Senate Council Recommendations: Expand Conversation on Diversity, Inclusion

Issue Date: 
February 29, 2016

Last week, a newly convened University Senate Council working group offered a platform to sustain what it hopes will be a wide-ranging dialogue on diversity and inclusion at Pitt. The development comes as the University moves forward with its current and planned efforts to make Pitt a more inclusive campus. 

The efforts took root last fall, when Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, responding to a rise in national racial protests and unrest, challenged the University Senate Council to aid in developing a strategy that would help the University proactively expand its dialogue around issues of diversity and inclusion. 

Gallagher issued the challenge in November 2015, and, to begin, University Senate President Frank Wilson organized a working group, which would operate under the principle of shared governance. Wilson and Staff Association Council President Rich Colwell represent faculty and staff. 

Representing Pitt students in the working group are Student Government Board President Nasreen Harun; College of General Studies Student Government President Julia Helgert; Graduate Student Organization of Arts and Sciences (GSO) President Dominique Johnson; Graduate and Professional Student Government President Joseph Kozak; and GSO Vice President Erin Kathleen Pfeil-McCullough. Representing the administration are Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement, chief of staff, and Board of Trustees secretary; and Pamela Connelly, associate vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion.

In the months since, the University Senate Council working group has debated, discussed, and analyzed issues of diversity and inclusion at Pitt. The group reviewed and discussed what was happening across the nation, and it became clear that some institutions had no platform from which to take action when incidents occurred. They could react only after the fact. To be more proactive, Pitt’s working group wanted to build a platform that would allow the University to clearly state its values of diversity and inclusion to the world.

Wilson, a professor of sociology at Pitt-Greensburg, says he and the group “embraced” the idea of sharing the role of “exploring this important issue.”

“Working together,” he says, “gives us a chance to bring this issue to the table and have this broader discussion on one of the bigger issues of our time.” The conversation is already expanding, says Wilson, as the group has engaged with the University’s Human Relations committee, a tenure committee, a Senate committee on equity and diversity, and with the Faculty Assembly.

Since November, the group has met seven times. In addition, the group members have engaged with their various constituents, receiving feedback on proposals and best practices through face-to-face meetings and social media.

After the months of discourse and collaboration, the group developed four unanimous recommendations to support and augment the diversity and inclusion efforts already taking place on campus. Wilson and the group emphasize that the four recommendations are not intended to delineate all of the diversity and inclusion initiatives that exist or that are being planned at the University. Rather, the group says, the recommendations are to serve as a foundation on which to build and sustain community expectations and strategic initiatives and goals. 

“We also are not creating policy,” says Wilson. “Our four recommendations mean we are trying to facilitate ways of having as wide-ranging a discussion as possible.”

The four recommendations are:

A Pitt Promise for All: It is recommended that the University discuss and develop a Pitt Promise for All, which expands the core concepts of civility within the current Pitt Promise to include faculty, staff, and transfer, graduate, and nontraditional students. The Promise should clearly state to the world who we are as a University community and the values we believe are essential to fulfillment of the University’s mission. These core values include respect, responsibility, and integrity. The Promise would establish and communicate our institutional standards and set the expectations for faculty, staff, and students in creating and maintaining a culture of respect. 

The group says that no oath of affirmation would be required, but in situations where institutional standards are not met, and the Promise for All is not honored, the University would respond with a toolbox of solutions. When constitutionally protected speech is implicated, the Promise should be enforced consistent with the First Amendment.

The Creation of a Standing Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council: It is recommended that the University establish a permanent advisory council for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The advisory council could start with the existing working group and develop as appropriate for the University’s needs. The advisory council could serve as a sounding board to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and as a conduit for concerns and issues.

The Year of Diversity and Inclusion: It is recommended that the University consider following up the successful “Year of the Humanities” with the “Year of Diversity and Inclusion” in 2016-2017 or a future year. This designation would provide a platform for the collective yet dispersed talents and ideas throughout the University to be highlighted and elevated through the provision of grants and incentives.

The Senate Council Should Devote a Session to a Diversity and Inclusion Dialogue: It is recommended that the next Senate Council meeting on March 23, 2016, be devoted to a discussion of the recommendations, best practices, and highlights of diversity and inclusion around campus. The goal would be to garner a commitment from the Senate Council to support the recommendations and result in regularly scheduled sessions on diversity and inclusion. Between now and the March 23, 2016, Senate Council meeting, council members will be encouraged to engage their constituents on the issues raised here.

 “One goal with this effort,” says Helgert, the College of General Studies Student Government president, “is to get everyone at the University involved in the dialogue and thinking about diversity and inclusion.” 

She said in her meetings with student government, she has heard a lot of feedback for expanding the Pitt Promise, because some College of General Studies students did not feel included in the Promise and did not even know what it was.

Helgert said students told her they would feel more united with the University, and it would have more of an impact if everyone was included in the Promise.

“These recommendations get that conversation started,” she said. “We want to draw attention to the fact that we want the kind of campus where there is respect for everyone.” 

The group is also advocating that the full University community, starting with the full Senate Council, remain engaged in a robust discussion of these recommendations. Comments from the broader University community can be sent to