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January 5, 2017

Election prompts variety of reactions

Following an election season he characterized as “a kind of race to the bottom,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced that the University is creating a series of seminars, panel discussions and workshops as forums for engagement.

Reflecting on the divisive election, the chancellor told Senate Council, “It was negative, it was personal, it was acrimonious. It was almost devoid in many cases of actual substantive discussion of positions. And it was often carried out through demeaning personal attacks of anyone who didn’t share the views.”

The big issues that drove people to vote haven’t disappeared, he said.

In announcing the series to the Council, Gallagher said it is created “in the spirit of let’s double down on what we do best” and is designed “to allow us to do what I don’t see happening around us: which is people being thoughtful and constructive and substantive in tackling those issues so that we can advance the dialogue and inform ourselves.”

The University Forum on Current Issues, coordinated through the Office of the Provost, is envisioned as a series of events in multiple formats on a range of topics — some geared toward students; others for a wider audience, Provost Patricia E. Beeson told the University Times following the Dec. 14 Senate Council meeting.

The School of Law will host the first event in the series: “The Future of DACA and Immigration Law and Policy,” set for noon Jan. 18 in the Teplitz Memorial Courtroom in Barco Law Building.

Scheduled panelists William M. Carter Jr., dean of the law school, and faculty members Sheila Vélez Martínez and Orlando Portela Valentin will address the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program instituted by President Barack Obama, as well as the legal and constitutional implications of sanctuary cities; the banning of potential immigrants or foreign visitors on the basis of religion; and the creation of national registries on the basis of religion, national origin and/or country of citizenship.


Post-election reactions at the University have spanned a broad range. Anti-Trump sentiment has dominated activity on the Pittsburgh campus, but at Pitt-Bradford, faculty have taken steps to express support not only for members of the campus community who are fearful because they don’t reflect the demographic of the rural region but also for the fears voiced by members of the campus community who supported the president-elect.

In Pittsburgh, as part of a Nov. 16 rally, students asked the University administration for protections “in solidarity with all groups who find themselves fearing the transition of power” to make this “a sanctuary campus for all of its people.” The event was part of a national campaign, National Walk-Outs for #SanctuaryCampus,

Shortly after, nine Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences faculty members authored a call for Pitt to become a sanctuary University in response to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s stated intention to deport up to three million undocumented persons from the United States, to abolish the DACA program and to establish a national registry for the surveillance of Muslims.

Their petition ( asks Chancellor Gallagher and Provost Beeson “to immediately communicate the University of Pittsburgh’s commitment to the safety of undocumented (also referred to as unauthorized) students of this institution, by issuing a public and procedurally binding statement declaring the University of Pittsburgh a Sanctuary University.”

As of Jan. 4, more than 550 faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends had signed the petition.

Other faculty organized a teach-in that drew about 90 students to the Stephen Foster Memorial on Dec. 8 for presentations on current issues as well as on the history of campus activism.


At Pitt-Bradford, which like the University’s other regional campuses is situated in a solidly red area of Pennsylvania, the faculty senate in November endorsed the following statement in support of an inclusive academic environment.

“The faculty of the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford is proud to affirm its dedication to providing high-quality teaching in a friendly, inclusive, safe, diverse and student-focused academic environment. We, the members of the faculty, support all of our Pitt-Bradford students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members, and we do so in accordance with University policy as well as with our campus mission, our campus vision and, most importantly, with our campus values. Together we stand firm in our commitment to equality of opportunity, human dignity and diversity; to intellectual freedom and curiosity; to individual responsibility and mutual respect; to environmental and economic stability; and to providing leadership and service to our local and global communities.”

The statement, which was distributed to the campus community, was based on a draft by Tracee Howell, a faculty member in English and director of the writing center at Pitt-Bradford.

Her action was prompted in part by graffiti that appeared on a baseball dugout in Wellsville, New York — a town about an hour’s drive from the Pitt-Bradford campus — the day after the election. The photo of a swastika and the slogan “Make America White Again” made national news.

In addition, members of the Bradford campus community aired concerns from multiple perspectives during an open forum on campus — “fear of going into our predominantly white local communities as people of color, and also fear of expressing support for the president-elect,” Howell said.

“I think we all simply decided that in a time of inflated and unfortunate, hateful rhetoric and in the face of a recent act of explicit hatred in our very own region as well as the receipt of student-expressed fear, it was urgently important for our students to hear us say that we support them — all of them, that we’re dedicated to our work and that we will not stop in that commitment to them, to our entire community, to our scholarship, to our values.”


Chancellor Gallagher told Senate Council that requests and demands that he make statements or take positions on issues had been “at an all-time high” in the weeks following the election.

One aspect that sets a university apart is that while other entities may take a position on issues, individuals within a University can represent multiple sides of an issue. “It’s the people within the institution that take positions, not the institution itself,” he said.

“You can see what would happen if the University selected one of those positions and said ‘That’s the one.’ It puts a chilling effect on anyone else that would have a contrary view,” Gallagher said.

We should be grappling with big issues, he said: “Not afraid of them, tackling them head on.

“That doesn’t mean the University taking positions on them. That means doing what we do: Study them; have dialogue and debate; seek to understand them; teach about them; and persuade,” he said.

“No matter what your views are and all the different things that are happening, you can’t be pleased with the way that these things are being done.

“We can do a lot to advance that. We should be the example of how well-meaning people, even if they have different perspectives, know how to get together, respect each other, have the integrity to believe in facts, use evidence and reason, and all the other human abilities we’ve been given to try to move to an understanding about how we can come up with solutions.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

Filed under: Feature,Volume 49 Issue 9

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