Busy Faculty Assembly addresses policies, vaccines, union and more


Faculty Assembly members approved draft policies on child abuse clearances and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act during the Dec. 1 meeting.

Additionally, Senate Council President Robin Kear announced a slew of updates related to the faculty union, Pitt's recent vaccine mandate and the tenure and promotion process and more.

She began her report reminding everyone that the deadline to comply with the interim vaccine mandate policy is Dec. 6, Kear said, adding that Tom Hitter, assistant vice chancellor for policy development and management, and the Office of Policy Development are working on a permanent vaccine requirement policy that will come before Faculty Assembly at a later date.

A University spokesman said today that through the month of December, “we will continue our process of working with those who wish to come into compliance. Final determinations regarding policy compliance, including employee status and student disenrollment, will be made in early January. We will report compliance numbers at that time.”

When Pitt announced the vaccine mandate in early November, approximately 2,250 students, 240 faculty and 700 staff had not disclosed their vaccination status or sought an exemption.

Hitter also is working on a proposal to start revisions for policy on University Travel, Business Entertainment, Honoraria, and Miscellaneous Reimbursable Expenses, or FN 28, Kear said.

When the draft policy is wrapped up, it will include travel guidelines related to COVID-19.

The updated version also will allow for reimbursement for dependent care. This change comes as a result of the first meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Dependent Care on Nov. 15, Kear said. This policy also will reflect updated guidance from the federal government on grants where dependent care is allowable.

The changes were modeled after the University of California’s dependent care policy, Kear added. She said post-doctoral and graduate students would immediately benefit from this policy change in the spring term.

There have also been changes to the Provost Advisory Council on Tenure and Promotion because of the ongoing bargaining agreement process between Pitt and the faculty union, Kear said. The council will continue to review promotion from tenure-stream associate to full professor and will not review other types of promotions, according to the Office of the Provost.

Union discussion

Kear and former Senate Council President Chris Bonneau criticized the union’s communications detailing the next steps for the bargaining process. Kear and Bonneau said many faculty did not receive the email about an upcoming nomination meeting on Dec. 12, and it seems like the only faculty who did were faculty who had previously signed up on the union’s website for updates.

Kear said she got the information about this announcement from a colleague, but said some faculty may be less likely to seek the information out. She encouraged faculty to share communications with their peers.

Bonneau wondered why the union did not contact faculty more widely via email for such an important announcement, when union organizers were able to show up in-person at Pitt faculty homes during the organizing drive.

“They certainly can come up with a way to email every faculty member in the unit so that this body that's elected comes from the entire faculty who are represented, not just from those people who voluntarily opted in,” said Bonneau, who has been a vocal opponent of the union. “No one voluntarily opted in to have their house door knocked on.”

To learn more information about the bargaining process contact the union at info@pittfaculty.org or visit the union’s official website. Register for the virtual nomination meeting here.

Other announcements

  • The Plant Utilization and Planning, Student Admissions Aid and Affairs, Research and Tenure and Academic Freedom committees will be examining campus crime awareness, Kear said. These efforts come after Student Government Board President Harshitha Ramanan pleaded with University leaders at the Nov. 11 Senate Council meeting to take students’ safety concerns more seriously.

  • Senate committees are reviewing their mission statements and incorporating more priorities related to equity, diversity and inclusion, Kear said.

  • Members were asked to weigh in on whether they wanted to continue attending Faculty Assembly meetings through the new hybrid zoom and in-person format. Several members in the chat endorsed a comment advocating for the hybrid format to continue, citing convenience.

  • Senate Council Vice President Kris Kanthak is working with the Community Relations and Research committees to plan the upcoming spring plenary on March 1, 2022. The forum will focus on community-engaged scholarship. More details will be released soon.

Child abuse and HIPAA policies

Linda Tashbook, chair of the Benefits and Welfare committee presented two draft policies: The Protection of Children from Abuse Procedure and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Policy and Procedure.

The child abuse policy establishes the programs and centers where employees and students need to obtain background checks to work with children and outlines the process for obtaining the clearances.

Multiple assembly members were concerned that the costs for these clearances, which amount to around $60, may create financial barriers for students.

Some members suggested that programs and departments cover the fees for students, especially since the clearances are mandatory. Other members argued that programs and departments do not have an equal ability to cover the costs. They said the decision to cover clearance costs should fall on each organization.

More than 90 percent of the members voted to approve the draft policy. Kear said she would follow up with Ramanan and the Student Government Board to look for potential solutions to help students who may need assistance to cover the clearance costs.

Finally, Tashbook introduced the draft HIPAA policy and procedure, which outlines the implementation responsibilities of the Pitt community as it relates to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which offers protection for the privacy of health information.

The policy applies to University units that are covered components under HIPAA and researchers and contractors who must comply with HIPAA guidelines when they create, disclose, access or use protected health information.

Members unanimously approved the draft policy. Both draft policies will head to Senate Council for further review on Dec. 9.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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