To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: May 26, 2020
I hope that you had an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.
Those of you who viewed last week’s virtual townhall are aware of President Barron’s desire to physically return to campus, community, and work in the fall semester. At the same time, however, he recognizes that any face-to-face teaching and learning, or any faculty, staff, and administrative operations will have to align with developments on the national stage, state governmental decisions, deliberations with the Board of Trustees, determinations by Centre County public officials, and – most importantly – careful evaluations of public health and reasonable, enforceable protocols for managing an in-person return with the safety of students, faculty and staff as the foremost priority. For this reason, I want to remind you that Penn State currently is not open for a physical return to work, and everyone who can do so should continue to work remotely. Unless you have received prior approval to do so, you should not be working from campus offices.
On the other end of the spectrum, several of you have expressed concerns about your well-being should we return to campus in the fall. I share your sense of disquiet, especially given the broader political polarization and social inequalities that the COVID-19 crisis has further highlighted. Nonetheless, I am confident that any sequence of events involving a return to work will include an assortment of phased or “opt-in” approaches, a continuation of some remote arrangements, and accommodations or adjustments for employees where they are necessary or appropriate. Although no actual decisions about the fall are likely before June 15, you should be aware of some other pertinent details, as well:
- The members of the Academic Leadership Council (consisting of Penn State deans, commonwealth campus chancellors, and the provost’s and president’s cabinets) have had vigorous exchanges about various teaching, learning, and work scenarios after the summer. These conversations have included preliminary assessments from leaders of the University’s newly charged Return to Campus and Community, Return to Work, and Public Health task groups, all of whom will be make recommendations about next steps. As a member of the University Park Council of Academic Deans, I also have been in more informal conversations with fellow deans about the various contingencies we face as college leaders.
- Internally, our College’s ad hoc “crisis team” (consisting of the associate deans for research/graduate studies and undergraduate studies, senior assistant dean for outreach and online education, director of administrative operations, director of information technology, human resources strategic partner, director of strategic communications, director of the Office of Digital Pedagogy and Scholarship, and me) has held similar conversations about how best to stage a return to campus and work if this becomes the University’s course of action.
- With detailed input from the Liberal Arts crisis team, and feedback from College heads and directors, I submitted responses last week to a Return to Campus and Community “instructional issues” survey crafted to gather data about potential situations, needs, and challenges involving faculty, students (both domestic/international and undergraduate/graduate), courses and curricula, instructional design support, social-distancing measures, and possibilities for stretching out the instructional day.
- Our crisis team had considered sending a more general survey to Liberal Arts faculty and staff; but, we decided to put a hold on a College survey when the Return to Work task group led by Lorraine Goffe (vice president for human resources) distributed a University-wide survey to Penn State employees. I have urged department heads and program directors to encourage your participation in this 10-minute survey, and I now appeal directly to you to make sure that you respond to it as fully and candidly as you possibly can. With so many conversations in motion about how our fall might look, your feedback is extremely vital.
- Heads and directors of academic units will hear soon from Scott Bennett, our associate dean for research and graduate studies, about preparations for reopening on-campus research facilities as requested by the University’s senior vice president for research.
Watch this space for further updates, as I am able to provide them. The goal of the dean’s office is to not only track events as they unfold, but wherever possible also stay ahead of them. As always, I thank you for your helpful vigilance and concern about the welfare of our college.