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December 15, 2017

Socially Responsible Investing Committee, Grad Student Report the Focus of Faculty Assembly

Members have been appointed to a committee established by the University’s administration to examine approaches to socially responsible investment of the University’s endowments. The committee will meet in the near future, said Senate President Frank Wilson at the Dec. 5 session of Faculty Assembly.

The group will look at how other universities and nonprofits approach socially responsible investing and will examine the merits and trade-offs of such approaches if Pitt were to implement them.

Wilson announced that David Denis, a faculty member in the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, will chair the committee. The other committee members include:

  • CB Bhattacharya, a faculty member in the Katz School;
  • Ronald Brand, a faculty member in the School of Law;
  • Michael Goodhart, a faculty member in the Department of Political Science;
  • Max Kneis, Student Government Board president; and
  • Sarah Grguras, an active member of the Fossil Free Pittsburgh Coalition.

The Pitt community will have opportunities to provide input in the committee’s discussions, according to Wilson. He added that it is advantageous to take up these issues now when the political climate is one in which funding of public universities continues to be cut.

“One of the arguments thrown around in a simplistic way is ‘Hey, you guys have this huge endowment. Why do you need state funding?’” said Wilson. “I think we’re better off understanding the rules of that game and what the University is doing, and I expect this committee will help us do that.”

Student Admissions, Aid and Affairs Committee Updates Assembly on Graduate Student Practices

While delivering his committee’s report, Juan Taboas, co-chair of the Senate student admissions, aid and affairs committee, said that graduate student organizers have likely gathered the amount of authorization cards needed to bring forward a vote to join the United Steelworkers union.

The report conceded that “students who are content will not likely move to encourage students not to unionize” and may sign cards regardless.

“The squeaky wheel gets the lube,” said Taboas, a faculty member in the School of Dental Medicine. “Graduate students that are happy aren’t going to be telling their peers, ‘No, don’t sign up for a union.’”

Taboas said that the committee can understand both the student perspective and the University perspective in the discussions surrounding unionization.

In the report, the committee said that it is unlikely that a union would be able to successfully address several of the critical issues identified as being of greatest concern to graduate students.

These issues, the report said, include how the administration has not sufficiently addressed long work hours, low pay and assistance in managing situations where the relationship between graduate student and mentor has turned “toxic.”

“One thing we found that we want to caution is that for graduate students — much more than undergraduate students — and their relationships with their mentors and instructors … is it’s critical to their (graduate students) survival,” said Taboas. “It’s a person they interact with for many years.”

What makes handling these mentorship grievances more complex is how each school and college acts independently and how each has its own procedures for handling such situations. Further complicating matters are the hierarchical reporting relationships between mentors and department chairs.

There are cases, Taboas said, in which individual programs in schools are not aware of how a particular school’s policies help graduate students, or do not understand if there are resources — such as an ombudsman or an independent person to speak with — in place.

The committee encouraged the further exploration of the possible development of best practice guidelines from across the different programs, departments and schools.

“It might be useful to investigate across the schools what are their best practices and help them make their faculty and students aware of what they are,” said Taboas. “That is our job. We have the best interest in our students’ success. They do well, we do well.”

“In that spirit,” he added, “Addressing this issue irrespective of the union makes sense to us.”


Katie Fike,, 412-624-1085


Filed under: Feature,Volume 50 Issue 9

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