The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 18, 2024

Join our newsletter

Get Pitt and Oakland news in your inbox, three times a week.

Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
Opinion | Do not weigh Reddit law school forums too heavily this upcoming application cycle
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • July 18, 2024

Chancellor Gabel discusses free speech on campus, reflects on first semester

Ethan Shulman | Visual Editor
A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.

As student-led protests and conversations surrounding free speech and discrimination take place on Pitt’s campus amidst the violence in Gaza and Israel, Chancellor Joan Gabel discussed the role of universities during global conflicts and upholding free speech.

Describing this as the “question of the day,” Gabel noted that the Chicago Principles suggest that university leaders do not make statements on issues that don’t directly impact the campus community to ensure that institutions remain “fundamentally not just neutral, but silent.” 

Gabel said she understands this line of thinking, but emphasized the importance of speaking on events that might not directly take place within the campus boundaries but have sweeping effects on the world as a whole. 

“That’s my own personal rubric, is if it directly affects the campus certainly, and if it feels like it affects the campus, certainly either I or other members of the leadership team need to speak to our campus, need to speak to us as a community of human beings,” Gabel said. “We don’t always get it right … but the intent is to continue to either model or literally facilitate the sense of what it means to be a community.”

In addition to discussing an educational institution’s role in global conflict, Gabel sat down with The Pitt News to reflect on some of the successes and challenges that came with her first semester as Pitt’s new chancellor. 

Appointed this past summer, Gabel is the first-ever female chancellor at the University and started her tenure with Pitt’s most diverse incoming first-year class. On her 100th day as the new chancellor, Gabel sent out a University-wide email expressing her gratitude to the Pitt community. She also noted several updates, including announcing the launching of Pitt’s Finish Line Grant, the formation of the provost search committee and updates on the Plan for Pitt. 

One of the main priorities going into the fall semester for the chancellor included planning for Pitt’s budget and trying to secure funding from the state, which is used to give in-state students a tuition discount. 

“Now thankfully, we’ve received the support from the state, a little later perhaps than we would have liked, but we’re very grateful to receive it,” Gabel said.

Gabel stepped into the role of chancellor with a 36% higher salary compared to former Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. While some students have expressed concern about the increase in salary considering the rising cost of tuition at Pitt, Gabel noted that the Board of Trustees decided the pay based on a full market research. 

“All costs need to be looked at in an effort to tighten our belt and be fair and consider it and thinking about what the cost of attendance is, including salaries and all the other things that could contribute to administrative overhead,” Gabel said “But the challenge of course in that is that our people deserve to be paid well, which is a very active part of the conversation on campus too, so these things require a lot of balance.”

Gabel noted that overall the semester went well, though the administration has faced some challenges — like many other universities across the country are dealing with at the moment given global events. 

Gabel released two statements following the attacks on Oct. 7 by Hamas on Israel that resulted in the death of 1,200 Israelis. This attack sparked a larger military attack on Gaza that has left over 15,000 Palestinians dead. Her first email went out on Oct. 10 and acknowledged the grief and isolation felt by community members and offered mental health and counseling resources available to all faculty, staff and students. Gabel also released a statement on Oct. 12 in which she specifically condemned the violence of Oct. 7.

“I have continued to watch the horrific and heartbreaking scenes resulting from Hamas’ unprecedented terrorist attacks against Israel and innocent civilians,” Gabel said in the Oct. 12 statement. “In no uncertain terms, we condemn these unconscionable, barbaric acts.” 

Following the second email, Students for Justice in Palestine and several other campus organizations sent a letter to the chancellor criticizing her use of the word “barbaric,” which they claim is a term historically used to dehumanize Muslims, Palestinians and Arabs. The organizations also pointed out that the second statement failed to “name the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

In response to this criticism, Gabel told The Pitt News that her message was meant to specifically describe the events “the way we saw them, in the context of October 7. And that was the impetus for the language chosen.”

In regards to the culmination of the events since Oct. 7, Gabel said she understands that Palestinian students may have been made to feel unseen and the violence has overall seemed to “create or trigger [a] wave of Islamophobia.” In response to why she didn’t release a follow-up statement clarifying her word choice or addressing specific student concerns, Gabel noted the importance of taking the Oct. 12 statement in the context of all other statements released by other university leaders which collectively made an effort to reach out to affected students. 

“It’s not generally my practice to edit individual words, but instead to look at things in the broader context of how what we say affects our community, sending follow-up messages around the broader impacts and providing the resources educationally and from Student Affairs around the broader impacts,” Gabel said.

Though Gabel has not met specifically with the students who sent the SJP letter, she has received dozens of similar and different letters — several of which she said received follow-ups addressing the needs of the Palestinian and Jewish communities at Pitt.

“We received a lot of feedback from a lot of different stakeholders with widely varying points of view about what needed to be said or what needed to not be said,” Gabel said. “And we did our best to meet the needs of all of those different communities. Recognizing that meeting, each community’s need perfectly was aspirational in that moment.”

In regards to Pitt workers taking down posters of Israeli hostages in the Quad, Gabel said she couldn’t speak to the specific incidents of posters being taken down. 

“I have to admit, I’m not aware of who took the posters down. So I can’t speak specifically to those events, but the navigation of free speech is always difficult,” Gabel said. “And I think revisiting policies is always something we should be continuously doing. I just can’t speak to whether that exact moment would have been an appropriate reason to revisit the policy.”

University statements and protests have also brought into question the line between free speech and hate speech on college campuses. Hate crimes and incidents of antisemitism and Islamophobia are on the rise across the country. Though Pitt has not had any incidents of hate-fueled violence on campus, the University has seen a rise in reports regarding antisemitism and Islamophobia

“There is no room for hate crimes,” Gabel said in response to how Pitt is working to prevent incidents like the recent attack in Vermont from happening in Pittsburgh. She expressed how horrifying the thought of such a hate crime is, noting that one of the victims in Vermont — Kinnan Abdalhamid — attends her alma mater Haverford College. 

Gabel said the University works with Pittsburgh Police, Carnegie Mellon Police and other law enforcement to take preventative measures by sharing information. She added that Pitt understands the “circumstances that have made students feel concerned and we wanted to make sure that those were addressed actively and quickly, so that our students feel safe.”

The topic of free speech is something that Pitt has taken many steps regarding even prior to recent global events, according to Gabel. In August, Gabel joined 12 other college leaders in signing onto the Campus Call for Free Expression from the Institute for Citizens and Scholars. In May, Pitt’s provost office also announced the academic year as the “Year of Discourse and Dialogue,” which seeks to highlight “the importance of a campus enriched by the power of differing views and perceptions.”

This issue ties into the broader conversation surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion on college campuses — one that Pitt, like many other colleges, closely reckoned with in 2020 after students at the Black Action Society released a list of demands to the University. Four years later, these demands — that sought to improve the experience of Black and minority students, faculty and staff at Pitt — are still something the administration is working toward. 

Gabel said many of the initial 2020 demands have already been met, though others are still underway and most recently were brought to the agenda of the Board of Trustees by BAS and the African American Alumni Chapter at the Board’s September meeting. 

“What we needed four years ago is different from what we need today and it will be different from what we need four years from now,” Gabel said. “There are still ongoing things and there are new things, and so we’re working on those together now.”

As the University continues to work on improving the campus environment and diversity, Gabel said considering the conversation of free speech and constructive dialogue on campus is something that is a strategic goal, particularly in regard to the Plan for Pitt. 

“I think we have work to do,” Gabel said.

She emphasized that despite challenging times and world events, Pitt seeks to foster an environment that allows the community to improve educationally, socially and as human beings. 

“I think that there are real opportunities that Pitt is in a unique position to explore around leveraging being within the city but also being fundamentally [a] research active community,” Gabel said. “The very things that make some of the questions of the day so hard for us are because we have a diverse community with multiple points of view that don’t always agree, even in the calmest of times, and certainly during really challenging and painful times, like the ones we’re in.”

About the Contributor
Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief
Betul Tuncer is the Editor-in-Chief of The Pitt News. She is a part of the College of General Studies' class of 2024 and is double majoring in media and professional communications on the writing track and legal studies, she is also pursuing a certificate in digital media and a minor in museum studies. During her three years at the paper she has worked as a news staff writer, assistant news editor, summer editor-in-chief and managing editor. You can contact her at [email protected]