Pitt to allow in-person classes if ‘definable benefit,’ remainder to stay online during Elevated posture

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Pitt's Faculty Assembly met Wednesday afternoon.

By Rebecca Johnson, Jon Moss, and Alice Tang

Provost Ann Cudd said in a Wednesday afternoon email to faculty members that they can apply to teach their classes in person if there is a “definable benefit” to in-person instruction, and if an instructor’s dean or regional campus president approves teaching plans.

She said instructors can utilize classroom space by either teaching in-person or remotely appearing through new video technology that has been installed across campus.

The move comes after a steady increase in COVID-19 cases at the University. In four of the last seven days Pitt has seen double-digit increases in student cases, with 37 new COVID-19 cases, composed of 36 students and one employee, reported between last Friday and Monday. The University has had a total of 164 students and 29 employees test positive since June 26, with 86 students and 25 employees recovered thus far.

Despite allowing additional in-person instruction, the Oakland campus will remain in the middling Elevated Risk posture of Pitt’s three-tiered reopening system, according to Chris Bonneau, the president of the University Senate. Pitt officials have said in-person instruction can only begin for the majority of classes once the University moves into the lowest, Guarded Risk posture.

“If you wish to teach in person face to face, knowing that you will still have the asynchronous component, you can make that choice,” Bonneau said at Wednesday afternoon’s Faculty Assembly meeting. “If you don’t think your class would benefit from teaching face to face, don’t get the permit.”

Cudd said Pitt has taken a “prudent” and “gradual” approach to beginning in-person instruction. Around 8% of all courses are currently teaching in-person due to special exemptions, she said.

“Our classrooms have been carefully prepared and are equipped and safe for us,” Cudd said. “Students, faculty, and staff are complying with masking guidelines on campus, which have recently been clarified to include all shared spaces on campus, and we have in place building access controls, temperature scanners, and health attestation requirements.”

Bonneau said Pitt’s COVID-19 Medical Response Office, a panel of medical experts helping guide the University’s response to the pandemic, believes that in-person classes can be conducted safely in the Elevated posture. He added that having in-person classes under the Elevated posture follows public health laws.

“The COVID medical response office’s position is that we can have classes in-person safely if instructors want to do that under Elevated,” Bonneau said. “We are still in compliance with public health guidelines as issued by the CDC and the state of Pennsylvania.”

In-person classes were originally supposed to start on Aug. 24, amid uncertainty from University officials about when in-person instruction could happen at all. Cudd then pushed back the start of in-person instruction until at least next Monday, to allow for the semester’s staggered move-in to finish so all students could begin in-person classes at the same time.

Other universities across the country have been weighing changes to fall in-person instruction, including nearby campuses. Amid rising case numbers, Pennsylvania State University is considering a temporary or sustained shift to remote learning, West Virginia University suspended in-person classes until at least Sept. 25 and Temple University has moved almost entirely online.

To accommodate for both modes of learning, Pitt introduced [email protected]. This model allows students to experience classes “in person, remotely, synchronously or asynchronously,” and does not require faculty to teach in person. It has also asked all students to shelter-in-place for seven days before and after arriving on campus, planned testing of students to monitor the virus’ spread and required students, faculty and staff to complete COVID-19 training.

Pitt also temporarily suspended nine Greek life organizations — a quarter of all chapters active before the pandemic — for alleged conduct violations, but two sororities have since been removed from suspension. Pitt also placed eight students on temporary persona non grata status, barring them from entering University buildings or property.

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