UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In a special meeting held virtually on Oct. 8, the Penn State Faculty Senate passed a resolution asking the University to consider sharing additional COVID-related information with the Senate and consider several suggestions for the University’s testing and virus mitigation strategies.
Faculty Senate Chair Beth Seymour began the meeting by noting the resolution was first introduced at a previous special meeting held on Sept. 29, and that she called the Oct. 8 special meeting to discuss and vote on the resolution at the request of a petition from faculty.
The resolution, which passed 89-37, requests that University administrators share information regarding Penn State’s predictive COVID modelling; share contact tracing information, including on- and off-campus trend data; and share information related to factors or thresholds that might trigger a return to fully remote instruction. The resolution also requests on-campus COVID testing be made available for all University community members; an increase in random surveillance testing of the University community, including an increase in pre-arrival testing for the spring semester; and for Penn State’s administration to remain in close communication with the Faculty Senate regarding COVID-19 developments. Faculty senator James Strauss, speaking on behalf of the senators who drafted the resolution, said the goal of the resolution “is to enable Penn State’s Faculty Senate to speak as a unified body and help Penn State move forward” during the ongoing pandemic.
Strauss said an earlier version of the resolution also requested that the University cancel spring break for the spring 2021 semester, but that request was removed from the final version after the University announced plans for the spring semester, including the cancellation of spring break. He also noted that recent announcements of increased availability of on-demand testing for faculty and staff at University Park and the Commonwealth Campuses were “happily acknowledged.”
In a Q&A session with University faculty held later in the afternoon on Oct. 8, Penn State President Eric J. Barron acknowledged the Faculty Senate’s resolution of the same day and thanked senators for their questions and partnership. Barron said he was aware of the faculty questions surrounding the University’s modeling and testing strategies, and he indicated that a future session will be dedicated to the subject and feature a number of the faculty experts who have been involved in developing and refining the University’s strategies.
Barron affirmed his commitment to the health and safety of the Penn State community, and said University leaders, in collaboration with experts, are actively considering pre-arrival testing strategies for the spring. He said University leaders will take a comprehensive approach, while considering fresh data, trends, and the latest technologies.
In speaking with the Faculty Senate at previous recent meetings, University leadership has noted that Penn State’s COVID modeling has been shaped by faculty from multiple disciplines as part of a multi-pronged strategy involving testing, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, and that University leadership is consistently monitoring testing results and a variety of factors, including available isolation space and local hospital capacity. University leadership has also stated that they are exploring rapid testing options.
In addition to increased on-demand testing options for community members across Penn State’s campuses, the University also has committed to enhancing and expanding its surveillance testing through the creation of a Testing and Surveillance Center. Barron and Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones have both confirmed their intent to continue finding ways to partner with the Faculty Senate and incorporate faculty input into University decision-making.
The next meeting of the Faculty Senate will take place on Oct. 20, and will be viewable virtually on Zoom.