Gallagher: ‘Nothing is entirely on or off the table’ for fall

Chancellor+Patrick+Gallagher+reiterated+at+Thursday+afternoon%27s+Senate+Council+meeting+that+Pitt+plans+to+release+initial+guidance+for+the+fall+early+next+month.

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Chancellor Patrick Gallagher reiterated at Thursday afternoon's Senate Council meeting that Pitt plans to release initial guidance for the fall early next month.

By Rebecca Johnson and Jon Moss

Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the University hasn’t made any final decisions about in-person or online classes for the fall semester, but classes will continue whether taking place on campus or off.

“Pitt will be open, but we have to do things in a new way,” Gallagher said. “Nothing is entirely on or off the table. Our intention is to maximize what we can do, consistent with our obligation to comply with state orders.”

He and other University leaders discussed multiple items related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as Pitt’s future operating status and an uncertain budget outlook, at Thursday afternoon’s Senate Council meeting held via Zoom.

Gallagher reiterated at the meeting that Pitt plans to release initial guidance early next month regarding the fall. The University will then publish more complete plans for the fall in early July. But Gallagher also said the University could send updates up to the start of the semester, dependent on the pandemic situation.

“The information will be general at the beginning and get increasingly specific as we get close, Gallagher said. “This pandemic is volatile and can change pretty quickly.” 

Gallagher said Pitt’s operations will be dependent on infection control procedures the University is able to put in place at both the institutional and individual level. He said this may include social distancing, mandatory masks and access controls on academic buildings. 

Universities have the potential of becoming hot spots in causing infection if things aren’t mitigated,” Gallagher said. “How we use our facilities as well as expectations on individuals not putting others at risk is the most important part of our planning.”

To plan for the upcoming semester, Pitt recently established three task forces. One task force is determining plans for classes and housing, another is formulating options on how to restart research and the other is drawing up recommendations on how to best support employees and run on-campus operations.

Gallagher said he hopes these task forces will help devise plans that are flexible enough so the University doesn’t have to significantly change its guidance to students for the fall semester if the pandemic worsens. 

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is that the way we teach, our housing operations, our food operations don’t have to be thrown out of the window if things change,” Gallagher said. “We want them to maximize our resilience against changes.” 

Gallagher also discussed the current state of the University’s “very atypical” budget for the next academic year at the meeting. He said he hopes to avoid any tuition hikes, and is most worried about money coming in from the state government and its auxiliaries budget — parking, food, housing and other on-campus services. In this year’s budget, Pitt is currently facing a net deficit of around $45 million.

“It’s going to be a very at-risk budget,” Gallagher said. “There’s a very high chance of revenue risk to the University.”

He added that the University is focused on cutting hiring, as well as travel, supplies and other non-essential costs to control expenses, but does not expect any “significant” change in renewals for adjunct, or contracted, faculty for next year. Several deans floated budget cuts of as much as 10% to faculty over the last two weeks, but no budget decision has been finalized yet. The University Planning and Budget Committee, which provides recommendations on tuition rates and budget changes to the chancellor as part of the annual budget process, is expected to vote on these budget parameters at an early June meeting.

“You want to minimize the chance you’re going to do long-term harm to the ability of the University to do what it’s doing, when you make a cut,” Gallagher said. “It’s one thing to cut travel or supplies, it’s quite another when you’re impacting positions and people.”

Gallagher also said he would not support utilizing Pitt’s endowment to offset any operating losses. The portion of Pitt’s financial aid which is not donor-controlled is currently used to assist in paying for student financial aid.

“Using it for offsetting these costs would have a negative impact on money going to students,” Gallagher said. “We think it’s sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Despite the unpredictability in many of the University’s operations, Gallagher said Pitt’s mission is more important than ever.

“We want this to be the best place to go to school. We want it to be world-class research and we want to serve our community,” Gallagher said. “The question is doing it while navigating this pandemic.”

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