The following is a transcript of Chancellor Patrick Gallagher's message to Pitt's newest students.
Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Pat Gallagher. I have the honor of serving as Pitt's chancellor. I'm a two-time Pitt grad myself, earning my masters and PhD from Pitt in the late '80s and early '90s. And one of the great privileges of this role is to allow me to occasionally speak on behalf of the University. So today, on behalf of the entire University of Pittsburgh, I want to welcome you, the Class of 2024.
This is not normally how this event goes. In a normal year, you would all be up at the Petersen Events Center, wearing distinctive t-shirts, and showing your residence hall pride. And I would be joined by other University leaders and trustees, in our full academic regalia to formally welcome you to Pitt. The event would have speakers and music and even some laser lights, and would be followed by a picnic on the lawn.
Well, to state the obvious, this isn't a normal year. And that's too bad, because my speech to you at this time is really good. Or I think so, anyway. But it's also too bad, because for once, the picnic weather has turned out to be just about perfect.
In prior years, I would welcome you and deliver a key message that, experience has shown, is important to your success at Pitt. And while my normal message is not really appropriate for the unusual circumstances we now face, I'll give you the short version. The key thing to realize about a university is that it isn't a place. It's a community. That's really obvious with COVID, because our community, our campus, has been so dramatically impacted. It's a special kind of community, one defined by a common purpose, to create the open and supportive environment we need to learn, to teach, and to explore new ideas, make new discoveries.
It's a community that values diversity, that's quite possibly more diverse than anything you have yet experienced. Yet that enormous diversity is an asset. It makes us stronger by bringing the widest variety of ideas and perspectives into a place where they're supported, shared, and fostered to enrich all of us.
The community is nurtured by our shared commitment to defend it. Being a member of this community comes with many privileges, and it also comes with associated responsibilities. We must support each other. We must actively defend against those things that disrupt or destroy this academic community. And the Pitt Pledge that you'll recite later is a statement affirming these shared responsibilities.
You belong to this community. In fact, you were hand-selected to be here at Pitt. You are all exceptional, and we want you here, not just because we think this will be the best environment for you, but because it is our belief that you will make it a better place for all of us.
You have resources and help. The primary role of the more than 14,000 faculty and staff at Pitt, myself included, is to support and enrich this community of learning. That's why we're here. Please use us.
And finally, you probably don't yet feel like you belong to this community. That's pretty natural. But the only way to address it is to dive in, get involved, and to do things. This part will be more complicated by the impact of COVID-19, but it doesn't make it less important. Because after all, learning is a social activity, and with social distancing, you may just have to work a little harder, and certainly in brand new ways, to make those connections, to make this your University, to feel like you belong, because you do belong.
But now I want to openly acknowledge that this is a year unlike any year that Pitt has had before. And hopefully, it will be unlike any year that will ever happen again. And this makes you pioneers in a shared experience that will be different from one that any other new student at Pitt has ever experienced. This has a downside, and it has, I believe, a profound upside.
And since I'm an optimist by nature, and I want to end on a high note, let's start with the downside first. Here I need to share with you some cold hard facts about the situation we all now face together. The virus that causes COVID-19 is here, and it will be here for the foreseeable future. We are operating Pitt in a way that it has never been operated before. In this sense, you have an advantage over the classes that came before you. This year, every student is a new student. Some just don't realize it yet. Our goal is to maximize our mission, to provide you a great Pitt education, while ensuring that you and everyone around you is as safe as possible. To do that, we will follow the best medical advice and science.
There is a lot of opinion and confusion out there. Everybody is an expert. We have some of the very best infectious disease experts and epidemiologists in the world, and we will follow their medical and safety advice, no matter how difficult that may be. Our primary approach is to minimize risk by preventing people from getting infected by the virus. If the virus can't spread, then people don't get infected, and the dangerous risks of COVID-19 are avoided.
We have to be in this for the long haul. Things can change fast. When things are getting worse, we will immediately impose new controls. When things are doing better, we can also allow more activity. The core strategy is very simple. If somebody is infected or potentially infected, stay away from them. This is why we have a testing program. This is why we're telling everyone that if they have symptoms, they need to self-isolate. This is why we do contact tracing to see who might've been exposed to a known infected person. And this is why you were asked to quarantine upon arrival.
This virus is hard to accurately and reliably detect. So the second key part of the strategy is just stay away from everyone. This means social distancing and wearing face coverings. This means frequent hand washing and good hygiene for when we sneeze or cough. This means buildings and facilities that have been modified to improve air quality and to have fewer people inside. This is why there are restrictions against large gatherings, including parties, classrooms, athletic events—I know, many of the things people associate with being at a university. As I said, this is not a normal year.
The University has a role and you have a role. The University's role is to ensure that everyone has the information and the tools to be safe. We built a set of health standards to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. We have modified the operations of every activity area of the University—classroom instruction, housing, food services, student services, libraries, athletics, everything—to define how we would meet those requirements. These plans are adjustable to the risk of the moment. We have three operating postures, high, moderate, and guarded, that each result in different restrictions.
This is a circumstantial plan. We're going to be adjusting the operating postures and the restrictions based on the circumstances and on the advice of our medical experts. This will be less like looking at the calendar to see what will happen, and more like watching the weather forecast to see what you can do today. The bottom line is that none of this works if we don't all play our part.
What is our role as individuals? You need to know the risk posture and what you can do and cannot do, based on the circumstances. If you don't know, ask or check coronavirus.pitt.edu. You need to adhere to the health guidance and recommendations all the time, not just when you're on campus. Wearing a mask, maintaining social distance, avoiding large gatherings, staying home if you feel sick or you have symptoms. You know the drill.
And I need to share with you the very tough part of this message. These health requirements are not like recommending that you wear a helmet when you're riding a motorcycle or a bike. That's your head, if you decide not to follow the advice. This is collective risk. We all pay a price. You may not feel particularly threatened by this illness, but don't make that assumption for others. A classmate, roommate, or fellow student may have an underlying medical condition that you don't know about, that would make COVID a very dangerous infection. Your professors may be at much greater risk of serious complications if they get sick. Your neighbors and others living in Pittsburgh may not want to risk their health because of your actions, or have their businesses shut down to address a local outbreak. Your family may be put at risk if you bring an infection back to them, when you return home or you visit.
There are some who believe that college-age students are simply too irresponsible to follow this kind of health guidance. From their perspective, the University should know better and just shut the campus down—don't even give you the opportunity to prove how irresponsible you are. I completely reject this logic. College-age students are old enough to live independently, pay taxes, vote, serve in the military serving their country. I know that you can follow this health guidance. I completely understand that the experience you have here may not be the one you expected. But it will still be a valuable one.
For this to work, we have to adhere to a social compact. So let me be as honest as I can: If this isn't for you, and you can't take on this responsibility, then please go home. Your actions will only be endangering others, and you are not welcome on our campuses. You can still take Pitt classes remotely, and we will refund your unused room and board. No judgments. If you stay, and then act irresponsibly, there will be consequences. You may lose your privileges to enter our buildings and use our services, and you may face disciplinary consequences, up to and including removal from the University.
But if you can take on this responsibility and follow our plans and recommendations, this will be an unusual, but I believe, a very positive experience. You will be welcomed here and supported. And we will do everything we can to ensure your safety.
Now look. I realize this isn't the message you wanted to hear during your welcome address, and you're not really getting much of a honeymoon to learn the ropes, but these simply are not the usual circumstances. We are glad you're part of Pitt, but we must ensure that this remains an option for everyone. So a little open honesty up front is called for. These restrictions and changes to the normal or typical Pitt experience may be very unwelcome to you. After all, you didn't ask for this to happen. Believe me, I didn't ask for it to happen, either. But this is bigger than all of us.
In the middle of every great crisis, I believe there's an equally great opportunity. Whether you wanted it or not, you are living through history. A set of circumstances unlike those that any new student before you at Pitt has ever faced, in the midst of the great human need that this crisis has caused, you also have a chance to lead and make a difference on a matter of global importance, in a way that no other student before you has ever had. This is a city and a region that welcomes you and would welcome your efforts to help and to contribute to the shared challenges we face.
To those that embrace this unique moment, you can lead and contribute in ways that deeply matter. Pittsburghers tend to band together and roll up their sleeves to do the hard work of responding to a crisis or to adversity. For a new student seeking opportunities to try new things, meet new people, to make a difference now and not wait until graduation, this is a unique place at a unique time.
So, I guess my advice is still the same: Get involved. Do something that's bigger than you. Serve a great cause. Make a difference. This may not be the start of your college career that you dreamed of, but it can still be the one that changes your life. My message this year: Own it.
Once again, on behalf of the entire University community, we are so glad you're here. Welcome to our Pitt family. Please stay safe. And as you will learn to say shortly, Hail to Pitt!
View Chancellor Gallagher's video message.