ELI director shares impact of closure announcement


The Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences’ announcement in December that the English Language Institute will close this June has resulted in some measurable fallout for the University, which ELI Director Dawn McCormick shared with Faculty Assembly at its Feb. 15 meeting.

Noting the outpouring of support from throughout the Pitt community, McCormick said she and her colleagues “hope to hear from the administration quickly about a reconsideration of closure.”

However, “if we are to remain open, we now must dig ourselves out of a deeper hole because of the closure announcement,” she said. “The ELI’s been pulled from the Department of Linguistics staff-giving efforts for this year.

“They spent two months during the peak recruitment time turning away applicants for the summer and incoming academic year,” she added. “We’re on the verge of losing a contract with an overseas partner university that wants to send 30 students to us in the fall.

“We’re hearing from other university-based English-language programs that agents with whom we work are now turning to other programs because of the news of the closure. And we have to battle against a loss of confidence in the University from our continuing students because of the announcement,” McCormick said.

If the administration intends to preserve ELI, it needs to take action soon, she said.

“Every day of delay adds another hurdle for us. If the University has a plan in mind, a key consideration for us and for all of us, I hope, is the intention of that plan,” McCormick said. “If the intention is to placate ELI supporters with limited resource and time assigned to the ELI recovery, then we will struggle to succeed. If the intention is to elevate the ELI with the full power of Pitt behind that effort to reinvent itself, then we increase our chances of success significantly.”

McCormick thanked “every individual, group, unit, school, committee, organization and any other entity at University, local, national and international levels who have shared their support for the ELI or have taken any action to support the ELI over the last two months. We greatly appreciate your words and your wisdom.”

McCormick said she was hopeful such messages have helped “inform the University of the value and necessity of having an English language center on campus and provide evidence of our argument that we are a University service center as well as a cost center.”

Robin Kear, Senate Council president, responded that she was sorry to hear about the “eroding effects of the announcement and any delay in decision, how that costs the business and other aspects of work for ELI.”

Drone Policy

In other business, Faculty Assembly also approved a University Drone Policy following a presentation by Allen DiPalma, director of Pitt’s Office of Trade Compliance. DiPalma shared a more involved presentation with the Senate Research Committee in December.

Cary Balaban, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, expressed concern about unmanned drones and those who “could have access to them in different ways” mixed with the University’s “open access to people from around the world, foreign nationals and such.

“So we have to be concerned about how the team’s operating … and technology operating will keep us in line with (International Traffic in Arms Regulations) and other restrictions,” he said. “It’s not going to be an easy thing, necessarily.”

DiPalma replied that there are triggers in place through Pitt’s export controls program “to bring things to our attention that have elevated export risk.

“Sponsored Programs is one of our best partners in that regard,” he said. “They pick out language and information and they bring it to our attention immediately. That may require us to get a license for export purposes. But your point is well taken.”

Juan Taboas, associate professor in the School of Dental Medicine, expressed concern that drones flying around Pitt’s medical buildings, many with large windows, should be restricted by the same policies governing indoor flights.

“And here at the dental school, we have patients, and we’ve had flights where we have been notified they would take place, but I don’t know if the school was asked if this was OK for privacy reasons,” he said. “So I think I would ask the committee to re-evaluate that point, or debate whether on some campus buildings, exceptions should be requested and granted for external flights.”

With certain drone flights near the dental school building, “people in our building were surprised and they felt like their privacy had been violated,” Taboas added. “So perhaps we don’t have to do approval formally by OTC. But a better notification system to the respective schools could be in order.”

DiPalma, who cited Federal Aviation Administration and Pennsylvania laws regulating private-property flights and surveillance, suggested including Pitt’s facilities managers in the notification process chain, “so they can bring to light any situations within that building that might be too sensitive,” he said. “And therefore, perhaps put off that flight for another time. Your point is well taken, and I will take that back (for consideration).”

Faculty Assembly approved the drone policy with 46 voting in favor, one against and no abstentions.

University Network Policy

Faculty Assembly also approved the updated University Network Policy, which the Senate’s Computing and Information Technology committee approved in late January.

Brian Hart, senior project manager for Pitt IT and chair of the policy committee, said at that meeting that the idea behind modifying the policy was to “strip it of technical specifications for network services that are subject to change,” to give Pitt IT more flexibility to “change the network as needed to accommodate new standards and to take advantage of new technologies.

“It was simply removing a lot of things that didn’t need to be in a policy-level document,” he said, noting that the current 10-page policy is now considerably shorter.

Following suggestions for one phrasing change, adding contact information for Pitt IT and correcting a typographical error, Faculty Assembly passed the Network Policy with 44 voting in favor, zero against and four abstentions.

Shannon O. Wells is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at shannonw@pitt.edu.


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