Pitt says acknowledgement document “not a waiver of liability”

The+Cathedral+of+Learning+watches+over+an+empty+Pitt+campus.

Kaycee Orwig | Visual Editor

The Cathedral of Learning watches over an empty Pitt campus.

By Rebecca Johnson, Senior Staff Writer

Pitt released two forms to students on Thursday about the return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic. All students are required to accept the terms of the forms or lose access to my.pitt.edu, University IT services and University buildings, according to University spokesperson Kevin Zwick.

Pitt said in a statement that one of the documents — a “return to campus student acknowledgement” — is not a liability waiver, but instead a form asking students to recognize the proper behaviors to minimize the risk of the coronavirus.

“This document is not a waiver of liability. Students are not being asked to give up their right to sue the University or any other legal right,” the statement said. “Instead, students are being asked to acknowledge and agree that they understand the risks and the behaviors they must exhibit to help minimize those risks.”

The document included numerous points about students accepting the full risk of the coronavirus when returning to campus.

“I understand that I am assuming the risk that I may be exposed to or infected by COVID-19 and that such exposure or infection of COVID-19 is inherently dangerous,” the form said. “I acknowledge that I have been given all the information that I may need to determine the risk associated with returning to the University and to make an informed assumption of those risks.” 

The fall semester is set to begin remotely on Aug. 19, and Pitt officials would not commit to a specific or estimated date for when fall classes will move from online only to in person. The University previously said classes would transition to in-person instruction on Aug. 24.

The acknowledgement form also included a statement that asked students to recognize that failing to comply with University guidelines is a violation of the Student Code of Conduct and could result in sanctions ranging from probation up to dismissal.

A new code violation regarding health rules was recently added to the Student Code of Conduct. It said that a student who “fails to comply with guidance set forth by the University, federal, state and/or local authorities regarding public health and/or safety” may be sanctioned.

Many of the new health guidelines were included in the other form — a student-created “Pitt Community Compact.” This document required students to acknowledge a number of new rules and recommended behaviors, including wearing a mask in public spaces, seeking medical help when sick, following social distancing guidelines, refraining from unnecessary travel, participating in contact tracing, and following proper protocols for in-person gatherings such as parties. Students are also required to complete COVID-19 training for the fall.

The compact also asked students to agree to follow University policies “understanding it takes precedence over state guidelines.” Zwick said Pitt’s rules will not be less strict than the state’s, though.

“The University will never be less restrictive than state, local and federal government guidelines or orders,” Zwick said.

Student Government Board President Eric Macadangdang said the intention behind the community compact is simple.

“It is quite literally the how to be safe and not be stupid document,” Macadangdang said.

Macadangdang added that when he helped write the compact, his goal was to help students navigate the upcoming year despite many uncertainties. 

“I wanted to make sure students knew what’s in store for them in these very unusual times,” Macadangdang said. “There’s literally lives at stake.”

Student violations of the Student Code of Conduct can be reported online or emailed to Kenyon Bonner, the vice provost and dean of students. Violations by any member of the Pitt community can be reported through Environmental Health and Safety’s anonymous form or the RAVE Guardian mobile safety app.

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