Letter to the editor: Why hasn’t the Cathedral’s 13th floor been renovated?

To the editor of the University Times

Let me preface this letter by stating that nobody asked me to write it. Nothing but personal indignation at some perceived injustice, and the hope to call attention to it, ever prompted me to write any of the (sometimes confrontational, I admit) letters I sent to The University Times over the 35 (in almost all respects great) years I spent working at Pitt.

As a recently retired faculty member, and despite the detrimental effects that the COVID pandemic has had on the life of the academic community, keeping everybody away from campus for a long time, I do feel still very much a part of Pitt, a part of the Dietrich School and, for sure, a part of the department in which I held my position: the Department of French and Italian.

In a letter written when I had already announced my retirement and I was beginning to contemplate the arduous task of evacuating my office on the 13th floor of the Cathedral of Learning, I mused ironically and wistfully on the deplorable and dangerous state of deterioration of the physical space in which my department staff, my colleagues and I were conducting our daily business.

I pointed out how embarrassing was for us to hold student conferences, and how off-putting it was for students and occasional guests to be received in run down offices, with mismatched, second-hand furniture, peeling paint from the walls, worn or ripped carpet, stained or ruined linoleum tiles, noisy radiators etc., especially when other floors, below and above us, had received their overdue and long-expected makeovers.

I was and am still very grateful to have worked at Pitt and to have had the opportunity and privilege to hold a seat in such an historic building as the Cathedral of Learning, the centerpiece of the Oakland campus. However, I did not understand three years ago, and do not understand now, why renovation of the FRIT quarters on the 13th floor was canceled and/or postponed so many times, and continues to be overlooked. Much new construction and renovation work has been going on, on our campus, even during the pandemic.

Considering the size of my department, I would say that it has contributed to the life and renown of the University in very considerable ways: FRIT faculty, present and recently retired, include a distinguished professor and ex-president of the Medieval Academy of America, a French knighted scholar, an ex-director of the U.S. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages, four U.S. national scholarly book prize awardees, two University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Distinguished Teaching award recipients, and three Tina and David Bellet Teaching Excellence award recipients.

Numberless collective hours have been spent by both tenure-stream and non-tenure stream FRIT faculty and staff members serving in Dietrich School and University-at-large committees. The administrator presently responsible for managing all Pitt foreign language departments staff personnel, as well as for liaising with the chairs of those departments, the A&S dean’s office and the payroll administrator, is a proud FRIT alumna, was for many years our department able AA and, in that position, the recipient of the Chancellor’s Distinguished Service Award for Staff Employees.

I ask you: shouldn’t the steadfast diligence and loyal commitment with which my FRIT colleagues and friends have served Pitt be rewarded with safe and decent premises in which to continue to work?

Francesca Savoia
Professor emerita of Italian

RESPONSE FROM PITT: The 13th floor Cathedral renovation was initially proposed during the FY21 capital budget process; however, due to COVID, a majority of projects were put on hold or postponed. The project has not been cancelled and still remains on the list for consideration.