Faculty Assembly passes new officer term limits, discusses COVID-19 on campus

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Faculty Assembly members passed new term limits for Senate officers and discussed upcoming anti-racism panel discussions, next week’s Self-Care Day and tentative plans for an in-person commencement at Wednesday afternoon’s meeting hosted via Zoom.

By Mische Holland, For The Pitt News

Faculty Assembly members brought the St. Patrick’s Day spirit to Wednesday’s meeting. Many members sported green shirts, and University Senate President Chris Bonneau recited an original limerick.

“It’s been a year since we did quarantine, staying home masking up keeping clean,” Bonneau, a political science professor, said. “I can see the end, it’s around the bend, when we all finally get the vaccine.”

The Assembly discussed more than just St. Patrick’s Day at Wednesday afternoon’s meeting hosted via Zoom. The group also passed new term limits for Senate officers and discussed upcoming anti-racism panel discussions, next week’s Self-Care Day and tentative plans for an in-person commencement.

Bonneau encouraged assembly members to take Self-Care Day next Wednesday off, especially considering that there’s no spring break this year. He cited drastic improvement in the number of student complaints in February compared to last semester.

“In the fall, I received double-digit complaints about faculty members and observing self-care day. I received fewer than five for the last self-care day in February, which is great,” Bonneau said. “My hope is that on Wednesday when I’m exercising self-care day, I come back and see zero, so please encourage your colleagues to not have classes.”

Bonneau added that it’s necessary to continue social distancing protocols in order to hold large events such as an in-person commencement this semester. But he said recent student behavior — such as large weekend parties — is “concerning.”

“Reports about large student gatherings over the past weekend are concerning,” Bonneau said. ”I hope it doesn’t jeopardize our chances of an in-person commencement, given everything our academic community has endured over the past 12 months.”

Dr. Nicholas Bircher, the chair of the Bylaws and Procedures Committee, also presented a resolution to the University Senate’s bylaws that would double the term limit for officers — such as president, vice president and secretary — from one to two years. The resolution would also limit the number of consecutive terms an officer can serve from three terms to two. 

“The two basic arguments in favor of this are, one, the continuity that it provides,” Bircher said. “That is you have a longer term and the potential for a second two-year term if you like to do that and secondly, this also incorporates the advantage of capitalizing on the learning curve in your first year.”

This proposal sparked some debate among the Faculty Assembly. The original resolution proposed that the election for president and secretary be held on odd years, while the election for vice president be held on even years — which could result in a one year overlap with a new vice president and the old president and secretary. 

Jeff Newman, a professor in the physics and astronomy department, questioned how a vice president could theoretically run for president, because their VP term would overlap with a presidential election. Senate Director Lori Molinaro confirmed that since University Senate officers are unable to run for a position mid-term, the resolution would require an acting vice president to first resign before running for president.

Paul Adams, co-chair of the Governmental Relations committee, proposed a compromise in the Zoom chat. He proposed that instead of staggering the vice president election, the secretary’s election should be staggered — or on a year opposite — of the vice presidential and presidential election. The Assembly then voted in favor of this amended resolution, which will be applied to this year’s upcoming Senate election.

Bonneau outlined what elections would look like moving forward. The president and vice president will run this year for two-year terms, and in every future election. The secretary will run for a one year term this year, but will run again next year for a two-year term. The candidates running for president this upcoming election are current Vice President David Salcido and former Vice President Robin Kear.

Salcido also announced an upcoming series of Senate-hosted events related to anti-racism at the meeting.

He said there will be a panel discussion featuring leaders in anti-discrimination on April 7 at noon, followed by another session on the new anti-Black racism course on April 8 at 2 p.m. Pitt introduced a one-credit online course on systemic anti-racism and anti-Black racism following a summer petition from Pitt alumna Sydney Massenberg.

“[The Senate Plenary] will continue on the theme of exploring system racism and equity injustice falling in the directive of last summer,” Salcido said. “This was and continues to be important work that every institution needs to carry out on many levels, and as a significant part of this institution, the Senate has a role.”

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