Faculty Assembly discusses return to in-person classes, on-campus crime policy


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Pitt’s Faculty Assembly met Wednesday afternoon to discuss returning to in-person classes and the on-campus crime policy.

By Jack Troy, Senior Staff Writer

Robin Kear, the president of Pitt’s Faculty Assembly, said at a Wednesday meeting that she can’t wait until there are no more vaccine updates.

“I know that we are all tired and we are all frustrated, but I think that maybe there is reason to hope that our vaccines will continue to work,” Kear said. “I sincerely cannot wait for the day when I do not have to update you on vaccines, masks and boosters.”

At Wednesday’s virtual Faculty Assembly meeting, Kear confirmed in her opening report that the University is returning to in-person classes next Thursday. She also detailed updates to Pitt’s COVID-19 policies and reaffirmed cooperation between University Senate, administration and Pitt’s newly formed faculty union.

With the upcoming return to the classroom, Kear said faculty can be flexible with recording lectures.

“I want to note that it is not required to provide synchronous remote and in-person teaching,” Kear said. “Whether or not you record your class or part of your class is up to your professional judgment.”

Kear also said the University will offer N95 or equivalent masks at concierge desks upon entering buildings by next week.

“You and your students and everyone can pick one up when they’re entering a building,” Kear said. “Certainly encourage your students to do the same, and the goal is to have as many as are needed.”

Later on in her report, Kear said the senate is prepared for Pitt’s faculty union to enter formal negotiations with administration. The union, which campaigned on issues such as improved pay and academic freedom, formed in October after researchers and professors across Pitt’s campuses voted soundly in favor of it.

“We have no reason to believe that the relationship between the Senate and the union will be anything but cooperative,” Kear said.

Kear said it’s important to have “open lines of communication” between all parties during this transition period and that there may be some overlapping responsibilities in the interim.

“This in-between period introduces new ways of working for some of our Senate Committees, especially for the Faculty Affairs Committee, whose mission most closely aligns with items that may be collectively bargained,” Kear said.

The Assembly also discussed a resolution supporting an updated campus crime awareness policy. Kathleen Buccigrossi, Pitt’s Clery compliance officer, said the updates expand on existing Clery Act policy rather than fundamentally change it.

The Clery Act requires colleges and universities involved in federal financial aid programs to report on-campus crimes and send timely warnings about known public safety risks.

“So our goal for rewriting or for updating this was to put more information, be a little more transparent in the thought process and how [Emergency Notification Service] alerts are issued,” Buccigrossi said.

Buccigrossi said crimes within University-controlled areas of UPMC buildings fall under the campus crime awareness policy and will be included in Pitt police reports.

“So if there’s a clear reportable crime in one of our areas that we control in a hospital it will show up [in the police report],” Buccigrossi said.

The resolution, receiving little debate, passed unanimously.

Following the president’s report, Director of Sustainability Aurora Sharrard presented on Pitt’s Climate Action Plan, which after multiple delays has yet to be officially released. Sharrard said the University aims for carbon neutrality by 2037 while maintaining other considerations.

“And we know we need to get to carbon neutrality by 2037, but we also as a higher education institution need these strategies to enhance our academic mission, advance equitable action and ensure economic resilience,” Sharrard said.

Sharrard said the University achieved a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions during Fiscal Year 2020, compared to Fiscal Year 2008, placing the University on track for its 2030 milestone goal of a 50% reduction.

“Our fiscal year inventory … shows an ongoing decrease that keeps us on track to achieving that 50% reduction by 2030,” Sharrard said.

Sharrard said the numbers might be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated reductions in travel.

Tom Songer, an assistant professor of epidemiology, asked if there was any integration between Carnegie Mellon University and Pitt on the Climate Action Plan. Sharrard said in response that the Higher Education Climate Consortium, a group working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions among Pittsburgh-area colleges and universities and create opportunities for student environmental leadership, is helping CMU with its climate action. 

“They do not currently have a climate action plan, but they are certainly working on climate action that reduces their footprint over time, and we’re working on helping them take their next steps,” Sharrard said.

Sharrard also said the University is involved in two renewable energy projects, including a hydroelectric facility on the Allegheny River at Lock and Dam No. 2, near the Highland Park Bridge.

“This will start construction next year, I believe, and it’ll provide 25% of the electricity we get as an institution from less than five miles from campus,” Sharrard said.

In addition to the hydroelectric plant, Sharrard said the University has a solar project underway, called Gaucho Solar which would provide 13% of the University’s annual electricity usage.

“It’s being produced by Vesper Energy there, they actually start on construction next week,” Sharrard said. “It’s a 20 megawatt array, it provides an additional 13% of our annual electricity usage about 25 miles away from campus.”

Sharrard ended the presentation by encouraging members to get involved in Pitt’s sustainability efforts.

“I do want to emphasize there are lots of opportunities for you to get involved in sustainability at the University,” Sharrard said. “Whether you’re, you know, taking a direct flight for the next conference that you actually go to in person … or if you just want to get involved by pursuing a Pitt Green Office or Lab designation for what you’re doing on campus.”

This article has been updated to better clarify the relationship between the Higher Education Climate Consortium and a climate action plan at CMU.