5 key takeaways from student town hall on fall 2020


A Virtual Town Hall for Students on the “Return for Fall 2020” covered a lot of ground on June 18, with a team of administrators juggling dozens of questions from undergraduate and graduate students.


Mid-July: First-year students will get housing assignments and more information will be released on the dining halls.

End of July: Peoplesoft will have all the new class meeting times, to accommodate the longer time between classes, and locations, McCarthy said.

Aug. 19: Classes begin for everyone online.

Aug. 24: In-person classes will begin.

Sept. 7: Classes will be held on Labor Day.

Nov. 20: Class instruction ends.

Nov. 23-24: Some in-person finals will be held.

Nov. 25-29: Thanksgiving break.

Week of Nov. 30: Rest of finals.

One of the key takeaways was voiced by Nathan Urban, vice provost for Graduate Studies and Strategic Initiatives: “It’s going to be really dependent on the whole Pitt community to do the things that are necessary to keep each other safe. … That’s going to be an essential part of making the fall semester work and work well.”

Julia Spears, associate vice provost for Academic Innovation, moderated the panel that also included: Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies; Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner; Delores Blough, director of the Office of International Services; Steve Anderson, associate dean of Students and director of Residence Life; and Breanna Donohue, interim director of new student programs in the Office of Student Affairs.

A link to a recording of the town hall and to other questions that were answered online can be found at personalized.pitt.edu/virtualtownhall. Another session is planned in July, but no date has been set.

Here are some of the main points they covered:

There will be in-person classes, at least part of the time

McCarthy said Flex@Pitt, which is what the University is calling its hybrid teaching and learning model for the fall, is designed to give students a live experience in the classroom a minimum of one day a week, if they so desire. Those who feel unsafe returning to campus, can participate completely online. (See related story on Flex@Pitt.)

Most classes will continue to meet as they always have in person, but larger lectures may see students split into groups, with each group attending in-person classes one day a week and then interacting online for the other days.

How this will work and where those classes will meet is still being worked out. People from the provost’s office and the registrar’s office are looking at all classrooms with the idea that capacity in each will be reduced by 50 percent. Alternate spaces, such as conference rooms and offices of staff who are now working at home, are being considered.

McCarthy said there will be more time built in between classes because the locations may be at unusual locations, such as the Craig Hall offices of Human Resources.

How will University housing work?

All students who have guaranteed housing will be accommodated, Anderson said, but they are working to de-densify the resident halls that have communal bathrooms, such as the Towers. On June 25, the Property committee of the Board of Trustees agreed to rent space in Oakland hotels to spread students out. (See related story.)

Suite-style housing and apartments with private bathrooms, including upperclass housing, should operate as usual, he said.

Move-in is from Aug. 13 to 16, he said, and they are working on a plan to let students bring some of their gear earlier and have it waiting for them in their room when they arrive in mid-August. This would help cut down on crowding during the traditional Arrival Survival time.

Market Central and the Perch dining halls will look different with socially distanced tables for dine in and more options for to-go food.

A shorter Welcome Week

Welcome “Week” will only officially be for three days from Aug. 16 to 18, but Donohoe said for new students it will begin as early as Aug. 13 and continue after classes resume on Aug. 19.

“We want to strike a balance between socially engaging activities with required and informational sessions,” she said.

All incoming students will be required to attend some events Aug. 16 to 18, including Convocation, along with training on health and safety, bystander responsibilities and diversity and inclusion. Mike Dolinger, who is heading up Welcome Week planning this year for the Office of Student Life, later said, “We will look at state and University guidelines in terms of gathering sizes and make decisions from there, but those required programs which all incoming first year and transfer students must attend will most likely be in a virtual setting, and we are currently working out logistics.

The events also will be recorded for those who aren’t in a compatible time zone with Pittsburgh.

If you are at home, Donohoe said there will be several opportunities to meet fellow students and find groups to join. For instance, the activities fair, where Pitt’s nearly 700 student-run activities and clubs vie for new members, will be held on a virtual platform instead of a packed Petersen Events Center.

Keeping healthy

Face masks will be required when entering residence halls, Anderson said, and Pitt will issue at least one but probably more masks to students.

He also said there is a plan in place to isolate any student on campus who becomes ill with COVID-19 and to make sure they receive medical care. Because learning will be available online, those students will still have access to their classes.

Bonner said student leaders are working on a Pitt community compact, where students, staff and faculty will agree to abide by certain rules of behavior to keep everyone safe. It’s an approach to look at “what does it mean to be a member of a community looking out for each other.”

Information coming for international students

Blough said they are working to make all the online options available to international students who can’t make it back to the U.S. for the start of the semester, regardless of their connectivity and time zone issues.

There are other plans being considered for programs in some of the countries where Pitt has a large presence, and she hopes to send out an email to international students soon with all the options. The Office of International Services also will be hosting a webinar after those emails go out.

McCarthy said the program they’re calling Pitt on Location would potentially let international students engage with some of Pitt’s tradition study abroad partners if they can’t get back to Pittsburgh.

Blough said they hope that visas will be available by August. She advised students to keep a close eye on the U.S. consulates in their home country to schedule a visa appointment as soon as possible.

The University has already announced that there will be no study abroad programs available this fall for students from the U.S.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 412-648-4294.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.