To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: March 30, 2020
I hope that your week is off to a promising start.
By now you are probably aware that on Saturday, Governor Tom Wolf extended his stay-at-home order to include Centre County. With a number of exceptions — including obtaining medicine and medical supplies, visiting healthcare professionals, retrieving materials needed to work from home, getting necessary services and supplies, and engaging in outdoor activities that follow physical distancing precautions — we are all expected to remain at home until further notice.
Shortly on the heels of this announcement, the Office of the Vice president for Student Affairs sent a message to Penn State students and parents pleading that students not to return to State College or Centre County if they have already left. The message was prompted by recent social media communications that suggested some students were contemplating returning to town based on the perception that “Happy Valley” is a safe refuge and State College is better prepared to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic than their home communities.
I trust that you will agree that the governor’s stay-at-home order for the county, and the University’s messaging to students, are necessary measures to reinforce the physical distancing that health experts have been promoting for weeks. Needless to say, I strongly encourage you to observe this new directive. In practical terms, nothing changes about the remote teaching, learning, and work arrangements we have been following for the past few weeks. As before, I urge you to do all that you must to perform your work-related duties and responsibilities away from campus. Communicate immediately with your supervisor if you encounter difficulties accomplishing this.
In the meantime, I want to share some good news involving Gene and Roz Chaiken, who are two of our college’s longtime benefactors and leading philanthropists of the University. Their company, Almo Corporation (the nation’s largest independent distributor of major appliances, consumer electronics, professional A/V equipment, and furniture and housewares), has formed a partnership with Bloom Energy Corporation to refurbish unused, out-of-warranty ventilators and ship them to state agencies and hospitals throughout the nation to address the respiratory distress that many COVID-19 patients are experiencing. The work that the Chaikens are doing is not only an important public service in this moment of crisis, but it also powerfully illustrates the creativity, problem-solving, and empathy and care that the liberal arts prepare our students to bring to tackling real-world dilemmas.
I similarly have heard from our college’s heads and directors, and others, that you all are doing innovative work in these difficult times. I have genuinely appreciated the consistently hard work of our heads and directors, and I am equally grateful to the members of the Liberal Arts Crisis Team, who have been essential to navigating the rough currents of this emergency. Another group that I would like to highlight is the Liberal Arts Teaching Group. Over the past two weeks they have brought our college’s teaching community together for well-attended remote workshops on topics like using Zoom in the classroom, managing assessment and academic integrity, and promoting student engagement. The members of this group will be hosting another workshop at 2 pm this Friday on the subject of delivering overall student support. Stay tuned for further scheduling details.
As this challenging situation continues, I look forward to learning more about how our faculty and staff are rising to the occasion to serve our college’s mission and (figuratively) close the social distances. Please make the most of this week for now. I’ll be in touch again by the end of it, if not sooner.