This is a reprint of a post from www.oaklanddignity.com
March 3, 2016
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher
University of Pittsburgh
Dear Chancellor Gallagher:
I am writing to you out of deep concern, love, and a moral responsibility for the preservation and protection of Oakland, the land of our treasured memories. The neighborhood’s identitycontinues to be severely threatened by the shameful and insatiable greed of University administrators for whom human dignity is a very low priority, and who lack respect for the traditions of this unique and beloved neighborhood. Sadly, the massive shame of your predecessors has been quickly passed on to you, making you an integral part of this ignoble consciousness, and thus another betrayer to our community.
My grandparents were a part of the pre-University generation of humble, honest, hard-working immigrants that added immense value to the land and made Oakland one of the most cherished neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Had their generation known of the “profit over dignity” consciousness of future university leaders and foreseen the devastation of Oakland today, they absolutely never would have allowed the University to move from North Side to Oakland in 1908. No other community in Pittsburgh, or in our country, fully understands the pain and suffering endured by longtime residents of Oakland, because no other community has experienced anything like the University of Pittsburgh.
When I first met you on October 15, 2014 at the 175th celebration of the naming of Oakland, we shook hands and I said: “Let’s create a new beginning for the community of Oakland.” You gave me a mysterious smile that I didn’t fully comprehend at the time. In that moment, I did feel that you would be part of a new paradigm and would take action to end the University’s shameful past. I trusted you. But instead of being a ray of hope to our community, you have become a beacon of further shame by destroying more of our community for the selfish interests of the University.
There were indicators that you would quickly become a continuation of the previous administrations’ dominating consciousness. One of your still-employed trusted vice chancellors had the audacity to get angry at me at that function because I didn’t tell him I would be there attempting to meet you. As we talked about the severe impact of the University on Oakland, he revealed the inglorious profit mentality of the University to never-ending expansion by saying: “The University makes money for the community.” He and many others at the University may never fully understand that many longtime residents of Oakland place the value of human dignity above the sale value of a house.
Prior to that meeting, I had hand-delivered two letters to your office, but the former Chief of Staff withheld them from you, thereby stripping you of your own dignity and power to make choices. Months later, when I met with him, the previously-mentioned vice chancellor, as well as another vice chancellor to discuss eight objectives of our community, they rejected all of the objectives once again. Our community looked to you for support, but you did nothing. The University’s shame of the past is quickly becoming your shame of the future.
In one of those letters, I mentioned that my mother had passed away recently, before she was able to experience a new beginning for the community. I asked whether or not my father, who was approaching 99 years old, would also suffer the same fate. He is now with my mother. Is the dignity and self-worth of your parents any greater than that that of all the parents in Oakland who have passed away while living under the destructive consciousness of this University? Why have you risked your good name to become a part of the University’s shameful past?
The Village of Shame
It takes a loving village to raise a child, but it takes a Village of Shame to nearly decimate a community. You are fully aware that since the University’s arrival, the residential population has dwindled from nearly 100% to now approximately 20%. This tragedy is akin to a “forced migration” and “residential cleansing” due to University policies that are the polar opposite of human rights and dignity. Under your administration, the business district is also being further destroyed for the selfish needs of the University, with massive current and planned construction of student housing on Forbes Avenue. Do you also hope the Board of Trustees names a building after you? How can there be a rebirth of a community when the business district is being further destroyed by your administration? Is this destruction to be the keystone of your legacy?
The Village of Shame exists in imagination. It is another among the 100 properties owned by the University of Pittsburgh. Dimly lit and lacking in beauty, it is occupied by the many victims of the University whose leaders have continuously passed on their shame to the villagers.
The village is shrouded in secrecy as inhabitants are unable to say what they honestly think. Those bold enough to attempt any action contrary to the University “take a lot of heat” as one inhabitant said, so the villagers seldom, if ever, take action or speak out. Like puppets on a string, they are willing participants of the University’s massive destruction of Oakland. They venture out to do their work under the watchful eye of the University. You are very aware of these victims held in bondage by University administrations past and present: the mayor, city council, planning commission, zoning board, Oakland organizations, state government and the media. Their actions and inactions in the destruction of much of Oakland are well documented on the website OaklandDignity.com.
Sadly, the inhabitants of that village who devastate our community the most are the entrapped men and women of the media. They should be the most formidable defenders of individuals’ basic rights – but in the 107-year history of the University in Oakland, they have never conducted an in-depth investigation. The men and women are supposed to have the integrity to rise above it all, and shine the “Spotlight” on both the University and the trapped inhabitants of the village. Even those who know and care for Oakland residents have remained silent, abrogating their responsibility and betraying the trust of the Oakland community that had helped to give the media their very existence.
One of the most shameful and egregious actions to illustrate the insatiable greed of the University came under the direction of past Chancellor Mark Nordenberg who helped to raise $2 billion dollarsin donations for Capital Improvements. While greedy and selfish University administrators were elated, members of the community believed the money should have been raised to help their students. Chancellor Nordenberg nearly tripled student tuition during his reign to a now basic rate of nearly $18,000, making it the highest tuition in the nation for a public University, nearly double the national average. If that money had been raised for students, tuition fees would be cut in half.
What if 30,000 students boycotted the University and filled the streets surrounding the Cathedral of Learning until that money is used toward reducing their tuition to the level of the national average? Who could stop them if they are willing to stick out their necks to stand tall, stand proud, stand out? Power is simply the ability to take action. What if there was nothing that could impede the students’ ability? Administrators, who choose to dominate, manipulate, or instill fear, need victims. What if no students were willing to be the administrators’ victims? Who could stop the students’ desires, imaginations and expectations to achieve justice and freedom? Would their actions free the bondage of their own professors, who have been silent but would now be able to stand beside them for this just cause? Would the students inspire the inhabitants of the Village of Shame to break free of their bondage? Would that village then implode and cease to exist? What if the students sang chants of freedom in their days of boycott, being reminded of the words of the poet Khalil Gibran who said: “You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing”? The University students’ victory would be the true beginning of their new history.
It would be a victory for the community, too. How much further devastation will come to the residential community of Oakland when a University culture of unscrupulous greed is combined with a consciousness of never-ending expansion and $2 billion dollars in administrators’ coffers?
It is difficult to say when the cancerous spread of the University’s never-ending expansion first began. Most historians will agree it certainly accelerated under the leadership of Chancellor Edward Litchfield. In the early 1970s, on South Bouquet Street, the University demolished Forbes Field, and later persuaded a state agency to invoke eminent domain across the street, destroying a church, homes and businesses – not for the good of the general public, but for the selfish needs of the University. Those nefarious actions eventually resulted in approximately 200 longtime residents on that street reduced to three, and a dozen students increased to 700.
The continuation of that insatiable greed can be seen today in Nordenberg Hall, which houses 559 first-year students only.That building is a highly visible Symbol of Shame for what it represents to the Oakland community. Were those administrators blinded by the glitter of profit dollars that they did not realize there was nowhere to put the thousands of new students who would pass through that building? Or did they realize the inhabitants of the Village of Shame would approve student housing in Oakland’s business district to satisfy the University’s shameful and selfish needs? Did they care that the destruction of Oakland’s business district would lead to a further “forced migration” of the residential community? When greed has such a strong stranglehold on the consciousness of University administrators, they lack intelligence to know the simple truth that our community has limited resources, and cannot continuously educate students from around the country or the world. Or do they know the truth and simply lack the basic dignity to care if a longtime residential community ceases to exist?
The Shameful Three – Pitt, UPMC and CMU – view Oakland as if it is their own personal Monopoly board. The shame-based leaders of these institutions carve up the Oakland neighborhood to their own likeness while being supported by the inhabitants of the Village of Shame. Although the popular game of Monopoly is full of fun and pleasure when played among family and friends, when it is played in real life by greed-driven leaders, it becomes severely tragic to the good and honest residents’ quality of life. These leaders arrive from outside of the community but view our land as their Monopoly board “empire,” not as land sacred and spiritual to the community. UPMC sold land to Pitt, further decimating South Bouquet Street, and then made its land available to Campus Advantage to further destroy the business district; your administration recently purchased the beloved community’s Syria Mosque entertainment site that UPMC had turned into a self-serving parking lot. In the shadows, CMU makes uncontrolled massive purchases of the northern end of Oakland. All of this carnage is under the watchful eye and approval of the inhabitants of the Village of Shame. Some of The Shameful Three’s expansion goes through the formality of a “done deal,”while at other times The Shameful Three have been given “autonomous” control to do what they want with their purchases of greed.
Campus Advantage Briefing
Had you attended the Campus Advantage briefing at the Planning Commission on February 23, you would have been both ashamed and proud. You would have been ashamed because, astonishingly, the executive of Campus Advantage couldn’t answer the simple question of how many 3-bedroom units there are in his nearly 500-bed student housing project, and he couldn’t show any letters of support. However, you would have been immensely proud when a commission member reminded the Campus Advantage executive that this is an “affordable housing project” and not specifically student housing as he had stated earlier, and when he wasn’t forced to give details of the community meeting on February 3. At that meeting, his project was referred to by residents as nothing but greed, and there was a call for a moratorium on any further expansion in Oakland. Perhaps your proudest moment would have been when the commission members, in an act of “deliberate indifference” never asked the executive how the project would impact the residential community, once again treating the longtime residential community as if they are meaningless.
End the Shame
Of all the types of shame, the shame of liable adults most severely impacts the future. Are the profits to be made by Campus Advantage from their nearly 500-bed student housing project on Forbes Avenue and future University profits derived from that building’s construction more important than your reputation and dignity? There can be no rebirth of a residential community when the business district is being destroyed by developers to satisfy the selfish needs of the University of Pittsburgh.
Ideals and principles have no value unless they are put into action. Change is instant when it is created out of love and a strong desire to do the right thing. Are you willing to oppose the Campus Advantage project, and end the shame that your previous administrators have passed on to you?
This letter was also submitted to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission in opposition to the Campus Advantage project at 3407 Forbes Avenue.
On March 8, 2016 the City Planning Commission approved the Campus Advantage project.