By ROBIN KEAR and KRIS KANTHAK
As we prepare to begin the new academic year, we are grateful and excited to begin our terms as University Senate officers. Generally, this is the time that a new administration lays out its specific priorities for the next year. But given the state of our best laid plans for the last year, we think outlining a specific set of intentions based on the realities of today will only tempt fate to alter those realities the moment we hit “send.” So instead, we’d rather take this time to define the guiding principles that will help us to navigate whatever the academic year has in store.
Most broadly, we feel strongly that shared governance requires the meaningful inclusion of as many voices as possible. Ultimately, our main job is to facilitate the construction of an informed consensus of the views of the Pitt community and to guide that consensus through the University’s decision-making process. At the same time, though, our community is increasingly diverse, and we want to foster and increase that diversity.
Proactively prepare the University to become more welcoming and supportive of diverse groups. That means actively fostering inclusion, supporting policies that better ensure equity in the distribution of resources, becoming more intentional about applying an equity lens to all our policies and practices, and working on our own personal development to become agents of change. As part of this, we feel the University Senate will play a vital role in helping to “onboard” new faculty who will be joining our community as part of one of our cluster hiring initiatives. Making Pitt more welcoming and more inclusive is essential to any plan to increase institutional excellence.
Provide an environment through which we can respectfully and meaningfully explore differences of opinion. The upcoming union vote is an important example where each member of the University Senate has their own set of views, and indeed, many of our members will be themselves voting. We feel it is important for the Senate itself to remain officially neutral in that discussion. We will be exploring ways the Senate can facilitate discussion of these and other important issues. We would love to hear ideas about how best to advance that goal.
Navigate differing interests and needs as we continue to struggle with the ongoing effects of the global pandemic. The University Senate supported a call for a vaccine mandate on Pitt’s campus back in May. But beyond that very specific charge, we are mindful that the pandemic affects members of our community differently. We will continue to support flexibility for our community members as they make choices that are best for them and their families. For example, we expect to maintain availability to attend Faculty Assembly and Senate Council meetings virtually, even if the University returns to normal pre-pandemic operations. We plan to host hybrid meetings, where those who want to participate (or even just listen in) via Zoom may continue to do so.
Support mechanisms by which we can facilitate a healthy work-life balance for every member of our community, even after the pandemic recedes to a bad memory. For example, we look forward to working alongside members of our community who have been struggling to improve child and elder care options for Pitt families.
Ultimately, we think shared governance is about raising and supporting the voices of our community members, particularly those whose voices have previously not had a proper chance to rise. This is a group project, though, and we’d love to hear from you. We look forward to our continuing work, and as the inscription on the University mace reads, Labore ad astra (work to the stars)!
Robin Kear is president of Senate Council and a liaison librarian in Research and Educational Support. Kris Kanthak is vice president of the Senate and a political science professor.