University of Cincinnati brings home a Bearcat to lead the university

CINCINNATI -- Neville G. Pinto landed a teaching job at University of Cincinnati in 1985, and he stuck around to become dean of the graduate school and a vice provost before he left for University of Louisville in 2011.

He and his wife, Jennifer Pinto, regularly drove 100 miles back to UC to watch College Conservatory of Music performances, and they raised three children here. His oldest son is called "UC" by his friends.

In other words, after cycling through two presidents in seven months, UC found itself a Bearcat.

"One of the problems with academia today is that presidents don't often stay for 10 years," said Richard Miller, an engineering professor who represented faculty on the presidential search committee. "We were definitely looking for someone who has a reason to stay."

Pinto was unanimously chosen to be UC's 30th president at a special meeting Saturday, with the promise that he'll use his deep knowledge of the university and his commitment to students to propel it forward.

Student centered

"The one simple question I have that I always ask: is it good for the students? That's how I make my decisions. That's all," Pinto told a crowd packed into CCM's atrium. "That's my leadership style, and it's amazing at how easy it is to lead an institution with that clarity."

About Dr. Neville P. Pinto

Age: 58
Hometown: Mumbai, India
Education: Doctorate in chemical engineering, Penn State University
Family: Married to Dr. Jennifer Pinto, with whom he has two sons and a daughter.
Most recent position: Acting president, University of Louisville

Pinto, whose selection was first reported by WCPO, said his first order of business will be "to listen and learn" to members of the UC community about how the institution has changed since he left in 2011.

UC President Neville Pinto accepting congratulations. Photo by Bob Driehaus | WCPO

He said UC is challenged to imagine what higher education will look like in 30 years.

"If we start to focus on that question now, we're going to break out from the crowd," he said.

Envisioning the long term

In an interview with WCPO following his introductory speech, Pinto said he looks back 30 years to the beginning of his academic career to frame looking forward 30 years.

Then, he was one of the first UC faculty members to receive a computer -- a 20-megabyte Zenith desktop that cost $4,000.

Pulling out his smart phone, he said, "Now, I carry this in my pocket that probably has 1,000 times the computing power of that $4,000 computer."

Pinto wants UC to try to imagine a similar leap in technology and learning 30 years from now.

Search method criticized

He was chosen through a confidential search in which no candidates were revealed to the public or the faculty at large.

AAUP-UC, the faculty union, was critical of that lack of access that left its leaders in the dark.

"We were disappointed in the process because it was not transparent or collaborative," said Jeff Cramerding, director of contract administration and communication.

He added, "Faculty will give (Pinto) the benefit of the doubt because the flawed search was not his fault."

Wide praise for Pinto

At the special meeting Saturday, faculty and administrators who worked with him in the past and board members and search committee members who met him during the interview process warmly greeted his selection.

"It really seemed like he was here interviewing for this job, not just any presidential job," said Mitchell Phelps, UC undergraduate president.

He left his interview with Pinto thinking that he was "extremely genuine and authentic."

Bob Ambach, senior vice president for administration and finance, worked with Pinto when he was a vice provost, and praised him for his deep understanding of academia.

"No. 1 is his passion for the job," Ambach said.

Leaders of UC Foundation, which is laying the ground work for another major fundraising campaign to coincide with UC's 200th anniversary in 2019, were similarly excited.

“Dr. Pinto’s boundless energy and his passion for our great university is infectious. I have no doubt he will lead us to even greater achievement in our third century," UC Foundation Chairman Robert Fealy said.

Hope for stability

UC has been without a permanent president since Santa Ono left suddenly in June to become president of University of British Columbia. Provost Beverly Davenport became interim president, but she is leaving Feb. 1 to lead University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Trustees Chairman Robert Richardson Jr. said Pinto's deep knowledge of academia at every level helped propel him above other candidates. He was also impressed by his dedication to having a social impact.

But what put him over the top?

"Here's the heart of the reason why: He has a passion for this university," Richardson said.

Steady hand

Miller, who worked with Pinto in UC's engineering college, was also impressed by his leadership at UL during a time of crisis.

Gov. Matt Bevin dismissed Louisville's governing board, which was then reinstated by court order, and its president left amid the tumult.

"It says a lot that when they started to go through rough times they choose you," Miller told Pinto. "That' speaks a lot to your leadership."

Pinto said he has come to recognize the privilege he had growing up in a stable family with few barriers standing between him and his education. And he recognizes that many UC students don't have that same privilege.

Higher education leaders have a responsibility to make sure that their schools are "available to all regardless of where they come from. They should have access to this if they're qualified. (UC) is where I learned that," he said.

The Mumbai, India, native has grown to love Cincinnati, he said, which he wants to be UC's "living and learning laboratory."

"I am so glad to adopt this city and this state as my home," he said. "I fully intend to live up to my charge."

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