Even months before moving here, David Finegold said he already feels indebted to the city.
“I owe my last name to Pittsburgh,” said Finegold, Chatham University’s newly named president.
In the early 1900s, Finegold’s ancestors emigrated from Eastern Russia. Then named Snaider, the family arrived at Ellis Island. Shortly thereafter, the Snaiders adopted their sponsors’ surname — Finegold. “Those people were in Pittsburgh, right at the turn of the century,” said Finegold of his family’s sponsors.
Although Finegold has never called Pittsburgh home, when his tenure begins on July 1, in some sense he is returning to his roots. Conscious of both history and the future, Finegold readily embraces the challenges ahead.
As the 19th president in Chatham’s 147-year history, Finegold will replace Esther Barazzone, who, after 24 years at Chatham’s helm, will retire June 30.
“She has more experience than almost any sitting college president in the United States and has done wonderful things at Chatham,” said Finegold. “She’s been extremely helpful and very gracious. I’m looking forward to spending more time with her to tap into that wealth of knowledge before I start.”
Finegold, who is relocating from New Jersey, said much excites him about Chatham. The university, he said, has “real history” and has grown under Barazzone’s leadership from a small undergraduate college to a much larger university.
Chatham’s staff and leadership are also sources of pride.
“I’ve spent most of my career trying to create new programs that build access to higher education, so being in a place where faculty and staff are committed to doing those things and doing them quickly is appealing to me,” he said.
Finegold comes to Chatham with nearly three decades of experience in higher education.
He serves as chief academic officer of American Honors, a two-year honors program offered at select community colleges designed to “affordably serve students of high motivation and ability.”
At American Honors, Finegold’s responsibilities include research, overseeing the curriculum and honors experience, developing international strategies and partnerships and building the four-year partnership network — a group of more than 75 public and private colleges and universities.
Prior to American Honors, Finegold’s employments included senior vice president for lifelong learning and strategic growth at Rutgers University; dean of the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations; founding professor of management and ethics at the Keck Graduate Institute; associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business; and research scientist at the RAND corporation.
Finegold graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1985. In 1992, he earned his doctorate in politics from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.
As Chatham’s president, Finegold has many objectives.
“The primary one is to build on the great momentum that has already been in place,” he said. “There’s been so much change — going coed (on the undergraduate level), shifting to create three new schools and focusing on sustainability at the Eden Hall campus. My plan is to get to know all of the faculty and staff, get to know Pittsburgh, to reach out and know the members of the Jewish community, our neighbors in Shadyside. Once I get a chance to listen to everyone and see what’s needed, then we’ll move forward.”
For starters, though, Finegold believes that further efforts can be made to increase diversity.
Chatham already has great international programs. However, more can be done locally, he said.
Reflecting on the partnerships that he has built abroad, Finegold said: “I think we can bring students from all over the world to add to the diversity of undergraduates and graduates coming to Chatham. That will help Chatham and Pittsburgh bring new talent to the city.”
And while progress appears immediate, Finegold is aware of his own place in Chatham’s evolution.
“With Chatham’s long history in being a leader and providing opportunities for women, appointing a male president may concern some alums,” he said. “I want to make sure they know I have always been committed to providing gender equity and opportunities to build women leaders.”
Finegold said that he has already met with different leaders from several of Chatham’s centers and believes that there are great opportunities to position Chatham as a leader on women’s issues.
“That will be a key priority as well as reaching out to our great alums and connecting them to our great opportunities at Chatham,” he said. “That will be a major focus for me in the first year.”
Challenges are certain, yet Finegold acknowledged one primary concern.
“My biggest concern is I’m anxious to get going,” he said. “It’s such an exciting opportunity that it’s hard to hold off.”
Joining Finegold in the move to Pittsburgh is his wife, Susan, a yoga instructor who graduated from St. Anne’s College, Oxford with an honors degree and later a master’s in English literature. The Finegolds have two children: Sam, who graduated from Harvard last May and is working in San Francisco; and Charlotte, who is a junior at Yale.
Although neither child is moving to Pittsburgh, Finegold hopes that they get to know the community. “We are all looking forward to being a part of the community.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.