President Paul Hennigan reflects on his tenure ahead of retirement


Written By Jordyn Hronec, Editor-in-Chief

At the end of the spring 2021 semester, President Paul Hennigan will retire after serving 21 years at the university, first as the Vice President of Finance and Operations and then as president. 


Starting in the fall 2021 semester, the university will operate under a new president, Donald J. Green, as well as a new provost, Michael Soto. The university will also begin a new 10-year strategic plan, and it will enter a new period of operations post-COVID-19 pandemic. According to Hennigan, this is a transformative time for the university.


“The schools that can learn from the group of students coming in and embrace what those students have to offer, those are the schools that will thrive,” Hennigan said. “Point Park has always been very nimble in that regard. And Point Park needs to maintain that agility.”


Hennigan became president of the university in 2006, following the presidency of Katherine Henderson. Hennigan says that when he started at the university in 2000, it was operating under a “survival mentality.” 


“My predecessor Dr. Henderson started developing new academic programs that were attracting a lot of students, and we were growing so quickly that we were leasing classroom space in Downtown Pittsburgh from semester to semester,” Hennigan said. “And we were also leasing residence hall space at Chatham University, which is out in Oakland, and that’s not good. It wasn’t good for first year students to show up and say ‘oh by the way, your residence hall is in Oakland.’ So there was just a lot of things that needed to happen.”


Hennigan said that one of his first efforts as president was to fix up the university’s existing property.


“I wanted to make sure that we started to clean up the place, because it was in disrepair,” Hennigan said. “I had never seen so much gray paint in my life.”


Hennigan said that then, it was important that the university grow in its property ownership while still maintaining a sense of community. 


“It became very important to me that we would not have a collection of buildings in Downtown Pittsburgh,” Hennigan said. “I had begun to study urban universities, and I wanted to make sure that as this thing was growing, and we were adding facilities, that we were creating a sense of community.”


While Hennigan was president, the university saw the addition of several facilities and buildings on campus, such The George Rowland White performance center, the Student Center, the Center for Media Innovation, the New Academic Village, the Pittsburgh Playhouse and Point Perk. 


Hennigan also said that he felt it was important that the university have “significant commitment to academic excellence.” 


“I think that we have a very solid commitment to continuous improvement in our academic affairs, student affairs and throughout the university,” Hennigan said. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have an intense focus on student success, our success center, the focus of the faculty and staff on student success. And I’m really, really proud of the fact that we have distinctive, innovative programs, and we provide a lot of experiential learning.”


Dean of Students Keith Paylo was hired by Hennigan 18 years ago and says that he gives Hennigan “all the credit in the world.”


“I’ve been a part of an incredible ride in a sense of the things that he has been able to do and his vision that he has created,” Paylo said. “A place that used to be two buildings, and then maybe three buildings and then maybe four buildings when I got here, to 17 plus buildings, and it’s not about real estate so much as it is about growth. It’s about reputation.”


Amongst the student body though, Hennigan’s reputation is mixed. Hennigan retires at a pivotal time for the university, which includes a pandemic-related budget deficit and recently, the non-renewals of 17 full-time faculty members. Hennigan also received a vote of no confidence from the faculty assembly in 2017. 


“I’ve never witnessed Hennigan successfully assuage student concerns,” Asher Winnie, a senior creative writing major said. “I’m a super-senior, and I started at PPU when our President had a vote of no confidence that went nowhere. That set a tone for my perception of him, and he’s done little to dispel that since then. Any kind of change to our university system and the people making decisions will be a good one, I think.” 


Hennigan said that his biggest piece of advice for the next president is to “pay very close attention to the students who are coming into the university.”


“This generation of students, amongst their attributes, have a very strong social awareness and a very strong social conscience,” Hennigan said. “And there’s a whole lot of things people my age can learn from people your age.”