Group Of Penn State Faculty, Others Says University Isn't Ready For Fall Return To Campus

Aug 5, 2020

A sign posted on the Penn State University Park campus in summer 2020 urges pedestrians to "Keep your distance." Some don't think the university has done enough to get ready for students to return safely as the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
Credit Min Xian / WPSU

 

A newly formed group called the Coalition for a Just University at Penn State hosted an online rally Wednesday, questioning the university’s plans for an in-person fall semester in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group wants the university to provide COVID-19 testing to all faculty, students and staff, publicly say staff can work remotely and give faculty control over whether they teach in-person. They're also calling for a guarantee that all full-time faculty and staff will keep their jobs and benefits in 2020-21.

Associate professor Sarah Townsend, who led the meeting, said she is concerned that if a student tests positive, in-person instructors and classmates will not be notified.

A university spokesman said when physical distancing is maintained, faculty and students are not considered close contacts. He said if a student gives permission to share that they have tested postive for COVID-19, the university will do that.

Townsend pointed to other universities with plans to test all students on arrival at their campuses. The coalition is calling for Penn State to do the same.

“Penn State is not prepared to bring students back safely, and at this point there sure isn’t much time,” Townsend said, reading the group's statement.

About 220 Penn State faculty, grad students and others attended the virtual rally, according to the Zoom tally.

Biobehavioral health professor Gary King described one of the group’s efforts — a mass email campaign to key Penn State trustees

“This rally is not just about airing faculty grievances. It is also about defending the health of our communities," King said.

Julio Palma, an assistant professor of chemistry at Penn State Fayette, said the communities are only as safe as the least-insured person.

“We are as vulnerable as the most vulnerable members of our community," Palma said.

The university says it is using effective strategies of testing, contact tracing and monitoring to keep its communities safe.