‘Leaves me a little salty:’ Faculty Assembly discusses travel policy, campus safety


Zoom screenshot

The Pitt Faculty Assembly meeting on Wednesday.

By Colm Slevin, Senior Staff Writer

A policy that Pitt put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to help professors navigate travel during lockdowns has become a nuisance to many professors, according to Chris Bonneau, a professor and the former president of the Faculty Assembly.  

“We agreed to a temporary policy on this, which has since, in my opinion, been abused, and it leaves me a little salty,” Bonneau said. “I think this is an example of cooperation being taken advantage of. And the more we correspond with the CFO’s office, and particularly the individual who’s in charge of this, the less satisfaction I think I find. Particularly because there’s just not a lot of listening.”

According to the policy, a University travel card must be used for all domestic and international travel expenses paid by the University, and trips must be booked through Anthony Travel, the University-wide contracted supplier for travel management. 

The Faculty Assembly met on Wednesday to discuss the current travel policy, academic freedom and campus safety. Professors, like Abbe De Vallejo, detailed issues with travel arrangements, including high card fees and a $25 fee to speak with a company representative.

“Another level of bureaucracy is to me a curtailment of our freedom,” De Vallejo, a professor in the biology department, said. “So if there’s any argument, for me, it’s for this policy to be totally scrapped. And let’s go back to the past procedures.”

President Robin Kear heard the grievances of professors, including Dana Tudorascu, an associate professor of psychiatry and biostatistics, who said “Anthony Travel is basically useless.” Kear said she hopes Pitt finds at least a temporary solution before the policy is revised.  

In a survey, Kear asked for the group’s opinions on keeping the card swipe access to buildings during the Faculty Assembly’s March meeting. She said she received mixed views in a survey including responses from “card swipe is a threat to academic freedom” to “card swipe provides an extra layer of security/safety.”

Kear said Senior Vice Chancellor for Business and Operations David DeJong’s office will conduct a general security review this summer of on-campus buildings and places. Some professors at the meeting in March said they felt the current card swipe program could keep campus safe by limiting who can access Pitt buildings. 

Kear also discussed Chancellor Patrick Gallagher’s announcement that he will step down from his position in summer 2023.

“We were surprised to hear that the chancellor will be stepping down in summer of 2023,” Kear said. “I really have enjoyed working with the chancellor.”

De Vallejo spoke on behalf of the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee to discuss Faculty Assembly’s endorsement of the upcoming Provost’s letter on academic freedom. He said the letter will be similar to Provost emeritus James Maher’s letter on academic freedom, but will be updated to reflect current challenges to academic freedom. De Vallejo said this includes when Lt. Governor of Texas Dan Patrick said in February that professors teaching critical race theory should be grounds for firing. 

“The committee has voted unanimously to endorse this document for approval by this party,” De Vallejo said. “Having said that, there are shortcomings. There are lots of discussions, but we will address those in several different ways.”

However, some professors feel the historic precedent is too far removed from the current classroom. Claudia Kregg-Byers, a professor of nursing, said she feels teaching has changed in the past two decades, and therefore academic freedom policies need to be more strict. 

“Are we saying that this is what’s going to stay in place?” Kregg-Byers said. “I’m just concerned that some of what I read doesn’t address what’s happening in 2022.”

De Vallejo said the Faculty Assembly isn’t the forum for discussions about how to improve the letter and that they will continue to work towards that at a later date.

The Faculty Assembly voted in favor of endorsing the letter, with 92% voting yes, 3% voting no and the other 5% abstaining. 

“This is a principle general statement,” De Vallejo said. “This is not the end of it.”