By DONOVAN HARRELL
Multiple Faculty Assembly members called on the University of Pittsburgh to do more to help faculty and staff who, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, are struggling to do their jobs effectively while caring for children and family at home.
Jennifer Murtazashvili, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the director of the Center for Governance and Markets, and others said at the Jan. 13 meeting that Pitt needs to be more flexible to better accommodate faculty who are caregivers.
The University, she said, has not prioritized this issue enough, even though Pitt and UPMC are the largest job providers in the region.
Since the pandemic began forcing schools and businesses to close in March 2020, many parents have had to facilitate online learning for their children at home. This has created a new set of hardships for faculty on top of the need to pivot to remote teaching for their students.
The newfound stress from juggling these things may have impacted faculty performance, she said.
Murtazashvili echoed many concerns that were raised at a November 2020 town hall, where multiple faculty asked University leaders about how OMET student evaluations will be used during this time.
In the past, Pitt faculty have repeatedly voiced their concerns about OMETs, citing studies that have found that women and professors of color received lower ratings when compared to their white male counterparts.
At the town hall, Provost Ann Cudd said she has spoken to deans and department chairs to take into account difficulties such as increased at-home childcare when evaluating faculty.
Additionally, Cudd said in the meeting that OMETs provide valuable feedback and could help deans and departments better recognize the efforts of faculty.
Murtazshvili said she was “taken aback” by some of these comments from University leaders at the meeting.
“I've got four kids under 11 at home right now, and I'm trying, but my teaching this past year has not been where I would like it to be,” Murtazshvili said. “I don't have a very good attention span and it's really hard to focus.”
The Office of the Provost sent a message to Pitt faculty on Jan. 12, which mentioned findings from the fall COVID-19 Student Survey. Among the findings, students reported low engagement and sense of connection with other students and faculty.
“I encourage you to think about additional ways to engage your students — both in and outside the classroom — and to plan for a time to meet with them. I have heard some great ideas from instructors on our campuses,” Cudd said in the note. “From being available to students either before or after class — in person or remotely — to establishing virtual office hours, engagement is always key to our success.”
Murtazshvili said it’s important to put this request from faculty “into the broader context that many of us are really struggling right now.”
“And struggling to keep on top of our (students) who are remote learning and while we're teaching our own kids,” Murtazshvili said. “I understand the duress the University is under. I want the University to succeed. We all want the University to be successful. I would be back in the classroom in a heartbeat if my kids were taken care of. Not really possible right now.”
The most recent proposed solution to this issue, she said, was for faculty and staff to send their children to a proctoring center offered through Carnegie Mellon University — a solution that can be costly.
Clyde Pickett, the vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion, said at the November town hall that his office is working with the Office of Human Resources is to address these concerns and offer more solutions, especially since issues of inequity have come from these hardships.
Additionally, a campus-wide survey was sent out to faculty to gather feedback on possible solutions. Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, said at the meeting that 50 percent of faculty responded to the survey.
Cudd said in a December 2020 note to faculty that responses to the survey “confirmed the need to offer greater support for dependent care needs.” The office is “acting on that now,” she added.
The Office of Human Resources later sent out a survey to help to identify the most useful forms of faculty support. Murtazshvili said the survey did not offer enough possible solutions for consideration.
Other University Senate committees — Educational Policies committee; Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy; and Benefits and Welfare — are actively working on this issue. Luke Berenbrok, chair of the Benefits and Welfare committee said they have plans to talk to Human Resources representatives later this month.
Zuzana Swigonova, a co-chair in the EIADAC committee, said the committee is gathering information on solutions other institutions are offering faculty to help identify objectives to be presented to Faculty Assembly later.
This past fall, Educational Policies committee co-chair John Stoner added that the committee passed a resolution that asked for University leaders to consider either discounting or discontinuing student evaluations.
Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said he will bring these concerns up at the next Senate Council meeting on Jan. 21.
Other topics discussed
In his opening report, Bonneau said the Bylaws committee will meet later this month to discuss a proposal to increase the term of office for the Senate president and other officers to two years with the possibility of another two-year term after re-election. “Not only do I think this is a good idea, given the amount of time it takes to learn the job and build relationships, this is a fortuitous time to do this since my term is expiring this year,” Bonneau said. “I also think a two-year term would help with recruiting candidates and provide continuity.”
Bonneau said he talked with Pitt–Johnstown’s Faculty Senate President Barbara Petrosky about Outlier and how faculty are reacting to the recent partnership. Petrosky said there are some Johnstown faculty who aren’t happy with the partnership, but overall, faculty have responded to it positively, Bonneau reported. He said he’s offered to speak to faculty at the Johnstown campus in the future about this.
Elections for the Faculty Assembly positions will be open from April 1 to 16, and elections for committee positions will be available from April 23 to May 5. Faculty assembly positions are open for all schools except for the schools of Pharmacy, Nursing and Dental Medicine, Health and Rehabilation Science and the Health Sciences Library System.
Senate Council Vice President David Salcido said there are plans underway for the upcoming Senate Plenary, which will highlight initiatives from the Senate directive to explore issues of race, justice and equity within the context of each committee. So far, there are plans for a traditional plenary session that gathers all participants and a multi-session program.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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