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Penn State faculty approve vote of ‘no confidence’ in administration’s fall COVID plans

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Criticizing the Penn State administration’s COVID-19 plans for the fall, the university Faculty Senate voted Friday to approve a motion of no confidence in those plans and to call on the university to require vaccinations for students, faculty and staff.

The university is returning to in-person classes and activities in the fall semester, which starts Aug. 23. It is not requiring students or employees to get vaccinated, instead encouraging them to and saying testing will be required of those who do not show proof of vaccination. 

During the two-hour meeting, some faculty criticized that approach and what they described as a lack of transparency and communication by the administration. 

Josh Wede, with the College of the Liberal Arts, said the question was whether they had confidence in the university’s ability to keep the university and the community safe. 

“I have absolutely no confidence in the plan,” he said.

The first resolution that was approved also called for letting instructors decide whether their classes will be in person or taught remotely. Several faculty members argued that flexibility is needed as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

Michele Stine, from the College of Health and Human Development, said teaching remotely is more work than teaching in the classroom, and the request is not one being made lightly.

“This is not something that faculty would turn to because they want to stay home in their pajamas,” Stine said. “This is hard work, and we want to keep our students learning. We want to keep them moving forward in their education. We want them to be able to complete their degrees in a timely manner. And 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, which is our primary goal and mission.”

Faculty also said they had not received details about implementing plans for testing, quarantining and contact tracing.

In a message to the Penn State community Thursday, President Eric Barron said the university’s actions “are designed to achieve the desired outcome, with as little polarization as possible.”

He pointed to the availability of vaccinations, indoor masking requirements and plans for regular testing of students and employees who don’t show proof of vaccination. 

Barron also pointed to politics, implying the university could face funding cuts.

"Public universities, in particular, have challenges with the mode of response to the pandemic. Regulations across the country clearly reflect state-level political realities. State funding of our university requires a two-thirds vote of the Pennsylvania legislature, meaning that our funding relies on strong bipartisan support," Barron wrote. 

When asked for comment, Jason Gottesman, press secretary to state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, said: "There are no active discussions in the House about university funding specific to mask or vaccine mandates at the current time. The state funding for Penn State and all other state-related universities has already been approved for the current year."

Anne Danahy has been a reporter at WPSU since fall 2017. Before crossing over to radio, she was a reporter at the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pennsylvania, and she worked in communications at Penn State. She is married with cats.
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