By DAVID SALCIDO
This fall, the exceptional conditions brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic will call upon our faculty to once again adapt their approaches to teaching. While not all details are known, that does not mean it is not worth taking stock of essential considerations and potential missteps. We would be shortsighted if we did not.
First, there has to be an acknowledgment of the practical differences between and implications of the emergency conversion to online courses in the spring and what is likely to be a permanent conversion to hybrid teaching this fall. In the spring, faculty were asked mid-semester to prepare for remote instruction. While a monumental lift, this work fell within the boundaries of the semester and constituted an essential response to changing conditions in the academic environment.
Planning for the fall now presents a different scenario. Faculty are largely at home, may be working with limited resources under difficult personal circumstances, and they are unsure of the conditions they will find when the fall semester starts. This is a different lift, but still monumental. Let’s just acknowledge that.
Similarly, there has to be an acknowledgment of the difference between instructors doing preparation for this prior to the start of the semester (now) and doing it during the semester, in part for considering the scope of compensation. In one sense, preparing now is preferable. No one wants to combine the work of converting a course to remote format while continuing to teach the course in person. And faculty are all familiar with the time and effort needed prior to the semester to make a course happen. But planning two high-quality embodiments of a course at once prior to the semester is a different exercise than what faculty usually face. This effort needs material acknowledgment — considerations for commensurate compensation and provision of necessary resources.
There also has to be a reasonable, mutually agreed upon update to the scope of work expected of instructors to go along with this change in teaching. Granted, world events have implicitly updated this scope of work; everyone knows remote instruction is a fact of life now, at the very least for the duration of the pandemic in its current form. But the expectations that this new reality brings upon faculty need to be made very clearly, so that they, like anyone who does any job, know what they are getting into, how they will be held accountable, and what the criteria are against which they will be evaluated in executing their job duties.
The point is often put forward that Pitt does not like to view its faculty as “employees.” And there are undoubtedly advantages to this posture, including the flexibility that is required to maintain academic freedom. Workers need to know what their job is. Moreover, Pitt owes its faculty to not lean too heavily into employment philosophy that casts Pitt in the role of an Uber or Amazon, with faculty that are modular and replaceable. Our faculty build their lives and livelihoods around being Pitt faculty.
There has to be an acknowledgment that conversion to hybrid coursework is an investment in Pitt’s marketability. Faculty would be contributing to that on a fundamental scale, and quality of the output will be, like anything else in business, proportional to the investment. Faculty compensation for the initial conversion to a hybrid teaching approach might drive innovation, keep quality high, retain talent and help Pitt succeed as an institution in what may become a competitive delocalized field. At the very least, it should be acknowledged that the work of our faculty toward this lift is more than a Band-Aid, but a major growth initiative for Pitt’s future.
Lastly, the Senate should be a key player in discussions regarding this transition not an after-the-fact sounding board. Truthfully, there have been plenty of excellent committees, advisory groups and working groups unaffiliated with the Senate since the pandemic shut down the University. The work of these groups should be lauded. But the Senate is the official mechanism for shared governance at Pitt, and it never shut down, even in the darkest depths of the spring.
Faculty are elected to Assembly and committees by their peers, not appointed. And viewpoints in the Senate reflect the broad temperature of the University, from top to bottom. And Senate meetings are public, with minimal exceptions, allowing free flow of information in and out in a timely manner.
Sure, now more than ever we have to acknowledge the need to “control the messaging” around important issues, especially in large institutions. And, it is not the job of the Senate to manage the University; that job is administration’s alone. But the Senate providing a mere courtesy review to decisions that are made elsewhere would constitute a failure of shared governance, if it were to come to pass.
Join us in the Senate and see what we can do together.
David Salcido, a research assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine in the School of Medicine, is the Senate vice president and thinks you are all doing a great job.