Faculty Assembly still has many questions about the fall


As the COVID 19 pandemic continues to affect nearly every facet of life at Pitt, Faculty Assembly members had numerous concerns about communication, University’s intellectual property policy, how classes will operate in the fall semester, and more.

At the July 7 meeting, faculty sought clarity on Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s June 30 message detailing Pitt’s three main operational postures during the pandemic.

These postures resemble Pennsylvania’s red, yellow and green phases and define how Pitt will prioritize safety on campus during the pandemic.

Faculty have had several concerns about the way the guidance has been communicated throughout the University and are seeking clarity on whether or not faculty will be forced to return to campus.

Senate Council President Chris Bonneau explained that faculty will not have to come to campus if they feel it isn’t safe, nor will faculty be asked to provide personal information to determine whether they can come to campus.

Faculty who choose to not come to campus have multiple options to consider, Bonneau said. These include: 

  • Appearing on screen in front of a class and facilitating class through cameras on students.

  • Teaching with a colleague who doesn’t have a “personal circumstance that puts them at high risk.”

  • Asking a teaching assistant to facilitate in-person classes.

  • Asking IT staff to come to the beginning of the class and remain briefly to make sure the technology is working.

Some faculty have said they had ethical concerns with asking TAs or others to be in a classroom if they feel uncomfortable, citing power dynamics.

Bonneau encouraged faculty to not ask for others to cover for them if they feel uncomfortable with it, especially since other options are available. 

Bonneau said IT staff will be assigned to help with classroom setup. Right now, there are no plans to hire additional people, according to Brady Lutsko, communications and training manager for Pitt IT.

“All of these options are consistent with the provost's message to faculty, and faculty are not being asked, nor were they ever asked, to put somebody else in harm's way in order for their class to occur,” Bonneau said.

Faculty raises several other concerns and questions in a lengthy discussion, to which there are still few answers:

  • How will the University support faculty who have kids who can’t go to school or day care?

  • What is the strategy for testing people for the coronavirus?

  • Is there any guidance on how to handle office hours?

  • How will Pitt ensure that students wear masks?

Over the summer, several faculty have advocated for additional compensation for faculty as they continue to adjust to the requirements for Flex@Pitt. However, there will be no additional compensation for faculty who have done work over the summer to prepare for classes this fall, Bonneau added. 

Other topics discussed:

  • Katie Pope, associate vice chancellor of civil rights and Title IX, gave an overview of the changes President Donald Trump’s administration made to Title IX over the summer. The University has objected to these changes, but Pope said her office will continue to work on developing an interim policy to bring the University into compliance. Pope added that there will be new training available for faculty and staff before the fall semester.

  • The University’s intellectual property policy is undergoing adjustments as Rob Rutenbar, senior vice chancellor for Research, and his team continue to try and streamline the patent and copyright process. Faculty Assembly voted to approve minor changes to the current policy to account for situations that might occur with online teaching. Faculty were concerned that their recorded work would not be copyrighted to them. Rutenbar said he hopes to reveal more information on a new intellectual property policy later this summer.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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