By DONOVAN HARRELL
The revised academic calendar for the fall semester and how classes will be conducted in response to COVID-19 were the key topics at the June 15 Senate Educational Policies Committee meeting.
Earlier this month, members of Faculty Assembly expressed frustration about how the University abruptly announced changes to the calendar on June 8. The fall semester will now begin with remote classes on Aug. 19 and move to in-person classes on the original start date of Aug 24. In-person classes will end on Nov. 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving, and most finals will take place online after Thanksgiving.
Joseph McCarthy, the vice provost of Undergraduate Studies, said the calendar change has gotten an “inexplicable amount of negative press.”
McCarthy, who’s also the chair of the University’s Academic Calendar Committee and co-chair of the Undergraduate Studies working group in the Reimaging Pitt Education task force, defended the process that generated the calendar recommendations sent to the chancellor, saying the changes were vetted by a “very broad group” when the working group was forming its suggestions.
The calendar committee then followed its typical process — gathering a group of faculty, staff and administrators from each Pitt campus to discuss the changes. The process was expedited as much as possible to get information to the Pitt community.
“We actually expanded the circle a little bit to make sure that no critical people missed the opportunity,” McCarthy said. “We had, for example, all the vice provosts for academic affairs in each of the regional campuses instead of just the reps from the regional campuses.”
He said it was unfortunate that the calendar announcement came “at the 11th hour” of the process, and “not quite the 12th hour when everything was approved and ready for dissemination.” Despite this, McCarthy said he was proud of the work done to produce the adjusted calendar.
On June 8, Provost Ann Cudd inadvertently sent out an email to incoming freshmen that said the start of fall classes had been moved to Aug. 19. Later that day, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher sent a more detailed message to the entire Pitt community. Then late that same week, the registrar’s office updated the calendar to say the first three days would be strictly online.
Along with the adjusted calendar, Pitt is planning to use a “rotating cohort” strategy to limit the number of students in a classroom once in-person classes begin.
“For example, if a class has 60 students, and they're in a room that can only accommodate 20 students safely. We might have one-third of the class meet physically on Monday, one-third of the class meet physically on Wednesday, one-third of the class meet physically on Friday,” McCarthy said.
The decision to begin the fall semester with remote classes was made to let students engage with their professors via Zoom and ask questions “from a ground zero” to figure out how the semester will play out, McCarthy said. Starting classes remotely also would accommodate students who won’t be able to make it to in-person classes on Aug. 19, because of leasing or travel issues.
McCarthy said he’s looking at nontraditional facilities, such as Connelly Ballroom in Alumni Hall, that can possibly be used for classes. Additionally, the time between classes has been increased from 10 to 15 minutes to allow for sanitation in between classes and for students to get to buildings that aren’t normally used for classrooms.
More information on how classes will operate this fall will be released in mid-July.
Nathan Urban, vice provost for Graduate Studies, said Pitt has created some guidelines for administrators to accommodate international students who want to come to campus but may face significant visa issues.
International graduate students also may continue receiving a stipend, even if they physically aren’t in the U.S., Urban said.
However, the process for graduate students who need to work in clinical environments is a bit more complicated since it depends on Pennsylvania’s guidelines related to COVID-19. Plans are still being worked out to accommodate these students so that they can operate in clinical environments safely.
Following the updates, Bonnie Falcone, a co-chair of the Educational Policies Committee, said the committee would establish a working group to address a petition from Pitt alumna Sydney Massenberg that called for Black studies courses to become required classes for Pitt students.
Committee member Doug Landsittel, a professor of Professor of Biomedical Informatics, supports the idea and said he wants to see how Black studies can be incorporated into other courses across the University.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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