Faculty Assembly discusses HR concerns, United Way campaign


Zoom screenshot

Wednesday’s faculty assembly meeting.

By James Paul, For The Pitt News

To Alexandros Labrinidis, it’s hard to convince students that Pitt is a viable employer when the pay for research jobs is so low. 

“They are only getting the hourly rate and not much else. And from what I believe [it] is capped at $15 per hour maximum,” Labrinidis, a professor of computer science, said. “And we’re finding that very difficult to explain to students when they can go get a job flipping burgers for more than that. So, I think that’s something that definitely needs to be addressed.” 

Pitt’s Faculty Assembly met Thursday afternoon both in person at room 2700 of Posvar Hall and over Zoom to discuss the incoming changes to the Office of Human Resources. They also encouraged faculty to support the annual United Way campaign — a multi-armed fundraising initiative that directs donations to many causes — following previous poor faculty turnout.

Pitt’s new HR strategic plan takes aim at employee experience and engagement within the Pitt faculty, according to Vice Chancellor of Human Resources James Gallagher. He said he hoped to gather initial thoughts as the plan is still in the review and feedback phase.

“This is a five-year strategic plan,” Gallagher said. “So [Diversity, Equity and Inclusion] partnerships and initiatives, looking at the employee experience and making sure employees are fully engaged [and] developing a stronger HR community and stronger HR capability.”

In a breakdown of the current plan, Gallagher said following the 2019 Shape the Workplace campaign, OHR wants to double down on its confrontation to workplace concerns. The plan aims to recruit, develop and retain Pitt employees through mechanisms that would additionally construct a student-to-Pitt staff pipeline.

In its initiative, the OHR aims to bolster employee experience through compensation modernization and continuous learning strategies, as well as streamlining OHR processes for ease of access, according to Gallagher.

By transforming the OHR in the coming years, Gallagher said he hopes the University will be able to harness the student body as an intergenerational workforce.

“Pitt is a super great place to work … and we’ve got to tell that story to our students and tell them why it’s a great place to work, even if we can’t pay them as much as the major corporations can,” Gallagher said. “We can provide them with great benefit packages, and pay them with those wages and give them a great working place.”

Other faculty members, such as Allyn Bove, took issue with the department’s Child and Development Center as a valuable incentive for employee retention when it’s proven to be so exclusive.

“I’ve personally been on the waitlist to UCDC for five and a half years,” Bove, an assistant professor of physical therapy, said. “I am now expecting my first child pretty soon and still don’t know if I’ll have a spot.”

In the first year of its five-year integration, Gallagher said the OHR plans to integrate these concerns, which was the intended purpose of the announcement at the meeting.

David DeJong, campaign chair of the United Way campaign, also spoke at the meeting to encourage faculty to support them.

“Our theme for this year is inclusivity,” DeJong said. “[We’re] sharing resources [and] ideas … It also includes as much in-person outreach as we possibly can both with myself [and] with other folks helping internally at Pitt.”

DeJong said 50% of Pitt’s maintenance staff and 8% of faculty supported the campaign last year. 

“I hope you’ll find that as eye-opening as it did for me,” DeJong said. “I’m not sure of the reasons why, but when I saw that statistic, I immediately reached out to [Robin Kear] for the opportunity to be with you today.”

DeJong said he hopes to incorporate Pitt’s faculty into the fall campaign, bringing on a guest from The Neighborhood Academy, a Pittsburgh private school and benefactor of the campaign. Sheila Rawlings, the director of development at The Neighborhood Academy, said they raise “99% of its revenues” for its students to attend.

“The number one goal of our school is to provide a college preparatory education for students whose families would not have the resources to send them to a college prep school,” Rawlings said.

As a beneficiary of the United Way campaign, Rawlings said she hoped to inspire an upturn in the involvement of Pitt faculty in this year’s fundraising events.

Faculty Assembly President Robin Kear reiterated the appointment of the chancellor search committees on Sept. 20. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher will be stepping down in the summer of 2023.

Kear reminded the faculty of its role in determining eligibility of appointees to the search committee and expressed dissatisfaction to the low faculty turnout at an Oct. 3 forum.

“I know we’re living in a hybrid world, but still,” Kear said. “So on behalf of the Senate officers, I’ve expressed concerns about that part of the process, gathering feedback, including timeliness and the broadness of communication for gathering community feedback.”

Kear also took a moment to remember the upcoming four-year anniversary of the Tree of Life massacre, the Oct. 27 terrorist attack on the Pittsburgh Jewish community.

“I ask that we remember those still grieving and dealing with the repercussions of that violence in our community,” Kear said.