By SUSAN JONES
The messages about Pitt’s fall semester are clear about a couple things, the University plans to get back to more normal operations, but it won’t be completely like pre-pandemic life, and all plans are subject to change depending on the course of the pandemic.
For staff, that will mean more people returning to campus starting this summer, but some departments choosing to allow part of the workforce to remain at home.
For faculty and students, the default will be in-person classes, but some of the Flex@Pitt technology could be incorporated into instruction. And those with mitigating circumstances may still be able to access classes online.
Right now, the semester is scheduled to start on Aug. 27, with a one-day break on Oct. 15 and a full week off for Thanksgiving week for students. The winter recess for students is from Dec. 19 to Jan. 10. Staff and faculty will have off Dec. 23 through Jan. 1.
All of the plans are predicated on cases of COVID-19 decreasing and vaccinations increasing. “We expect that sufficient numbers of people will be vaccinated by the end of the summer to significantly reduce the transmission of this virus,” Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said in his email to the Pitt community on March 17.
Staff returning to campus
In a message March 18, David DeJong, senior vice chancellor for Business & Operations, said that staff would begin a gradual return to campus in June. And in an interview this week, he said the emphasis should be on “gradual.”
“It’s not going to be a mad rush back right,” DeJong said. “It’s going to be calibrated. It’s going to be very unit specific.”
Health and safety remain the priorities, he said. “We’ve been very pleased with … how safe our spaces have been, and that’s remains our focus.”
All building protocols will remain in place, including the building concierges and safety ambassadors at entrances, and all the cleaning and ventilation requirements. In addition, social distancing and mask wearing will still be enforced. Employees also will have to go through the Authority to Operate process when returning to campus.
The other thing DeJong emphasized is that “we’re going back to the new normal. … What that looks like depends on the unit.”
In Human Resources, which is now under the SVC for Business & Operations, he expects to reduce the amount of office space needed to less than half of pre-pandemic needs. The Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Pitt IT also have ambitious plans to reduce their footprint on campus. When the dust settles, it could result in Pitt having to lease less space, DeJong said.
There will be lots of flexible work options “that are really person by person, unit by unit,” DeJong said. Options could include someone coming in three days a week or just coming in for a team meeting or not coming to the office at all.
“It’s going to be very much that flexible work that we’ve been emphasizing pre-COVID,” DeJong said, which will allow staff to manage their time and achieve a better work/life balance. “We are still very excited about how much we are going to be able to really advance that initiative. I think we get from zero to there by the time we get back to the new normal.”
HR will be working with supervisors, particularly those who may be reluctant to allow remote work, to show them lessons learned during the pandemic and new ways to envision the workplace.
The real estate planning and design team is working directly with units to help them re-envision their spaces, such as converting offices into little conference rooms or pop-in rooms staff who normally sit in open spaces can use if they need to take a phone call.
DeJong said his office will be meeting with its HR partners in units throughout the University to discuss the return to campus on April 9, and a staff town hall will be planned for early May. Staff Council also will continue to play a big role in the planning process.
Faculty and students plan for in-person fall
At Senate Council on March 25, Chancellor Gallagher said planning for the fall is based on projections that up to 80 to 90 percent of all adults will be vaccinated by late summer, but all plans will remain flexible.
He said that at this time, Pitt won’t require incoming students to be vaccinated. This is, in part, because public health guidance on this topic isn’t clear yet and the vaccines are only approved on an emergency basis at this point.
“I think it’s premature to speculate on exactly what we’re going to be facing in the fall,” Gallagher said. “And what we should focus on is trying to educate and promote vaccines so that when the fall comes, everybody who wants to and can avail themselves of getting that shot does. Then this largely becomes a moot point.”
However, Gallagher said the current expectation for the fall 2021 semester is that it will be “much closer to normal,” including the full range of on-campus living, learning and research opportunities.
The chancellor said the Flex@Pitt program was designed to give individuals the choice in how they would participate in teaching and learning. In the fall, he expects that technology will be used differently. For instance, a school may design a course that integrates remote learning and in-person learning, but it won’t be on an individual basis.
Provost Ann Cudd reiterated that point in an interview today. “This is a residential university primarily, … that’s part of what’s so great about our University community being in person —being together we inspire and stimulate each other so much.
“We may have specific sections set aside that are online, or we may have degree programs or courses that are planned to be online and that will take advantage of the lessons we’ve learned through using Flex@Pitt,” she said, but individuals shouldn’t expect to be able to make the choice to be online or not on a daily basis.
There also will be guidelines in place for a waiver of the requirement to be in the classroom to accommodate those few people who still face health challenges as the pandemic winds down, she said.
The technology used in Flex@Pitt has served the University well, Cudd said, particularly in being able to bring people into the classroom who are experts on a particular topic. She noted that the previous evening she had taught a class online at Claremont-McKenna College in Southern California — something that would have been close to impossible before the pandemic.
“We are watching very carefully the CDC guidelines, because the arrangement of our classrooms will depend on what their guidelines are when the time comes. And we may have to adjust a little bit,” Cudd said. “Right now, we’re trying to take a sort of middle path so that we can adjust one direction or the other in terms of capacity for the classrooms. It’s really a logistical challenge.”
But this summer, Cudd said, almost all classes will be online, which may be something that continues even after the pandemic. “We learned last summer that by providing the summer session online, we were able to serve more students. … That gives people the flexibility to go back home, travel, whatever, and still take a course.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-244-4042.
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