Faculty Affairs committee members voice frustrations over fall plans


The Senate’s Faculty Affairs committee continued to question how teaching will work in the fall, given technology and room assignments that are not yet set and the requirement for simultaneous in-person/remote classes.

At the committee’s June 30 meeting, Senate President Chris Bonneau clarified that Provost Ann Cudd’s mandate (that “a classroom experience must be made available for students”) required only live, participatory classroom activities, such as group projects and discussions, and not the physical presence of the instructor (although “faculty are encouraged to physically come to the classroom where possible,” Cudd’s announcement said). Thus, professors should not design completely asynchronous classes, even if the faculty member conducts class remotely, he explained.

“We have to figure out how those classroom experiences will be pedagogically sound,” said committee co-chair Lorraine Denman, a faculty member in French and Italian in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. “It seems like classroom management could become a problem,” she added.

Denman expressed the fear that appointment stream faculty will be requested by tenure stream faculty to perform in-class functions in their stead. “I’ve been in the position where I’ve been afraid to say no to a tenure stream request,” she reported. “I just want us to be aware and be sensitive to potential inequities.

“I’m a little frustrated with some of the comments I’ve seen” about Cudd’s announcement, said Bonneau, a political science faculty member in the Dietrich School, including a petition circulating in his school, saying graduate students and staff members shouldn’t be asked to substitute in the classroom if faculty choose to work remotely. While petitions are “generally ineffective,” he agreed that “we need to be sure we are not exploiting our graduate students and those without job security,” such as adjuncts and appointment-stream faculty.

Bonneau speculated that “if the professor is not in class,” students will not want to be there either. But he could imagine himself, in his forties and without comorbidities for COVID-19, agreeing to step into the classroom for a colleague who is more at risk — say, to switch on the technology for that day’s lesson, while the colleague still runs the class remotely.

“Is this going to be more work? No question. It’s going to be more work for everybody,” Bonneau said.

Suzanna Gribble, a biological sciences faculty member in the Dietrich School and committee secretary, asked: “What are the technologies going to be? How complicated are these set-ups going to be? If I am on my own, Wizard-of-Oz’ing it,” will she get tech help from the University Center for Teaching and Learning? Will faculty choosing remote instruction be able to start up in-class tech from their homes?

Cynthia Golden, Center for Teaching and Learning director, joined the meeting and said those answers were forthcoming, and that faculty members would be given the chance to try out new classroom presentation systems before the fall semester started.

“This could all be moot, given the behavior of people over the last three weeks,” said Pat Loughlin, Swanson School of Engineering faculty member, noting the surge in COVID-19 cases both in Allegheny County and in many states across the country, after the relaxation of strictures. “It seems prudent that everyone should prepare for online teaching.”

Loughlin said the “big elephant in the room” is how students behave outside the classroom — if they choose not to maintain social distancing and mask wearing in their personal lives. He hoped the University administration would address their lack of control over students outside of classrooms. “How are they going to protect the Oakland community?” Loughlin asked.

Noting that the student code of conduct is being revised to include rules involving when to wear personal protective equipment, Bonneau said he did not know how the administration would react if a faculty member disallowed class attendance by students who refused to wear masks.

“Because of terrible leadership in Washington, wearing a mask has somehow become ideological,” he said, “but if people come to my class without wearing a mask, I am walking out. This is a big concern and we will hopefully be putting out guidelines on this very shortly.”

Bonneau said Pitt will be providing masks for students, faculty and staff, so students will have no excuse.

Asked whether the University will pay for COVID-19 tests, he said Pitt’s Healthcare Advisory Group was devising a test protocol.

In other committee news:

  • Golden reported that 2,726 faculty members (or about half) have attended Canvas trainings, and that 1,300 courses have already been run using Canvas, as the transition from Blackboard to the newly adopted learning management system continues. Gribble noted that professors in her department had been seeking the advice of colleagues who were using Canvas to teach courses this summer, and that those faculty members had developed videos to tutor colleagues, suggesting that other departments might adopt these training techniques as well.

  • Several committee members reported faculty and staff in their schools or units had been asked to fill out a variety of forms that might be used for contact tracing, should the University employee become ill with COVID-19. They expressed concern over the privacy of the forms, which sometimes require the listing of personal contacts and activities, and how long such forms will be stored and where. Bonneau said that “there is going to be guidance” on such procedures by the committee’s July 21 meeting.

  • Loughlin noted that faculty “need access to our offices to prepare (for fall classes), more than just five minutes or an hour to pick up things.” He suggested the University should “start relaxing restrictions on faculty coming to campus,” and Bonneau said he would seek answers on this issue as well.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at martyl@pitt.edu or 412-758-4859.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.