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February 20, 2003

Staff angry at having to report when classes canceled

When Monday’s blizzard dumped 13.1 inches of snow in the Pittsburgh area and up to twice that in surrounding communities, Pitt’s administration canceled classes but kept the University open.

Since then, complaints from staff required to report to work — or else take a vacation or personal day — also have been piling up.

“We got a whole bunch of complaints from staff, both written and spoken,” said Rich Colwell of Pitt’s Staff Association Council.

One staff member in the Graduate School of Public Health wrote to SAC, “I am not questioning the severe weather policy; I understand its meaning. [But] I feel that to give students the day off, faculty the day off, and then to require non-essential staff to report, while penalizing them a personal or vacation day if they don’t, was a thoughtless and mean-spirited action on behalf of the administration.”

College of General Studies academic adviser Natalie A. Cleaver wrote an open letter to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg, which she distributed to several local media outlets. According to Cleaver’s letter, Pitt’s decision to remain open “shows a continued disregard for the safety and health of its employees. It is absurd to require non-essential personnel to report to work on a day when the state has declared a ‘disaster emergency’ and frequent recommendations are issued on the news that people should stay home if possible.”

Cleaver told the University Times that when she got on her usually crowded bus in Regent Square on Monday morning, only a handful of other people were aboard. “I looked around and said, ‘How many of you work at Pitt?’ They all raised their hands. We were the only ones who had to go to work,” Cleaver said.

When she got to work, only three other staff members were there and four more trickled in by noon, she said — out of a total staff of 40.

Cleaver said Pitt’s policy of remaining open except under extreme circumstances is “in keeping with the general lack of respect shown to the dedicated staff at this University.” Cleaver said she hasn’t gotten any response from Pitt’s administration to her letter, “but several staff members saluted me for expressing what they felt.”

One staff member said she heard Gov. Ed Rendell declare a state of “disaster emergency” Sunday night, “but there was nothing about Pitt in the media, except that the Greensburg campus was going to have a delay.”

The staffer said she watched televised cancellation notices until 6 a.m., when she had to leave for work. “I still heard no word about canceled classes,” she said. “I think these decisions, like canceling classes, have to be made the night before or at least by 5 a.m. We have a lot of commuter students here and staff need to be able to plan, too, when [their kids’] schools have a delay or are closed.”

A sampling of other responses to, and repercussions of, Monday’s storm, according to staff interviewed by the University Times:

• Campus mail service was interrupted.

• One Arts and Sciences department closed its main office at noon. In another, only one of six staff scheduled to work that day showed up.

• Only half of the executive staff made it into work at one of Pitt’s schools.

• In one Health Sciences department, only one of eight staff members made it to work Monday.

• In an office that does not deal directly with students, 17 of about 40 workers called off on Monday.

Pitt’s Office of Human Resources annually distributes to all employees a memo titled “Policy on Extreme Weather Conditions,” which is a condensed version of the University’s official policy (Policy 07-04-02, available at the web address:

Robert Hill, Pitt vice chancellor for Public Affairs, told the University Times: “When the University is open — even if there are no classes — there are still thousands of students on campus who require services, and in fact will often take advantage of the fact that they don’t have class obligations in order to take care of other matters” such as seeking Pitt counseling services.

“Staff are expected to be available to students so that the services are provided,” Hill said.

Asked about staff members who don’t work directly with students, Hill said: “All staff members at Pitt, directly or indirectly, work for the benefit of students. So, at a time when the University is open and students are on campus, everybody who is scheduled to work here is expected to report to work.”

—Peter Hart and Bruce Steele

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