Today, at a Penn State University “Town Hall” in which, as always, questions and topics were selected and answered minus significant faculty, student, staff, and parent input, we learned that, despite Faculty Senate, UPUA, and GSPA resolutions calling for universal vaccination, the Penn State administration will not be requiring a vaccine for students, staff, and faculty. Instead, President Barron said he “strongly encourages” everyone to be vaccinated. We learned that there will be no universal masking requirement. Instead, only unvaccinated people will be required to wear masks indoors; masks will only be mandated for vaccinated individuals at campuses in counties where the spread of the virus increases. We learned that, in the words of Provost Nick Jones, “We do not believe that a move to remote education will be necessary.” This means, for example, that Penn State faculty who are parents of children too young to be vaccinated or are caregivers of immunocompromised people have no option but to teach face-to-face and risk transmitting the virus from the campus to their homes.
While the university has proposed some efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, it offered little clear information as to how these efforts would come to fruition and no clear information as to how noncompliance would be dealt with, other than vague language around consequences. The Town Hall repeats an established pattern wherein the Administration speaks at, not to, the Penn State community, minus either consultation or even communication concerning how the plan for the fall was developed.
This is unacceptable. In our open letter to the Penn State Administration and the Board of Trustees, already signed by more than 800 faculty members, we call for mandated vaccinations, masking and social distancing, random surveillance testing, maintenance of improved ventilation standards, a more reasonable and flexible teaching and learning policy, and improvements to Penn State’s mental healthcare resources. Penn State’s plan fails to address any of these demands.
With these demands in mind, we are calling a state-wide faculty meeting on Thursday, August 5 at 4pm to decide on our next course of action.
Active for the past year, the Coalition for a Just University has primarily focused on COVID-19 justice. However, our ultimate goal is to create a more just and equitable university for everyone: parents, staff, faculty, students, and the communities surrounding all Penn State campuses. We, not the Board of Trustees or the administration, are the heart and soul of this university.
The Faculty of the Coalition for a Just University