Board of Trustees elect own member Interim President

Written By Jake Dabkowski and Erin Yudt

The Board of Trustees elected Dr. Chris Brussalis, who served on the board for four years, as interim president. The board has never appointed one of their own members president or interim president. Brussalis was selected to develop a strategic plan for the university’s future.


“This strategic plan will chart the direction of Point Park in the years ahead and put the University on a continued path of growth and prosperity,” Louis Corsaro, managing director of university marketing and public relations wrote in a statement to The Globe. “As a member of the Board of Trustees, President Brussalis has been an integral part of that process and it was felt that he would be the person to step in and keep the University moving forward.”


During the faculty assembly meeting on Monday, Brussalis indicated that the plan is expected to be submitted in April or May, but that “we may have to push it back.” He indicated that he is unsure how long he will serve as president.


According to Brussalis, the university is “significantly better managed than most,” and he is “looking past survival.”


Brussalis stated that he will have to “look at how we’re allocating resources” but that “you can’t cut your way to prosperity.” 


Multiple faculty members expressed gratitude to Brussalis for attending the meeting but some also voiced concern.


“I get a little nervous when I start hearing our university or any university spoken of as if it were a business like any other whose primary goal, if not sole goal, is to maximize revenue and minimize costs,” Bob Ross, a social justice studies professor, said. “That makes me nervous because there are a lot of things in my eyes that are incredibly beneficial to students’ education that might not raise revenue at all.”


Ben Schonberger, a photography professor, expressed concern that the university may layoff faculty members as a cost-cutting method.


“The last time somebody left mid-semester, 17 faculty members, all of whom were women, teachers of color, and queer men were illegally terminated,” Schoneberger said, referring to a set of non-renewal letters that an adjudicator ruled illegal. “As you’re talking about the restructure and the strategic plan, there’s this looming mention of restructuring programs that are considered relevant or not relevant… I’m still unnerved and unsettled about what’s on the horizon.”


Brussalis urged professors to continue voicing their concerns to him beyond the meeting, saying “I need you guys involved; I need you to feed me information so that we can make the best decisions.”


During the meeting, Provost Michael Soto, who briefly served as acting president, stated that while the university is currently in a deficit, “we will be out of a deficit situation not next year but the following.”


He also stated that “we are not closing; we are not being acquired by another university.”


According to Corsaro, Soto was consulted on and aware of the appointment of Brussalis.


Kendra Summers, president of the Student Government Association (SGA), says that SGA is “disappointed that the Student Government Association was not consulted for the selection” of Brussalis. She cited the fact that SGA was previously involved in the selection process of Don Green.


Summers went on to state that SGA “will absolutely be expecting and requesting a spot on the hiring committee for the presidential position should that hiring session come” and that SGA expects to be “both informed and involved in these decisions from here forward.”


Julianne Bailey, a sophomore legal studies major, questioned the board’s decision to elect their own member.


“It’s kind of shady that the Board of Trustees elected their own member,” Bailey said. “It feels like a power grab and that the Board is trying to take control over the university.”


Brooke Gilman, a sophomore forensic science major, is less concerned. Gilman says that Brussalis is “fine” under the assumption that he is “temporary.”


“It could be weird, but the president does not really do much,” Gilman said. “I think it’s good that he’s already involved in this past Admitted Students Day, though.”


Members of the university community expressed concern over political donations made by Brussalis, as well as his wife’s involvement in the cutting of a diversity and equity initiative in Pine-Richland as a director of their school board. According to the Federal Election Commission, Brussalis donated over $11,000 to Republican politicians and organizations during the 2022 election cycle.


In response to a request for comment on Brussalis’ political donations, Corsaro wrote the following statement.


“President Brussalis is coming into this leadership position with a love for Point Park and a desire to ensure the University is the best it can be and works for all students; he has demonstrated his passion for Point Park in his work as a member of the Board of Trustees, and he will continue to do so as president of the University.”


In 2020, the Pine-Richland School Board adopted a version of the Pennsylvania School Board Association’s Policy 832, Educational Equity, which sought to address language and behavior in the classroom and district environment, as well as improve the needs of marginalized students.


In 2021, Christina Brussalis and three others were elected to the school board as members of PR Kids First (PRKF), which ran on a platform of removing masks from the classroom and returning to full in-person learning. After being elected, the PRKF members voted to not renew Policy 832, with Christina Brussalis saying that she “couldn’t move past” the use of the word equity.


Christina Brussalis did not respond to a request to comment. Corsaro stated that Christina Brussalis voted “against an equity policy that she believed was flawed.” Christina Brussalis currently serves on the district’s Culture and Diversity committee.


Michael Elko, director of tutoring services, left his job at Pine-Richland before coming to Point Park after experiencing homophobia in the workplace. His time at Pine-Richland precedes Christina Brussalis’ time on the board, but he says that when he read about the removal of Policy 832 and the circumstances surrounding it, he realized that “it’s gotten worse.”


Despite Elko’s thoughts on this topic, he urges that this is not an issue of differing political viewpoints.


“If someone has a different political viewpoint of mine, I’m not being dismissive of that,” Elko said. “I am concerned if you have someone in a position of power who has embedded an ideology that is espoused by a political party that is antithetical to the beliefs and ideology of our student body.”


Elko says that the school board has “an issue with ignorance” and expressed worry that Chris Brussalis shares his wife’s views.


“That type of ignorance and divisiveness is not going to serve our community,” Elko said. “I suspect that the students will make that known.”


Kairi Stallsmith, a secondary education major with a focus in history, shares a concern about Chris and Christina Brussalis’ political affiliations.


“Does he know where he is at?” Stallsmith said. “Point Park is one of the most liberal colleges. He is temporary, but I just hope that the school realizes that he is not a fit. We need more diverse people running the school, but no one seems to get that.”


Other students echoed these worries.


“We need a president that is diverse and is capable of leading our diverse community,” Bailey said. “[His donations are] kinda gross the more I think about it.”


Bailey emphasized the importance of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in college environments.


“I wish I could say I am surprised,” Bailey said. “At the college level, DEI is so important. We already cut the Office of Equity and Inclusion. People come here to feel represented and seen, so this decision does concern me a bit.”


Elko expressed that many diverse students, specifically the LGBTQIA+ community, chose to attend Point Park because the university is perceived as a safer environment for them than other schools.


“I know students from the community who are coming to Point Park because, on social media, they can see that it’s a safe space and safe haven for them,” Elko said. “They’ve been growing up in environments where they’ve never been able to fully express who they are… they’re searching for a community where they can be their authentic selves.”

He emphasized that the student body needs a leader who represents their viewpoints.


“I don’t know if [he’s] the right person to be leading a group of students who are progressive and are coming to Point Park because that’s part of their identity,” Elko said.


Summers did not comment directly on Brusallis’s political involvement, but emphasized that SGA’s “principles of equity and inclusion” will continue.


“As we were not involved in the hiring process, we had not done any extensive research into his ties with anyone’s previous occupations or his personal political affiliations,” Summers wrote. “As an organization, we will always defend and uphold our principles of equity and inclusion, regardless of who holds the position as president. Our initiatives, service on the university’s committee, and internal projects regarding equity and inclusion will continue as they have been.”


According to Corsaro, “President Brussalis is very familiar with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs on campus and has great respect for the students, faculty and staff doing critical work in those areas; his goal is to support those people and those efforts.”


Brussalis was appointed as interim president following the resignation of former university president Don Green, who resigned for “personal reasons.”


“I enjoyed my time at Point Park immensely but for personal reasons felt the need to depart,” Green wrote in a statement provided to The Globe. “I am so proud of Point Park University and wish the very best for our students, faculty, and staff.”


During the faculty assembly meeting, Brussalis called Green’s resignation “a surprise” but that he respected Green’s privacy on the matter and thanked him for his time with the university.


The president before Green, Paul Hennigan, served as an interim president for one year before being appointed president.