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February 5, 2009

Senate group wants Pitt to address ADA concerns

A University Senate committee wants Pitt to address two concerns related to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and its sequel legislation, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008.

Lynn Fitzgerald, chair of the Senate’s anti-discriminatory policies committee, said her committee has heard complaints regarding the University’s evacuation procedures as they relate to those with disabilities.

The issue is not that evacuation plans aren’t in place, including for individuals who request a tailored plan, it’s that they are not well disseminated, Fitzgerald reported to Faculty Assembly last week.

The committee met with officials from Disability Resources and Services (DRS), the University Counseling Center and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) to address the concerns, Fitzgerald said.

“Clearly, from our discussions with these officials, it came out there is a good system in place for evacuations of persons with disabilities on campus. Between the DRS and EHS, information is available on their web sites about what should happen, but faculty, staff and students don’t seem to be aware of what should happen,” Fitzgerald said. “The services are there, but when people don’t know where to find them, or don’t use them, it becomes a problem.”

A Provost’s office official told her committee that in the early 1990s most campus buildings had a volunteer safety committee, a system that has gone by the wayside, she said.

“Our recommendations as a committee are that we go back to reinstating safety committees in either every building or in every school, to be responsible at least for meeting on an annual basis and making sure there’s a review of the evacuations plans” and a dissemination of the information to all building occupants, Fitzgerald said.

In addition, the committee recommended that each floor have a designated fire marshal and every classroom have evacuation plans posted and first aid equipment available.

The committee also asked faculty to consider adding a section to each course syllabus describing the classroom’s evacuation procedures and asking if anyone in the class would need accommodation for a physical disability in case evacuation became necessary.

Assembly members commented that responsibility for establishing a safety committee and recruiting volunteer fire marshals needs to be clarified in those buildings and floors occupied by more than one unit.

Fitzgerald said, “We did not want to go further in our committee until we see whether other committees should be involved, or whether an ad hoc committee should be established.”

Paul Munro, chair of the Senate’s plant utilization and planning (PUP) committee, said some of the issues raised by Fitzgerald are not strictly discriminatory in nature and that therefore PUP also should address these issues in tandem with Fitzgerald’s committee.

Assembly members then agreed that no ad hoc committee was needed at this time.

Fitzgerald said another concern of her committee is more future-looking. “This is the idea of universal design,” she said. “Initially, disability [legislation] came about based on the same principles established in the civil rights movement: to provide equal treatment and equal opportunity. The result was the concept of providing ‘reasonable accommodations’ for those with a disability,” Fitzgerald said.

(For a related story on ADAAA, see Jan. 22 University Times.)

“Now this idea of universal design has started. So far, it’s primarily been applied to architectural barriers so that there is universal access to a building. You don’t wait for somebody to come into a building who needs an accommodation; you have the accommodation in place already,” Fitzgerald said.

“This notion is starting to evolve in terms of the curriculum, particularly with computers. Some schools are saying that instead of waiting for a particular student to come and say I need [my computer] adapted, that needs to already be in place, the software is already there in the design,” she said.

Committee members want the University to begin investigating this, she said. “Obviously, it’s going to take some time to put into place and would cost money. The committee is proposing that perhaps we start an ad hoc committee, with people from CIDDE (Center for Instructional Design and Distant Education) and start to look into this,” Fitzgerald said. She added that the University of Washington in Seattle is considered a model school in the implementation of universal design.

Assembly member Nicholas Bircher recommended that the anti-discriminatory policies committee draft a proposal to establish an ad hoc committee, complete with a mission statement and a charge, and bring it to a future Faculty Assembly meeting for discussion and a vote.

University Senate President John Baker said he would raise both committee issues with Pitt’s senior administration and report on any feedback.

In other Faculty Assembly developments:

• PUP committee chair Munro introduced a resolution regarding employees who are breastfeeding.

As background, Munro read the committee’s supporting statement: “The World Health Organization encourages all women to breastfeed their children until at least the age of 2 because it reduces the risk of childhood diseases; but mothers going back on the job after a few months’ maternity leave often stop breastfeeding because of a lack of space, privacy and support for nursing or pumping breast milk. Provision of an appropriate location for breastfeeding, or pumping, could address this need, and it would benefit the University through improved health of its families.

“Resolved: All units of the University should work to provide private space within existing facilities for nursing mothers, as needed.”
Assembly members approved the resolution unanimously.

As the University Times went to press, Munro was expected to introduce the resolution to Senate Council, which met at 3 p.m. yesterday, Feb. 4.

• Baker reported that the Senate’s executive committee has convened a working group, chaired by Senate vice president Susan Hansen, to work with the Office of the General Council on a re-wording of Pitt’s Sexual Harassment Policy (Policy 07-06-04).

A change is required, Baker said, to comply with a recent Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Case No. 07-2220, Christian M. DeJohn v. Temple University) ruling holding that Temple’s harassment policy, which has wording similar to Pitt’s, is unconstitutional in being too broad.

“The working group will report to Faculty Assembly after the meetings with the University attorneys have concluded,” he said.

• Baker alerted Faculty Assembly members that the Senate tenure and academic freedom committee (TAFC) is examining a proposal by the School of Medicine to extend the “tenure clock” for basic science faculty from seven to 10 years. The 10-year timeframe for tenure already applies to clinical faculty in the medical school, Baker noted.

“This request applies only to the medical school; faculty in other schools would remain on a seven-year tenure clock,” Baker said. “I think a lot of faculty are going to have an opinion on this [and] I wanted to alert you that we will be discussing it at a future meeting this term once TAFC is ready to make a recommendation.”

• The two-year lifespan of the ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity expired Dec. 31, but the Senate’s executive committee agreed that its work is incomplete and worth continuing, Baker reported. The executive committee approved forming a new committee, named the ad hoc committee for the promotion of gender equity 2, he said.

Ad hoc committee chair Irene Frieze said, “There has been some discussion that this committee be made a standing committee, but that’s been tabled. There are pros and cons to that, because we’re a large, open committee now, and a standing committee has a formal structure and requires members to be elected.”

Frieze summarized the disbanded committee’s final report, which is available online at:

• The Senate’s spring plenary session will be held March 3, 12:15-3:15 p.m., in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. The subject is “Scholarly Publishing Today and Tomorrow: What You Need to Know.” The plenary session was planned by the Senate library committee.

• Baker reported that the faculty senates at the Bradford, Greensburg and Johnstown campuses had agreed on a list of 128 schools to use as a common salary benchmark comparison.

—Peter Hart

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