May 10, 2021

Message from Dean Lang

Dear Liberal Arts Undergraduates:

This final message of the academic year is bittersweet. Students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni gathered for our college’s spring commencement yesterday, and despite the limits on the number of guests, and the cold and rain, the enthusiasm and pride that filled Beaver Stadium was heartwarming. I am grateful to the staff and faculty who coordinated this event and braved the elements to attend, and I was personally thrilled to be part of a memorable event that allowed us to have the in-person experience that we missed this time last year.

In many other respects, though, we are ending the year in much the same ways as we did a year ago amidst a global pandemic, racial justice activism, and continuing political conflict. But this landscape has not been static. Certainly, the April 20 verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial can be considered a sign that the recent wave of mass-based anti-racist protests have had an impact. Yet, other lives were lost during the same week as the jury deliberated and reached a decision on the killing of George Floyd. Even here in State College on the same day the verdict was announced, our local police department was seeking assistance in identifying perpetrators responsible for vandalizing the Martin Luther King Jr. mural downtown. Similarly, planning for a return to mostly in-person learning and work this fall speaks to the availability of multiple vaccines and a hope that we have turned a corner in tackling the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, persistently high rates of infection and deaths are part of the daily news cycle, and the reticence among some to be vaccinated, demonstrates the challenge of reconciling individual liberty with collective health and safety.

We will confront new developments in the fall, too, including the task of selecting a new Penn State president who I hope will understand the academic mission of our University and appreciate the values of shared governance. As I reflect on the past year, however, one of the most striking things has been the tenacity, creativity, care, and empathy on display in our liberal arts community. I have been impressed by our students who have found ways to persevere in their academic pursuits against uniquely challenging odds, and I am grateful to the faculty and staff who have helped them stay the course even when they faced uncertainty and turmoil in their own lives and careers. I have been inspired by my time spent with new heads, directors, and untenured faculty, and by being able to support faculty members through their second- and fourth-year reviews, pilot a Midcareer Faculty Advancement Program for associate professors, and congratulate others on tenure and promotion, well-deserved scholarly honors and research grants, and retirement. I have drawn strength from staff colleagues who have always managed to go over and above in their duties while also making time to continue developing themselves, and others, professionally. And I have been deeply moved by the countless number of faculty and staff who have asked “What can I do to help?” and have assisted those most in need this past year—not just at Penn State, but also within their home communities.

It seems hard to believe that it has been nearly fourteen months since our world turned upside down, and that I have spent nearly two-thirds of my tenure as dean working from home rather than from Sparks Building. But as difficult as it has been, it has also been one of the most rewarding stretches of my professional life. I remain proud to serve as dean of this great college, and that is in no small part because of you.

Congratulations again to the spring Class of 2021, and best wishes for meaningful lives and careers as alumni. Don’t forget about your alma mater as you venture into the “real” world. To everyone: have a productive summer, and remember to take some time to rest and care for yourselves. Please continue to be safe and well.


Dean Lang

Clarence Lang
Susan Welch Dean of the College of the Liberal Arts
Professor of African American Studies
The Pennsylvania State University     
111 Sparks Building
University Park, PA 16802