Testimony of Chancellor Patrick Gallagher
Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee Meeting
June 9, 2020
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I’ll keep my remarks short—since I think the questions have proven to be very instructive—and simply point out three things.
First of all: We’ve been very aware of the incredible burden the state has faced in the middle of a health emergency of this type—not only dealing with the direct impact of the pandemic but also all of the associated economic impacts. For the general assembly to provide support to Pitt for the full year at flat levels is an extraordinary statement of just how important our higher education system and our educational system is to the Commonwealth. I just want to start by sharing my appreciation. I know how difficult your jobs are at a time like this—the incredible demands that are being placed upon you—but this is something that we appreciate very, very much.
Second of all, I want to extend my thanks to Secretary Rivera and Noe Ortega from the Department of Education. Their collaboration with higher education, higher education leadership and our community has been extraordinary. I can’t think of a week that has gone by since the middle of March—when this really started to happen—where I haven’t been on the phone with them multiple times a week, where they’ve been real listeners and real partners in working with us. I don’t think we would be where we are today without their support.
Finally, let me just say a couple of words about our approach at Pitt, which is that education is mission critical. It’s really not the case that a student can stop growing and put their life on hold, and—in fact—one of my greatest concerns about the crisis we find ourselves in is the degree to which it does interrupt lives, and it does expose a lot of the inequities that we’re seeing. In fact, a lot of the issues being brought up in the Black Lives Matter unrest right now are pretty clearly related to the exposed inequities that we’re seeing in our society, where education plays such a vital role.
So, we’ve taken the view that going back to work is not optional, and what you have to do is get out of the emergency. The way we’re approaching this is to adapt our operations to include an infection control program that’s significantly robust and that protects our students, faculty, staff and the public around us. Right now, we’re developing all the details of incorporating this infection control program into every aspect of the University’s operations.
This is much closer to a continuity of operations or resiliency plan to make the University’s mission critical activities as independent as possible to whatever risk posture we find ourselves in with the pandemic. So, we assume that it’s with us for a while, and we don’t assume that it’s only going to get better. We assume that the level of risk could fluctuate, and our job is to figure out: ‘How do we provide our educational mission, our research mission, and our community service commitments in ways that are robust against these changes?’
This doesn’t mean we’re going back to normal. It does mean there’s quite a few changes in the way we use our facilities. We’ve had many discussions about our residence halls. They will be used, but they will be used differently. Our food services will be used differently. We will be embedding technology in classrooms so that being physically present is no longer a requirement for class. In other words, you can be engaging online or in person—and this is true for both students and faculty members. We want this flexibility so that students can continue their education.
The real challenge has been experience-based learning. Some of the most significant impacts to date have been on clinical instruction, research-based instruction, and other things where it’s not so much about what’s happening in the classroom, but about direct experiences in laboratories, hospitals and service work. These areas have been impacted, and I think we’re excited to see the state guidance give us the latitude needed to resume such activities in a responsible, appropriate way.
Let me just flag one final impact, which is that this is a global pandemic. I know we’re very focused on what’s happening in the United States, within the Commonwealth, and within our county. We’ve all been watching whether we’re sitting at red, yellow or green, but one of the real impacts of this has been the loss of global mobility. International students were among the first impacted by this crisis, and they remain one of the most impacted populations of all.
The largest single enrollment difference that we are seeing from the prior year is the loss of international students who cannot return to or initiate their activities in the United States. For the University of Pittsburgh, this will weigh more heavily on our graduate and professional programs. U.S. graduate and professional programs are still the best in the world and very attractive to international populations, so this is something that we continue to watch very closely.
I’ll stop here. Thank you.