Patrick Cavanagh | For The Pitt News
A top Pitt administrator praised students at Tuesday evening’s Student Government Board meeting for their part in minimizing COVID-19 case numbers last academic year.
“As you all know, last year, Pitt’s case count was really low,” Joe McCarthy, the vice provost for undergraduate studies, said. “We did a fantastic job, in part because you guys and the rest of the community cooperated with the medical advice really, really well.”
But students asked questions and raised concerns at the Tuesday evening meeting regarding Pitt’s move on Monday to fully in-person classes, after the University provided a remote option for the first two weeks of the semester. While Pitt is currently not mandating a COVID-19 vaccine, it has implemented measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as wearing masks in Pitt buildings. Additionally, unvaccinated students are required to take weekly COVID-19 tests.
During the meeting’s first open floor, one attendee asked how students who test positive for COVID-19 should expect to attend class, to which McCarthy said students should contact their instructors for accommodations.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” McCarthy said. “Whether you’re the one that tested positive, or whether you get called as a direct contact and asked to quarantine, you have to reach out to your instructors and tell them there’s going to be a remote period.”
Another attendee also voiced her concerns about losing the option to attend classes online. She said students in one of her classes were “packed into the room like sardines,” and added that she felt in-person instruction is “less productive” than being online.
“I understand that people are vaccinated, however the [case] numbers are very high right now,” the attendee said. “Breakthrough infections are rare but they do happen and if the numbers were as high as they are right now, last year, we would have been completely shut down.”
McCarthy said as long as case numbers remain “stable,” Pitt’s health guidelines can be deemed “safe.”
“At the present time, what the Health Care Advisory Group has said, the latest news from them is that masking is required indoors, and if our vaccination levels are high and cases stay stable, that’s what’s going to be considered safe,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy added that much like the risk postures used during last academic year, Pitt will “pivot” in the event of higher COVID-19 case numbers.
“In the past, we’ve been able to pivot and change from what used to be called elevated to guarded and move through different modalities,” McCarthy said. “At present, we’re at an in-person mode, and if things get to a point where that’s not safe to continue to do then we’ll take that as needed.”
SGB President Harshitha Ramanan encouraged students to upload their vaccination cards to the Student Health Portal.
“Tomorrow students will not have access to buildings if their cards are not uploaded or if you have not already stated your vaccination status on your student health portal,” Ramanan said. “It seems that some students have entered the wrong vaccination date, so do everyone a favor, just go back and check you have the right year and the right month because otherwise it will not be verified.”
SGB members also provided updates on various initiatives.
Danielle Floyd, the board’s vice president of initiatives, encouraged first-year students to join the First Year Council. Applications are open now and close Friday at 5 p.m.
“If you’re a first year looking to improve upon key skills, such as leadership, that you’ll use throughout your time at Pitt, apply to First Year Council,” Floyd said.
Aboli Kesbhat, the vice president of operations, said she is looking into seeing what the Student Activity Fee reserve fund can be used for. Board officials said last fall that they anticipated a surplus of hundreds of thousands of dollars due to reduced programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Candidates hotly debated this topic during last year’s SGB elections.
“Right now I’m waiting to meet with representatives and Student Affairs and SORC to see how much money is locked into reserves, what we can do with the money in the reserves, when it comes to things like scholarships and grants and funding for other initiatives as resources,” Kesbhat said.
Board member Brennan Conway said he is working on the pilot program to provide outside financial accounts for student organizations. The move has been debated for years, and was usually met with opposition from the Student Organization Resource Center, which manages finances for the hundreds of student organizations registered with the University.
“We’ll be launching that with about 22 organizations this semester, and hopefully it will be coming to the rest of you in the spring or possibly next fall, and that’ll help us to have more flexibility in how you manage your finances,” Conway said.
McCarthy said the provost’s office has consolidated the Outside the Classroom Curriculum’s different business, honors and global tracks under one “umbrella” within Pitt’s catalog of opportunities — a website where students can find co-curricular activities and events.
The OCC is a “student success hub” of opportunities where Pitt students can find events, experiences and programs outside of the classroom. McCarthy said the consolidation will allow students on multiple “tracks” to check into an activity through one portal, rather than signing into each track and checking into events multiple times. McCarthy said research opportunities will also be found on the OCC website.
According to McCarthy, a civic engagement distinction will also join the Global, Honors and Sustainability interdisciplinary distinctions next month. The interdisciplinary distinctions involve curricular and cocurricular activities with a focus on a specific area of study to further enrich students’ academic experience.
During the second open floor of the night, Evan Ippolito, a representative from the Student Marxists of Pittsburgh, voiced his support for the ongoing faculty unionization election. Citing low wages, one-year contracts and unfair labor practices, Ippolito said the University should halt all spending on the “union avoidance” law firm Ballard Spahr and allow faculty members to organize.
“The University is spending our money to make our teachers’ lives harder, which makes our education worse,” Ippolito said.
Another attendee said he wanted to put the unionization effort into context and voice his opinion on the University’s “lack of neutrality regarding faculty unionization.” He said professors deserve better than to experience a lack of job security.
“Two-thirds of Pitt faculty are not considered permanent. These are professors who care about their students greatly, and they take their work very seriously. They deserve much better pay and benefits than what they currently receive from the University,” the attendee said.
To conclude the meeting, Ramanan reminded students to upload their vaccination cards and use Fix it Pitt! as well as the Pitt Concern Connection website to voice concerns. She said students should “work together” throughout the fall semester.
“Let’s work together by partaking in safe behaviors so that we may continue going to classes and attending in-person activities,” Ramanan said.
The allocations committee heard four requests for a total of $5,004. The committee approved one request for $100. Two requests required board member approval.
The board approved a total of $4,379.
Panther CrossFit requested $1,800 to fund weekly Sunday classes at an off-campus gym. The board approved in full.
Chabad House requested $2,579 for food for a Sukkot celebration, and to replace the Sukkah under which the celebration will be held. The board approved in full.