By DONOVAN HARRELL
University administrators assured the Pitt community that they are actively listening to concerns about the difficulties of caretaking during the COVID-19 pandemic and are working to find additional accommodations.
At the Jan. 21 Senate Council meeting, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher acknowledged that issues surrounding childcare and caretaker support are widespread and have a “domino effect impacting our abilities particularly to work from home and do all the things we’re asking.”
Since July 2020, the University has collaborated with United Way to help provide matchmaking services for people looking for caregiver support, said Dave DeJong, vice chancellor for Human Resources.
“Surprisingly, given the many concerns that we’re hearing, there’s a strong excess supply of the availability of opportunities for support for families,” DeJong said, adding that the Boys and Girls Club and the YMCA are two major organizations that are providing care for children participating in remote learning.
On Jan. 21, United Way hosted a virtual panel discussion on this topic and how the pandemic has created a childcare crisis.
Additionally, last week, the University finalized an agreement with Carnegie Mellon University to help provide full-day, on-campus primary programs for children, DeJong said. However, some faculty have found this solution to be expensive.
For the near future, the Human Resources office is finalizing plans with the Homewood Community Engagement Center to get further access to childcare offered inside the center, DeJong said.
He said that even though Pitt has “always been under-supplied in terms of adequate support for families,” he and other University leaders are working hard to find long-term solutions.
In the Jan. 13 Faculty Assembly, faculty reiterated concerns about how caregiving and other pandemic-related struggles would affect student-teacher evaluations, or OMETs. Faculty have repeatedly pointed to studies showing that student evaluations are harsher toward women and people of color, and are now concerned that the pandemic will lead to even more bias.
Melanie Scott, associate vice chair for research and director of graduate education for surgery research at the Department of Surgery, wrote in the Zoom chat that some of the concerns about student evaluations stemmed from a Jan. 12 message from the Office of the Provost.
“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,” Provost Ann Cudd said in the message. “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.”
Scott said the language in this note “seemed to suggest a ‘Faculty must do better’ attitude regarding feedback from students at Pitt about the Flex@Pitt model.’"
Cudd said that she’s always believed that teaching should never be evaluated by student evaluations alone. She said she’s directed University deans to prepare for evaluating teaching with more than just OMET scores for a more holistic approach.
“I have talked with the deans about understanding the stresses and strains that many faculty are under, during this time, and the need to balance … competent teaching for our students with an understanding of a brand new pedagogical circumstance,” Cudd said. “And I believe the deans very well understand my position, which this year is unusual: ‘Let’s be gentle with each other.’ ”
Following Cudd’s answer, Jennifer Murtashkavilli, an associate professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and the director of the Center for Governance and Markets, reiterated the comments she made at Faculty Assembly about the difficulties of caregiving during the pandemic and the ineffectiveness of OMET scores.
She said she was happy to hear University leadership discussing these issues and added that solutions should come from them instead of from faculty.
“It’s wonderful to hear leadership talking about these issues so that people are not having to bring them up in their unit,” Murtashkavilli said. “They shouldn’t be issues of faculty debate, because they place the onus in really uncomfortable ways. People shouldn’t have to be advocating for their families.”
Gallagher later reiterated that he’s very much aware of these and other challenges the Pitt community is facing because of the pandemic and pledged that the University will try its best to support the Pitt community.
“I think what has been really helpful to me in the recent discussion that the faculty has raised, and I want to thank them for raising it, is that we also have to be attentive to the long-term impact,” Gallagher said. “That the disruption is sort of putting a cloud on performance in a very competitive environment where faculty are looking for tenure and looking for their success, whether it’s a research impact, or whether it’s teaching impact. There has to be an accommodation so that careers don’t take a long term hit through this period.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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