Subject: Message to Liberal Arts Students from Dean Lang
Date: Mon, Jul 06, 2020 10:25 a.m.
July 6, 2020
Dear Liberal Arts Undergraduates:
I hope that you had a relaxing Fourth of July weekend and that you are enjoying your summer so far.
As you might imagine, a lot of my attention these past few weeks—and the attention of most of the college’s faculty and staff, for that matter—has been focused on planning for our anticipated return to campus this fall. Let me start by addressing the elephant in the room: other than knowing that the sale of student season tickets has been suspended indefinitely, I have nothing to share about the upcoming football season. What I can tell you, however, is that the fall semester will begin as originally scheduled on August 24. Unlike other years, though, we will hold classes on Labor Day (Monday, September 7). Further, all campus-based, residential instruction will end November 20, with the remainder of the semester and final exams being delivered remotely when classes resume after Thanksgiving break. The semester will then end at the conclusion of finals on December 18.
Classes this fall will be delivered using a highly flexible mix of in-person, remote, and online instruction, with all classes of more than 250 students being delivered online and/or remotely. Keep in mind, however, that a number of classes with fewer than 250 students will be offered partially or entirely online, as well. Several circumstances make it necessary for our college to be as flexible as possible in terms of how we deliver courses. These circumstances include such things as limited classroom capacity, which has been diminished to accommodate physical distancing guidelines; the health status and/or needs of our faculty members and staff, and those with whom they live; and the reality that some students may not be able to physically return to campus this fall because of health, family, or other concerns. Our faculty and staff are working closely with the University to determine the best delivery option for each course that takes these circumstances into full consideration and allows students to meet their course objectives. The mode of instruction for most courses will be available on LionPath by July 15, and I will be sure to share other pertinent information with you as it becomes available. I also encourage you to visit the University’s Back to State page and Keep Learning websites regularly for updates and access to a host of resources.
The most important point to keep in mind is that any adjustments that our college needs to make to delivering fall courses and holding in-person campus activities are short-term, temporary responses to a dangerous worldwide pandemic. I want nothing more than a return to our “normal” activities just as soon as it is safe and appropriate to do so. In the meantime, whether you experience the first half of the fall semester in person, online, or remotely, you are a Penn Stater through and through, and our faculty and staff are genuinely committed to giving you a world-class education and shepherding you to the timely completion of your degree.
It is not lost on me that I’m writing you at a time at which the United States is experiencing a significant uptick in the daily number of reported COVID-19 cases, with the change in season having no apparent effect on slowing the spread of the virus. I also write with a heavy heart after reading the Penn State News article announcing the passing of Juan Garcia, a 21-year-old Earth and Mineral Sciences student from Allentown who died from coronavirus complications on June 30. Juan is the first Penn State student known to have died as the result of COVID-19, and I extend my deepest condolences to Juan’s friends and family who are grieving his loss. I suspect that these events may create some additional uncertainty about returning this fall.
It’s also not lost on me that I’m writing you at a time that finds our country in the midst of an economic recession and experiencing our highest unemployment rate in at least a generation, which no doubt adds to everyone’s anxiety about returning to campus. I assure you that making a liberal arts education accessible and affordable to any diligent student who seeks it remains one of my guiding principles. In that vein, I’m pleased to share that the college’s recently created Liberal Arts Emergency Student Fund has become an important source of support for our students—not just those attending University Park, mind you, but also those enrolled in Liberal Arts programs offered via Penn State World Campus. In fact, our college is the first to have extended this level of support to online students—a mark of distinction that we hope other colleges will follow.
If you find yourself in need of financial assistance, please contact the Student Care and Advocacy Office at the University level or email firstname.lastname@example.org at the college level. Also, please remember that Counseling and Psychological Services is available to help if you find yourselves under extreme emotional pressure.
I cannot stress this enough: there is nothing more important to me than the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. For those of you who will be returning, I am confident that Penn State will have health and safety measures in place that meet or exceed state requirements and public health recommendations. As an example, read this Penn State news article for an overview of policies that will be in effect in classrooms this fall. In order for these measures to be successful, however, it is absolutely essential that each one of us be prepared to follow them without fail. It is our responsibility, individually and collectively, to do whatever we can to protect not just ourselves, but also each other.
As I have said to you and others on several occasions, when I refer to the health and well-being of any member of our Liberal Arts community, I’m talking about much more than physical distancing and face coverings—I’m also referring to the college’s obligation to ensure that our students, faculty, and staff community feel valued, respected, and included at all times. This is something that I take very seriously both personally and professionally, and even more so in light of the protests and demands that have emerged around the world these past several weeks following the death of George Floyd and numerous others.
Alongside the other college initiatives that I’ve highlighted in previous messages, I am encouraged by the recent University announcement that Penn State has committed $10 million in matching funds for educational equity scholarships to recruit and retain students whose gender, racial, and national background contribute to the diversity of the study body. I am also honored to announce that President Barron recently asked me to co-chair his University-wide Select Commission on Racism, Bias, and Community Safety. I look forward to providing more information about the commission’s work with you in the weeks and months to come. Further, I am delighted to share that one of our Liberal Arts students, Nyla Holland—a senior majoring in political science and African American studies—has been asked to co-chair the Student Code of Conduct Task Force. This group, which includes students, faculty, and staff, will review and make recommendations for strengthening provisions of the student code of conduct as they relate to bias and social justice. I applaud Nyla on her appointment and I am eager to learn more about the task force’s ongoing work.
I know that there are still many questions about the fall, and I promise to be in touch as those questions are answered. Until the next time, please continue to be healthy, safe, and wise.
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