Skip to content

Pittsburg’s Lost Opportunity

September 4, 2017

In a discussion with Dr. Herb London who was an undergraduate at Columbia University when I was at Pitt, Dr. London remarked that he studied with Jacques Barzun, Sydney Hook, C. Wright Mills and some other worthies. That reminded me that luminaries of their stature were not present at the University of Pittsburgh, but I sent my colleague a link to the wiki bio of Edward H. Litchfield. In Googling that, I found a reminiscence in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about Edward H. Litchfield, Chancellor at the University of Pittsburgh from 1956-1965, titled “The next page,” by historian James A. Kehl.

I’ve written about my Pitt experience and that I was fortunate to have left Pitt upon graduation in 4 and 1/3 years (the Trimester system introduced by Chancellor Litchfield was not supportive of serious undergraduate scholarship) and entered the University of Notre Dame where I encountered Eric Voegelin, Stanley Parry and Gerhart Niemeyer.

After WW II, the Holy Cross priests at Notre Dame were well positioned to hire the best of émigré professors from Europe and a few were still there when I arrived in January 1965.

What I found interesting about Chancellor Litchfield, apart from his habit of walking about campus in jodhpurs, was that he did not rebuild Pitt with people. Litchfield did buildings.

While at Pitt from 1960 to 1964, I don’t recall any new blood in the Political Science Department (my major), though there was the excellent Mellon Professors program (Sir Ronald Syme, Mario Pei) and the excellent speakers series (Aldous Huxley; Mendes France).

Richard Scaife, heir to the Mellon fortune was much influenced by a History professor who was fired by Pitt’s History Department. And I remember that an excellent lecturer on the history of Western civilization was cashiered, also in the History Department.

Litchfield was, apparently, a “buildings” person, not a people person, and did not clean house in the many third-rate and ideological dominated Departments at Pitt.

For very little, much less than the Panther Hollow project cited in Professor Kehl’s essay, Litchfield might have trimmed the Pitt tree with bright lights such as were attracted to the University of Chicago, or had been assembled at Columbia University or Notre Dame. In the case of Chicago, a vibrant Jewish community, many refugees from Communist Russia, supported the University of Chicago and sustained Frank Knight, Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and others who appreciated economic freedom.

I observed in my recent book, The Conservative Rebellion, that Pitt milked wealthy ethnic Pittsburghers to fund “nationality” rooms but disdained their religious faith and what we recognize today were their conservative political views and commitment to family.  That community would have supported professors from Ukraine, Poland, West Germany (the dominant ethnic group in Pittsburgh is German) but Pitt put their money into “rooms.”

I might add that Columbia University and the University of Chicago had excellent Core Curricula (Great Books) programs that outshined what passed for a Core at Pitt in the 1960s. Given that rejection of the culture of “the Burg,” it is amazing that so many Pittsburghers living elsewhere want to return home—but probably not to the University of Pittsburgh.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: