Pitt staff discuss implementing strategic plan

By Emily Migdal / For The Pitt News

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After weeks of student-led discussion, faculty and staff had their turn to comment on the Pitt administration’s proposed strategic plan Friday in the William Pitt Union.

On Friday, Nov. 6, the Staff Association Council, an organization representing University staff, discussed the implementation of Pitt’s strategic plan from noon to 1:30 p.m. The workshop-style forum allowed 80 staff members to give input to the working groups of faculty and staff who created the plan, including David DeJong, who helped organize the student forums.

DeJong, executive vice provost for academic planning and management, opened the discussion with a short presentation outlining the five strategic goals — which include strengthening the Pittsburgh community and focusing on diversity and inclusion —  and explained the shift into the next phase of the project.

Staff members from different units or departments broke into groups of five to 10 and discussed ideas about how to implement the goals. 

“By far the biggest goal was to give folks the chance to weigh in on ideas for advancing the institutional plan, that’s what we’re all about now as we’re in the implementation mode of the plan,” DeJong said.

Because of time constraints, faculty members only discussed two of the five goals during the hour and a half-long meeting. DeJong and Pam Connelly, associate vice chancellor for inclusion and diversity, guided the discussion, starting with goal four, building foundational strength, and later shifting into goal five,embracing diversity and inclusion.

Staff members expressed concern with the lack of communication between and within units — such as a need for a more streamlined decision-making process, the inability to recognize co-workers  and the difficult computer systems. Many faculty and staff brought up how difficult it was to meet people in other schools and departments and suggested that the University host more large faculty events, such as this summer’s faculty picnic.

“People mentioned the picnic as an opportunity just to get out and talk to other folks,” DeJong said.

To improve communication between departments, multiple groups suggested combining the departmental newsletters. Currently, faculty members can subscribe to school’s and department’s informational newsletters. Those who want to stay updated on more than just their own unit can already subscribe to other newsletters.

After each group had a chance to speak, the presenters took over the conversation.

Connelly shifted the focus to embracing diversity and inclusion by mentioning the extensive discussion of this topic at the second student forum.

Associate Vice Chancellor Ronald Frisch and Connelly worked together on the diversity and inclusion goal and policy, which consists of recruiting a diverse student body, faculty and staff, integrating global perspectives into the curriculum and expanding study abroad programs and other forms of engagement with diverse cultures.

“We’ve been doing a series of task forces across the University, essentially asking staff, what is diversity, what’s inclusion?” Frisch said.

Diversity is not a straightforward, one-size-fits-all topic, the discussion will constantly change depending on who is engaging in the conversation, Frisch said.

“We spent a lot of time looking at units within the organization and saying what makes up these 30,000 strong people that walk on this campus every day,” Frisch said.

To implement the goal of inclusion and diversity, the University wants to create an accepting environment.

“Inclusion is bringing it together in a way that says we’re one, but we are one in a very different way,” Frisch said.

To some staff members, the administration is not doing enough to diversify on campus.

Kristin Bentrem, project coordinator within the Office of the Provost, suggested that rather than having diversity as an individual goal, it should act as an umbrella over all the goals.

“Because diversity and inclusion is a difficult topic to pigeonhole into a specific entity, if you expand that thinking and filter it through all of the goals of the institution, it’s more likely to take shape and grab a foothold,” Bentrem said.

Discussion within the breakout groups ranged from how to incorporate diversity into the curriculum — a concern that staff members expressed at the student forum, according to DeJong — to figuring out how to change recruiting methods to better diversify the staff.

“Diversity has a lot of different ways of manifesting itself, and what I heard is, make sure that we don’t focus too narrowly on that question,” DeJong said.

According to DeJong, now that there have been both student and faculty discussions, the next step is for the strategic planning team to find common themes — such as diversity – in order to integrate ideas from all perspectives on campus. The need to embed diversity into the curriculum is one thing DeJong heard from both sides.

“We heard that a lot from faculty, and you heard the same thing from students, and so then that then becomes a major thing that we need to make sure we nail,” DeJong said.

As the group only discussed two of the five goals at Friday’s meeting, many staff members  felt another conversation is necessary to ensure that the University hears all their ideas.

“I’m hopeful that there will be more sessions like this that people can share their ideas from,” Bentrem said.

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