Senate committee discusses COVID-19, IP policies


Screenshot via Zoom

The Senate Research Committee met July 10 to discuss reopening efforts in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Ashton Crawley, Senior Staff Writer

The University Senate Research Committee met Friday afternoon to discuss updates to the University’s intellectual property policies, as well as COVID-19 lab procedures.

Rob Rutenbar, the senior vice chancellor for research, said the nation’s COVID-19 situation is worse than the last time the committee met in June. The University announced in late June that it had established a three-tiered reopening system to allow for a safe reopening in the fall with Guarded Risk, Elevated Risk and High Risk phases roughly equivalent to Pennsylvania’s green-yellow-red reopening phases.

The Guarded Risk posture will allow greater in-person activities, while the Elevated Risk and High Risk postures are more restricted.

“Things are spiking and so you’re seeing the county put some restrictions in place,” Rutenbar said. “The medical folks are monitoring that very carefully. The hope was to change the operational posture from High Risk to Guarded Risk.”

Rutenbar said the Oakland and Greensburg campuses will most likely move to the yellow-equivalent Elevated Risk posture on July 13, while Johnstown, Bradford and Titusville move to green-equivalent Guarded Risk posture due to fewer cases there.

Rutenbar added that he is working with his team to figure out how research fits into the larger University-wide reopening system.

“A lot of folks on my team who were on the research restart group are working to reshape those things — very specific guidance on if the posture changes from something to something, what changes?” Rutenbar said. “There’s a lot of focus on what you do differently if a posture goes from low to high.”

Penelope Morel, a committee co-chair and professor of immunology, said there can be a bit of a blur between the three postures, and clarification is needed.

“It felt like we were already in the guarded area because each PI came up with a plan and we organized our staff to come in at a certain time and wear masks, so there sort of seemed to be a disconnect between if we’re in elevated, but functioning like guarded,” Morel said.

Rutenbar said the research committee and labs may have to change some of their operations because they restarted so quickly compared to the rest of the University’s operations.

“Research restarted at scale before anyone else, so in some sense we were operating on ‘early exception’ sort of policy, which is why we spent so much time in the working groups,” Rutenbar said. “The posture when we restarted in June was Guarded, even though we didn’t have a name for it.”

The majority of the committee meeting focused on the updated intellectual properties policies, which is awaiting approval from University officials. The updated guidelines, which were approved by Faculty Assembly this week, will also include a user guide and FAQs.

The IP policies outline what is owned by students, professors and other University members, and who makes a profit from future patents or copyrighted work. For example, the policies will cover whether or not professors and lecturers own their lecture material, as well as who can access it.

Rutenbar said the finalized policy will be more streamlined and easy to understand than the current one, which has not been updated since 2006.

The committee closed by briefly discussing the recently announced immigration guidance that international students must take at least one in-person class this fall to remain in the country. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology sued the Trump administration Wednesday, and nearby Carnegie Mellon and Pitt rival Penn State are filing court papers in support of the suit. More than 1,00 other people signed an open letter urging Pitt to adopt 11 measures to better protect international and immigrant students.

Rutenbar did not give a definitive answer as to whether or not Pitt would take legal action.

“I wish I could say something positive other than the academic community is rising up in a serious way,” Rutenbar said. “Pitt’s in conversation with our partners on this one. The hope is that a sufficient legal challenge can be mounted to delay the implementation of this.”