By DONOVAN HARRELL
The tragic mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation weighed on the minds of the Faculty Assembly on Oct. 30.
Just three days before the meeting, a mass shooter entered the Squirrel Hill synagogue, proclaimed his hatred for Jewish people, fatally shot 11 worshippers and injured six others, including four police officers.
“There are no words that are sufficient to talk about this horrific act,” University Senate President Chris Bonneau said in his opening remarks. “While we all grieve differently, I hope we all recommit to protecting our core values of acceptance, diversity, inclusion and love, and continue to make our university and larger community in which we live, one where acts of hatred and intolerance are not tolerated.”
He then asked for a moment of silence after naming several of the victims who had a connection to the Pitt community:
- Joyce Fienberg, a research specialist at the learning Research and Development Center from 1983 until she retired in 2008.
- Richard Gottfried, who earned both his undergraduate and dental degrees from Pitt and was also volunteer faculty member at the School of Dental Medicine.
- Jerry Rabinowitz, a clinical volunteer of general medicine at the School of Medicine.
Provost Ann Cudd, who was invited to speak to the Assembly, said the shooting was devastating to the Pitt community.
“And yet, these kinds of events are, sadly, all too common and all too traumatic,” Cudd said. “And as horrible as these acts are, we need to move forward to understand that these kinds of bad acts really invite us to unite in our commitment to diversity, to inclusion and to being a better community for all.”
The discussion then pivoted to Cudd speaking about some of her areas of focus for her tenure, which included supporting the Personalized Education Initiative; re-examining the role of student evaluations, especially as they relate to promotion and tenure; earning large, multi-centered grants; improving opportunity and access for low-income students; and promoting and investing in diversity and inclusion.
Cudd said she also was thinking of starting a University-wide promotion and tenure committee to help her with some of the future tenure-related decisions she’d have to make.
During a brief Q&A period after her presentation, several members asked how she’d implement some of her goals and how she’d help maintain academic freedom on campus.
One of the ways to examine the role of student evaluations and the overall tenure process, , she said, is by using the University Center for Teaching and Learning as a resource.
In terms of improving access for low-income students, Cudd said she was looking into increasing financial aid opportunities and looking at more “holistic” admissions methods while maintaining the current admissions standards.
“The worst thing we can do for somebody is entice them to come here, to take out loans, and then not be able to actually succeed,” Cudd said. “It's sort of the worst outcome of all. My goal is to continue to bring in these great students, but to bring them in from a wider range of socio-economic class.”
One attendee told Cudd she was concerned with students and professors being “censored” or chastised by “political pressure” because of the political affiliation of funding sources or comments the professors made on social media.
“Institutionally, I don't want to take a stand that would say that a professor cannot state an opinion, or a student cannot state an opinion in class,” Cudd said. “However, I see the sort of, slightly coercive effect, and certainly, corrosive effect that that can have on debate in a classroom.”
She added that she hopes colleagues in departments would debate that issue and agree on classroom behavior.
“As far as colleagues expressing disapproval about where money comes from ... I think that's, again, a natural thing that's going to happen,” Cudd said. “We disagree with each other at various points. But institutionally, we're not going to censor that.”
Other actions at Faculty Assembly:
- Pat Smolinski, co-chair of the Research Committee, updated the changes Pitt has made since the National Science Foundation shifted its sexual misconduct reporting guidelines.
- Faculty Assembly unanimously passed a motion to change the Senate Computer Usage Committee’s name to the Computing and Information Technology Committee.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.