August 23, 2021

Message from Dean Lang

Dear Colleagues: 

Welcome back! I hope that this message finds you well as we embark on the start of another semester – and do so with the challenges of a pandemic still confronting us. 

Let me begin on a positive note. I enjoyed welcoming our college’s new faculty last week during a hybrid orientation that took place both at the Hintz Alumni Center (albeit without food or drinks) and remotely via livestream. It was gratifying to see such robust in-person and remote attendance, and I am excited about the multiple ways our new colleagues will contribute to the college’s teaching, research, and service missions. I also had the pleasure of representing our college during the President’s New Student Convocation at the Bryce Jordan Center on Saturday evening, during which Mia Wallis – who leads our Liberal Arts Undergraduate Council – carried our college’s banner. Another outstanding Liberal Arts student, Najee Rodriguez, addressed the Class of 2025 on behalf of the University Park Undergraduate Association (UPUA). Consistent with updated University requirements, all attendees were masked, and President Barron reminded the gathering that all students and employees who neglect to upload their vaccination status, or are unvaccinated, will be subject to regular COVID testing. 

On the other hand, it is no secret that Penn State is not among the universities that have adopted a mandated vaccine policy. As I have expressed in previous messages, it is disturbing that vaccinations, and even masking, remain politically fraught and ideologically inflected, and in some instances have led to harassment, physical violence, and other reprisals involving medical professionals, educators, and elected and appointed officials. Like many public and public-affiliated schools that receive state funding, Penn State is caught in the middle of such disputes that are unrelated to the University’s core mission. In our own Commonwealth, a leading figure of the State Senate was quoted saying that there could be “some pushback in Harrisburg” if the University adopted a vaccine mandate. The question for many is whether this possibility is compelling enough not to move in this direction. Efforts by entities like the UPUA and the University Faculty Senate have made evident where considerable sentiment lies on campus.  

What has been clear to me throughout this pandemic is that our faculty and staff are doing their very best by our students, and each other. I will continue to represent our college candidly, yet responsibly, in ongoing University-level conversations about how to best confront this crisis, and I regret that after several months I have little more to offer about vaccines than sympathy and my encouragement that those of you who can be safely vaccinated to do so without further delay. 

In the meantime, I thank you for all that you have done to prepare for this fall. This includes members of the dean’s office team, who worked diligently on tracking and following up on work adjustment requests as they have wound their way through the University’s approval process as late as last week. Likewise, I applaud the enthusiasm you have expressed for teaching, mentoring, advising, enriching, and otherwise serving our students – this despite your uneasiness about their health and safety, as well as concerns about your own well-being, the welfare of your households, and the University’s attitude toward both. 

As this week and the semester begin, I look forward to working with you to meet our multiple obligations to our students, while acknowledging and facing the uncertainties we share about where the next several weeks will take us.