By DONOVAN HARRELL
The University Senate’s new leadership has a long list of priorities — and at the top, making Pitt a more equitable, fair institution.
Senate Council President Robin Kear and Senate Council Vice President Kris Kanthak began their two-year terms on July 1. They join Senate Secretary Gosia Forte to form the University Senate’s second-ever group of all-women leadership.
Kear, also a liaison librarian in Research and Educational Support, said that her list of priorities is long and keeps growing. But one priority sits at the top.
“My priority overall is to make a more equitable and fair environment for all faculty, faculty of color and women faculty,” Kear said. She added that she would focus on improvement of recruitment and retention of faculty of color and women faculty.
Kear said she and the Senate officers also recently met with the provost’s office to discuss the promotion of faculty of color and women at the “highest possible level.”
Another key issue: improving childcare options at Pitt. Kear said she and the other Senate officers are working closely with David DeJong, senior vice chancellor of Business & Operations, and other interested faculty on this topic.
Kear also will serve as a liaison for the Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy and Faculty Affairs committees to move along proposed changes to the University’s non-discrimination, equal opportunity and affirmative action policies. She’ll also work with the group to handle Budget Model ReSTART process.
Once Senate Council meetings start up again in the fall, Kear said they will be in a hybrid format with people meeting in person in Posvar Hall while the meeting is live-streamed through Zoom. Former Senate Council President Chris Bonneau will moderate the chat, Kear said.
Kanthak said even though she’s excited to meet with people in person again, it’s hard to ignore the benefits of holding the meetings virtually, which allows for greater participation in shared governance.
Kanthak, who is also a professor of political science, wants Senate leadership to develop an ethical framework around these and Kear’s other priorities, which include keeping “a core set of considerations” to make sure the Senate doesn’t get swept up in “whatever the issue of the moment is, or whatever the procedural impediment is,” Kear said.
Her new role as vice president closely aligns with her research interests in issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, Kanthak said.
“When we’re talking about cluster hires, for example … if you go to the faculty website and see everybody’s picture, it’s not simply about changing what that looks like,” Kanthak said. “But in fact, changing the institution so that it is a place that’s diverse and inclusive, and what does that look like? And what do I need to do to change how I do business that is rooted in this idea that Pitt could be doing a better job, we would be more diverse if we were better at diversity.
“And we would be a better school if we were better at diversity. What do those changes look like? What do I need to do to mentor junior faculty of color, for example, and how can I be sensitive to the fact that it’s not simply passing on my advice, understanding how it’s tied in with race and privilege? I’m not 100 percent sure exactly how it’s going to look, but I think that there are lots of ways to apply this and really diversify institutions in ways that are smart and have big effects.”
Kear added the fact that all the Senate officers are women helps bring a unique perspective to their work.
“I think, being working women and all having families, we bring that what those pressures are, and that perspective to the role,” Kear said. “Not just that we bring all of our experiences in higher education as women to the role and understanding how, maybe, we’re not always treated equally — … sometimes talked over, sometimes passed over for things …. — I know that we’re all white women, but we are trying to bring in other perspectives into the senate as much as we can.”
The first Senate Council meeting is scheduled for Sept. 3.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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