UNIVERSITY PARK — At a special meeting on May 12, the Penn State Faculty Senate passed a nonbinding COVID-19 vaccine resolution, as well as a letter addressed to the Penn State Board of Trustees related to the Next Gen Penn State and search process to find the University’s next president.
The nonbinding COVID-19 vaccine resolution passed the Senate 113-31, and requests that the University make proof of vaccination a requirement for all students, faculty and staff in order to participate on any of Penn State’s campuses beginning in the fall 2021 semester.
Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones addressed the Senate on the University’s ongoing virus mitigation strategies and commitment to public health and safety. He said University leaders have consistently and strongly encouraged all Penn Staters to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they are eligible and able, and has worked with many partners, including Gov. Tom Wolf, to spread this message across the University community and beyond. Penn State volunteered early on to be a vaccination distribution point, and has been working with partners, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Walmart, to distribute vaccines to local and campus communities.
Jones said that while Penn State is not planning to implement a COVID-19 vaccine requirement at this time, the University is planning to use incentives to continue to strongly encourage all members of the University community to receive the vaccine. Students are strongly encouraged to upload their vaccination status to myUHS, and Jones said that information about how faculty and staff could voluntarily share their vaccination status would be forthcoming. The University plans to monitor vaccination data locally and nationally and implement additional incentives as needed over the summer, in advance of the University’s planned return to in-person instruction for the fall 2021 semester.
Penn State’s virus mitigation strategy is multi-layered, Jones explained, with a combination of vaccine incentives and required, symptomatic and drop-in testing available over the summer and fall semesters. On campuses that have more than 25 students living in residence halls, students living on campus who are not fully vaccinated will be required to complete a COVID-19 test weekly starting after summer session begins and continuing through the summer.
“From day one of the pandemic, our first priority has been the health, safety and wellbeing of our community,” Jones said. “And that continues to be the case.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), widespread vaccination is a critical tool to help stop the pandemic and strengthens our nation’s efforts to protect even more people from the effects of COVID-19. As more is known, the University will continue to update recommendations. Until more is known, everyone—even people who’ve had their vaccines—should continue taking steps to protect themselves and others as recommended by the CDC.
The resolution, which also had opposition related to personal choice and other considerations, will be sent to University leadership for consideration. Faculty Senate represents all faculty and is a consultative and advisory body to the president, with primary legislative authority over educational matters, including curriculum.
Presidential search process
In its letter to the Board of Trustees, the Senate shared its appreciation for the depth and breadth of input from across the University community that was solicited as part of the Next Gen Penn State listening phase of the multi-phase presidential search process. Led by the Board of Trustees’ Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee, the Next Gen Penn State process solicited input from a wide range of stakeholders across the University for the board’s process, including nearly 10,000 responses to the Next Gen Penn State Survey from faculty, staff, students and alumni.
The board also has formed the Next Gen Penn State Advisory Group, whose role will be to advise the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee. Chaired by Board of Trustees Vice Chair David Kleppinger, the advisory group includes students, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees and other stakeholders from across the University. As shared during the May 12 meeting of the Senate, Nicholas Rowland, professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona and former chair of the Faculty Senate, has been named the newest member of the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee by the Penn State Board of Trustees, further expanding faculty representation on the committee. Rowland was recently elected as the new academic trustee to the board, and joins Evan Pugh Professor of Anthropology Nina Jablonski and David Han, professor of surgery, radiology and engineering design, as faculty members serving on the Presidential Recruitment and Selection Committee.
The Faculty Senate letter asks the board to consider implementing a process to incorporate more input from and further strengthen participation by faculty, deans, chancellors, staff and students in the remaining phases of the presidential search process.
The letter will go to the Board of Trustees for its consideration.
The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Faculty Senate will take place shortly after the start of the fall 2021 semester, with a meeting date to be determined.