Faculty Senate Passes Vote Of No Confidence In Penn State’s Fall COVID-19 Plans

Update, 2 p.m.: Penn State President Eric Barron issued a brief statement responding to the Faculty Senate’s non-binding resolutions and vote of no confidence Friday.

Barron said he understands faculty concerns, but Penn State differs from the Faculty Senate’s approach to some “critical areas.” He said administrators will meet with faculty representatives on a “regular basis,” but Friday’s passed resolutions say contact between Old Main and faculty has been inadequate.

“The efforts our University has undertaken to date have been extraordinary in scope and complexity, fast-moving, and ever-changing in some cases due to the nature of the pandemic,” Barron said. “We will consider the matters raised in the resolutions (and discussion) recognizing the continuously changing circumstances that we are facing.”

Another statement from Board of Trustees chair Matt Schuyler and vice chair David Kleppinger echoed the same sentiments. They said the board is ultimately “unified in its unequivocal support for President Barron, his administration, and their plans for the upcoming fall semester.”

“We have every reason to believe we can navigate the coming months just as we have since the start of this pandemic,” Schuyler and Kleppinger’s statement reads. “We look forward to seeing the University emerge from this semester stronger than ever before.”

Original Story: Penn State’s Faculty Senate voted Friday to pass a vote of no confidence in the university’s fall semester planning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The organization’s vote of no confidence passed 109-57. A separate vote urging Penn State to take stronger action against COVID-19 passed 128-32. Both needed a simple majority to pass.

For more than two hours, faculty representatives weighed the vote of no confidence. Ultimately, though, the majority chose to cite a lack of faith in Penn State’s fall semester planning.

“Right now, I think we have to stand together as a faculty senate,” said chemistry professor Julio Palma. “Because the process has not been transparent. Why do I decide this? Because I care. I didn’t want to have a vote of no confidence. Because I care. Because I love my institution. Because I love my students…But, today, we need to have a vote of no confidence.”

Senators repeatedly said Penn State’s implemented measures fall short of faculty expectations and don’t “embody a sense of safety and confidence” among faculty, staff, and students.

According to its agenda, the Faculty Senate’s main concerns surrounding Penn State’s lack of COVID-19 vaccination requirements. To date, more than 700 universities, including eight Big Ten schools, have mandated vaccines for faculty and staff. Many who spoke during open-floor discussion suggested Penn State needs to get with the program.

“We’re not flying alone here,” said professor Julie Gallagher. “In fact, we’re in the back of the pack.”

The resolution also cited concerns surrounding Penn State’s COVID-19 testing and the absence of a contact tracing plan “that is reasonable.” At this time, only students who haven’t submitted proof of vaccination are required to undergo weekly testing and on-arrival testing.

In response, the Faculty Senate said Penn State should implement twice-weekly testing for all individuals who haven’t submitted proof of vaccination.

Ira Saltz, an economics professor at Penn State Shenango, argued unvaccinated individuals should need to pay for weekly COVID-19 testing. A motion to include such a policy in Friday’s presented resolution failed 121 (reject) to 46 (in favor).

Senators also argued faculty should have the option to teach and work remotely, noting Penn State’s plans don’t account for those at home who aren’t eligible for vaccination. The Faculty Senate called on Penn State to give instructors flexibility in determining course deliveries, plus remote options for office hours, exams, meetings, and more.

“This is not a request that we’re making lightly. This is not something that faculty would turn to because they want to stay home in their pajamas,” said professor Michele Stine. “This is the best and safest way for all of us to have that autonomy to run our classrooms in the safest way possible and still move our students forward.”

Although Penn State recently required indoor masking on campus, the new policy was not negotiated for unionized employees. The Faculty Senate called for universal masking mandates and strict adherence to Centers for Disease Control recommendations.

Additionally, the Faculty Senate’s resolution says Penn State didn’t engage with senators when planning for the fall.

“The planning process was not transparent, and decisions were made by an exclusive administrative group without satisfactory explanation,” the resolution reads.

The Faculty Senate’s passed resolution calls for Penn State to include “significant and diverse faculty representation” on any committees, groups, and taskforces involved in fall COVID-19-related planning.

Friday’s approved resolution essentially gave Penn State a one-month timetable to reconsider fall semester planning before the Faculty Senate’s September 14 meeting.

More than 1,100 Penn State faculty members and 1,500 students, parents, and community members already signed a petition demanding stronger action against COVID-19. The Faculty Senate and Penn State’s student government overwhelmingly voted to support requirements. So did State College’s Borough Council

This is a breaking news story. 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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