year universities, he’s committed to keeping Chatham University as accessible as possible to Gateway and transfer students . Priorities for the year include expanding the East Side campus, transforming Dilworth into a new dormitory for incoming students, and successfully completing the accreditation review with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education in 2017.
Other alumnae feel that they were excluded from the presidential selection process and are not quite sold on Finegold.
“I don’t have much opinion of Dr. Finegold personally. He may be a great guy and a great president; I don’t know, and I’ve not been convinced of that, either passively or actively, by Chatham,” said Kelly Mcknown, another 2002 graduate. “At a time when transparency and sensitivity toward the history and cultural significance Chatham lost by going co-ed was important, Chatham, in my opinion, was further damaged by the relatively ‘safe’ pick of a middle aged white man.”
Finegold has, however, made a good impression with the Chatham Student Government.
“My impressions so far are that he’s very receptive to student input and he’s overall really nice. His presence on campus at events is really amazing and a lot of students respect him and feel respected by him, which is important,” said CSG President Terri Bradford.
Regarding student concerns about Chatham’s climate and sexual violence, President Finegold encourages students feeling unsafe or concerned about the manner in which cases have been handled to approach him or Student Affairs.
He goes on to cite the Clery Report, which was emailed to all students and faculty on October 4, of proof that Chatham has “one of the safest campuses in the country.”
With cases of sexual assault on campus in the news so often recently, he understands that sexual assault is on the minds of students.
“I am aware of the cases that people are referring to when they think about the sexual assault and what I would say there is first because of Title XI,” he explained. “Because of privacy regulations we have to be very careful in terms of how we handle these to protect both students if it involves two of them. We have to look into it to the full extent and ensure that it’s handled in a fair way and I think that the university has done that.”
When asked what he wanted the Chatham community to know about him, he said that he and his wife were both approachable and open to suggestions.
“If they have ideas, if they have things they’d like to see improved or some idea they’d like to try,” he said. “They should come talk to us because that’s why we’re here.”