By SUSAN JONES
For Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, the past year and a half has shown how Pitt can bend but not break in the face of crisis.
“I think Pitt comes out of this crisis so much stronger,” he said in a recent interview. “To a person, we were all pushed as far out of our comfort zones as I can imagine any human being pushed. As a result, a lot of people found ways to (fulfill) our mission to educate kids and advance research and serve our communities at a time when that was about as hard as I can imagine making it.”
One of the University’s most significant achievements during the pandemic, Gallagher said, is that “we actually made a big difference” in research and in contributing to the dialogue about important issues.
While there are many things that the University could have done differently, “nothing stands out … as a major problem,” he said. “Communication was sorely tested, and surely we could have done better on some of the language we used about various things, whether that was about signaling risk or whether that was about changing the operational mode of the University, which caused some confusion. But in the big picture, I think, no regrets in that sense, but a lot of lessons learned.”
Gallagher spoke about several issues during the interview.
On job creep and job classifications:
The pandemic has in some ways decoupled compensation from the amount of work being done, the chancellor said. Many have taken on new job duties after co-workers left through attrition or the early retirement programs, and the current salary freeze means no extra pay for that work.
“I think there’s a certain sense where it just doesn’t feel right and, in fact, people probably never worked harder across the board, and the system just wasn’t designed to reward that in that way,” he said.
The University has tried to compensate by extending leave and benefits, adding days and showing flexibility, but Gallagher admits it’s not the same as getting raises. And it’s not clear if some jobs will go back to what they were pre-pandemic.
“The long-term answer is probably not short-term bonuses, but I think a lot of it is this long-standing problem we’ve had at Pitt. … We have to do a much better job of identifying work, categorizing it and making sure that we know what competitive compensation is.”
Work is still being done on the job reclassification system under the Shaping the Work initiative that started in 2019, but the plan hasn’t reached Gallagher’s desk yet.
“They’re probably tired of me pushing on this,” he said. “It comes down to your principles. If we want to be competitive, and we’re a talent-driven organization — and we are — then we want to be able to attract and retain and reward people so this is a great place to have a career.”
The key is identifying what competitive and fair compensation is, he said. “If you don’t have that, then it’s Lake Wobegon — everybody’s unique. It becomes very uneven; it can become unfair; it can become unbalanced. We have to fix this, and this is really probably the most urgent thing to do on our employee compensation system.”
On managing work vs. attendance:
One positive thing to come out of the pandemic, Gallagher said, is “supervisors in the past could get away with managing presence — are you at work or not — and now they’ve been forced to manage work — are you getting your job done or not. I think we’re going to come out of this a lot smarter about what work is being done and what we’re asking people to do.”
That might mean crafting jobs in new ways, including making some positions higher level with higher compensation.
The loss of some workers to early retirement also has created staffing shortages in some areas. The chancellor said that many departments are moving slowly now to fill positions coming out of the pandemic, “I think people are afraid to start moving forward on some of that, but that will start changing pretty quickly.”
On raises and the budget:
Gallagher isn’t ready to predict what the 2021-22 budget will look like yet, largely because of uncertainty over what the state appropriation will be.
“We’re in a nonpreferred appropriation. What I’m being told is that it’s not obvious that we have support for our appropriation,” he said. “But at the same time, there’s no organized opposition against us, either.”
He and others at the University are having to do a lot more engagement with lawmakers to get out the message that the state funding supports Pennsylvania students “and so any reduction in funding can only hurt Pennsylvania students.”
As for pay raises this year, Gallagher said last year’s salary freeze is not a long-term strategy, “it’s a tactic.”
“But at the same time, we were tight before the pandemic. We absorbed a lot of one-time cost, we’re going to be tight coming out of the pandemic,” he said. “I know that the budget teams are looking very carefully at how do we balance this correctly, but I don’t foresee freezes at this time — pay freezes or hiring freezes. … Hopefully, we get back to kind of more normal budget setting processes.”
On returning to campus:
“From a health perspective, our planning is based on the assumption that people will be vaccinated,” the chancellor said, even though Pitt has not decided yet whether to mandate vaccines for those returning to campus.
But even if everyone who can get a vaccine is vaccinated, that doesn’t mean everyone will be returning to campus.
“What we’ve learned is … a lot of jobs can get done with a lot more flexibility in work schedule, workplace environment than we thought we could do before,” Gallagher said. “It’s not so much about COVID anymore, but it’s about, OK, now that we know that we can do remote work, flex time work, adjustable schedule work, what job categories at the University are compatible with that and how can we get our work done by using more flexibility than we had before. And that’s the analysis that’s happening now.”
On not replacing Kathy Humphrey:
Gallagher announced last month that he does not plan to fill the senior vice chancellor for Engagement position that Kathy Humphrey will vacate at the end of June to become president of Carlow University.
“I think it really boiled down to, to replace her I’d be looking for a clone of Kathy Humphrey,” he said. The position really was created “because she was who she was.” Humphrey had been Gallagher’s chief of staff and secretary to the Board of Trustees before expanding into the senior vice chancellor role.
He and Humphrey both concluded that reverting to the more traditional structure of the offices of Communications and Marketing, Government and Community Relations and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion reporting directly to the chancellor’s office was the right decision.
“It also, of course, is consistent with a little bit of belt-tightening and not keeping the senior team size quite as large,” Gallagher said.
On what fall 2021 will look like:
“It’s going to be exciting because it’s going be so much more optimistic than we’ve been dealing with,” Gallagher said. “We’ve all had this very near-term focus for so long — what’s it going to be like next week, can cases stay down. And finally, we can get back to thinking about longer term and what’s happening in our country, in our region and how do we contribute and how do we apply our mission to make the world a better place.”
He’s also looking forward to reconnecting with students, staff and faculty.
“The introverted me kind of enjoyed a little bit of this for a while, but the extrovert suffered,” he said. “We all need that human contact, and I’m just looking forward to seeing people on campus again and resuming that human connection that we lost over the last 18 months.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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