September 29, 2020

Message from Dean Lang

To: Liberal Arts Faculty, Staff, Graduate Students, and Post Docs
From: Clarence Lang
Date: September 29, 2020 

Dear Colleagues: 

I know it’s been a few weeks since we connected. I hope that you are faring well as we approach the semester’s midpoint. 

I am pleased to report that for the most part, our teaching and learning scenarios have gone as well as could have hoped in terms of the areas our college directly controls. While there have been a few “hiccups” in terms of course delivery, the Dean’s Office has worked with individual department heads to quickly resolve them. Please let us know if you have any concerns in this regard. If a student or employee discloses testing positive for COVID-19, advise that individual to contact the appropriate office for guidance and required protocols. For students, the office is University Health Services, and for faculty and staff the office is Occupational Medicine. Should you have any questions, please contact our college’s Pandemic Safety Officers (Chris Hort at or Nicola Kiver at, or our college’s HR Strategic Partner (Amanda Gallo at I urge you to also see the latest in COVID FAQs; and remember that the details of any individual’s health information should not be shared or distributed.  

For those of you who are teaching, it remains critical that you do all that you must to actively engage your students – many of whom are combating feelings of isolation and concerns about their financial and emotional well-being. Students – and faculty and staff, for that matter – may also be feeling heightened levels of anxiety related to the upcoming election, so please keep that in mind as well. It is also vital that you familiarize yourselves with Penn State Academic Policy (AC)64 covering the rights and responsibilities of academic freedom; and Penn State Administrative Policy (AD)92, which governs politically related activities by University employees. 

Despite the unique, pandemic-driven challenges we continue to encounter, our work proceeds steadily. It has been an eventful semester, as well. I am grateful to those who were able to attend our college’s recent all-faculty meeting, for example. Virtual activities that have dotted my calendar have included offering remarks for this year’s Constitution Day celebration (coordinated through the Department of Communication Arts and Sciences); participating in meetings with several of the college’s student, alumni, faculty, and staff groups; launching our regular New Untenured Faculty workshop series with our associate deans; and introducing a timely symposium on Anti-Black Police Brutality and the Popular Uprisings, which was co-hosted by the Consortium for Social Movements and Education and the Africana Research Center. I was also delighted to attend events hosted by the Richards Civil War Era Center and the School of Labor and Employment Relations. 

More public-facing activities are on the way, including events linked to this year’s “Moments of Change” theme, A Century of Women’s ActivismHispanic Heritage Month programming co-sponsored by our Latina/o Studies program, and a series of facilitated dialogues, organized through World in Conversation centered on the “public good” – services, provisions, and protections that everyone should enjoy by virtue of belonging to society (see the attached flyer for your information).

I am excited, too, that the Mid-Career Faculty Advancement Program pilot – organized by the Office of Educational Equity and our college’s Research and Graduate Studies Office (RGSO) – formally began earlier this month by matching 18 associate professor fellows with senior mentors. RGSO also connected Liberal Arts faculty with scholars in the College of Arts and Architecture on a proposal, titled “Transmission, Containment, Transformation: A Comparative Approach to Architecture and Contagion in Early Modern Cities,” that received support through the Mellon Foundation’s Sawyer Seminar Series. 

At the same time, I am aware of a few administrative matters that demand special attention. As the Provost’s Office has announced, tenure-line faculty who began their appointments in July are now eligible for the University’s “COVID extension” probationary period. Conversations with department heads and others, however, illuminated the need to develop a comprehensive approach that responds to the potentially far-reaching effects of COVID-19 on academic careers and the necessity to expand equity and inclusion in higher education. Although much more deliberation is necessary, this approach could possibly entail: 

  • adjusting scholarly research expectations in an environment where university presses, peer-reviewed journals, and professional associations may struggle more mightily than ever before to survive; 
  • rethinking how we evaluate effective teaching at a moment when colleagues at all levels of the University are contemplating multiple performance measures beyond SRTE scores; and 
  • expanding the diverse forms of service that should be recognized and “counted” toward tenure and promotion. 

Building on existing college efforts to prepare doctoral students for career diversity, we also should continue reassessing the scope of our graduate programs, and “academic-adjacent” pathways. Such considerations will inform our college’s five-year strategic planning.  

I certainly understand and appreciate the sense of fatigue that is pervading the college, the University, and our community. The fact that the Provost’s Office has extended the deadline for submitting Spring 2021 course delivery preferences is evidence of University Park deans’ advocacy for workload relief. Many of us also worry about trends in COVID cases in Centre County and are fighting the exhaustion that comes from trying to anticipate the next fresh hell lurking around the corner. 

During her “Coping with COVID” seminar for Liberal Arts faculty earlier this month, our Psychology colleague Alicia Grandey offered practical tips that bear repeating as we endeavor to manage the stress we are feeling and bring a sense of balance to our lives: start small, go easy on yourselves (and others, might I add), and remember that you are not alone. Please know how much I appreciate everything you continue to do to support our students and each other, especially during these chaotic times.