LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Senate committee supports Nondiscrimination Policy revisions

Dear Editor,

Recently, the University Times has published several articles regarding the proposed revisions to the University’s Nondiscrimination Policy and Procedure. Unfortunately, the vast majority of coverage has been negative, focusing on the concerns of some members of the faculty but not providing opposing viewpoints or important context regarding why the proposed policy revisions are necessary for building a culture of inclusion at the University of Pittsburgh. This letter is intended to present a few facts related to the process and proposed revisions of this important policy.

The University Senate’s Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy Committee (EIADAC) has been involved with the development of these policy revisions since 2017, when Chancellor Gallagher appointed the policy development committee. Two EIADAC members serve on the policy development committee. Throughout the policy revision process, former Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Pam Connelly spoke with EIADAC members monthly, providing status updates and asking for EIADAC’s input. After thorough consideration, EIADAC voted unanimously to endorse the policy.

The next step in the policy revisions process was to present and discuss the proposed revisions at Faculty Assembly. This was scheduled for Nov. 5, 2019; however, it was pulled from the agenda due to opposition from the Senate president and two other Senate committees. To date, it has not yet reached Faculty Assembly for input.

In a Feb. 20 University Times’ article, some faculty members questioned the length of time being taken to address the concerns raised by various members of the faculty. In fact, the entire policy committee met with concerned representatives from the Faculty Affairs and Tenure and Academic Freedom committees within two weeks of the November Faculty Assembly meeting. After regrouping following a significant change in staffing (the departure of Pam Connelly from the University), representatives from the policy committee have attended Faculty Affairs, Tenure and Academic Freedom, and EIADAC committee meetings to discuss concerns in further detail. The policy committee is actively working on further policy revisions to ensure that all groups’ opinions are thoroughly considered. Faculty input is extremely important in this process — this is demonstrated in the makeup of the policy revisions committee; five of the seven committee members are current University of Pittsburgh faculty.

However, it is difficult to make an informed decision and have constructive discussion, when the facts are not transparent. Based on issues of contention arising from the articles in the University Times and informal discussion rumbling throughout the University community, EIADAC has identified the need to provide perspective to the discussion by presenting a few facts and points of clarifications. Below is a summary of weaknesses in the current nondiscrimination policy and ways in which the proposed revisions will address those weaknesses.


Current Policy Weaknesses Proposed Policy Revisions to Address Current Weaknesses
There is no centralized reporting or investigation mechanism – any supervisor can independently “investigate” acts of potential discrimination without any training in how to do so. There are no mechanisms to ensure that policy enforcement is similar across schools, units, etc. Trained investigators from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will conduct investigations of potential discrimination. Supervisors will no longer be charged with investigating their longtime colleagues and friends. Enforcement of the policy will be uniform throughout the University community
Appeal procedures are vague. Appeal procedures are much clearer. An individual who is dissatisfied with the outcome of an investigation has a clear mechanism for appealing the outcome.
There is no discussion regarding retaliation. In Section IV – D of the proposed revisions, retaliation is clearly defined. Individuals who feel they are victims of retaliation for reporting an act of discrimination or harassment have a clear mechanism for reporting it and ensuring it is investigated and appropriate actions are taken.
There is no clear discussion regarding how the policy impacts classroom activities. In Section IV – E of the proposed policy revisions, it is made clear that the policy does NOT extend to classroom activities, assignments, debates, readings, etc. Individuals’ First Amendment rights to free speech will be protected. The policy will not infringe upon faculty’s academic freedom to select relevant classroom materials or content, regardless of whether they may be perceived as controversial or offensive. The classroom will remain a place for learning, broadening perspectives and discussion of difficult content.
There is no formal education or training for University faculty and staff regarding discrimination and harassment. All faculty and staff will complete discrimination and harassment prevention and response training upon hire and at regular intervals thereafter. This will be consistent with current University policy regarding gender-based discrimination and harassment.
Staff and faculty are not mandatory reporters, so individuals can choose to simply “look the other way” and ignore acts of discrimination and harassment. All staff and faculty will be mandatory reporters. Employees will no longer need to consider whether they should report discrimination, because they will be required to do so. This will be consistent with current University policy regarding gender-based discrimination and harassment.

We anticipate that the last issue — mandatory reporting — will be the most controversial across the University community. When voting to endorse this policy, EIADAC considered this issue thoughtfully and thoroughly over time. Overall, we chose to support mandatory reporting for the following reasons:

1. All Pitt faculty and staff are already mandatory reporters for gender-based discrimination and harassment. It is illogical to treat other forms of discrimination differently. Acts of gender-based harassment are not inherently worse than race- or religion-based harassment, so why should there be separate rules for reporting them?

2. Mandatory reporting protects faculty and staff because reporting an act of discrimination or harassment will no longer be a difficult choice that the employee has to make. Consider the following scenario: an appointment-stream faculty member is in the final year of their contract. In a meeting, their supervisor makes an overtly racist remark about a student. Under the current policy, that faculty member has an extremely difficult decision to make: It is unclear whether they should report this incident, to whom they should report it, and whether the person investigating has been trained in how to appropriately handle such situations. If the faculty member chooses to report the incident, their supervisor may decline to recommend renewal of the faculty member’s contract, and it is unclear what the faculty member’s recourse would be.

However, if the proposed policy revisions are implemented, the faculty member no longer has a difficult decision to make: They will be required to report the incident to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, where trained investigators will handle the case and ensure an appropriate outcome. If the supervisor declines to recommend renewal of the faculty member’s contract at the end of the year, the faculty member has a clear path to report potential retaliation and ensure that their claim will be adequately investigated.

In summary, EIADAC strongly supports the proposed revisions to the University’s nondiscrimination policy and procedure. Diversity and inclusion were primary goals in the Plan for Pitt 2020, and remain primary goals in the Plan for Pitt 2025. If Pitt is to become a leader in the creation of an inclusive campus environment, we must implement University policies and procedures that hold everyone accountable and make it clear to potential University of Pittsburgh students, faculty and staff that Pitt is a place where all are welcomed and where discrimination and harassment are not tolerated. We look forward to working with other Senate committees and the rest of the University community on further discussion of the proposed policy revisions.


EIADAC, the University Senate Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy Committee