United Way campaign chair shares donation disparities, addresses coercion concerns


David DeJong, chair of the Pitt’s United Way campaign, has made a point recently to visit with University employees — across all five campuses — involved with operations and maintenance.

“For example, all the folks coming off of third shifts, cleaning our classrooms, our offices, our bathrooms — we're meeting with them as they're coming off their shifts,” he said, referring to himself and campaign colleagues Victoria Lancaster, assistant vice chancellor for operational excellence in Business & Operations, and Sheila Rawlings of the Neighborhood Academy school. “I met Sheila when we went out to visit all of our trade groups in their warehouse and workshops out on Melwood (Avenue) and just get the word out.”

DeJong said 80 percent of employees in Pitt’s trade groups supported the 2021 campaign. The bad news is that number greatly overshadows the 8 percent of faculty members who contributed.

Sharing this year’s campaign theme of “Inclusivity,” DeJong, senior vice chancellor for Business & Operations, shared his experience with Faculty Assembly at its Oct. 6 meeting at Posvar Hall.

“I hope you’ll find that as eye opening as it (was) for me,” he said of the disparate numbers. “I’m not sure of the reasons why. But when I saw that statistic, I immediately reached out to (Senate President Robin Kear) for the opportunity to be with you today. … I really appreciate that.”

DeJong also acknowledged concerns from some faculty members about “potential coercion” in the form of overzealous or inappropriate encouragement to contribute to United Way campaigns.

“I think some of the folks in particular units, maybe a little bit extra zealous and maybe inadvertently providing some pressure on folks to participate,” he said. “So we're addressing that by doing the best we can to get our messaging out at higher levels of aggregation, rather than, for example, a supervisor talking to a group of direct (employee) reports.

“We're also strengthening the ability of folks to participate anonymously,” he added. “I think there were a couple of kinks with that early on, but we're getting that worked out. And so we'll try to be responsive to those concerns that we've heard as well.”

On a far more positive note, DeJong shared some reasons behind his devotion to Pitt’s United Way campaign. He cited the 211 hotline, which provides 24/7 assistance for anyone dealing with a personal crisis or emergency, “including … help with transportation to get out of town to see someone in their family who's in need, or all kinds of different reasons,” he said. “Many hundreds of thousands of connections last year were made through the 211 line, and it's available to anyone and everyone in our region.”

He also cited United Way’s more widely known mission of supporting hundreds of other nonprofit organizations throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I happen to be on the board of two such organizations that do amazing work supporting children and our community,” DeJong said. “And so the collaboration that happens and additional support through the United Way is just an extra level that really helps make their work impactful.”

Sheila Rawlings, director of development for the Neighborhood Academy, talked up the 21-year-old private, faith-based school located on North Aiken Avenue that gets support from United Way. The Academy started offering summer camps and progressed, she said, to serving children and youths from “19 different ZIP codes.”

“The No. 1 goal of our school is to provide a college preparatory education for students whose families would not have the resources to send them to a college prep school,” she said, adding that 100 percent of Academy graduates have been accepted into college, while “75 percent graduate from college in five years or less, and 89 percent come back to Pittsburgh, delivering work.”

Those interested in donating, can visit Pitt’s United Way Campaign information page.

Human Resources strategic plan

In other meeting business, James Gallaher, vice chancellor of Human Resources, presented the department’s strategic plan goals its staff shared in multiple information sessions in September. Click here to read the University Times’ coverage.

Following Gallaher’s presentation, faculty members brought up questions and concerns including hourly pay rate caps for undergraduate students, the difference between “hard” money payments and “soft” compensation (through grants, stipends, etc.) and other compensation/recruitment-based issues, and accessibility to campus childcare services.

Gallaher noted that a job recruitment fair to be held on Nov. 16 will be “primarily” focused on student employment “and so maybe we need to consider doing something similar for those folks that might be coming through on soft funds.”

Another faculty question involved a promising job candidate who worked at Pitt but was limited in how much their salary could increase if they switched to another University role.

“That's part of that whole flexibility piece and being able to be much more flexible in terms of how we recruit and retain employees,” Gallaher noted. “And so that is one of the areas that we're looking to address … In the short time that I've been here, we've already begun to scale back on some of those ‘rules for rules’ sake’-kind of things, to allow those adjustments.”

Noting the highly competitive labor market, he added “we have to be more flexible if we’re going to retain great employees, because they have options.”

In response to a question about Human Resources implementing an “online performance management system,” Gallaher was quick to clarify that it involved a cloud-based, paper and PDF-free evaluation approach rather than surveillance of employees’ online activities.

“We’ll leave that to Microsoft and others to surveil,” he said. “We’re talking performance management, the annual assessment process, and having that stored in the cloud, (allowing) you to have the discussion and dialogue with the staff member but document it all in cyberspace.”

Responding to concerns about child-care options and the difficulty of getting a spot at the University Child Development Center (UCDC), Gallaher admitted that “the challenge is staffing right now. In the childcare space, it is really difficult,” he said, citing both available applicants and those who meet UCDC quality standards. “That’s been a real challenge, but we're trying,” he said, “and the goal is absolutely to get back to pre-pandemic levels.”

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at shannonw@pitt.edu.


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