What you missed this summer: tuition hikes, union developments, Ethan Kozak


Thomas Yang | Visual Editor

Pitt’s Board of Trustees met in July to approve a tuition increase for the 2019-20 academic year.

By Emily Wolfe, Contributing Editor

Students are flooding back to campus from all corners of the world to find that their tuition has been raised, Bigelow Boulevard is slated for construction and the campaign for Pitt faculty to unionize is still moving through the appeals process. We’ve rounded up a few of the summer’s biggest headlines, in case you missed them.

Students face tuition increase

Committees derived from Pitt’s Board of Trustees met in July to confirm the University’s $2.4 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year, ultimately approving a tuition increase for the 2019-20 academic year. In-state students will face an average tuition hike of 2.75%, while out-of-state students will see an average increase of 5%.

The increases will be steeper for students in the Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Computing and Information, where tuition will increase by 4.75% for in-state students and 7% for out-of-state students.

Tuition has been increasing steadily over the past several years, barring last year, when tuition remained the same for most in-state students.

Faculty organizers still fighting for union

Pitt faculty members hoping to form a union faced a major setback in April when the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled that organizers had not collected enough signed cards from faculty members to move ahead with a union election. The organizers swiftly responded with claims that Pitt had orchestrated the outcome by submitting an inflated list of faculty eligible to be in a bargaining unit.

So far, organizers’ attempts to appeal the process have been successful. The PLRB ordered a series of hearings to examine the validity of the organizers’ claims. When Pitt, claiming privacy concerns, announced it would not turn its list of eligible faculty over to union organizers, organizers denounced it as a stalling tactic.

Organizers then successfully convinced the PLRB to renew its demand for Pitt to disclose the documents at the hearings in late July. The hearings wrapped up on the second day, when the board ruled that Pitt must release the documents by Nov. 1. Union organizers will have a month to examine the documents for evidence of the alleged violations. Organizers said they’re still hoping for a union election in spring 2020. [Read more.]

SkyVue fire kicks students out of bed

A June 2 electrical fire at the SkyVue Apartments on Forbes Avenue left residents couch-surfing around Pittsburgh while they waited for management to restore power to the building. While some tenants were able to move back in later that week, others claim their units were left without power for nearly a month, leaving them unable to move back in until early July.

Kozak charged after racist messages

When a black Pittsburgh resident posted racist threats he’d received from Pitt student Ethan Kozak to Twitter in late June, the messages’ spread led to investigations from Pitt and local law enforcement. In mid-July, Kozak was criminally charged with ethnic intimidation, terroristic threats and harassment.

Kozak, a junior political science major, used racist and homophobic slurs in the viral messages he sent to 20-year-old Mt. Lebanon resident D.J. Matthews. Over Snapchat, Kozak threatened to shoot Matthews “legally … just like George Zimmerman,” repeatedly using the “n-word.” The messages to Matthews led Mt. Lebanon police to charge Kozak with one count each of ethnic intimidation and terroristic threats. Other threatening messages which Kozak sent to Indiana University of Pennsylvania student Colin Welling resulted in a count of harassment.

A group of 27 student leaders, including Black Action Society President Jenea Lyles and Student Government Board President Zechariah Brown, sent a letter to top Pitt officials calling for Kozak’s expulsion. Although Pitt cannot legally disclose details about any disciplinary proceedings involving Kozak at this time, officials have emphasized that the University is cooperating with local law enforcement agencies.

Kozak’s preliminary hearing will be held Oct. 30 at 1:30 p.m.

Construction coming to Bigelow

Starting Nov. 1, Bigelow Boulevard will be closed between Fifth and Forbes avenues for nearly a year while the street is remodeled as part of the University’s Campus Master Plan. The planned changes — which will cost about $23.5 million — include a redesigned front lawn for the William Pitt Union, a safer central crosswalk and modified bike and traffic lanes.

The University projects construction will last until Aug. 1, 2020. Until then, pedestrians will be able to cross Bigelow at both ends of the block. Route adjustments for Pitt’s shuttle services have not been published yet.

Police charge suspect after two attempted sexual assaults

Eric Hernandez, a 23-year-old resident of South Oakland, was arrested July 30 and charged in two cases of attempted sexual assault reported by women earlier that month.

One woman, who lives on North Craig Street, said she was attacked in her apartment July 11 by a man who had visited her residence earlier that day to fix her air conditioning. The other woman said she was walking home shortly before 4 a.m. on July 30 when she was stopped by a man who threatened her at gunpoint and attempted to rape her before taking her bag and running. Both positively identified Hernandez from a photo array.

Hernandez has been charged with a total of 12 criminal counts, including two counts each of false imprisonment, unlawful restraint and simple assault. He is currently being held in the Allegheny County Jail, awaiting a mid-August preliminary hearing.

Police officer on trial for assaulting, harassing two black Pitt students

A white police officer, Anthony Ricchiuto, awaits trial after an October 2018 incident that occurred while he was off-duty. Two black Pitt students, Aaron Hill and Stanley Umeweni, both seniors at the time, were allegedly assaulted and harassed by Ricchiuto and his brother on Fifth Avenue in Oakland.

According to a criminal complaint filed by Pitt police, Anthony Ricchiuto approached them and put his hand on his gun. His brother then moved forward, said, “I don’t need a gun,” and struck one of the students on the arm.

Brian Ricchiuto pled guilty to two counts of harassment in February. Anthony Ricchiuto faces six criminal counts in his August trial, including two counts each of simple assault, harassment and disorderly conduct.

Ricchiuto worked as an officer for the Braddock Hills Police Department and as a police supervisor at UPMC at the time of the incident. After he was arrested, Ricchiuto was suspended by UPMC and later resigned.

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