ICYMI: Summer news recap

By Rebecca Johnson, News Editor

This summer has been packed with breaking news, with much of the focus on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a guide to some of the biggest stories at Pitt from over the summer that don’t directly relate to the coronavirus.

The fight for racial justice on campus

Students have demanded the University take action to strengthen racial equity on campus. The Black Action Society and 17 other Black student organizations sent a list of more than 20 wide-ranging demands to the administration in late June. In mid-July, Pitt released their Anti-racism, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan.

This plan incorporated many of the Black student organizations’ demands, even though officials said it wasn’t a formal response to the list. Some of the changes put in place include hiring more Black clinicians at the University Counseling Center, scheduling periodical meetings with senior administrators and Black student leaders, establishing anti-racism training for employees and reforming policies within campus security and the Pitt police. 

Pitt’s School of Medicine agreed in June to address numerous demands made by Black student leaders, including additional scholarships for Black students, an overhaul of the School’s Honor Council and an investigation into the selection process of the medicine honor society Alpha Omega Alpha.

A committee is also being formed to consider the renaming of Scaife Hall, the home to the School of Medicine. The building is named after Alan Magee Scaife, the father to Richard Mellon Scaife and Cordelia Scaife May, heirs to the Mellon fortune. May gave more than $180 million to anti-immigration causes through the family’s Colcom Foundation.

Pitt’s central administration is taking some action, as well. In response to George Floyd’s killing, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher announced in June that the University would halt its release of the strategic Plan for Pitt 2025 to include strategies to strengthen racial justice on campus. Pitt is also currently considering a petition started by Pitt alumna Sydney Massenberg to create a new Black studies general education requirement course.

New dining contractor 

Pitt selected Compass Group, a British multinational food service company, in March as its new single-source dining contractor beginning July 1. Over the summer, Compass Group has introduced a number of changes. 

One of the largest differences is the meal plan options for the fall semester. Meal plans now come in three categories — unlimited, lifestyle and off-campus. First-year students are required to choose an unlimited plan, which includes “meal exchanges,” or a swap between a meal at Market Central or The Perch and another campus location. The pricing for the new plans remains relatively similar to the old ones.

Pitt will also be introducing a number of new dining locations, including two additions to the Cathedral Cafe and one to Schenley Cafe in the William Pitt Union. Pitt also renamed Market Central to The Eatery at Market Central and added multiple food stations within the dining hall. Pitt is emphasizing to-go options by expanding the two Quick Zone markets and putting up signage in dining areas to reinforce social distancing.

Pitt files brief in support of lawsuit against ICE guidelines

Pitt filed an amicus brief in mid-July supporting Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s lawsuit against new immigration guidelines imposed by the Trump administration. The guidelines — which were rescinded just a week later — would have forced international students to leave the country if classes are only offered online in the fall.

Pitt’s legal filing followed more than 1,000 people signing an open letter to the administration urging it to adopt 11 measures to better protect international and immigrant students. Some students also criticized the Office of International Services’ initial response and directions to international students.

Faculty unionization

Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner Stephen Helmerich delivered a victory to faculty union organizers in late June when he ruled that the 4,018-member faculty union eligibility list that Pitt submitted was “factually and legally inaccurate.”

Helmerich’s ruling removes nearly 400 names from the University’s eligibility list, many of whom were upper administrators or faculty who left the University years earlier. Trimming the size of the bargaining unit will help faculty union organizers achieve the required 30% of faculty they need to prompt a union election, after the initial “showing of interest” fell short in April 2019.

Title IX rule changes

Pitt joined with other universities in May to request a longer implementation timeline for a controversial new Title IX rule to take effect by Aug. 14. The new rules from the U.S. Department of Education include live hearings, cross-examinations of victims by the accused and is more restrictive in its definition of sexual harassment.

New senior administrators 

David DeJong is working in an acting capacity as the senior vice chancellor for business and operations. DeJong is a longtime Pitt administrator who became the vice chancellor for human resources last year. He replaced Greg Scott who stepped down in June after taking an indefinite leave of absence in May.

Clyde Wilson Pickett also began his stint as vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion in July. Pickett succeeds Pam Connelly, who held the position since its creation in 2015 until she stepped down in early January.