Skip to content

Open Letter Regarding PSU's Fall 2021 COVID Plans

Published: at 12:00 PM

The text of the letter titled An Open Letter from Penn State faculty to the Penn State Administration and the Board of Trustees is given below with minor formatting changes.

Dear Penn State University Board of Trustees and Administration,

As Penn State faculty, we are eager to welcome students back to campus for the start of the Fall 2021 semester, but we are deeply concerned that our university is unprepared to handle the ongoing increase in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant. There is no way to determine who is unvaccinated and should therefore be masked. According to all available information, the university does not plan to continue surveillance testing of asymptomatic students, which means that if an outbreak occurs, there will be no way to detect it early on and prevent the disease from spreading. Students who are unable to receive a vaccination due to health conditions—and will therefore run significant risk by being in an environment where many people have chosen not to be vaccinated—are being told that their only option is to take courses online, depriving them of equal educational opportunities. Nor is there a clear policy for faculty and staff who have health conditions that make frequent encounters with unvaccinated students at risk, or who live with unvaccinated children and/or people who are immunodeficient.

Before the end of the Spring 2021 semester, the Penn State University Faculty Senate passed a resolution with overwhelming support (113 in favor, 31 against) calling on the administration to implement a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for all students, staff, and faculty. The undergraduate student government at University Park (University Park Undergraduate Association, or UPUA) also passed a resolution calling for a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students, with similarly strong support (25 in favor, 10 against, and 1 abstention). More recently, on July 30, 2021, the UPUA and the Graduate and Professional Student Association have sent you an open letter asking for a vaccine mandate ( In all of these cases, the Penn State administration has chosen to ignore the recommendations of its own faculty and students; instead, it has limited itself to “encouraging” students to get vaccinated and offering incentives (including financial rewards). Penn State policy requires all students to have the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and all students living on campus must be vaccinated for meningitis. In contrast, the vaccination for COVID-19, a disease that has killed well over 600,000 people in the U.S. and more than 4 million worldwide, is being presented as a “personal choice.”

We recognize that the situation is evolving and that you’ll make announcements about changes to the plan for the upcoming semester and academic year. But given that more than 600 universities and colleges in the U.S. have implemented a COVID-19 vaccination requirement, among them Illinois, Indiana, Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern (all members of the Big Ten Academic Alliance), our university is increasingly an outlier. During the 2020-2021 academic year, Penn State was near the very top of the list of U.S. universities with the most COVID-19 cases. We do not want to see such high rates of infection again. We are asking you for all of the following because we are Penn State and care about Penn State:

1.) REQUIRE ALL STUDENTS, FACULTY, AND STAFF WHO WILL BE PRESENT ON CAMPUS TO BE VACCINATED FOR COVID-19. We have reliable and ample evidence that shows the efficacy of the vaccines in dramatically decreasing the likelihood of contagion and the severity of illness if infected. Vaccines work, and the more of us who get vaccinated, the better they will work.

2.) CONTINUE TO REQUIRE MASKING AND SOCIAL DISTANCING. Just as we are learning that the vaccines are effective, we are also learning that they do not provide total inoculation and are not invulnerable. (Indeed, no vaccine is 100% effective). There are increasingly more “breakthrough” cases in which vaccinated people become infected. And according to the CDC, vaccinated people with breakthrough infections can spread the virus as easily as unvaccinated people.

3.) CONTINUE TO CONDUCT RANDOM TESTING AMONG STAFF, STUDENTS, AND FACULTY to detect outbreaks early on and ensure that we do not become a Petri dish for a new variant of the virus.

4.) MAINTAIN THE IMPROVED VENTILATION STANDARDS THAT WERE IMPLEMENTED DURING THE LAST ACADEMIC YEAR. Science shows that improved ventilation can greatly reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

5.) INSTITUTE A MORE FLEXIBLE AND REASONABLE TEACHING POLICY FOR ALL OF OUR FACULTY, STAFF, AND STUDENTS so that we have ample time to plan for remote courses as opposed to being forced to switch modalities from one week to the next. We also must be able to adopt different teaching/learning environments as the situation requires it. How will a faculty member continue to conduct in-person classes if several of their students are infected or in quarantine due to possible exposure and are therefore unable to attend class? How are those students supposed to continue learning? What if an outbreak shuts down an elementary school and a faculty, staff member, or student must remain at home with their child? We are a large, diverse community with different concerns and responsibilities.

6.) IMPROVE PENN STATE’S MENTAL HEALTHCARE RESOURCES. We are approaching two years of a global pandemic. Many of us (faculty, staff, students, and other members of the community) have, are already experiencing, and will continue to face mental health challenges. It is absolutely indispensable that we have the resources and staff ready to help our community manage yet another year of the pandemic.

As Penn State faculty, we care deeply about our students, colleagues, and other community members. Please help us create safe teaching and learning conditions so we can support our students this academic year.