Senate president shares updates on union communications, policy changes


Reflecting on the Feb. 16 Faculty Assembly meeting that featured a visit from Tyler Bickford, the Union of Pitt Faculty’s bargaining committee chair, Senate Council President Robin Kear expressed a philosophical, yet firm, position regarding the future of Pitt’s faculty-based governing committees.

“It is good to further establish these communication channels,” she said during her announcements at the Feb. 22 Senate Council meeting at Posvar Hall. “And while it was maybe not as concrete for us as I had hoped, something else has become clear to me: Shared governance at Pitt is evolving. We are in the midst of that change. But we are also vigilant and committed to achieving the best possible outcomes.”

Further emphasizing to colleagues the need to “continue to use our strengths as the body representing the broadest coalition possible of our Pitt community,” Kear said, “we need to continue advocating for anything that we think is important, and we’ll continue to work through and around any challenges.”

Kear’s comments were part of relatively light formal agenda for Senate Council, which, among announcements and updates from Kear, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and various student representatives, approved a University policy on unmanned drones and delayed a vote on the University Network Policy, which is undergoing changes requested at the latest Faculty Assembly meeting.

Recognizing the faculty’s interest in staying in the loop, Kear said she will convene an “informal, open-discussion session” on shared governance and the Union of Pitt Faculty, with details forthcoming. Kear added that the union’s Council of Representatives voted on Feb. 21 to create a standing committee to facilitate Senate-union communication.

“So I look forward to that happening for continuing communication,” she said, noting an administration update posted at that includes a “statement and 11 proposals and counter-proposals emerging from the negotiation process.”

The subjects from the University administration’s perspective encompass topics including academic freedom and ethical conduct, part-time appointment, library faculty, dues deduction, health and safety, union communication and access, and visiting faculty, Kear noted.

“I’m glad for this transparency, as I know we would all like to be as informed as we can on what is being negotiated on faculty’s behalf,” Kear said. “I urge all sites to disclose as much written text of these articles and proposals as possible. I urge all in the bargaining unit to read these very closely and to send feedback to your union representatives, the bargaining committee or the chair of the bargaining committee.”

Here are some other items Kear shared with Senate Council: 

  • The Flexible Work Arrangements policy was open for comment until Feb. 27. The Licensing and Use of University Name, Logos, Trademarks and Service Marks draft policy is available for comment through March 13 and will go through the Library Committee to Faculty Assembly and Senate Council, “so I can attest those public comments are taken very seriously by the policy committee and in the drafting of the policy,” Kear said. “So if you’re passionate about those two items, please go and review them and make comments.”

  • The Vaccination and Immunization draft policy has been paused. The policy was waiting for committee review, but because of uncertainty in the federal environment, and medical advice regarding COVID vaccination, University leadership decided to pause it to “incorporate the stabilized positions into the policy, hopefully in late spring or early summer,” Kear said. She is hopeful the progress will continue “because not only does this work have to protect campus, the policy also streamlines student vaccination requirements and other vaccine requirements (in) certain kinds of work in labs. So I’m hopeful that this streamlined policy will come through.”

  • English Language Institute closure — Members of the Union of Pitt Faculty and an ELI representative of the eight employees whose contracts are at risk if the institute closes recently met to discuss ramifications of the closure. Kear said she hopes any changes regarding a delay or reversal of the ELI closure can be announced “in as timely a manner as possible, as we heard comments from the director of that last week that they are having some detrimental effects because of the current uncertainty, but hopefully that those detrimental effects can be minimized.”

  • The annual Senate Plenary will take place from noon to 2:30 p.m. April 4, in the William Pitt Union Assembly Room. The entire Pitt community is invited. This year’s topic is “Unsettled: Frames for Examining Generated Artificial Intelligence,” and features several Pitt speakers sharing insights and expertise from philosophical, educational, legal, ethical, humanistic and technological realms. Kear said a planning meeting for the event led to a collaboration with the Research Ethics and Society Initiative in Pitt Research for “an in-depth treatment of these topics, and deeper discussion of the kinds of things that are raised in a plenary in May after the term ends,” Kear said.

Chancellor’s report

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher began his announcements to Senate Council by acknowledging efforts of the Pitt community to deliver aid and support to those affected by devastating early February earthquakes in Turkey and Syria.

“I know student groups and others from Pitt have joined forces with CMU and Duquesne and other universities for humanitarian efforts,” he said. “Turkish Nationality Room Committee has circulated the list of charitable organizations also helping with rebuilding and recovery. I know that there are many selfless and anonymous acts of generosity from across our community. And I just want to appreciate and thank all of those for doing so.

“I think this is one of these tragedies that has impacted all of us, just by the scale and also the immediacy of it with social media, news and video,” Gallagher added. “But I know for many members of our community, this quite literally hit close to home, and I just want to say our thoughts are with all those affected by these events.”

The chancellor also discussed the state budget season for the coming year, which formally kicks off with Gov. Josh Shapiro’s budget request on March 7. He noted that instead of supporting Pitt programs through the normal Pitt Day in Harrisburg trip,” there was a Digital Pen Advocacy Day on Feb. 28. “Then we’ll be following up with a number of advocacy-related events throughout the appropriation.” That will “be more effective, and it gives us a chance to adjust our advocacy for what’s actually happening,” he said, adding that appropriation hearings for Pitt and the other state-related universities have been scheduled for the second half of March in Harrisburg.

“I just wanted to remind everybody, the one thing we hear consistently — this is true of all advocacy, federal, state or local — but we hear it very clearly in Harrisburg, THE most important voice is yours,” Gallagher said. “It’s one thing for the chancellor to be out there and representing the University and what it needs, but there’s nothing like a constituent sharing their story about what Pitt has meant, what support from the state has meant … so please visit and encourage your colleagues, friends and families to (advocate for Pitt). I think that’s especially timely,” he added, “and I think we should see an exciting request from Governor Shapiro shortly.”

Gallagher’s announcements also included the following topics:  

  • The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs named Pitt a Fulbright Top Producing Institution for U.S. students for the 2022-23 academic year. “This year our nine Fulbright Scholars include two Pitt doctoral students, one undergraduate student and six recent graduates,” Gallagher said.

  • Gallagher called the Mentoring and Advising Summit taking place March 3, a “great opportunity for anyone — staff or faculty — who mentor, advise and coach students and trainees — and there’s quite a few of us on campus. It’s also an opportunity to network on best practices toward technologies to facilitate good mentoring, absolutely an essential part of our University.”

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at


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