By MARTY LEVINE
The top issue at the University Senate’s March 24 Faculty Affairs committee meeting received a positive response from Pitt’s administration three days later: “All faculty in their probationary period who are not currently under review for tenure can request a one-year Type E temporary transfer out of the tenure stream,” Provost Ann Cudd announced on March 27. “The request will be approved by the provost.”
The move was in response to "the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the scholarly activities and productivity of the faculty," she wrote. "The impacts of the coronavirus pandemic may be particularly profound on faculty in their probationary period (i.e. tenure-stream faculty), who have a mandatory review period but whose work may be temporarily interrupted or impeded by COVID-19."
Faculty Affairs committee members had discussed requesting temporary pauses in the tenure consideration process of a year or even longer.
“Your ability to do your job is highly constrained at this time,” noted Senate President Chris Bonneau, who attends committee meetings. Those with years to go before their tenure review may be suffering the biggest disruptions, he said, given the length of time between faculty work and potential publication, plus their potential need to combine working at home with caring for children and elders.
“I cannot imagine trying to carry on with my normal research program now if I were getting tenure,” he said. “In unparalleled situations, we need to do what we can to remove anxiety.”
Cudd’s decision came “with the agreement and support of the Council of Deans and the Senate,” she said.
The deadline to apply for faculty whose mandatory tenure review is scheduled for the 2020-21 academic year is June 1, and should be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with a copy to the departmental chair if applicable, and to the dean or regional campus president. The deadline for other faculty is Jan. 1, 2022.
Type A extensions, which were already available, may be used for faculty who do not apply for a Type E extension but who “later decide the pandemic has had negative repercussions on their scholarly productivity,” Cudd announced.
Asked whether the University Senate had been involved in other recent COVID-19-related decisions by Pitt administration, such as taking classes exclusively online or closing the campus, Bonneau responded: “The short answer is yes.” The Senate was consulted about the former decision and has been working with the provost’s office on “just about all of these decisions,” he added. “It’s been daily (communicating) with senior administration. … We’ve been more involved now than we were before the crisis.”
More new issues from COVID-19 changes
A remote-work arrangement issue has arisen for some University Library System faculty, according to Robin Kear, liaison librarian with the ULS. She told the committee that a large number of her fellow librarians, who are Pitt faculty, were asked to fill out a work-at-home form specifically directed to staff.
She said the form from the Office of Human Resources, which asks “a staff member (staff, All-Temps temporary employee, or student employee)” for their “Remote Location Work Arrangement … Proposed Work Plan … Advantage to Department … Plan for Communication/Cooperation” and other information, is not appropriate for faculty. It drew questions from other ULS faculty at an internal meeting, she reported.
Laurie Kirsch, vice provost for Faculty Affairs, Development and Diversity, said that the form and the policy that prompted it were for staff. The provost’s office had guidelines for faculty undertaking remote work, “but it does not apply to this situation.” The guidelines were developed only to make sure that, for faculty working outside of Pennsylvania, the appropriate taxes would be taken from their paychecks.
“So it sounds like a violation of policy” for faculty to be asked to sign such forms, said committee co-chair Irene Frieze, of the psychology department in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences.
“I’m not sure what to do, or what would happen if people didn’t sign it,” Kear said.
“Making faculty sign something that is not applicable — that can’t happen,” said Bonneau, suggesting the provost’s office become involved in the situation.
Kear said the ULS Faculty Assembly had queried ULS administration about the propriety of the form but had not heard a response yet. Following the meeting, she reported that the provost’s office was in contact with ULS administration about the issue.
Following the meeting, Bill Gentz, director of administrative services for the ULS, said that the library system is “asking only staff to fill out the remote work agreement form” now. “At present, the only form available for faculty use is for those working remotely and for over six months,” he said. “While we intend to work with the librarians on a possible suitable format for the present circumstances, this is something that will have to wait while we focus on what is essential — services our librarians and staff provide on the ground, and their safety.”
Other faculty concerns
Recent changes also have brought up a number of other issues for faculty:
Are all faculty receiving communications about campus changes? Committee co-chair Lorraine Denman noted that some part-time and adjunct faculty were not on certain email lists coming from the administration, but Kirsch pointed out that such faculty do not always use their Pitt emails as contacts.
Will annual employee assessments take into account the special nature of the current semester? “I think the annual evaluation process has to have an asterisk next to it this year —people’s productivity is going to be off,” said Seth Weinberg, committee member from the School of Dental Medicine. “You would hate to have anyone take advantage of this to get rid of people — I hate to say this,” he added. Bonneau noted that it will be harder for supervisors to assess faculty success in meeting teaching goals, but that student evaluations of teaching are not required to be submitted as part of evaluations this year.
What happens when a faculty member gets too sick to handle their online class? Committee member Tom Songer of the Graduate School of Public Health reported that his department had already asked each faculty member to identify a backup instructor.
Has faculty hiring been frozen? At least one committee member reported their department had stopped a hire that had reached the offer stage. Kirsch told the committee, “There is no University-wide freeze on faculty hiring,” and in a followup to her March 27 letter about the tenure clock, Provost Cudd reiterated that point and said, “We are continuing to recruit and hire expert faculty.”
One recurring issue — the status of Pitt’s proposed nondiscrimination policy — drew continued concern.
Asked when the policy will likely come to Faculty Assembly for a vote on approval, Bonneau said: “It is not coming this year, because the policy office wants to have that face-to-face meeting” with three Senate committees that previously reviewed the policy, representatives of student groups.
The policy office had set such a meeting for March 23, but then canceled it due to the absence of students and many faculty from campus. Faculty Affairs members still await the policy committee’s written answers to their concerns submitted in writing several months ago.
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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