Faculty voice concerns as fall semester approaches

Faculty+convened+via+Zoom+and+voiced+numerous%2C+wide-ranging+concerns+Tuesday+afternoon+about+Pitt%E2%80%99s+plans+for+the+fall+semester.+

Screenshot via Zoom

Faculty convened via Zoom and voiced numerous, wide-ranging concerns Tuesday afternoon about Pitt’s plans for the fall semester.

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

Faculty voiced numerous, wide-ranging concerns Tuesday afternoon about Pitt’s plans for the fall semester, from child care to parking to international student visas, as the University prepares to bring students back to Oakland in five weeks for classes.

The University plans to implement both its new [email protected] teaching model and a three-tiered reopening system to allow for in-person teaching to resume during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty have raised flags about a lack of shared governance in parts of the process and a lack of information provided by the administration.

Chris Bonneau, president of the University Senate, said at Tuesday’s marathon Faculty Assembly meeting that he understands faculty concerns and is continuing to work with senior administrators to make sure faculty members have a voice in fall planning. Pitt has said it will release more information throughout July about the fall.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed,” Bonneau said. “I feel comfortable that we are going to make the best decisions for the health and safety of the students, faculty and staff based on the current conditions at the time.”

Bonneau reiterated during the meeting that faculty members are not required to come to campus to teach, but noted that University administrators have asked faculty to provide a “classroom experience.” This could include:

 

  • Faculty members appearing on screen in front of students
  • Team-teaching with a colleague who is not at high risk for infection
  • Employing a TA to facilitate interactions, though numerous faculty say they face an ethical dilemma in asking TAs to attend classes
  • Having an IT staff member be present at the start of the class to ensure video technology is functioning properly

 

“Faculty are trusted to do what is right for them,” Bonneau said.

Bonneau added that the University will not compensate faculty for work done over the summer to prepare for the fall semester, a request made several times over the past few weeks.

Faculty Assembly also discussed a controversial new immigration policy announced Monday by the Trump administration. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it will not allow nonimmigrant students to take classes only online, even if they are required to do so because of public health concerns in the middle of the semester, under the threat of losing their visa and being deported.

The agency previously instituted a temporary exception to its rules for the spring and summer semesters, allowing nonimmigrant students to take more online courses than normally permitted under federal regulations and maintain their visas. It recommends that students either depart the country or transfer to a university offering in-person classes if only online courses are offered at their current institution.

Delo Blough, the director of Pitt’s Office of International Services, said the University is working with international students to figure out how to allow them to continue their education. She said her office plans to send an email to all international students either late Tuesday or during the day on Wednesday.

“It doesn’t make any sense, but it is what it is,” Blough said.

Multiple faculty members proposed that the University offer an in-person course for a small number of credits, which would meet infrequently, in order to meet the ICE guidelines. Blough said the University will act cautiously when meeting the requirements because violations could not only impact Pitt but also potentially hurt students’ future chances of obtaining American visas.

The body also voted to approve new changes to the University’s copyright policy, which was last changed in 2006. The new policy will grant faculty members copyright ownership over digital materials they prepare for their courses, as opposed to the University. Rob Rutenbar, the senior vice chancellor for research, said there is a group currently working to unify Pitt’s separate patent and copyright policies in one document.

Katie Pope, the associate vice chancellor for civil rights and Title IX, provided an update at the meeting about the Trump administration’s new Title IX regulations. The federal Department of Education released the new rules in May, which make a variety of changes to Title IX procedures, including live hearings, cross-examinations of victims by the accused and a more restrictive definition of sexual harassment.

Pope said the University is working to develop an interim policy to bring Pitt into compliance with the new federal regulations and is updating its Title IX training materials. She said all faculty will receive new training before classes begin on Aug. 19.

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