Interim president Chris Brussalis holds listening sessions and details “strategic plan” for university

Written By Erin Yudt, Cassandra Harris, and Jake Dabkowski

Interim President Chris Brussalis held a series of listening sessions where students could voice concerns and opinions on the university’s path forward. Alongside these, Brussalis gave an exclusive interview to The Globe, his first to any media organization since his appointment by the Board of Trustees last month, where he spoke on several topics, ranging from his experience with the Pittsburgh area, his current assessment of Point Park, and his plans for the university in the future.


Brussalis says his involvement in the Pittsburgh community is “a huge advantage” for him, as opposed to previous university president Don Green, who was from the Georgia area. 


“I’ve benefited by being a leader in this community for 32 years; I’ve been on a lot of regional, state, and national boards,” Brussalis said. “Another big part of my job is leveraging relationships which is what we need to advance this university for our students.”


As a consultant for the university in the past, Brussalis helped develop the experiential learning and co-op program. 


“It was the strategy I developed to focus on experiential learning,” Brussalis said. “There was no other co-op program, except for the Swanson School of Engineering… And now we have co-ops for the whole university. Co-ops are a game changer; you get a co-op, you have practically 100% [job] placement. And so that’s a big part of my job is to go out there and develop those relationships, foster those relationships into internships then to leverage those opportunities for the university, and our students, faculty and staff, and alumni.”


Brussalis also spoke on his “strategic plan” for the university going forward, addressing concerns about budget and program cuts.


“I have always had the philosophy that it is impossible to cut your way to prosperity,” Brussalis said. “But when you have finite resources, that means it’s an allocation thing… We have some deficits we have to get through because deficits are not sustainable. But we have a very good balance sheet compared to other universities… We have the ability that a lot of schools don’t, to make key investments. We need to make investments in the areas that are strengths for us, that we can make even stronger because they become a more competitive and comparative advantage. And we need to make investments in programs that are relevant because our goal is to enable our students to achieve their dreams to get jobs.” 


With the current state of inflation and a new academic year upon us, Brussalis spoke on concerns about the potential of a tuition increase.


“That’s a discussion we have to have obviously,” Brussalis said. “We have a high-value education; we provide a lot of education, for the money. We need to continue to maintain that high value, high-quality education… I am focused on high-quality, high-value education. That’s what differentiates us.” 


Brandie DeJesus, a junior dance major, feels that a tuition increase would not be “ideal.” 

“Personally, just because [tuition is] already expensive, especially for the COPA students, like it’s 10 times more expensive than the regular tuition, and so already having to go through the trouble of financial aid and scholarships is a lot of work,” DeJesus said. “If it was raised more, I’m already in so much debt. So I don’t know, it’s just, it wouldn’t be ideal for my family situation and for me it would be harder to come back if anything.” 


Lennon Richison, a junior dance major with a modern concentration, feels similarly.


“If they’re going to actually raise tuition, then it needs to come with some good changes and everything, or that’s just going to tick everybody off because, I mean, most people already are mad about it,” Richison said. “When Don Green was president, he seemed to have a lot more interaction with the students, but it kind of seemed like a little bit performative and like he was just doing it to like for the sake of doing it. I haven’t seen any large changes from president to president.”


Kaitlyn Teysser is a freshman multimedia major with a video concentration. She says that an increase in tuition would not be “fun.”


“I feel like it would stress me out because it’s just like I already pay so much already,” Teysser said. “And since inflation is going up, and he’s saying that, it kind of makes me want to consider looking into other schools and seeing what that amount of money is there. I mean, since I’m commuting, I’m saving some money, but just with classes and stuff and plus gas, plus driving here and just all of that into one… if he’s raising tuition, that’s just not going to be fun.”  


When the university was looking for the next university president in 2021 after Paul Hennigan retired, Brussalis interviewed for the position but withdrew due to “not being the right timing.” He says that he is currently focused on serving as Interim President but is not ruling out the possibility of taking on the position full-time.


“The Board [of Trustees] asked me to come in and accomplish some things, and I’m assessing that I also need to assess if it’s a good fit for me and if it’s a good fit for the board and for the rest of the university community,” Brussalis said. “If you could find something you’re passionate about, and figure out how you can do that, and feed yourself. That’s the way to go. Because you’re gonna have a happy life. I’ve had a happy life. For 32 years or so I’ve gotten up every day and couldn’t wait to go to work.”


Kendra Summers, president of the Student Government Association, previously criticized the Board of Trustees for not involving student government in Brussalis’s appointment, and that student government “will absolutely be expecting and requesting a spot on the hiring committee for the presidential position should that hiring session come.” Summers was reached for follow-up comment for this story, but declined to respond as of the time of writing.


Brussalis described his time as interim president this past month as “complex.”


“We couldn’t believe how complex running a university is, especially today with all the financial pressures and regulatory pressure, ” Burssalis said. “It’s a complex job… I have to discipline myself to get out and meet with students, meet with faculty, and meet with staff, because one of the biggest responsibilities I have is to maintain a pulse of the culture. Because you can have the best strategy in the world and come up with the best ideas, and best strategies, but guess what? Culture will always eat strategy for breakfast.”


In the interview, Brussalis addressed concerns students have voiced stemming from his wife, Christina Brussalis and her involvement in the removal of an equity policy from Pine Richland’s schools. Policy 832, the state board policy designed to address diversity issues and educational access. At the time, Christina Brussalis voted against renewing the policy because she “couldn’t get past” the use of the word “equity.”


Chris Brussalis referred to students’ concerns as “fear of the unknown,” and said that “not understanding the context and detail of what’s going on there and in other school districts, I can understand [concern.]” He then said that in his eyes his wife is “100% supportive” of him and the university.


“What I do know is that my wife is 100% supportive of me and the university, and she is my partner in championing this university,” Chris Brussalis said. “We are 100% focused on Point Park. We attend many student events, I stop every student I see on campus, I hang out in the dining halls, I bring my wife and family to athletic events and into activities. It’s important for us that we feel we are part of this community, and she is a gung-ho Pioneer.”


Christina Brussalis was reached for comment by the Globe but declined to respond as of the time of writing.


Chris Brussalis said that diversity is the “thing that differentiates Point Park than many other institutions.”


“We are a very diverse campus,” Brussalis said. “People are attracted to that. We’ve been interviewing candidates for Vice President of Enrollment Management, and some of these candidates have specifically mentioned that why they’re interested in Point Park is the diversity and vitality of our campus that attracts people and then attracts students.”


Brussalis has been the chairman of The Hill Group Inc., which provides management consulting services to a wide range of clients. The interim president has been an adjunct professor of management and policy at Carnegie Mellon University for over 30 years. He has attended Allegheny College, University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign and Northeastern University. He is also the current director of the American Society for Competitiveness and the president of the general council of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity.