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President Barron: Student Behavior ‘Unacceptable,’ Could Lead To Remote Instruction

Penn State President Eric Barron issued a statement Thursday morning responding to reports of student congregations outside East Halls Wednesday night.

In his letter to the community, Barron expressed disappointment in students’ lack of face masks, failure to socially distance, and violation of university and local requirements against gatherings.

“Last night’s behavior is unacceptable,” Barron wrote. “I ask students flaunting the University’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?”

Barron placed blame onto students and said the university is prepared to revert to remote learning if necessary this fall. He reiterated Penn State is willing to employ disciplinary action, potentially including suspension or expulsion, against students who aren’t complying with mandates. The university still hasn’t specified exactly how those measures would be carried out, though.

“We have implemented a multi-layered testing, monitoring, and mitigating approach to allow for a return to on-campus learning and work. But, it will take all of us to do our part,” Barron said. “In addition to the launch of Mask Up or Pack up, the University will post additional flyers in residence halls with the question stated above. I don’t think any one individual wants to be the reason we all have to Pack Up.”

Students agreed to follow university guidelines before coming to campus when they signed the university’s COVID-19 Compact, a pledge that outlined Penn State’s coronavirus mitigation strategies. Agreement was required to return to campus or access LionPATH, Penn State’s student information center.

Earlier Thursday, Penn State placed Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on interim suspension after it received reports the organization held a maskless party earlier this week. Barron warned students that violating coronavirus mitigation measures could lead to punishment for them as well.

“Ultimately, this is not about sanctioning. It is about protecting individual and community health,” Barron wrote. “And, I want to end on a positive note. I personally have been traversing the University Park campus, and downtown State College. I have been impressed by the numbers of students and families who are masking up, physically distancing, and modeling good community practices. But make no mistake, it only takes a few to ruin it for the many, as we have seen at other universities across the country.”

Penn State requires face masks to be worn inside campus buildings at all times and worn outdoors when social distancing can’t be achieved. Those found without masks when necessary downtown could be issued a civil infraction and fined $300.

Barron’s full letter to the community can be read below.

Last night, we saw reports of crowds of students congregating in large numbers outside of East Halls on the University Park campus. Many were not wearing masks, or physical distancing, in violation of the University’s requirements and expectations for doing so, as well as the State College ordinance. We intervened, and the crowds dispersed. These measures are in place to help prevent and contain the possible spread of COVID-19. Last night’s behavior is unacceptable. I ask students flaunting the University’s health and safety expectations a simple question: Do you want to be the person responsible for sending everyone home?

This behavior cannot and will not be tolerated. We have said from the beginning health and safety is our priority, and if the University needs to pivot to fully remote instruction we will. As a reminder, we are using our student conduct process to identify students who are not compliant with University requirements. It’s important all students understand that the consequences for violations include possible expulsion. We also announced this morning that a fraternity was put on interim suspension for a potential violation of COVID-19 rules regarding socials.

We have implemented a multi-layered testing, monitoring, and mitigating approach to allow for a return to on campus learning and work. But, it will take all of us to do our part. In addition to the launch of Mask Up or Pack up, the University will post additional flyers in residence halls with the question stated above. I don’t think any one individual wants to be the reason we all have to Pack Up.

Ultimately, this is not about sanctioning. It is about protecting individual and community health. And, I want to end on a positive note. I personally have been traversing the University Park campus, and downtown State College. I have been impressed by the numbers of students and families who are masking up, physically distancing, and modeling good community practices. But make no mistake, it only takes a few to ruin it for the many, as we have seen at other universities across the country. So let’s remember. This is our community. It’s our responsibility.

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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 with distinction 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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