Faculty Assembly discusses mask mandate, budget policy and more


Alyssa Carnevali | Staff Photographer

Pitt Faculty Assembly members discuss Pitt potentially removing its mask mandate on Wednesday afternoon.

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

Robin Kear said Wednesday that Faculty Assembly officers anticipate the removal of the University-wide mask mandate soon. However, she said they are unsure about potential changes to other pandemic policies such as swiping into buildings, guest registration and the building concierge stations.

Along with the mask mandate, Faculty Assembly also voted on a budget policy recommendation and a resolution banning external interference on what can or cannot be covered in courses at its virtual meeting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its policy at the end of February to no longer recommend masks in low-risk communities. As of the meeting, Allegheny County was considered low risk. According to Kear, many K-12 schools in Allegheny County no longer have a mask mandate. The CMRO said on Thursday that an announcement about the new recommendations will be released early next week.

Faculty were split on the removal of the mask mandate. Nick Bircher, a professor of nurse anesthesiology, said he doesn’t think lifting the mask mandate fits the “spirit” of medical community guidelines.

“I think the general notion that a single rule devoid of any epidemiologic consideration of differential risk, that’s really not the spirit of the medical community,” Bircher said. “I think we need to be a little bit more thoughtful of our approach.”

Tom Songer, an epidemiology professor, said professors must accommodate students’ comfort levels in the classroom without masks. Songer said this is no different than what professors have been doing the past two years.

“Just to have the approach of accepting and understanding that there are different categories of students in terms of their vulnerability. Nick raised that some of them may feel much more comfortable with their mask and we should not compel students to wear masks or to take masks off for that standpoint, either,” Songer said. “It’s something that we’ve done for the last two years. This is just going to be an extension of that.”

Kear also made a statement about the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. She directed attendees to the University Center for International Studies and the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies for more information and praised the work in these centers, such as raising funds for Ukraine.

“We’re again witnessing the atrocities of war in yet another part of the world,” Kear said. “The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian state began on Feb. 24, and continues unabated. I applaud the visible and invisible efforts of our colleagues to assist Ukrainian academic and professional colleagues.”

Kear asked for faculty feedback on pandemic-related policies, such as swiping into buildings and the guest policy, as well as a potential Faculty Union Relations Ad Hoc Committee. This committee would work closely with the newly formed faculty union and faculty assembly.

Tyler Bickford, a professor in the English department, proposed a set of recommendations concerning the new decentralized budget model, which gives schools within the University the ability to control their own revenue, for the Budget Policies committee. According to Bickford, the committee hopes to strengthen shared governance by creating a task force to be involved in the budget decision-making.

“We worked together over the last two months on the Senate Budget Policies Committee to draft some proposals, which I think that is kind of the sort of minimum of what we would want to see for a decentralized budget model to be something that would be transparent and participatory and and honestly trustworthy,” Bickford said.

The Faculty Assembly passed the set of recommendations unanimously.

The committee also discussed external interference with curriculum following Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would remove dicussion of any and all coverage of homosexuality in K-12 courses. The assembly voted on a resolution to prevent external interference with course curriculum.

This resolution — which said the “University Senate rejects any attempts by external entities to restrict or dictate University curriculum on any matter, including matters related to racial and social justice” — passed with 27 votes in favor and one abstention.

Kear said it is important for the Faculty Assembly to take a stance on this issue in order to protect academic freedom.

“I’m sure many of you have been following developments that increase politically motivated interference in the K-12 curriculum,” Kear said. “We felt that it was important to put something forward for discussion to make our positions as Faculty Assembly clear on this matter.”