In the final weeks before the start of the fall term, leaders from across the University gathered via Zoom to answer student questions on how the University intends to implement plans for flexible teaching and operations, what campus life might look like and ways Pitt is supporting health and safety.
Questions ranged widely over topics from the practicalities of move-in procedures to the ins and outs of the University’s COVID-19 testing policies, as the panelists walked the student audience through the particulars of the decisions that will shape life on campus this semester.
Return to Campus Town Halls
Representatives from Student Affairs, housing and dining, health and wellness, academics, Welcome Week and campus recreation will be available to answer questions students may have about the fall 2020 return. Town hall events will be held virtually every Monday and Thursday from 9-10 a.m. during August and going into September, beginning Monday, Aug. 3.
Moderated by Julia Spears, associate vice provost for academic innovation, the panel included Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students; Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies; Joseph McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies; Belkys Torres, executive director of global engagement; Steve Anderson, associate dean and director of residence life; and John Williams, director of the COVID-19 Medical Response Office.
Over 200 questions were submitted in advance of the July 28 event, which had nearly 1,000 participants.
A recording of the hour-long session is available at pi.tt/studenttownhalls. Resources mentioned during the town hall are linked below the video.
Among the questions asked, here are six topics addressed:
Williams explained why Pitt is not mass-testing every person prior to coming to campus:
“The CDC, PA Department of Health and ACA [American Collegiate Health Association] explicitly recommend against mass testing of asymptomatic people. Why? There’s a long window period of false negatives. A single negative test creates a false sense of security. Sheltering in place, wearing a mask, social distancing and hand hygiene are critical,” said Williams. “We are doing statistically systematic random subsampling to know, what is our local prevalence. Students will be tested randomly over the staged days of arrival. This helps us know what the prevalence is right now.”
Experts from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health have helped determine that testing 10% of people in each wave of arrival will give a good picture, and Pitt will evaluate the local prevalence before bringing the next cohort to campus to move in.
All symptomatic testing will be done in a clinic and have 24-48-hour turnaround. Random asymptomatic testing will happen outside in a central location with self-collected nasal swabs.
Community Compact and culture of compliance
When asked about how compliance with sheltering in place will work, Bonner spoke about the idea of creating a culture where students, faculty and staff commit to values of cooperation, mutual respect and being a healthy community.
“We have a plan in place, but no amount of policies, guidance or enforcement can replace the power of us as a community—meaning faculty, staff and students—working together in the best interests of our community,” he said. “Above all else, that’s what we are. And it relies on the people in our community to make sure that we’re keeping each other safe.”
Members of the Student Government Board worked with administrators this summer to establish a Pitt Community Compact that includes a number of behaviors to help keep the community safer, Bonner explained. He said that he believes the Pitt community is made up of good people who have each other’s best interests in mind. The student code of conduct has also been updated to say that students who fail to comply with public health guidelines can face consequences.
Moving to campus
Pitt is asking that each student bring only one person with them inside residence halls to unload. Students are encouraged to pack minimally for the fall semester. Students should review a move-in checklist and consider taking advantage of the Ship2Pitt, where belongings will be ready and waiting inside their residence hall room upon arrival.
Anderson noted that every space on campus is full at this point, meaning there isn’t flexibility to negotiate housing placements at this time. He encouraged students to reach out to the Office of Disability Services if there is an accommodation need. Students can check out the extensive list of Panther Central FAQs for more on security, partner property hotels, dining services and more.
How ‘flex’ is Flex @ Pitt, really?
Every first-year student can stay on track and complete their studies remotely through the Flex@Pitt teaching model if that makes them most comfortable. The vast majority of undergraduate classes will have the option of a remote learning environment, adaptable to any of Pitt’s three operating postures.
When it comes to deciding whether to engage in courses remotely or in person, McCarthy said: “You can change back and forth, even within the same slate of classes (e.g. you can take two of your classes in person and three remotely). We want people to be able to make the most educated decision for themselves based on the conditions of the moment. We don’t want to lock people in. We recognize it’s a very stressful time, and don’t want you to make a decision now that’s going to impact you late into the semester.”
That being said, students should complete a survey of which classes they are initially thinking of taking in person, so faculty can plan ahead. Students should check their email for a link to the survey sent this week.
Graduate students and remote teaching and learning
Godley discussed options for Graduate and Professional Studies. “Most graduate classes are also designed for the Flex @ Pitt model, meaning that you can choose whether to attend in person or remotely, and you can change your mind at any time. There are some graduate programs that require experiences like practicum, clinics and face-to-face. Our advice is to contact your program if you see in the curriculum any of these courses.”
Teaching assistants and teaching fellows have the option to teach remotely—just as everyone else in the Pitt community—if they feel the need to do so for their safety and comfort, Godley added.
Torres took a moment to welcome and thank undergraduate and graduate international students. “We know that you’ve been watching carefully all of the regulatory information that has been released by the U.S. Department of State,” she said.
Torres noted that the Office of International Services and the University Center for International Studies is continuing to monitor a fluid environment and remains in contact with international students and scholars.