A day in the life of Chatham University’s President Finegold

By Jade and Iris Marzolf

Dr. David Finegold is known across campus as the president of Chatham University. But what all goes into the job of leading a major university? The Communiqué recently sat down with Dr. Finegold to learn more about what a day in his life is like, what brought him to Chatham and his goals for the University.

Dr. Finegold was born in New York City and moved to Houston when he was 16 years old. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University and attended graduate school at Oxford University in England.

He was presented with an opportunity to work as a journalist for Time magazine. However, the work he did in Oxford involved higher education and eventually led to a job as Dean of the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University.

When Chatham’s former president Esther Barazone decided to step down in 2015, Dr. Finegold was approached by a search committee. After having recently gone co-ed, he doubted Chatham would hire a man for the position, but they were open to anyone and “genuinely wanted to find the best fit for Chatham,” he said. Coming from a school that had 70,000 people, he wanted to be able to have a stronger connection with the community. The more he learned about Chatham’s sustainability program, innovativeness and tight-knit community, the more excited he was to be part of it.

As president, Dr. Finegold’s days are packed with meetings, traveling, fundraising and planning — all aimed at enhancing academic areas, the student experience, and the University’s growth.

Jade Marzolf ’19 stands with Chatham University president Dr. David Finegold in his office on campus. He displayed two gifts he received from international schools he visited.

The banner is from China and is made of silk. He plans on hanging it on the wall behind
his desk. The other gift is framed masks made from bronze.
Photo by Iris Marzolf

Traveling is a vital part of being a university president because it provides fundraising and networking opportunities. Dr. Finegold said it’s necessary for him to meet with alumni, corporations and foundations because they can help subsidize and support Chatham’s development. One area of growth Dr. Finegold would like to see involves increasing the number of international students on campus to 10% or more.

“Being able to interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds helps us grow,” he said.

In the coming months, Dr. Finegold plans on visiting Harrisburg for the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania’s annual conference and meeting with alumni in New York.

“One of the things I love about this job but can also be a challenge is I don’t have a typical day,” Dr. Finegold said. “There’s all this stuff that you plan for, and then stuff that’s out of your control that consumes a lot of time.”

In October 2018 when the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue occurred, it became a top priority for him to address security concerns and make sure that those across campus were emotionally OK.

“The overall environment in the U.S. is so divided and politically charged and magnified by social media. It feels like you’re always responding and having to deal with these issues. It can be distracting,” he said. “My biggest weakness is I’m not very good at [being] laser focused and doing a few priority things and not letting anything else distract me. … My biggest strengths are a combination of being able to come up with innovative ideas and partnering with organizations.”

There are five areas of growth in particular the he’d like to help Chatham undergo. They include: enhancing academic areas and the student experience; growing national leadership in terms of sustainability; increasing access and affordability (offering more scholarships, lowering study abroad expenses, etc.); expanding partnerships with other people and organizations to offer more opportunities for students; and improving the financial position and physical capacity of the University by upgrading and renovating buildings, the dining hall and athletic fields.

To help achieve these goals, the community can participate in The Day of Giving on April 12, which is a chance for the public to pledge a financial gift to the University.

“For me this is exciting because the last two years we did it during Buckets and Blossoms [a campus gardening event], so most students weren’t around. This year, everyone should be here,” Dr. Finegold said.

He urges all to give back and to get involved.

“Students have great ideas. They know what’s working and what’s not working,” he said. Being involved on campus and finding a group rewards an individual with connections, structure and enjoyment.

In addition to his working, Dr. Finegold tries to attend at least one campus event per day.

“The things that stand out to me are the fun interactions with students,” he said.

Photo credit: Chatham University

His inauguration day at Chatham, being present for the University’s sports accomplishments and seeing the choir perform with a Pittsburgh brass band have been some of his most memorable events so far. He also enjoys racquet sports and is a member of the Pittsburgh Golf Club in Squirrel Hill, where he plays tennis and squash.

“I find those are great because it’s nice after a long day’s work to be able to go out and hit something. You can also get an incredible workout in a short period of time. There’s a fair bit of fun things built into the job,” Dr. Finegold said. “I think if you were an introvert, this would be a very hard job to do.”

Although being Chatham’s president can be challenging, it’s incredibly rewarding, Dr. Finegold explained. Part of that stems from all of the things that make Chatham unique.

“We have some of the most beautiful campuses anywhere in the world,” he said. “The other thing I love about Chatham is that I’ve never felt such a sense of community in terms of students and faculty and staff. They’re all engaged and committed to supporting one another. … I like that sense of family a lot.”