Senate Council discusses potential COVID-19 vaccine requirement for spring semester


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Pitt’s Senate Council discussed enrollment numbers, the budget cycle and possible student staff and faculty vaccine requirements at last Wednesday’s meeting. In addition, the Council also voted to create an ad-hoc committee for dependent care.

By Millicent Watt, Assistant News Editor

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said Pitt is discussing ways to enforce COVID-19 vaccination — for as early as the spring semester — such as tying vaccination status to student enrollment or faculty employment. 

Along with a possible vaccine requirement, Pitt’s Senate Council met Wednesday to discuss enrollment numbers, as well as budget cycles and models. In addition, the council also voted to create an ad-hoc committee for dependent care.

Gallagher said rigorously testing unvaccinated students and using buildings as “access control facilities” are not sustainable approaches. He also said “time is of the essence” if Pitt wants to implement something in the spring, so an interim approach will probably be necessary.

“Fairly soon once that’s ready, there are still a lot of details to be worked out and as I said we’re pledged to working with all of you, but if we want to do anything for the spring, we will have to probably take this interim approach, and then supplement it or augment it with a full-blown policy looking at long term, long-term approach after that,” Gallagher said. 

Faculty Assembly President Robin Kear said she was part of a group that analyzed the possible consequences related to faculty vaccination requirements, and also noted that she is “glad” there may be a possible vaccination policy.

Mark Harding, chief enrollment officer, also announced some of Pitt’s enrollment numbers for the fall semester at the meeting. While Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities lost about 5,000 students this fall, Pitt saw its biggest incoming first-year class with a total of 4,927 students — a 14.6% increase from last year — according to Harding.

Harding said the state-wide 5,000-student drop caused the total state-owned enrollment number to decrease to below 89,000 students — the “largest single drop” in the state-wide public university system in 11 years. 

Harding said that out of the about 5,000 enrolled first-year students, about 37% are minority, non-white students. Harding also said Pitt had 654 new transfer students and 192 new international students.

Harding ultimately said Pitt didn’t experience “dramatic drops” in enrollment that many other universities experienced. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said the assumptions Pitt made about the number of admitted students was “off,” as they did not anticipate this large of an incoming class.

“We make assumptions about how many of those admitted students we will yield that actually matriculate and deposit and come to the University and how many stay after doing that and know almost all of those assumptions were off this year, and they were not just off for us — they were off nationally,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher also said this year may be a “rough budget cycle,” and that the council must remind the Pitt community how important state funding is. 

“I think it is going to be a year where it’s really important for lawmakers to hear from our students, our faculty, our staff, our alumni, our business stakeholders, our regional leaders to remind them that we’re an essential part of what makes the Commonwealth competitive, a great place to live, place to raise families,” Gallagher said. 

Kear also said she has been involved with a budget model restart — or a new test budget model — which includes shared governance in the budget-making process, as well as more transparency. 

“I believe there will be more transparency for various groups under the new model, there are more roles for faculty representation, including our Senate Committees,” Kear said

The Senate Council also voted to form an ad-hoc committee on dependent care, which will be looking at different aspects of care for dependents of Pitt Faculty and staff, such as child and elder care. 

“I believe that policy change can help us promote retention, especially productivity, diversity and inclusion, it can support those efforts,” Kear said. “I think that focusing this committee with the purpose to act and benchmark and review and recommend will be beneficial for these issues.” 

Kear also encouraged staff and students to reach out if they are struggling with their mental health.

“If you are experiencing mental health strain, burnout or feeling overwhelmed, please take a moment and reach out,” Kear said. “Know that you are not alone and others care, reach out to someone that you feel safe with — another student, a family member, a friend, a counselor or even your friendly librarian — that’s me.”