By SUSAN JONES
A resolution opposing external interference with curriculum, mask mandates, help for Ukraine, building security and Pitt’s new budget model were just some of the topics covered at a jammed-packed Faculty Assembly meeting on March 16.
Senate President Robin Kear used the meeting to seek input from faculty on several key issues. “I try to represent your interests as faithfully as I can to our senior administration, and the more information that I have, the better job that I can do.”
The Senate officers introduced the resolution on freedom from external curricular interference. Kear noted this was a rare move, but “when an issue is cross cutting and fundamental to our educational existence, in this case, I believe it is warranted.”
“We felt that it was time to and important to put something forward for discussion to make the position of Faculty Assembly clear on this matter,” Kear said.
Over the past year, she said, she has seen increasing politically motivated interference, mostly by governmental entities, in curriculum at K-12 schools and at state-funded colleges and universities. For instance, Florida lawmakers are trying to ban teaching critical race theory in all state-funded schools.
Kear also said Provost Ann Cudd has proposed a statement reaffirming the University’s existing commitment to academic freedom. This statement is working its way through shared governance and will be discussed by the Tenure and Academic Freedom committee next week.
After some debate about the language in the document, Faculty Assembly approved the resolution, citing the University’s bylaws, which state: “(a)utonomy and freedom of inquiry are required for the University to carry out its mission.”
The resolution reads:
“The University Senate rejects any attempts by external entities to restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice.
“The University Senate calls upon the current and future leaders of the University of Pittsburgh to affirm that they reject any attempts by external entities to restrict or dictate university curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice.”
After the Campus Utilization, Planning and Safety (CUPS) committee discussed when building swipes and concierge stations might be removed as pandemic restrictions ease, some faculty reached out to Kear.
“Some of our faculty have expressed serious security concerns that argue in favor of keeping some or all of these measures partially or fully,” Kear said.
Chris Bonneau, immediate past president of Senate Council who raised issues at the committee meeting about privacy and convenience if the building monitoring continues post-pandemic, said he’s received pushback from some faculty members who have legitimate concerns about security, often because of the types of scholarship they do.
“It may be what’s needed is not a one size fits all approach, but there will be some limits on some areas based on need and on legitimate safety concerns, but not in all areas,” he said. “I think we all agree that it’s not sustainable to do what we’re doing now. We also agree that nobody who’s staffing these stations is going to stop anything from happening to anybody. If we’re concerned about safety, let’s have that conversation. But I do think the current checkpoint system is more cosmetic at this point than anything else.”
Elizabeth Oyler, an associate professor in East Asian languages and literature, noted that keeping the Cathedral of Learning off-limits cuts out the community, “and it would be good from a good neighbor point of view to let it be open to the public as soon as feasible.”
But Lorraine Denman, a senior lecturer of Italian whose office is in the Cathedral, countered that opening the building would be good, “but I feel like there could be a balance with regard to safety. … We’ve had several instances of burglaries, non-Pitt people in our offices, etc. I have felt unsafe teaching an evening course, for example. Perhaps there could be evening security measures in place?”
Others said building security during the pandemic has caused some problems.
“I have lost several hours of lecture time because of delays associated with swiping in 300 students,” said Laurel Roberts, senior lecturer in biological sciences.
“It does not seem feasible to keep building swipes in large buildings that have numerous classrooms,” said business professor Ray Jones. “If some sort of tracking is made permanent for security reasons, then the tracking must be highly automated and available at multiple entrances when these multiple entrances are re-opened.”
Kear said the CUPS committee will be discussing this issue again at its next meeting on March 21. Anyone with comments can contact her or committee co-chairs David Salcido and Deborah Miller.
Input also is being sought on the University Travel, Business Entertainment, Honoraria and Miscellaneous Reimbursable policy, which is undergoing a full review.
There are three faculty on the revision committee, Kear said, and the policy will be vetted by three Senate committees before it comes before Faculty Assembly and Senate Council.
She specifically is looking for feedback on the temporary COVID-19 standards and guidelines and on using Anthony Travel for airfare and car rental. At the Faculty Affairs committee on March 17, Kear said, “I would say that that the COVID-19 requirements to use Anthony Travel is the most widespread dissatisfaction I’ve ever heard from faculty.”
She will communicate any input she receives to the members of the revision committee.
Ad hoc committee on faculty union
Kear told assembly members that she is exploring the creation of an ad hoc committee on faculty union relations. It would be a two-year committee with only faculty.
“Ideally, it would consist of members who are active in shared governance and want to examine the relationship between the Senate and the faculty union,” she said.
The committee could function as an advisory body with representatives from the Senate committees that will be most affected by bargaining agreements.
DEI in tenure and promotion
Kear reported that a new provost-level committee has been formed to consider including faculty work on diversity, equity and inclusion issues and community engaged scholarship when considering promotion and tenure.
The committee is chaired by John Wallace, vice provost for faculty diversity and development, and has been broken up to focus on the two areas. Kear said she believes the work of the committee will be used by the provost to develop a memo that will go out to deans and then each school would decide how to implement the new guidelines. She compared it to the assessment of teaching memo that Provost Ann Cudd issued two years ago.
The timeline for the committee is pretty short, Kear said. She earlier told the Community Engagement committee that they hope to have something through Faculty Assembly by May.
Elections for Faculty Assembly and Senate office will be from April 5 to 20. The only office up for election this year is secretary. Gosia Forte, who has held the position for the past three years, can’t run again.
The other two officers — president and vice president — were elected last year and will serve two years after changes to the bylaws last year. The person who replaces Forte also will serve two years. Chris Bonneau, who is heading the election committee, said Penny Morel, a professor in the School of Medicine, is the only candidate.
The committee elections will be from April 27 to May 9. There are three positions open on each of the 15 committees. Kear said they are still looking for people to run. If you are interested, contact Lori Molinaro by March 25.
The slate for Faculty Assembly is:
Humanities (two vacancies): Dawn McCormick, Linguistics; Claude Mauk, Linguistics; Cory Holding, English
Natural Sciences (two vacancies): Jennifer Cousins, Psychology; Peter Bell, Chemistry
Social Sciences (one vacancy): Margaret Judd, Anthropology; John Stoner, History
Business (no vacancy)
Education (one vacancy): No canddiate yet
Engineering (two vacancies): Mohamed Bayoumy, Ahmed Dallal, David Schmidt
GSPIA (one vacancy): Jennifer Murtazashvili
Law (one vacancy): Ben Bratman
School of Computing and Information (no vacancy)
Social Work (one vacancy): Leah Jacobs
University Library System (one vacancy): Christopher Lemery
Dental Medicine (one vacancy): Alejandro Almarza, Thottala Jayaraman
Public Health (one vacancy): Balasubramani Goundappa, Lisa Parker
Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (one vacancy): Nicholas (Alex) Cutsumbis,
Health Sciences Library System (one vacancy): Gosia Fort
Pharmacy (one vacancy): Brian Potoski
Nursing (one vacancy): Jonna Morris, Paula Sherwood
Medicine (three vacancies): Martica (Tica) Hall, Raymond Pitetti, Melanie Scott, Zongqi Xia
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 724-244-4042.
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