Faculty Assembly discusses required vaccination proposal, possible new budget model

During+Wednesday%E2%80%99s+Faculty+Assembly+meeting%2C+President+Chris+Bonneau+introduced+a+resolution+for+Pitt+to+make+vaccination+a+requirement+and+to+ensure+equal+vaccination+opportunities+for+students.

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During Wednesday’s Faculty Assembly meeting, President Chris Bonneau introduced a resolution for Pitt to make vaccination a requirement and to ensure equal vaccination opportunities for students.

By Betul Tuncer, Staff Writer

All students should be required to have a COVID-19 vaccination to participate in on-campus activities next fall, according to a proposal introduced at Wednesday’s Faculty Assembly meeting.

Chris Bonneau, the president of the University Senate, said Pitt should require proof of an immunization — except for “well-defined documented medical conditions”  — for faculty, students, staff and visitors to Pitt. This policy is similar to requirements at other universities, such as Rutgers, Cornell and Syracuse.

Bonneau and the entire Faculty Assembly met Wednesday afternoon via Zoom to address COVID-19 related concerns, such as vaccine distribution and “G” grade policy changes, as well as a potential new budget model, giving Pitt’s schools more control over their own funding.

Bonneau added that Pitt should distribute vaccinations equally. Pitt started distributing vaccines to students and faculty in late January, and is now currently in the process of distributing a limited number of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and is requesting that all Pitt community members get vaccinated.

“We call the University of Pittsburgh to facilitate equity of vaccination among University members, so as to avoid unequal opportunity to participate in on campus activity,” Bonneau said.

While most assembly members supported the proposal, some were concerned about how Pitt would handle religious exemptions to the vaccine. Patrick Loughlin, a bioengineering professor, said because the COVID-19 vaccine is only under emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its long term effects are unknown, some people may not want to get vaccinated, preventing them from participating in on-campus activities.

“People have objections to the vaccine for a variety of reasons, not just religious and medical,” Loughlin said. “And for the safety of the community, you don’t need every single person to be vaccinated, you need to achieve herd immunity.”

Loughlin added that the decision on whether or not Pitt requires vaccination for the fall seems too “rushed” and that all students and faculty of the University need to be considered when making such a decision.

No formal vote was taken on this resolution and many assembly members agreed that it’s still too early to decide on the matter. They also agreed that any technicalities and exceptions for requiring vaccination should be decided by the University’s administration.

The Assembly also discussed upcoming budget changes, such as changing Pitt’s current budget model to a responsibility centered management model, according to Tyler Bickford. Bickford, the budget policies committee’s chair, talked about the new model which Pitt plans to potentially enact within the next 18 months.

 

Bickford said the RCM model would make Pitt’s individual schools and research institutes such as the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the Swanson School of Engineering in charge of its total funds, including costs, salaries and revenue.

“The new budget model is going to be one in which the schools are much more autonomous and the schools really are sort of budgeted much more individually,” Bickford said. “So if tuition is coming into the Dietrich school, the Dietrich school will keep that, but the Dietrich school will also be on the hook for paying for its salaries and other costs out of those revenues.”

Many assembly members raised concern over what the new RCM model would mean for individual schools and faculty. Maria Kovacs, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and psychology, said the new model seems to negate efforts for interdisciplinary work and communication.

“There is no way on one hand you can say that you want everybody to work together,” Kovacs said. “And on the other hand, you’re going to say that everybody has a different autonomous financial model.”

Kovacs also said she’s worried that certain programs — such as philosophy or Greek studies — will lose their needed financial support through the RCM model, especially if they are not “money making” programs, despite them being of academic importance. 

The Assembly voted to request that the University take more time to properly address the faculty on how the new budget model will affect them before making any final decisions.
The Assembly also clarified the slight changes in the “G” grade policy and how professors should go about assigning “G” grades. Previously, students with a “G” grade could complete their schoolwork past the end of the semester and, once completed, a letter grade would replace the “G.” Originally, if students fail to complete their schoolwork, the “G” grade would revert to an “NG” — or “no grade.” With the new “G” grade policy, even if a student fails to complete their school work past the end of the semester, professors can revert the “G” grade to a letter grade, instead of an “NG.”

Beyond that, the assembly passed resolutions from the Computing and Information Technology Committee to establish procedures on faculty rights to information stored on University systems, such as emails and computer storage. They also passed a resolution from the Plant Utilization and Planning Committee on free speech policies pertaining to posters and flyers in University buildings.

Melissa Schild, assistant vice chancellor for strategic planning and performance, also briefed the assembly on the Plan for Pitt 2025 — the University’s five year strategic plan. The plan was put on hold indefinitely last summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as providing a window to include strategies to strengthen racial equity justice on campus.

Schild said the current plan is a draft framework which Pitt hopes to get feedback to ensure that the plan fully represents what the University should focus on for the next five years.

“After a lot of thinking around that we restructured it to be more flexible and really focus on our people, our programs and our purpose,” Schild said. “And so you will see when you look through the framework, what those priority areas are for change and for improvement in the coming five years.”

Bonneau said with the end of semester nearing that everyone must remember to “stay vigilant” and gave a metaphor to the assembly that he had heard from his colleague Kris Kanthak.

“We’ve just taken a long flight, and are on the ground,” Bonneau said. “We are not yet at the gate, so please listen to your captain and stay seated with your seatbelts on. We’ll be there soon.”

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