Chatham President Dr. David Finegold reflects after announcing his plan to step down


Photo Credit: The Office of the President, Chatham University.

Carson Gates and Michaela DeLauter

Chatham University President Dr. David Finegold announced in an email on Wednesday morning to students, faculty and staff his departure at the end of the 2023 spring term. 

Dr. Finegold noted his plan to write two books based on transformations in higher education as the reason for his exit from the University. The first book will dive into other universities’ transformations, as well as offer insights into people who are pioneering new forms of higher education. 

He also plans to start a non-profit with the financial backing of an unnamed philanthropist. This venture stemmed from Dr. Finegold’s previous stint as Chief Academic Officer at American Honors. The Washington D.C.-based institution helps connect community college students to larger institutions after their graduation. 

 “[It] showed that this model could work educationally,” Dr. Finegold told the Communiqué. “We had students graduate from Stanford, Columbia and Penn. However, the business model didn’t work.” 

 The difference with this new non-profit model will be the goal to offer its services to students for free. He expects his new venture to begin within the next few years. 

The University has undergone many changes under the leadership of Dr. Finegold, who was appointed Chatham’s 19th president in 2016. But how does he feel about his impact on the campus? The University has more than doubled its student population since he took over, yet his Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed in 2021 on why free college for all is a bad idea – which prompted criticism from many students – still hangs over his head.

When he first began at Chatham, Dr. Finegold’s biggest objective was the successful transformation of Chatham into an all-gender university.  

“Our centerpiece was to do the all-gender transition really well, in a way that didn’t just add numbers, but kept true to Chatham’s tradition,” Dr. Finegold said. 

 He also took pride in the creation and continued growth of the squash team. The men’s team that was formed only four years ago is now ranked 14th in the country. With both the men’s and women’s teams accumulating players from around the world, they are among the most diverse squash team nationally. 

Athletics as a whole took a step forward under the Dr. Finegold administration. The Cougars claimed their first Presidents’ Athletic Conference Championship (PAC) trophy, in addition to adding both men’s and women’s varsity sports. 

“[Athletic director] Leonard Trevino deserves the lion’s share here,” Dr. Finegold said about the growth of the athletic department.

Athletics was a major part of attracting students from outside of Pennsylvania; two-thirds of all out-of-state students at Chatham are athletes. 

His email to the University outlined new academic programs, the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, advancing Chatham’s leadership in sustainability and building several community partnerships as some of his other achievements.

The student body’s connection with Dr. Finegold wavered at times.

In 2021, Dr. Finegold came under fire with the Chatham community after publishing his op-ed about his views on free higher education. 

 “I regret that many students felt that that was not sensitive to their needs to the cost of higher education, and that was never my intent with it.

“We need creative ideas so that every student can get the highest degree they want to get without recourses being a constraint,” Dr. Finegold said. “I didn’t want people to feel like either I don’t care about that or that isn’t central to Chatham because it really is.” 

Future goals for Chatham will start to be released with the next strategic plan. 

“It’s not something we’ll finish, but that’s something where I think it provides a really good blueprint for the next president of Chatham,” said Dr. Finegold, “with the notion of Chatham being one of the premier urban liberal arts universities in the country.” 

Although the end is in sight, he is still excited about this upcoming academic year.

“We have a whole year ahead, and I’d like to make it the best year that I’ve been at Chatham. I’m really looking forward to meeting students at Eddy Theatre, the quad and at sporting events.” 

 The search for the 20th president of Chatham University will now begin, with the final decision expected to be made by this upcoming summer. 

For more coverage on the community’s reaction to President Dr. Finegold stepping down, look for the Communiqué print issue on newsstands Sept. 20.