UB Dean Pitman and faculty reflect on his tenure, look to future

Dean stepping down comes as humanities lose enrollment


While some department chairs think of E. Bruce Pitman as an “innovative leader,” they also acknowledge the difficult situation he was placed in during his five years as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

“He inherited CAS at a time when interest in STEM was accelerating,” said Michael Detty, chair of the chemistry department. “If you look at the enrollment in chemistry, physics and biology, they’re skyrocketing. But if you look at the enrollment in romance literature and more traditional arts, those enrollments were declining.

“I think what drove [Pitman] to step down was the financial tension as to how we manage this,” Detty said.

Pitman announced he will step down as dean at the end of the academic year, ending a five-year tenure that saw him recruit 120 faculty members and help develop the college’s first strategic plan, CAS@20, but also included a major decrease in enrollment for the college’s departments like English, arts, history and foreign language. 

Pitman was appointed to a five-year term that ends this June. He said he is not “resigning,” but is choosing to step down when his term is completed to return to a full-time faculty role.

“You work as hard as you can, get as much done as you can to help the institution,” Pitman said in an email. “Then at some point you need to say I’ve done my part and it is time for someone else to carry things to the next stage.”

Detty said Pitman had to manage “accelerated growth” in the STEM areas, which are expensive, and manage a decline in the arts, which are less expensive but have low student enrollment. From 2004 to 2014, the arts, foreign languages, history and English enrollment decreased 46, 47, 61and 63 percent, respectively.

Detty said all Pitman could do was manage growth on one side and maintain stability on the other.

Pitman was involved in the creation of several programs and initiatives, such as the Department of Materials Design and Innovation and the Computational and Data-Enabled Science and Engineering program and UB RENEW and the Communities of Excellence.

“Throughout the 16 years I have been in administrative appointments, I have kept an active research program,” Pitman said. “I owe a lot to collaborators who put up with my not always being able to get things done on the timeline we set.”

But Pitman’s tenure also included UB’s controversial Shale Resource and Society Institute that the university ultimately shutdown in 2012 for what President Satish Tripathi called a “cloud of uncertainty.” Many questioned the institute’s positive findings about fracking and whether or not it received industry funding.

At the time, Pitman defended the institute and denied that it received funding from the oil industry. In email responses, Pitman did not acknowledge The Spectrum’s question about his current opinion on the institute looking back.

Detty said Pitman “explored both sides” of the fracking incident.

“It took guts to do that because it was controversial,” Detty said. “It was an innovated approach to addressing the societal need.”

Pitman’s decision to step down comes as UB is preparing to implement new general education requirements for next fall, but Pitman and other chairmen are still expecting a successful launch.

“The college is, of course, deeply involved with the UB curriculum process,” Pitman said. “The faculty in the CAS departments have worked hard to organize courses and put in place all that is being asked of the college and that good work will continue.”

CAS has 108 undergraduate seminars that have been approved, according to Detty. Pitman has meetings scheduled with chairs to go over what each department will contribute to the new general education requirements.

Hong Luo, chair of the physics department, said Pitman “strengthened the identity” of the college and his “leadership in this area will be missed, but the process is already in motion and the system remains intact.”

Pitman stepping down also continues a trend of UB deans resigning and stepping down.

There have at least been five other deans to resign in the past year and a half, including former Law School Dean Makau Mutua, who resigned in September 2014 amid allegations of lying under oath, and former School of Management Dean Arjang Assad, who resigned this summer to become the University of Pittsburgh’s business school dean.

Pitman had no comment on other deans’ resignations.

“As I say, my own reasons have to do with my having dedicated my efforts to UB in an administrative capacity over the past decade and a half,” he said.

Once Pitman steps down, he said he looks forward to putting in more time and energy into research projects. In particular, he is focusing on “issues of uncertainty in numerical simulation and data analysis, part of a joint effort with colleagues in engineering, geology and colleagues at Duke University in statistics.”

Pitman received his Ph.D from Duke.

“Change is always hard, but I’m sure [Pitman] will have more time to enjoy his new role and the college will continue to improve with quite a bit of momentum already in place,” Luo said.

Detty said Pitman will be great going back to a faculty member, but he and the College “miss him as a dean.”

Provost Charles Zukoski will begin a search for the College’s next dean in early 2016. Regardless of who replaces him, Pitman has something to say to his successor.

“I would tell my successor that there are fabulous people working in the deans’ office and in the departments – talented, capable, dedicated folks who are also nice people,” he said.

Gabriela Julia is the senior news editor and can be reached at gabriela.julia@ubspectrum.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GabrielaaJulia.