Editorial: TPN Takes: Stallings, Johnston and UPMC

So much was happening Tuesday that we couldn’t pick which issue was most worthy of an editorial. We decided to resolve this predicament by addressing all of them.

The Kevin Stallings Conspiracy

Since Pitt hired Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings to take over for Pitt men’s basketball coach Jamie Dixon, Pitt fans have had mixed reactions. The initial backlash to Stallings’ hiring has morphed into accusations of impropriety in the selection process. Critics claim that personal connections between Stallings and the people in charge of filling Dixon’s seat constitute a conflict of interest.

But the conspiracy theory is just hysteria, and it’s time for Pitt to move on and give its new coach some peace.

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette report, Pitt Athletic Director Scott Barnes used a consulting firm, Collegiate Sports Associates. The head of that firm, Todd Turner, was Barnes’ boss at the University of Washington from 2005 through 2008 and also hired Stallings as Vanderbilt’s coach. Conspiracy theorists on social media are insinuating that Turner convinced Barnes to hire Stallings in a backroom deal to help the Vanderbilt coach escape a fanbase that was tired of him.

Barnes’ statement that he solicited Turner’s services because he trusts him is totally fair. That the two of them have a past provides good reason to believe that Barnes has observed Turner’s judgment firsthand. The same goes for Turner’s connection to Stallings. Since Turner hired Stallings to a post he held for 17 years, clearly Turner thinks he is competent. A chain of trust between the three primary figures involved in this decision is a good thing, not cause for a community-wide meltdown.

Stallings hasn’t even held his first practice yet. We should give him some room to plan our first championship.

Overdue justice in transgender lawsuit

In 2012, Pitt’s Johnstown campus banned Seamus Johnston — a transgender student — from using men’s locker rooms and restrooms before eventually expelling him. Johnston sued Pitt for violating Title IX and Fourth Amendment protections. Both parties announced Tuesday that they had settled the 2014 lawsuit.

While they did not disclose details, their joint statement did highlight changes the University is making to be more gender-inclusive.

This is an important day for Pitt, as it moves past its biggest blunder in recent memory. The change shows that the University can and must grow by listening to its students’ demands.

But Pitt missed an important opportunity to advance the issue through transparency.

The release officially announced that Ruskin Hall will serve as gender-neutral housing next year and that Pitt encourages all students, faculty and staff to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.

The Pitt News broke this story in September, but the University didn’t officially acknowledge the connection to Johnston’s case until the settlement.

While it could have championed the moves as a sign that Pitt is willing to make up for its mistakes — as we all should be when handling such sensitive issues — Pitt’s vice chancellor for communications Ken Service explicitly said they were not connected to the lawsuit.

Zero connection? That seems extremely unlikely.

We need transparency in order to fully appreciate results, and that includes, in the future, publicizing the work Pitt is doing with the groups pushing for change.

Still, this is a time for celebration. These reforms came out of a terrible situation, but Pitt is clearly trying to do better. This is a great reminder that progress is achievable.

UPMC raises wages

UPMC, the region’s largest employer, announced Tuesday that it intends to raise average wages to $15 by 2019 and increase starting wages to that level by 2021. UPMC is doing right by its some 62,000 workers by paying them what they deserve, but we must remember that this follows years of employee protesting for better treatment.

In 2014, UPMC employees and labor activist groups organized a week-long hunger strike because many workers rely on food stamps and food banks. Just this month, hundreds of workers with UPMC and SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania demonstrated in front of UPMC’s headquarters Downtown for higher wages. These rallies have been a consistent reminder that worker voices didn’t matter.

UPMC changing its ways is a good thing, but the people who have filled the streets deserve praise, too.

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