By DONOVAN HARRELL
Members of Pitt’s shared governance gathered in person and online to discuss the ongoing faculty union election and efforts to improve the employee conflict resolution process, childcare for Pitt employees and diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, as well as Pitt’s pandemic response (see related story)
The Sept. 1 Faculty Assembly meeting was originally planned to be a hybrid meeting, but severe weather forced the meeting to be strictly digital. The Sept. 9 Senate Council meeting was a hybrid meeting but sparsely attended in person aside from Senate Council officers and University leaders.
Senate Council President Robin Kear announced in Faculty Assembly and Senate Council that she plans to create an ad hoc committee to focus on issues surrounding child care and elder care at Pitt. The committee is still being formed, she said, and she is encouraging Pitt staff and faclty to recommend potential members.
This is an important issue for employees at Pitt as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted K-12 school systems, forcing parents to scramble to find child care solutions. Pitt staff have repeatedly criticized the University for not having more child care options available for employees.
Kear made addressing this issue a priority for her first year as Senate Council president.
The University has taken some efforts to address these issues. Last month, the University announced a partnership with the Boys and Girls Club to provide 40 slots to pre-school age children of Pitt faculty, staff and graduate students.
“If these fill and they're successful, there's potential for that partnership to grow as another option for Pitt parents,” Kear said.
Kear also reiterated in Senate Council and Faculty Assembly that the Senate will remain neutral on the matter of the ongoing faculty union election.
She said at both meeting that she was researching how the union would potentially interact with shared governance. The impacts are still unclear.
“I do not plan to be an obstacle or an advocate for either position,” Kear said. “I am continuing to examine the interaction between faculty unions and faculty governance at other institutions and in the research. And I will continue to do that.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, in an interview with the University Times, said his only expectation on the union election is “that the faculty will understand that this is a big decision, and that all of those that are eligible to vote will take that responsibility seriously consider it fully and make sure that their vote is there, because the outcome affects all of us. … I will also say, it doesn't change the principles of the university. We're committed to supporting the faculty. We're committed to a system of shared governance. I think some of the details change depending on outcome, and we will work through those as we need to. But this doesn't change our fundamentals.”
Abbe de Vallejo, a co-chair of the Tenure and Academic Freedom Committee, said he was frustrated that Faculty Assembly hasn’t discussed the issue of unionization more. He also criticized the absence of medical school faculty in the bargaining unit.
“My main concern is that the School of Medicine, the faculty, which comprises 50 percent of the faculty, are effectively excluded from this,” de Vallejo said. “To my knowledge, the School of Medicine faculty was never consulted as to whether or not we would even consider that.”
The inclusion of medical school faculty in the bargaining unit has been a point of contention for years in the legal battle between Pitt’s legal representatives Ballard Spahr and the union’s representatives, the United Steelworkers.
The School of Medicine had an essentially inactive union, Provost Ann Cudd said in 2019. An order from the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in April effectively dissolved this union once it ruled on the final size of the bargaining unit.
Nick Bircher, chair of the Bylaws and Procedures committee, said he agreed with de Vallejo that faculty in the School of Medicine had not been informed of the dissolution of the medical school union.
“I have not personally spoken to the entire faculty of the School of Medicine, but, in my opinion, it is entirely fair and accurate to say that the faculty of the School of Medicine were kept in the dark with regard to the decertification of their bargaining unit,” Bircher said. “While I fully concur that the School of Medicine faculty ought to be involved in this particular process, we really don't have a good choice under Pennsylvania law in that particular regard.”
John Wallace, vice provost for Faculty Diversity and Development and interim director of the Center for Race and Social Problems, updated Faculty Assembly members on some of the University’s diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
The I Change Initiative, which has originally focused on increasing diversity among STEM faculty, has changed to the Pitt Change initiative to signal that the effort will focus on the entire institution, Wallace said.
Additionally, Wallace highlighted the Race and Social Determinants of Equity and Well-being Cluster Hire and Retention Initiative. This initiative, among other goals, aims to increase the number of faculty across the University that specialize in matters of race and equity.
Wallace announced that 21 faculty are joining the University this semester as a result of this cluster hire program and its affiliates.
Wallace added that Pitt will launch a research collaboratory of interdisciplinary teams working to address specific issues. The first collaboratory will be on the topic of infant maternal mortality in the Pittsburgh region.
Pitt also has received a $250,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to help support the collaboratories, Wallace added.
Lu-In Wang, vice provost for faculty affairs, told Faculty Assembly members that she and others in a working group are trying to establish a neutral, independent, University-wide centralized ombudsman service that would be available to all members of the Pitt community
This service would assist University groups in resolving conflicts and concerns. The University has ombudsmans for graduate students and postdocs, Wang said, but this effort will help broaden the number of services available to the Pitt community.
Wang said that since the working group was formed, members of the Pitt community have told her that this service is well-needed.
“This is just a great way for us to get an indication of what's going on, that we might not know about,” Wang said.
De Vallejo praised this effort, saying that it would help ease the committee's conflict resolution process.
The next Faculty Assembly on Oct. 6 and Senate Council meetings on Oct. 14 also are planned to be hybrid meetings. Senate officers said that the meeting format may change depending on the turnout of these meetings.
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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