Editorial | Pitt administration’s lack of communication fails faculty, students


Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

The Pitt News published a story on June 8 about classes starting a week early and moving online after Thanksgiving, before returning students and faculty members had heard of the plan from the administration.

When The Pitt News published a story on June 8 about classes starting a week early and moving online after Thanksgiving — with no breaks — this was the first returning students and faculty members had heard of the plan.

Pitt said later that day that the email announcing fall plans — which only incoming first-year students received — was sent out prematurely and was “inadvertent.” This led many to believe that the University would soon be in touch with faculty and students about fall plans. And though Provost Ann Cudd sent an email later that evening explaining that Pitt would implement a program called Flex@Pitt, which allows for classes to be experienced “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously,” faculty and students have not heard much else about how it will be executed, or how instructors are to prepare to teach both in-person and online. Since the initial story, The Pitt News has continued to break news about the fall semester with no formal announcements — for faculty or students — coming from the University administration.

“I don’t have any announcements … insert Pitt News joke here,” Chris Bonneau, the president of the University Senate, said at the end of this month’s Faculty Assembly meeting.

As journalists, it’s our job to report campus events and announcements. We’re thrilled that we’ve been of service to faculty and students wondering what Pitt’s plans are for the fall, but really, the administration should be taking the lead on getting this information to students and faculty. Faculty members especially shouldn’t have to rely on secondary sources to get information from the administration about their personal safety and the ways in which they need to plan for the fall semester.

After the announcement about an earlier start date for classes, The Pitt News broke the news about more changes in the academic calendar — classes will begin remotely on Aug. 19 and then shift to in-person instruction on Aug. 24 “where appropriate.” Joe McCarthy, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, said last week that Flex@Pitt would allow for students to engage in all of their classes either in the classroom, remotely or both if they so desire. This means that instructors are likely responsible for curating curriculum that can be taught both online and in person simultaneously — but faculty members say they haven’t yet been given any additional information from the administration.

“Many of us in the faculty would be grateful for an interview with anyone who could clearly and concretely tell us what Flex means,” Jeff Oaks, the director of the undergraduate writing program, commented. “All we’re hearing is a lot of marketing and tech-speak which upper administration seems to think is descriptive but is not. We want to teach again because we love working with students, but no one has yet said what we’re expected to do in any concrete way.”

Another professor said they received more information about their workplace from The Pitt News than their employer. And yet another said they were getting more reliable updates about the fall semester from Twitter than official emails.

Pitt has also said it will offer all faculty members the opportunity to teach remotely rather than from inside the classroom. But Oaks, along with other faculty members, said the administration has yet to make a formal announcement to them about this, leaving them unsure what they are expected to do come fall.

The University is also working to change certain classroom locations and class meeting times in order to de-densify classrooms and walkways, but this has not been formally announced to students or faculty, either. Faculty members are additionally expected to learn how to operate Canvas — the new successor to CourseWeb — by this fall, in addition to the new Flex@Pitt system.

Faculty are, in fact, essential — delivering students their education — but the upper administration at Pitt is not treating them as such. Instead of clear communication, faculty members are getting a slow drip of information about their responsibilities this fall through The Pitt News. When Pitt fails its faculty, it fails its students, too. This lack of communication harms everyone in the Pitt community.