To: Liberal Arts Faculty and Staff
From: Clarence Lang
I hope that your new year is off to a promising start, all things considered. Like some of you with whom I have spoken, I had worrisome encounters over the break that involved contact with family members who tested positive for COVID-19, which disrupted holiday plans with loved ones I had not seen in person since the pandemic began. While I am grateful that I am fully vaccinated and boosted, and consistently mask in public indoor spaces, these experiences were a reminder that COVID is real, continues to surge in evolving new forms, and touches us all in multiple, often intimate ways. I again urge those of you who can be safely vaccinated, and boosted, to do so as we begin another year under these conditions.
As you already know, Penn State announced last week that the spring semester will start in person, as planned, beginning next Monday (January 10). With rare exceptions, this means that faculty and staff will be expected to adhere to the work arrangements that they already requested and have been approved by the University and/or college for the upcoming semester.
However, consistent with a recent communication that all Penn State faculty received from the chair of the University Faculty Senate, I want to emphasize the University’s existing policy stipulating that instructors—including graduate students with teaching responsibilities—can teach less than 25 percent of an in-person class remotely (synchronously or asynchronously), which gives them the flexibility to manage the range of situations they might need to accommodate. Those of you taking advantage of this provision only need to give advance notice to your respective unit head, director, or supervisor. Parallel to this, I intend to communicate to our Liberal Arts undergraduates that they should understand that there may be occasions during the semester when classes may have to move to a remote format to address unanticipated developments. I urge those of you teaching in person this semester to similarly communicate with students enrolled in your courses about the contingencies that may be necessary.
I will add that I am extremely pleased with the remarkable level of compliance with the University’s vaccine mandate among faculty and staff, especially full-time employees. Thank you! Pending the outcome of the current court injunction against the federal COVID vaccine mandate, my office will commence contacting faculty and staff who have not submitted any proof of vaccination, or who have not properly uploaded their proof of vaccination.
For those who remain unvaccinated, please be aware that Centre Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) continues to regularly offer local vaccine clinics (https://cvim.net/covid-information). It is also my understanding that CVIM and our University will be co-sponsoring a vaccine clinic from noon to 6 p.m. this Sunday, January 9, at the Bryce Jordan Center; more details are forthcoming. Beginning next week, University Health Services (UHS) will hold appointments on Wednesdays for first and second vaccine doses, and Thursdays and Fridays for boosters. Depending on demand, though, UHS may devote more time on Wednesdays to administer boosters. Rapid COVID testing also will be available at the White Building, and faculty and staff can order up to 12 free mail-in Vault Health test kits at https://vaulthealth.formstack.com/forms/psuemployee.
Finally, I am encouraging unit heads and directors in our college to carefully (re)consider hosting large in-person events, especially those where food and beverages would be served. Indoor masking, of course, will remain in effect on campus for the foreseeable future. These and other measures not only keep you safe but also others, bearing in mind that we still have vulnerable populations in our community, including our youngest children, who cannot yet be vaccinated.
It is apparent that COVID-19, no matter how weary we are of its presence, will be with us for some time, but it is also apparent that we have made important strides in fighting this pandemic since last year. I remain impressed by all you have done, and continue to do, for our students and each other amidst all the adversity we have encountered these past two years. As I said at the start of the fall semester, I look forward to working with you on meeting our multiple obligations to our students while acknowledging, and addressing, the uncertainties we share about where the next several weeks will take us.