Faculty can include pandemic impact statements for evaluations


Provost Ann Cudd sent a message to Pitt faculty this month assuring them that deans and campus presidents would account for hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic when evaluating their job performance.

In the email sent on March 1, Cudd thanked Pitt faculty for their perseverance and hard work during the pandemic.

“Your outstanding work is central to our success,” the email said. “I recognize and feel with you the immense cost of our collective intensity of effort.”

Cudd said that she wanted to make one thing clear: deans and campus presidents are working hard to develop methods to holistically evaluate faculty while accounting for difficulties posed by the pandemic.

These plans are to be submitted to the Office of the Provost by April 30, 2021. 

As a part of their teaching evaluations, faculty may submit a COVID-19 impact statement detailing any pandemic-related struggles they think campus leaders should be aware of.

“If there is one thing I have learned since the pandemic began, it is the importance of flexibility and of grace toward one another,” Cudd said.

This announcement follows recent public meetings where multiple faculty expressed their concern about how caregiving and other pandemic-related struggles may affect student-teacher evaluations, or OMETs. 

Faculty have repeatedly pointed to studies showing that student evaluations are harsher toward women and people of color and are now concerned that the pandemic will lead to even more bias. Cudd previously told faculty that OMETs should not be the only or main tool to measure teaching performance. 

In the fall 2020 semester, the Senate Educational Policies Committee passed a resolution that, in part, asked for University leaders to consider either discounting or discontinuing OMETs and to inform the provost of their plans to evaluate teaching.

Members of Pitt’s shared governance said they were pleased with the provost’s message and said it was a sign she was listening to faculty. 

John Stoner, a co-chair of the Educational Policies Committee, said the email was an indicator that Pitt administrators are “following through on what the administration agreed to do.”

Allyn Bove, a co-chair of the Senate Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy committee, said the provost’s solution allows for both faculty and student voices to be heard and valued. An impact statement is a valuable tool in the annual performance review process, she said.

“I think it’s a really great way for the students to still have their voice and for departments and faculty to consider what they thought about things, (and) for the faculty to be able to provide some context of those comments in light of the current state of things in the world.”

Stoner and Senate Council President Chris Bonneau were happy with the provost’s message but had mixed feelings about the voluntary impact statement.

Stoner said faculty may already find themselves in a vulnerable position because of the pandemic. And asking them to explain how the pandemic affected them may require them to share potentially sensitive personal information with their supervisors that could have promotion consequences down the road.

“That can only work in a system in which you can trust everyone who has access to that information,” said Stoner, executive director of academic affairs at the University Center for International Studies and a senior lecturer in the Department of History. “While I’ve had very good experiences with department chairs in my own department, I don’t know that every unit would necessarily feel the same way.”

And part-time instructors also may be especially vulnerable “since they may find themselves being underemployed and having more financial stress, etc., than those of us who are privileged to have full-time appointments,” Stoner said.

Bonneau said it can be a tricky situation, “because you don’t want people to feel forced to divulge personal or sensitive information that they may or may not be comfortable with sharing.”

However, the statement can help provide some necessary context for faculty’s teaching effectiveness.

“I can tell you from my position as a faculty member when I’m in the process of evaluating my colleagues, I would like to know if there’s a reason why they weren’t as productive or when a teacher wasn’t as good, as usual,” said Bonneau, a political science professor. “I think that’s helpful for us, and we should take that into account so there’s a more holistic evaluative process, as opposed to just bean-counting or simply looking at OMET scores and the number of articles.”

The intent behind the impact statements is noble, but not perfect, he added.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905. 


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