By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt faculty were frustrated with the way Pitt’s new academic calendar was revealed suddenly on June 8 in an email to students — before it reached faculty and staff.
At the June 9 Faculty Assembly, Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said the email announcement from Provost Ann Cudd came as a surprise to him, especially since he serves as a member of the executive committee on the Task Force on Reimagining Pitt Education, which Cudd co-chairs.
In the message, Cudd said that as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitt is planning to start the fall semester on Aug. 19 instead of Aug 24, and will end in-person classes on Nov. 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving. Finals will take place online after Thanksgiving.
Bonneau said he was aware that this scheduling change was an option being considered, but he had no idea that it would be announced as final.
“Simply put, this is not acceptable,” Bonneau said. “And in my opinion, constitutes a failure of shared governance.”
Cudd said in a separate email later that day that the announcement was sent out “inadvertently” and “did not have the full list of updates for your upcoming fall semester. We apologize for pushing send too soon.”
Bonneau said that even though he believed Cudd and Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s explanation, many faculty are concerned that this may show that faculty are not “a central part of the decision making process.” Further, this has affected their “perception of the legitimacy of the reopening process.”
Before the message was sent, Bonneau said, Senate Council officers sent surveys around to deans and members of the Faculty Assembly and asked them to share it with their colleagues.
The survey asked participants to identify their academic unit and what their concerns were about the reopening process. There were 111 responses with half from the School of Medicine.
The concerns were gathered into six key points, Bonneau said.
Risks associated with returning to campus need to be explicitly clarified.
Infection mitigation efforts, social distancing rules, and enforcement procedures need to be explained.
The Restart Research program had several issues with transparency and efficiency and, these efforts should be reviewed further.
Faculty are concerned that the burden of producing combined online and in-person classes will overwhelm faculty.
Students should be kept involved as plans develop.
University leaders need to communicate frequently as plans develop.
“The irony of this last point is not lost on me and the other officers given what happened yesterday,” Bonneau said.
These points have been sent to Pitt administrators for further discussion, Bonneau said.
John Stoner, executive director for academic affairs at the University Center for International Studies, called the entire situation “galling.”
He said that there needs to be a more proactive plan in place to notify departments of calendar changes, especially for new faculty, postdocs and others on contracts who need to plan.
He later said that further decisions about Pitt’s operation, especially on the University’s budget, should be communicated as effectively as possible to help guide faculty and assuage faculty concerns.
Other members of the Assembly told Bonneau that further information needs to be sent out as quickly as possible since professors still need to find classroom space and it’s unclear when many people will receive their first paychecks with the semester starting at this new time.
Bonneau said he will express these concerns to Pitt administrators, and he will work to get further clarification on budget recommendations as soon as possible.
He said the Computing and Information Technology and Educational Policy committees also will look into these concerns.
“I hear the urgency on behalf of a lot of people and we need to get answers as quickly as we can,” Bonneau said. “I feel like this is a breach of the understanding of shared governance here that needs to be repaired, and that we need details and answers that will deliver quality classes.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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