By MARTY LEVINE
Should pandemic-prompted extensions continue to be granted to faculty pursuing tenure?
Members of the University Senate’s Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy Committee are gathering data now about practices at other universities, and the continuing need throughout Pitt, to determine whether the committee should advocate for continued availability of such extensions.
Senate President Robin Kear pointed out, at the committee’s Feb. 21 meeting, that Type E applications for a one-year extension to the tenure clock were closed on Jan. 1. Lengthier Type A extensions have more qualifying conditions and may not cover all faculty, said committee co-chair Natasha Tokowicz, psychology faculty member in the Dietrich College of Arts & Sciences.
“The pandemic has disproportionately impacted certain groups — folks who do caretaking, folks who can’t get back into the lab because they have health conditions,” Tokowicz said.
“You don’t want people to put their careers on hold indefinitely,” Kear offered, but “I think there’s a balance and we need to talk it through more.”
Committee co-chair Ally Bove, faculty member in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, noted that other Senate committees are also in favor of investigating and potentially advocating for these extensions.
Bove also reported on the progress of the University’s proposed new nondiscrimination policy, which came under heavy questioning by several committees in its first formulation stage in late 2019 and early 2020. The policy-writing committee, on which she sits, has already approved combining the nondiscrimination and sexual harassment policies into one, Bove said. Its members also have added a paragraph about academic freedom and “legitimate classroom procedures” to make it clear that faculty will not be subject to accusations for conduct covered by those circumstances.
Members are still debating the definitions of harassment and other terms, Bove said. She noted that the policy is making clear that “intent to discriminate is not” needed for there to be a violation of the policy and that a responsible reporter does not need to be a witness to an incident, but can merely hear about it from a student, before the need to report is triggered.
She also said that, in the current rewrite, “the end result is that staff and faculty will have better due process,” including staff and faculty having more ability to appeal — equal to a student’s appeal opportunities.
In other committee news, Bove reported:
The University is on target to add non-binary gender choices to its job applications “by the end of February.” The absence of such choices had been noted at the committee’s last meeting.
The technology accessibility policy instituted several years ago has now resulted in annual reports from Pitt schools and units on success and continuing issues: “Those reports are being combined in OEDI (the Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) so the university can assess its progress,” Bove said. Early indications, she said, are that the University has made accessibility advances in fixing websites, captioning videos and revamping common document templates and foundational documents for departments.
Challenges remain, she said, particularly when the single staff or faculty member with tech accessibility expertise leaves Pitt, after which their department tends to fall behind in its improvement efforts. Departments also have found that older web templates aren’t as easily adaptable and they are working with the University Communications department to overcome that obstacle.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.
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