By SHANNON O. WELLS
Pitt’s English Language Institute received welcome news during the March 15 Faculty Assembly meeting when Senate Council President Robin Kear announced that the ELI, which was set for closure this summer, will remain open at least through June 30, 2024.
Kear explained that discussions between the administration, the Union of Pitt Faculty and the ELI proved productive, noting that ELI Director Dawn McCormick and Department of Linguistics Chair Scott Kiesling shared the news at the department’s meeting earlier in the day.
“So that is one year of reprieve,” Kear said of the extension. “Details are still being worked out. Discussions continue to address the impact of the extension on ELI faculty contracts. (McCormick) asked me to say that the ELI thanks Provost (Ann) Cudd and the University for the extension and reiterates its thanks to all those who have expressed support.”
The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences announced in December that the ELI would close this June because of declining enrollment and financial concerns. The announcement resulted in some measurable fallout for the University and a substantial outpouring of support throughout the Pitt community.
“We’re hearing from other university-based English-language programs that agents with whom we work are now turning to other programs because of the news of the closure,” McCormick shared with the Faculty Assembly on Feb. 15. “And we have to battle against a loss of confidence in the University from our continuing students because of the announcement.”
Urging quick action to delay or eliminate the closure plan, McCormick expressed hope that an alternate plan designed to “elevate the ELI with the full power of Pitt behind that effort to reinvent itself” would emerge and “significantly” increase the institute’s chances of future success.
Kear also updated Faculty Assembly on efforts to improve lines of communication between shared governance and the Union of Pitt Faculty. She reported that the union’s Council of Representatives voted to create a standing committee to facilitate communications between the union and Senate Council. The committee is meeting on March 21, and Kear said she looks forward “to that continued good faith communication with the union.”
During spring break, Kear observed a union bargaining committee session. Although unfamiliar with bargaining committee “observer status” until recently, she explained that, while the union and administration have chosen to negotiate through a closed process, both sides can have observers.
“They can vary in number and are decided by each side for themselves,” she said, noting that the bargaining committee approved her as an observer in the Pitt Library area’s communication action team. “So, I thank the bargaining committee for allowing me to take a peek into this negotiation process.”
Kear said she attended an observer orientation with Robin Sowards of the United Steelworkers, where he shared ground rules and what to expect during the session. Kear observed union joint sessions, but not the caucusing, where either side can hold a discussion on what has been presented or prepare responses to the sessions.
She attended a bargaining session on March 9, via Zoom. While union observer ground rules don’t permit observers to report contents of the meeting, she shared her own observations on the process.
“I can see how progress toward the first full agreement is maddeningly incremental,” she said. “I commend the bargaining committee’s commitment and effort. They must keep sight of all their goals through the minutia. More meetings would help. Quicker decision-making would help, of course.”
Kear also said she got the impression that the process allows either side to bring any article back to the table at any time until compromise or consensus is reached, and it becomes a “tentative article.”
“Each side can call a caucus at any time in the bargaining session, where they consult among themselves,” she added. “So I think you can imagine the time involved for that, just those two kinds of items of back and forth. … It could be quicker, but it’s meant to be deliberative, and it’s meant to be a negotiation.”
The observation solidified Kear’s belief that more direct information “should be shared by both sides to further the goal of transparency,” including the text of proposals, an article checklist “even on something like how many articles are there and their titles would be helpful, I think, for information sharing,” she said.
The text of tentative articles would also be beneficial, she noted, to get bargaining member feedback as slow negotiations continue.
“A summary does not provide the same opportunity for feedback,” she said.
Kear concluded with a concern that a final contract and related articles “will be presented all at once. And by that time, it’s too late to change anything, and it will be a straight up or down vote,” she said.
Based on her understanding that any bargaining member can ask to be an observer, she encouraged Assembly members to take part. “I think it would help you to appreciate the process,” she said.
Other Faculty Assembly news
Provost’s departure — “As you well know, Provost Ann Cudd has accepted a position to be the next president of Portland State University,” Kear said. “We thank her for her service to Pitt and wish her well in this next opportunity. I have not received any information yet on any search process or any possible interim steps quite yet. I will let you know when I do.”
Free exercise facilities — Addressing a question from a Campus Utilization, Planning and Safety (CUPS) committee meeting about future access of exercise facilities at Bellefield and Trees halls, Kear confirmed that the facilities would remain open and free to faculty and staff after the new recreation and wellness center is finished.
“After working with Linda Tashbook, chair of Benefits and Welfare, and David Salcido, co-chair of CUPS, and with Dave DeJong, our (senior vice chancellor) for Business and Operations, I’m happy to say that yes, these exercise facilities will stay open for faculty and staff for free for the indefinite future,” Kear said. “I know that not all of us use those facilities, but those faculty and staff that do use them are very passionate about using them and want to continue to have those as a benefit. So I’m happy to say that those will be continuing.”
Vaccination and Immunization Policy — With the draft policy process paused, Kear said she would like to see a draft presented by late spring or early summer. “I’m hopeful this work will continue because not only does it help protect campus, this policy streamlines other student vaccination requirements and other lab requirements for certain kinds of work (and) certain kinds of employees in labs,” she said.
Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com.
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