Editorial | The Pitt community deserves to be kept in the loop


TPN file photo

Litchfield Towers A, B and C are located on lower campus between Fifth and Forbes avenues and house approximately 1,800 students.

Pitt’s top administrators have faced mounting criticism since classes went online mid-March. While a decent chunk of this criticism has been about the nature of their response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in preparation for the upcoming fall semester, another big complaint — coming from faculty, staff, parents and students — has been Pitt’s lack of communication.

First, it was the “inadvertent email” from Provost Ann Cudd, notifying incoming first-year students about Pitt’s altered fall schedule before faculty, staff and returning students. But even after the initial error on administration’s part, faculty continued to be left out of the loop, hearing about [email protected] guidelines mostly through The Pitt News. Professors didn’t immediately know or understand if they were being forced to teach in person, and students didn’t know if they had the option to stay home. We have heard on and off from administration through email, but over the past four months, there’s been ongoing confusion.

Students are still confused as to whether they can move fluidly between online and in-person classes, and whether or not they have to be in the classroom at all, and apparently, head football coach Pat Narduzzi is, too. Pitt officials originally said classes would move to an optional in-person mode starting Aug. 24, but as of late July, officials would no longer commit to a start date, and in fact, would not commit to holding in-person classes at all.

“We can’t really provide a definite date this far in advance without knowing what all of these data variables are going to do,” Dr. John Williams, head of Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, said.

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Pitt plans to adapt to the situation as it evolves.

 “I can’t say what the whole semester’s going to look like because I don’t have any more information than the medical professionals do,” Gallagher said. “What we’re going to do is follow their advice and what’s happening at the moment.”

In the time of COVID-19, no choice feels like a good choice — and no choice will please everyone. We understand that. But members of the Pitt community deserve to be kept in the loop about fall plans, even if the administration isn’t fully sure about what’s happening. Students, faculty and staff are the community members affected most by Pitt’s choices, and we shouldn’t be getting a mixed bag of information, or hearing about major changes only a week or two before moving in. We all want the fall semester to go as well as it possibly can. Pitt being upfront and frank with us would help build trust in the administration’s handling of the national crisis.

We still don’t have the full picture on how dining halls are going to operate, aside from the fact that takeout options will be available. Podding protocols in dorms, and how they will be enforced, remain murky. If Pitt doesn’t have answers, then Pitt doesn’t have answers. But we’d rather hear that they don’t have answers, than be left in the dark.

We also still don’t have a full scope of information of testing protocols. Pitt is going to randomly test students, but it’s not yet clear if asymptomatic faculty and staff will have access to testing if they’ve been exposed, or if they think they might have been exposed. 

Students received two forms from Pitt late last week, and were subsequently notified  that if they fail to acknowledge, they’ll lose access to IT services. One of the documents is called a “return to campus student acknowledgement.” Pitt later clarified and said it was not a liability waiver, but instead a form asking students to acknowledge the behaviors necessary to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — but not before confusion sparked multiple threads of Twitter dialogue. This was an unnecessary self-own for the university, and one that didn’t need to happen. It leaves students, faculty and staff wondering, again, where they can go to get reliable information.

The job of leaders — Pitt’s administration in this case — is to lead. And part of leading is communicating. We know these decisions are difficult. If Pitt’s administration doesn’t have answers to everything, then it needs to communicate that, rather than leave faculty, students and staff in the dark.