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Professors’ Op-Ed Urges Vaccine Mandate To ‘Save’ Public Universities

Two Penn State professors jointly published an opinion piece in The Hill Thursday morning urging the Biden administration to extend its vaccine mandate on military personnel and federal employees to universities that have military contracts and receive funding from the government, including Penn State.

Anthropology professors Kirk French and Laurel Pearson wrote critically of Penn State’s lack of a vaccine mandate. They note that public universities will struggle to “survive the pandemic” if requirements aren’t in place.

“Without vaccine mandates, these institutions are not only endangering their faculty, students, staff, and local communities; they are tarnishing their centuries-old reputations,” the post reads. “As faculty at Penn State University, we are watching the system unravel before our eyes.”

The op-ed said that even after the Food and Drug Administration gave Pfizer’s vaccine full approval, Penn State did not implement a vaccine mandate. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 800 schools, including most Big Ten universities, have implemented requirements.

“The same irresponsible approach is being implemented at Penn State’s famed football games this season. There are no vaccine or testing requirements to attend, and there is no mask requirement for the stands,” French notes.

Penn State’s first home game is September 11, on which French estimates that 107,000 fans “will pour into Beaver Stadium,” and another 75,000 will tailgate “most without masks.”

Though it has no vaccine mandate, Penn State has required masking inside buildings. French notes with this last week’s start of classes “included a return to packed classrooms.”

“Kirk teaches the largest anthropology course in the United States with 726 students in a lecture hall with 726 seats,” the column reads. “When seated, each student is surrounded by 18 others who are less than six feet away. It’s akin to being on an elevator with 18 others for 75 minutes.”

French begs the question, “How can a university without a vaccine mandate excel under these conditions? We can’t.”

Penn State President Eric Barron said this summer that Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislatures could cut funding for the university, which could stop him from implementing a vaccine mandate.

“This $350 million stick that Harrisburg is holding equates to roughly 4 percent of Penn State’s operating budget,” French notes. “Enough is enough. It’s time to find a bigger stick.”

That bigger stick? The funding that Penn State receives from contracts with the Department of Defense (DOD), among others.

“About 11 percent (roughly $700 million) of Penn State’s operating budget comes in the form of lucrative military contracts with the Department of Defense and the Navy, as well as funding for research from federal granting agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH),” the professors write.

French and Pearson then turn to the Biden Administration. They ask that the vaccine mandate levied to military personnel, contractors, and federal employees be extended to “all 900 universities that maintain military contracts and receive research funding from the federal government.” They also suggest a moratorium on “federal grant proposals from research institutions that do not have a vaccine mandate.” This means that the federal government would temporarily pause or suspend grant proposals until a vaccine mandate is in place.

French concludes by saying that if universities are safer, surrounding schools, businesses, and communities are safer.

“If this happens now, we might be on the path to a normal spring semester,” the column reads.

You can read French and Pearson’s opinion piece in full here.

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About the Author

Anna Wiggins

Anna is a junior public relations major and one of Onward State's social media editors. Hailing from Washington D.C. (aka Alexandria, VA), she loves 80's and 90's rock, ironic L.L. Bean Boat and Tote bags, and was born in a pink hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @annaewiggins. Please send all of your best gossip to [email protected]

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