Features & Articles

Leaders Answer Faculty Questions at Resilience Framework Town Hall

A Zoom participant with seven visible participants
On Thursday, July 23, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd joined leaders from across the University to answer faculty’s pressing questions about Pitt’s fall semester.

Chris Bonneau, professor of political science and president of the University Senate, moderated the town hall, in which Cynthia Golden, associate vice provost and executive director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning; Mark Henderson, vice chancellor and chief information officer; Geovette Washington, senior vice chancellor, chief legal officer and executive sponsor of the Resilience Steering Committee; and John Williams, director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office, spoke to a broad range of issues relating to Pitt’s operating plan for this fall and beyond

The faculty town hall—the first in a series of three Resilience Framework virtual events tailored for the faculty, student and staff communities—was livestreamed and the recording is available on the University Center for Teaching and Learning's YouTube channel.

Before Bonneau asked previously submitted questions from participants, Cudd reviewed the Resilience Framework that provides the foundation for Pitt’s approach to teaching and learning during the pandemic, and both Cudd and Golden discussed Flex@Pitt. Henderson gave a technology update and Williams discussed Pitt’s testing and tracing strategies, including best practices.

The six biggest takeaways from the faculty town hall addressed core nuts and bolts issues:

Classroom schedules and availability

Cudd explained that the biggest challenges to finalizing a classroom schedule have been the number of inspections needed and specific accommodations requested by deans or faculty for changes. Because assignments are based on an algorithm related to the exact number of spaces available, some accommodations require re-running that algorithm daily.

“As soon as classrooms come online, they will be available to demo,” said Henderson, who indicated that timing for releasing a final schedule would likely be early August.

Classroom experience

Student surveys demonstrated the value of in-person experiences for students, and Cudd noted the importance of providing that opportunity. Faculty also were surveyed as part of the Re-Imagining Education task force; the ultimate goal is to balance the needs of multiple constituents—which Flex @ Pitt does.

And, just as students have the choice whether or not they prefer to participate in classes remotely or in-person, Cudd confirmed that faculty do not need to be physically present in classrooms to provide classroom experiences for students.

Face coverings are required

Washington confirmed that everyone will be required to wear face coverings on Pitt’s campuses, a requirement in line with current health guidelines.

“Faculty and staff who aren’t able or willing to wear face coverings on campus can work remotely,” Washington said. “One of the great things about our planning is that if you can’t adhere to guidance, we have other options for continuing to work.”

Williams reiterated the need for face coverings, as well as hand hygiene and physical distancing, calling those factors the key to controlling the spread of the virus.

“Pitt will provide at least one cloth face mask to students, faculty and staff who return to campus,” said Williams.

Contact tracing

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be moved into a separate isolation facility where they will receive the support they need, and—if they feel up to it—can participate in classes remotely. Any close contacts—those who were within 6 feet of the individual for more than 15 minutes during the time that person was infectious—will be notified and asked to quarantine.

“We will do everything we can to work with students to get names and reach out to people who have been in contact, but we will keep identities private,” Washington noted.

Additional details about testing, isolation, quarantine and contact tracing will be provided in the near term.

Child care

Cudd acknowledged the challenges faced by faculty members whose children may be learning remotely or unable to return to child care. While she noted there are limited slots for child care at the University Child Development Center, the University has partnered with an organization that provides a tool for matching available child care slots with people who need them. An upcoming webinar will explain the tool, and the Office of Human Resources will be trained to help use it.

Additionally, Pitt is encouraging supervisors, department chairs and deans to provide as much scheduling flexibility as possible to accommodate individual needs, like family care.

Evaluation and assessments

When asked about evaluations and teaching surveys, Golden noted that last spring, questions were added to surveys for assessment of teaching and conducted only for faculty members—not sent to chairs and deans.

“We will discuss this with the Faculty Senate and try to come to the best solution,” Cudd said, noting that while feedback was valuable, the University doesn’t want to penalize anyone doing their best during these unprecedented times.

“Faculty have been heroic, resilient, flexible, done great things, and because of all of our efforts, we’ve been able to not have layoffs, not dock pay, but keep faculty and staff and students together as community,” she said.