Senate passes no-confidence resolution in fall semester safety plan

August 13, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At a special meeting on Aug. 13, the Penn State Faculty Senate passed two positional resolutions in response to the University’s COVID-19 mitigation policies and plans for the fall 2021 semester.

The first resolution, which passed 128-32, requests the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and raises concerns related to masking and testing requirements, course delivery methods and the involvement of faculty in the decision-making process. The second resolution, which passed 109-57, is a vote of no confidence in the University’s current plans for the fall semester. Both resolutions, which are non-binding, as the next step will be sent to the University’s leadership for consideration.

The Penn State Board of Trustees affirmed its support for the University’s current return to campus plans in a statement from its leadership following the Aug. 13 meeting of the Senate. “Throughout these tremendously challenging times, President Barron has strategically guided the University through the pandemic, from the rapid pivot in March 2020 to the phased return to on-campus work and learning this summer,” said the statement from Matthew Schuyler, board chair, and David Kleppinger, vice chair. “In the midst of these difficult decisions, the board is unified in its unequivocal support for President Barron, his administration and their plans for the upcoming fall semester.”

Penn State’s plans for the fall semester were detailed in a recent town hall and in an Aug. 12 open letter from Penn State President Eric Barron to the University community. The plan includes a multi-pronged approach focusing on ease, availability and incentivization of vaccination; required testing for unvaccinated individuals; and stringent enforcement of testing requirements. Additionally, Penn State has implemented required masking at all campuses, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals inside University buildings, and results from the University’s survey of the student body demonstrate that a strong contingent of students have received the COVID-19 vaccine, with 88% of University Park student respondents reporting being partially or fully vaccinated.

In addition, for faculty members with health-related needs that require adjustments to in-person teaching responsibilities, the University implemented a process in March allowing faculty to request adjustments and exemptions, with that process recently being extended for an additional week.

“This has been a challenging time for our world, country, state and of course our University. We understand there have been strong feelings expressed by members of the Faculty Senate, and appreciate the importance of faculty input,” Barron stated following the Aug. 13 meeting of the Senate. “We are all aligned on the health and safety goals of achieving high vaccination and safety compliance rates, but differ with the Faculty Senate resolutions on the approach in some critical areas.”

Barron said that the number of students who have already received the vaccine, as well as the number of employees sharing their vaccination status with the University, provide data that indicates Penn State is making strong progress toward its goal of high vaccination and safety compliance rates.

Penn State has worked closely with stakeholders across the University while developing its plans, including with Faculty Senate leadership at regular meetings of the COVID-19 Management Team and the Academic Leadership Council, and Barron said that the administration would continue to regularly meet with Faculty Senate leadership.

“I am extremely appreciative of the ongoing dedication of the faculty and their commitment to fulfilling our educational mission,” Barron said. “We share the same health and safety goals expressed by the Senate, and we are united in both our dedication to the importance of shared governance and to the health and wellbeing of all members of the Penn State community. The administration remains committed to listening, and pivoting as needed, as we navigate ahead in this constantly changing environment.”

University officials indicated that once the resolutions are received, there will be an official response provided to Faculty Senate leadership to share with Senate members.

Last Updated August 13, 2021