University Honors College at Pitt Appoints New Dean

Janine Faust | Staff Writer, Pitt

June 7, 2017

(Photo courtesy of Pitt)

Pitt announced researcher and medical doctor Brian A. Primack as the new dean of the University Honors College Monday.

Primack will succeed Edward Stricker as the third Bernice L. and Morton S. Lerner Chair and dean of the UHC, beginning July 1. Primack’s primary responsibilities as dean will be overseeing the financial and administrative operations of the UHC, which is currently in its 31st year.

Pitt provost and senior vice chancellor Patricia E. Beeson said in a press release that she believes Primack will be able to ensure the Honors College persists in being the intellectual core of the Pitt community.

“Under Dr. Primack’s leadership, I am confident that the University Honors College will continue to serve as the center of gravity for our most academically engaged and curious undergraduate students and as a hub of intellectual activity for our entire university community,” Beeson said. “His broad and inclusive vision is well-matched to our aspirations for the UHC and the University.”

Stricker, who has served as dean since 2011, will be returning to a teaching position in the Department of Neuroscience this fall as he first declared when he announced in June 2016 that he was planning to step down.

Students active in the UHC complained in 2012 that he had shifted UHC policies away from the emphasis that the first dean and founder of Pitt’s UHC, G. Alec Stewart, placed on intellectual curiosity. Students wrote a letter to Stricker expressing their concerns.

“For us, the promise of an institution that promotes intellectual curiosity as its core value is what made the choice to come to Pitt so easy,” the letter said. “Nonetheless, we are deeply concerned that the value of intellectual curiosity is being de-emphasized at the service of achievement-oriented principles.”

Stricker responded to complaints by claiming that the Honors College was not solely a vehicle for pure intellectual curiosity.

“[Intellectual curiosity] is incidental but true,” he told The Pitt News in November 2012. “I wouldn’t say it’s the only thing [the UHC] does or the most important.”

According to the position profile for the University Honors College dean, Primack’s other duties will include collaborating with the UHC community to develop and implement new plans, recruiting faculty from across the University to engage with students, and promoting the UHC to current and prospective students and families. The dean is also expected to teach at least one honors course each year.

Primack is a Pitt alumnus, having earned a Master of Science in clinical science in 2008 and a Ph.D. in translational science in 2011. Primack also practiced medicine at various medical centers including UPMC hospitals and the student health services centers at both Pitt and Carnegie Mellon.

During his time at the University, Primack has founded Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health in 2012 and earned numerous awards for his work. He is currently a professor of medicine, pediatrics and clinical and translational science and the Leo H. Criep Endowed Chair in Patient Care in Pitt’s School of Medicine. He is also an assistant vice chancellor for research on health and society in the School of Health Sciences.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher praised Primack’s appointment in a press release Monday, stating that his diverse academic and professional experiences and dedication made him the right pick for the job.

“As dean, Brian’s multidisciplinary dexterity — coupled with his commitment to collaborating and leading — will ensure that our Honors College continues to serve as a defining force in our University’s mission to leverage new knowledge for society’s gain,” Gallagher said.

Pitt Honors College Offers Maximum Flexibility and High Quality

Although the University Honors College (UHC) at the University of Pittsburgh has many things in common with other honors colleges and programs at other leading public universities, the UHC opens itself to all students at Pitt “who choose to challenge themselves beyond the normal academic requirements” at the university.

The Cathedral of Learning at Pitt is the largest university building in the western hemisphere.

The Cathedral of Learning at Pitt is the largest university building in the western hemisphere.

Here’s what the UHC at Pitt has in common with other honors colleges:

“Like the honors colleges at many other universities with a similar mission, the UHC offers honors courses (approximately 80-100 per year) and operates honors residence halls (housing around 700 students per year in three facilities),”according to honors staff.

But it is the flexibility of the UHC approach that sets it off from most honors colleges and programs, although some others, most notably the Echols Scholars Program at UVA and the Michigan State Honors College offer a lot of flexibility as well.

Unlike most programs, the special opportunities offered through the UHC “are open to all academically talented and committed undergraduate students who choose to pursue them,” the college reports.

“Second, students design their honors experience and can take honors courses or not as they wish.”

In addition,the UHC offers a range of specialized advising, several distinctive research programs, and even offers a unique interdisciplinary major (“Politics and Philosophy”) and a degree bestowed by the UHC itself: a Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) degree.

Here are some of the outstanding accomplishments of Pitt UHC students:

• 369 prestigious national and international awards won by students mentored through the UHC’s national scholarship office since 2008.
• 241 BPhil degrees earned by students since 2008.
• 639 Brackenridge Research Fellowships completed by students since 2001.
• 73% of the 202 students mentored by UHC pre-health advisors in 2013 accepted and matriculated into the professional program of their choice (vs. the national benchmark average of 42%)

“The five foundational programs of the UHC – honors courses, honors advising, honors research programs, the BPhil degree, and honors housing – offer a mix of opportunities for undergraduate students to obtain an enriched education,” the UHC tells us.

“These excellent programs are supported by a committed UHC staff of 16 who work effectively and collegially, and by the UHC Faculty Fellows (currently 45 Pitt faculty who are most active in honors programming) and UHC Student Ambassadors (currently 48 Pitt undergraduate students) who volunteer their assistance.”

Pitt began an Honors Program in 1978 and formally converted this program to the University Honors College in 1987. The open access, non-membership policy was initiated by Dr. G. Alec Stewart, the Program Director, who later became the first Dean of the UHC, a position he held until he passed away in 2010. Dr. Edward M. Stricker was appointed the second Dean of the UHC in 2011. Dr. Peter Koehler joined the UHC in 2012 as Academic Assistant to the Dean, and Dr. Gordon Mitchell was named UHC Assistant Dean in 2014.

The UHC, along with other highly flexible programs at UVA, Michigan State, Cincinnati, and UCLA will be reviewed more extensively in our 2016 Review of Sixty Public University Honors Programs.