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December 10, 2015

Assembly tackles role in improving diversity

Faculty Assembly has begun to wrestle with the role it will play in developing a sustainable strategy for improving Pitt’s culture of diversity.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher has called on the University Senate to partner with the administration in the effort. (See Nov. 25 University Times.)

Citing rising numbers of clashes and demonstrations in response to discriminatory behavior on campuses elsewhere, Senate President Frank Wilson said he agrees with Gallagher that the University community should address diversity issues here proactively, rather than in the midst of a controversy.

In light of the Senate’s plan to focus its plenary session on academic freedom, “this will be connected with things we will be discussing anyway,” Wilson told assembly members Dec. 1. “My hope is to have more expanded discussions. You will have capacity for a lot of input into this.”

Wilson said that he, along with representatives of staff and student organizations, began meeting in November with Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, and Pamela Connelly, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion.

“I think that many of us are thinking this is an opportunity,” Wilson said. “I, too, am giving a lot of credit to the chancellor for putting this on the table and saying we need to deal with this and these are the groups that need to do it.”

Discussions are just beginning, but one facet for the faculty to ponder involves potential changes to the University’s curriculum, Wilson said, citing calls for diversity courses as a requirement or an option. “That’s of direct interest to the faculty,” he said, emphasizing the importance of discussion within the appropriate Senate committees.


Assembly member Michael Goodhart of political science commended the chancellor for raising the issue, but questioned the framework for the discussion. Goodhart observed that early discussion has centered on “toleration” and on balancing free speech with students’ rights to live in a civil community.

“Those issues are important issues,” he acknowledged. “But toleration strikes me as an incredibly narrow, outmoded lens for thinking about the types of problems that are erupting on campuses.”

He said that a Nov. 18 “Black lives matter” rally, held on the same day as the “Hail to Paris” event in response to terrorist attacks in France, attracted about 30 students and 40 police officers.

“They weren’t shut down … They were allowed to have their event, they were ‘tolerated’. But is that the kind of community we want to create?” he said, expressing concern over “sending 40 cops pre-emptively to a get-together to say that black people have the right not to be killed by police or subjected to institutional racism.”

Goodhart said, “There are structural problems of disenfranchisement, lack of inclusion, marginalization, harassment which aren’t issues of free speech versus something else, they’re issues of people’s human rights being violated in a systematic way, both on campuses around the country and in the broader society.

“I personally would like to see this conversation happen in a different framework in which the much broader issues were addressed, because I think that if we get off on the wrong foot, framing it in this very narrow way, we risk exacerbating the problem of misunderstanding and widening the gulf of understanding between students who are impacted and the administration and the broader structures that are in play here, rather than making it better.”

Wes Rohrer of public health asked, “What will the bounds be for this discussion?” pointing out that the issues that have been flashpoints elsewhere extend beyond the University into the surrounding community.

Wilson acknowledged there is no easy answer. “This is much bigger than the University of Pittsburgh; it’s much bigger than the City of Pittsburgh or Westmoreland County where I am (at Pitt-Greensburg). There are different situations, there are different contexts, but we do have a responsibility. The chancellor recognizes it and we need to recognize it, too: We’re a public university and we should be part of this bigger discussion,” he said.

In addition to looking inward, “we need to remember we’re part of something much bigger and if we can contribute in a positive way to that, then I think we’re serving our mission appropriately,” Wilson said.

Surveying the roomful of white colleagues, Scott Nelson of chemistry called attention to the lack of diversity present. “As we’re constituted, are we equipped to effectively address these issues? Or are we going to need outside input that maybe gives us perspective that is impossible — for me anyway — to reach?”

“…You need someone who can speak in an authoritative way to these issues. You don’t need people like me. You have plenty of people like me,” he said.

Kacey Marra, co-chair of the Senate equity, inclusion and anti-discrimination advocacy committee (EIADAC), spoke up for her committee’s abilities. “Our committee is highly diverse, very much capable of addressing diversity issues if you look at the members,” she said. “We also have representatives from Black Action Society, Campus Women’s Organization, Rainbow Alliance. They all attend EIADAC meetings and all have input in what we’re doing.

“We are, at our next meeting, finalizing the list that we’re going to provide to the chancellor of suggestions of what the community can do, including:  hiring a diversity consultant; having open town hall meetings; re-evaluating the Pitt Promise. It’s front and center for EIADAC this semester,” Marra said.


Senate past president Michael Spring called on the faculty community to take action, suggesting the time may be right for faculty to issue an open letter on the issues.

“We have three significant issues that the administration has taken the lead on, and that the community — which might normally be the instigator of that discussion — has been somewhat passive,” he said.

“I don’t want to dictate a particular position, but I think that as of this point the chancellor has put himself on the line three times in terms of saying there are things that must be addressed: sexual harassment, diversity and racism,” Spring said.

“Each of our standing committees might ask if there’s a part of this issue that they play a role in,” he said.

“I don’t think anybody sees a clear and easy path to changing the University, the Oakland community, the City of Pittsburgh, the state of Pennsylvania or the world. We have a series of onions here; in a sense we can only impact that which we can touch, and hopefully the ripples of that will move beyond,” he said.

“I think it’s time for us collegially to articulate the various perspectives on the issue, and I think it’s useful to do that in writing, as well as orally,” Spring said.

“What the chancellor has very clearly said is: ‘I can’t do it by myself. If we’re not all marching together, we’re not marching.’”

Computer usage committee report

Fran Yarger, co-chair of the Senate computer usage committee, detailed the University’s technology loaner program for international travel.

Mac and PC laptops, iPads, iPhones and Android smartphones are available free for faculty and staff to use when traveling internationally on University business.

To request a device, users must register their trip via the travel registry community at using the “My resources” drop-down menu.

The loaner equipment is available on a first-come, first-served basis, she said.

Core software is included, and Computing Services and Systems Development (CSSD) consultants can customize the loaners with additional software, provided that licensing agreements include international rights, Yarger said.

The loaner devices come with free limited data plans; borrowers and their departments are responsible for other costs such as data overage charges, international calls, text messaging and lost, stolen or damaged devices, she said.

Since June 1, 41 faculty and staff members have borrowed 21 laptops, 12 iPads and 31 smartphones through the loaner program, Yarger said.

(For more details on the program, see May 28 University Times.)


In other business:

•  Wilson announced that the Senate election process has begun and asked faculty to consider service as a Senate officer, Faculty Assembly member or standing committee member. Spring will chair the elections committee, which will meet in late January or early February to prepare slates for April Senate elections.

•  Law faculty member Michael Madison, an expert in intellectual property law, will speak on academic freedom and research-related issues in an open forum following the Jan. 12 Faculty Assembly meeting. The forum will be held at 4 p.m. in 2500 Posvar Hall.

Planning is underway for a similar session on another aspect of academic freedom following the Feb. 9 assembly meeting, Wilson said.

The two sessions are precursors to the March 30 Senate plenary session on academic freedom in the 21st century.

—Kimberly K. Barlow       

Filed under: Feature,Volume 48 Issue 8

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