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Open Letter to the PSU Administration Regarding COVID Plans

Published: at 12:00 PM

The text of the letter titled Open Letter to the Penn State Administration Regarding Plans for the Fall and the Response to COVID-19 is given below with minor formatting changes.

Eric J. Barron, President of The Pennsylvania State University
Nicholas P. Jones, Executive Vice President and Provost of The Pennsylvania State University
Kathleen Bieschke, Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs of The Pennsylvania State University

As Penn State faculty prepare for the fall semester, we continue to grapple with the fallout from a global pandemic that has upended millions of lives around the globe, killing more than 110,000 people in the U.S. as of this writing. At the same time we also face uncertainty surrounding our employment and plans for instruction. Especially troubling is the limited amount of input faculty, staff, and graduate employees have had on decisions related to our safety, job security, allocation of resources, and academic freedom to teach in the manner we deem most effective at this time. Moreover, there has been no discussion of the university’s priorities and how it should respond to the financial fallout from the pandemic. In addition to furloughing nearly 2,000 workers, the administration has raised the specter of additional furloughs and layoffs and has instituted a pay freeze for all employees—a move that comes after a decade in which the university has enjoyed an enormous growth in revenue streams and returns on its endowment investments, amassing significant liquid assets that give it ample cushion for projected losses from COVID-19. At the same time, it has recently introduced new language into the contracts of fixed-term faculty that formalizes the administration’s right to issue terminations at any time. This gesture has only heightened the sense of precarity among instructors who—like tenure-line faculty and graduate assistants—have already invested many hours of extra labor with the shift to remote learning and are now expected to dedicate even more time to preparing for the possibility of a multimodal system of instruction in the fall.

Now is the time for Penn State to put people first, to engage in an open discussion about what our priorities as a university should be, and for the faculty to play a central role in making decisions about how to respond to this crisis.

To that end, we the undersigned Penn State faculty stand in solidarity with all Penn State workers, and we affirm the following:

All people have the right to protect their own well-being. Therefore, in the event that students return to campus for the fall semester, we ask the university to commit to the following, and to formalize all policies in writing:

To fulfill the educational mission of our university, all faculty members, staff, graduate employees, and other essential employees must have secure employment, equity, and a guarantee of the resources necessary to perform their work. Given Penn State’s significant liquid assets, we ask the university to commit to the following:

We are stakeholders in this university. Transparency, consultation, shared governance, and the active involvement of faculty, staff, and other employees in decision-making processes is imperative at all times, but even more so during times of uncertainty and crisis. Therefore we ask the university to commit to the following:

Despite the challenges, we look forward to collaborating and contributing our collective knowledge to this endeavor so that rather than simply weathering the crisis, Penn State will emerge as a more equitable and spirited place of learning for all.