[Live Blog] Penn State Student Virtual Coronavirus Town Hall

University administrators will answer questions about the recent cancellation of in-person classes for the remainder of the semester and other measures taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic during a virtual town hall for students this afternoon.

The university hosted the first of two virtual town halls this morning with one focused on faculty and staff. During this town hall, President Eric Barron announced that Penn State is committing to pay the salaries and benefits of all employees until at least the end of April.

Follow along for the next 90 minutes as administrators like Barron, Provost Nick Jones, and Vice Provost for Online Education Renata Engel answer questions submitted by students around the world.

You can ask a question by email and can watch the town hall here. Any questions not addressed during the town hall will be answered via email after the fact.

Live Blog

4:32 p.m. That’s a wrap on today’s town halls. We appreciate you following along and hope some of your questions have been answered. Continue keeping up with our coverage for all the updates that are coming out of the university as we all embrace this very difficult time in our lives.

Stay home and stay healthy.

4:30 p.m. Eric Barron’s closing remarks: “This is hard. This pandemic is having a profound impact on our community…Changes are swirling around us, and the uncertainty adds an element of stress. We are working all-hands-on-deck to make sure we deliver what you need to complete this semester and your degrees. All those services you’re used to are still there…They’re there for you to take advantage of. Think of this remote learning advantage as ‘What can I get out of it?'”

4:29 p.m. If you’ve already moved out of your dorm and don’t plan to return to campus anytime soon, you may mail your key back to Johnson Commons.

4:28 p.m. If you’ve rented a book from Penn State’s bookstore, you’ll be able to mail it back with a pre-paid UPS shipping label that will be sent to you. You won’t be able to sell books back to the bookstore.

4:27 p.m. Barron said the first phase of graduation is being offered in order to ensure students have the credentials they might need for a job or grad school.

4:25 p.m. When asked if Penn State will continue to do study abroad programs, Jones was pretty emphatic that he hopes to continue them “in-the-not-too-distant future.”

“Penn State is a global institution. We embrace that.”

4:23 p.m. No decision has been made on LEAP and New Student Orientation as well. The same planning that’s going into the multiple possibilities for Summer Session.

4:20 p.m. Jones is once again addressing Summer Session, which he did earlier today. Still, no decision has been made.

4:19 p.m. These town halls are being archived for your viewing pleasure. The good news: so is this live blog!

4:16 p.m. Fundraising for the Student Emergency Fund is underway. More 1,200 individuals have raised more than $100,000 during the last week.

Barron: “We know a large number of students are experiencing some level of financial stress…But the amount of funding there is is inadequate during a crisis like a pandemic.”

4:13 p.m. Jones encourages students to seek out their academic advisors.

“Advising has never been more important than it is during this particularly challenging period.”

4:12 p.m. Global Programs and Student Legal Services will work with any students who have issues with their visas and need assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

4:11 p.m. Ferrari: “The best practice is to assume you’re already infectious and then take on behaviors and hygiene as though you were already putting the community at risk.”

4:07 p.m. Counseling and Psychological Services is “open for business,” according to Sims. The usual remote resources are still available, and virtual appointments can be made.

“We want to ensure that the services that support them in normal circumstances are available during these extreme circumstances.”

4:05 p.m. Essential research is continuing. Like many things these days, what “essential” means is quite difficult to do.

4:01 p.m. Gaudelius said classes are meeting synchronously to ensure structure and combat isolation. Students with extenuating circumstances like a time difference can request accommodations from professors.

Added by Barron: “It’s important to realize that those thoughts are backed by data that an engaged student is a successful student. I want to call attention to the fact that something that differentiates Penn State. That feeling of We Are…It has a profound impact on people’s well-being and success.”

3:58 p.m. Students lacking an adequate internet connection should notify the university if they lack service, according to Engel. The university is considering ways to deploy mobile hotspots into these areas. For now, academic advisors are looking for students who don’t log into Canvas and Zoom and are reaching out to see if there’s an issue that can be fixed. You can call 814-865-4357 to get connected with tech-related resources you may need.

3:57 p.m. Barron said he has a weekly phone call with the Pennsylvania Department of Education to stay up to date on how school closures will impact licensing in majors that require observation hours, like education.

3:55 p.m. If you still have money on your LionCash, your balance can carry over to next year, as always. If you’re graduating or leaving Penn State, you can request a refund on the LionCash website.

3:53 p.m. Global Programs is collaborating with students and host programs in other countries to continue the academic components of study abroad programs. If a modified version isn’t available, a refund may be in order for students.

3:50 p.m. Barron clarified his announcement from earlier in the day that the commitment to pay employees’ salaries through at least April 30 also applies to full-time hourly employees. He also said they’re working on extending it to work-study students.

“Our commitment is clear. No abrupt changes in salaries for our employees. That means all employees.”

3:48 p.m. Sims said if students living off-campus can’t return to State College to pack up their apartments at the end of their lease, landlords need to give 10 days’ notice before moving out their belongings and need to store them at their own expense. Bring your lease-related questions to Student Legal Services, folks.

3:46 p.m. Engel: “What we’re seeing is the breadth of the university, the resources we have, and the collection we have of people who work shoulder-to-shoulder to help students.”

3:44 p.m. Here’s what you need to know about the modified grading system. More detailed information is expected to come out tomorrow.

3:42 p.m. Jones advises advisers to stay connected with their graduate students on an even more regular basis than they normally would have.

“Building and emphasizing that connection is really important.”

3:39 p.m. Ferrari, Penn State’s resident Tony Fauci, is now providing some more background information on the coronavirus itself. He advised that if sick, to stay home before seeking medical attention until the symptoms no longer allow you to do so.

3:38 p.m. Jones: “There’s more than one way to achieve learning objective…We see our faculty going above and beyond and to extraordinary lengths to achieve those objectives and ensure students are meeting them.”

3:36 p.m. The final exam schedule is not changing. Content and delivery of the exam might be different, but the university wants to keep it as close to the plan as possible.

3:34 p.m. Renata Engel, vice provost for online education, is giving examples of the range of solutions faculty can offer to students for hands-on learning. For example, labs are being replaced with faculty performing experiments and sending out data to be analyzed.

3:33 p.m. Sims said the university is working with landlords to be flexible and sympathetic with students regarding leases.

Sims, referencing the Student Emergency Fund and Student Legal Services: “Where the student is unable to meet this need, we’re having conversations about certain things we can do to reduce some of the burden.”

3:31 p.m. Barron said students won’t have to apply for housing and meal plan refunds.

3:29 p.m. Barron is addressing the student fee, which is a bit more complicated said it can help fund like the mortgage on a building, which can’t just go away since students aren’t using it.

3:28 p.m. Barron is reiterating that there are no plans to reimburse tuition. “It’s actually costing the university more to be moving remote.”

Last week he said this:

3:26 p.m. Students who live a plane ride away or unable to return to campus will have options for moveout. Sims said Storage Squad may be utilized to pack up belongings and ship them to wherever they need to go.

3:24 p.m. Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims said a plan for move-out was in place, but it needed to change due to Governor Wolf’s latest policy prohibiting large assemblies of people. Sims noted that there are exceptions, for instance if you left prescription medicine in your dorm.

3:23 p.m. To clarify, this option is available to ALL undergraduates — University Park, Commonwealth, and World campuses, as well as those who had been abroad. A similar option for graduate students is being worked out.

3:22 p.m. How this will impact major requirements will be on a case-by-case basis, but more clarification should be available within the next few days.

3:19 p.m. Yvonne Gaudelius, associate vice president and senior associate dean for undergraduate education, said her team wanted to give control to students — whether they wanted to keep a letter grade or if a more accommodating option was available.

Faculty will post grades, and students will have a week to decide if they want to switch it to one of three grades: Satisfactory (C or better), Passing (D or better), or No Grade (not passing). These requirements will count toward gen ed requirements and semester standing. They won’t affect financial aid or football ticket sales. More information is coming.

Jones said D’s can be replaced by a “V” and F’s can be replaced by a “Z.” Alphabet Soup University.

3:17 p.m. Jones is now addressing the proposed satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading option. He said being flexible and giving students options was the priority due to this difficult time.

3:16 p.m. Provost Jones, whose daughter will graduate this May: “I and we are committed to ensuring the best possible experience for our graduating seniors.”

3:16 p.m. Barron: “Everyone I’ve spoken to has mentioned how special it is to have that moment as a capstone to your Penn State degree.

3:12 p.m. Eric Barron, addressing May commencement ceremonies, points out that more than 45,000 people will be in the Bryce Jordan Center in one weekend, making it infeasible.

“At the same time, what we want to do is celebrate your achievements and give you that moment that’s so special.”

One group is working on this, including a two-phase option: one is completely virtually and the other is yet to be defined, but could include bringing the Class of 2020 together on campus.

“[A virtual commencement] doesn’t solve the issue.”

3:10 p.m. Jones mentioned that at 10 a.m. on the first day of remote learning last week on Monday, March 16, more than 63,000 people were logged onto more than 350 Zoom sessions.

3:09 p.m. Provost Nick Jones: “Our primary mission within the last several weeks has been to keep our students on track to meet their graduation and course requirements for the semester…Our students have stepped up after being completely up-ended.”

3:07 p.m. Now speaking is biology professor and researcher within the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Matt Ferrari. He’s giving an overview of the measures taken by the university and the science-related reasons behind them.

3:03 p.m. Barron, addressing the reported coronavirus case on campus, says it’s a federal government requirement to send out an alert about this He says the buildings are largely deserted, because most employees are working from home, but OPP is stepping in to ensure they are safe and clean.

“This is unprecedented. There’s no way something as significant as a pandemic will not have a large impact on your university as well as you.”

3:02 p.m. Eric Barron has begun the town hall with a series of remarks. He’s outlined his three priorities during the pandemic, which include 1) protecting the health and safety of faculty, staff, and students; 2) getting students to the finish line academically; and 3) addressing the financial health and well-being of employees and communities.

2:58 p.m. A case of coronavirus has been confirmed on Penn State’s campus, according to a campus alert.

2:53 p.m. Welcome to Onward State’s live blog of today’s virtual town hall where university leaders will answer students’ questions related to the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re stuck in a Zoom lecture and can’t tune in or just want something to help you follow along during it, this is your one-stop shop for everything addressed by Barron and Co. during the next hour and a half. We

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci was once Onward State’s managing editor and preferred walk-on honors student who majored in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected]. All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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