Gallagher concerned about ongoing pandemic, but confident in ‘robust’ Pitt planning


TPN file photo

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher at a Senate Council meeting.

By Jon Moss, Editor-in-Chief

If you’re worried about plans for the fall semester, you aren’t alone. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Wednesday morning that he, too, is concerned about the state of the country at this point in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I totally understand the fear and the uncertainty around this — I will be honest, I feel the same way,” Gallagher said. “We’re watching the pandemic kind of move towards what a lot of us consider the worst-case scenario — it’s moving in the wrong direction, it’s widespread, it’s happening in our region and it’s causing a lot of uncertainty.”

Pitt has said it will introduce Flex@Pitt, a new teaching model, to allow students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously,” and not require faculty to teach in person. The University will also operate under a three-tiered reopening system for the fall semester, with different amounts of in-person activities allowed under each tier. Students will begin moving into on-campus housing in just under four weeks on Aug. 13.

Gallagher said even though he thinks Pitt’s planning approach is “robust,” it is tough to plan for a situation that is constantly changing. Allegheny County has seen a persistent surge in cases over the past few weeks, reporting several days of record-breaking case numbers and hundreds of people testing positive for COVID-19 every day.

“We’re looking at trying to start a fall semester under very different circumstances than we thought we were facing even a few weeks ago,” Gallagher said. “I sort of get it. In fact, I feel it myself.”

Some students, faculty and staff have urged the University to join the growing number of colleges that are moving to online-only classes in the fall, to avoid the risks of bringing students back to campus.

Gallagher said he believes Pitt can weather these risks, in part through an “extensive” testing program, which he said will be finalized next week. A new medical response office has been formed this week to monitor the virus on campus, and the chancellor has convened an advisory group to counsel him on health-related matters.

“We are taking the safety very seriously, but in the face of a really dynamic environment,” Gallagher said. “I’m going to lean on the very best health professionals that we have.”

Gallagher also addressed unease about a lack of information from the University about the fall. He said Pitt is working to provide most information it can, as soon as it can, to the community. Faculty have raised numerous concerns about issues such as child care, and said they have felt left out of the planning process at some points.

“I get it — it’s frustrating. I mean, I want more information. We have to all agree that some of those details are going to be just-in-time information,” Gallagher said. “That flexibility is really important, because without it, you have to adjust to the most conservative posture.”

Gallagher said Pitt’s strategy is to try and do the most it can during the pandemic, and not stay on the sidelines until it has fully passed.

“I don’t think it’s fair to have people just be told ‘Wait until this is over,’” Gallagher said. “What we’re trying to do is maximize what we can do, given the circumstances of the moment.”