Penn State Professor Criticizes University’s Fall Semester Plans In Esquire Magazine Op-Ed

A Penn State professor published an opinion piece in Esquire magazine Friday criticizing the university’s plans to return to in-person instruction this fall.

English professor Paul M. Kellermann’s writing largely focused on administration’s dismissal of faculty and staff’s concerns during the planning process. Over several paragraphs, he professed his love for teaching at Penn State but noted a return to campus carries too many risks.

“But as much as I love brick-and-mortar teaching, I shudder at the prospect of teaching in a room filled with asymptomatic superspreaders,” Kellermann wrote. “The university cannot—and should not—monitor student behavior twenty-four hours a day.”

Penn State reiterated during a town hall Monday it will enforce face mask-wearing in classes and around campus, promote social distancing, and utilize a “robust” contact-tracing system to monitor students’ health. Despite planned policies, Kellermann believes students will revert to their typical tendencies.

“And students being students will do what students have always done: congregate in packs, drink heavily, and comingle,” Kellermann wrote. “That is the nature of college culture, with campus serving as a petri dish for the spread of the coronavirus. Teaching in such conditions is a risk many are unwilling to take, especially when the steps taken to mitigate the risk are pedagogically unsound.”

He added college towns, including State College, will bear a heavy burden as thousands of students prepare to move back to campus in just under two months.

“In college towns, health care providers are prepping for an onslaught. Faculty and staff, meanwhile, feel abandoned, excluded from the decision-making process as a coterie of VPs weighed financial considerations against health risks,” Kellermann wrote. “Somehow, no one in the ivory tower’s executive suite bothered to take pedagogic concerns into account—or to consult with those who practice pedagogy professionally.”

Kellermann isn’t alone with these thoughts. Earlier this month, hundreds of faculty members penned an open letter to President Eric Barron’s administration criticizing the university for not considering their concerns. After its plans were published, faculty members published a separate press release doubling down on the university’s neglect.

“Ignoring faculty concerns, President Barron announced Penn State’s reopening plan on Sunday evening, June 14,” faculty members wrote in the release. “Nowhere in his statement was there any language about the faculty’s right to decide how to teach their fall classes.”

The open letter also asked the university to implement several policies, including outlining clearer health procedures and giving professors the power to bar non-compliant students from attending lectures. To date, more than 1,000 faculty members have signed the letter, while an additional 500 students, alumni, and community members added their names as well.

Kellermann, alongside hundreds of faculty members, specifically voiced concerns surrounding how classes will be taught this fall. Penn State already announced courses with more than 250 students will move online, but the university stated it will leave other decisions to individual campuses and “academic units” without providing specifics.

“My colleagues and I are simply asking for the freedom to deliver our lessons the most effective way possible—and to do so safely,” Kellermann wrote.

Penn State didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Kellermann’s op-ed. You can read his entire published letter here.

We’ll update this post with more information as it becomes available.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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