The COVID-19 Pandemic has brought out the best and worst among key institutional stakeholders. It has accelerated trends that had been slowly working toward transformations of work, social, political, and cultural environments. Most importantly COVID-19 brought into sharp focus the oppositions inherent in the organization of society and the way in which societal principles and objectives are privileged, weighed, and balanced against each other.
That balancing of principles, which are assumed to always be aligned, but which more often than not cannot be adequately reconciled, is more sharply drawn when health (individual, economic, and societal health) is affected by the weighing and balancing. Less equitably, it appears to accelerate a trend in which control of risk and risk bearing are increasingly detached. In the case of the university it manifests as a shift in the authority to control risk migrating to institutional administrators who bear little risk (for example in the context of health risks brought on by conditions of pandemic) but can impose risk on faculty, students, and staff whose exposure to risk for themselves and their families are essentially out of their hands.
The Administrators at Penn State University provide a somewhat ordinary example of the sort of balancing that is being undertaken by the institutional governance apparatus of state and state affiliated universities, the way they value health risks that they do not bear, and the resulting allocation of risk and reward within university structures that privilege some actors in ways denied others.
As of June 28, masks are optional inside University buildings for individuals who are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated individuals must continue to wear masks indoors at all times. If you want someone to wear a mask when interacting with you in your private office, you can request they do so, but cannot require it. It is important to note that those who are visiting designated health care environments must continue to wear masks indoors and maintain physical distancing regardless of vaccination status.
In individual offices, staff members may post this sign if they wish to request that people entering wear a mask.
Yes, unvaccinated individuals who have been in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive or suspected of having COVID-19 must quarantine for 7 to 10 days. They must quarantine for 10 days without testing if no symptoms have been reported during daily monitoring, or after seven days with a negative test on or after day five of quarantine and if they have no symptoms.
No. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated individuals do not have to be tested or quarantine but should monitor themselves for symptoms for 14 days. If symptoms develop, employees should contact their personal health care provider.
Employees can find detailed information and guidance on the Health Guidelines, Contact Tracing, and Quarantine and Isolation pages.
At this time, masking outdoors and physical distancing are not required. Fully vaccinated individuals are not required to wear face masks indoors, however, individuals who are not fully vaccinated are expected to wear face masks inside University buildings. Additionally, all individuals must wear a face mask while using public transportation, in accordance with CDC guidance, and in some additional settings such as when visiting on-campus health care facilities and when conducting in-person research involving human subjects.
Additional information about masking and physical distancing is available on the Health Guidelines page.
Not all schools similarly situated have chosen to balance the needs for operations (and its derivative outcome), the psycho-social imperatives of physical presence, religious convictions, political choices, and health in the peculiar way chosen by Penn State. See, e.g., Indiana University, whose decision to mandate vaccination (with limited exceptions for medical or religious reasons) was recently upheld by the courts).
Faculty have essentially been cut out of the process of policymaking. They have been free to express their views of course. And their organs of governance, reduced to rgans of expressions of opinion, have done just that. But the University, like other administrative organs throughout liberal democratic collectives, like the United States, have chosen to treat this as a matter for which technical expertise is solicited (by invitation) from staff (in this case faculty), but it remains for the "grown-ups" (the administrator class to gather together to discuss and make decisions. This is not unusual post COVID. But it nicely expresses the transformation of governance and the greater transformation of the university from a collective of professionals to a learning factory with overseers.
Faculty, however, have not been content to lick their wounds--not at Penn State anyway. A group calling itself the Faculty Coordinating Committee of the Coalition for a Just University have decided to organize themselves to put pressure on the university apparatus in more public and politically traditional ways. They have drafted an "Open Letter" addressed to the University Administrative organs calling on the university to:
1. Require vaccinations
2. Continue masking and social distancing
3. Continue to conduct random surveillance testing
4. Maintain improved ventilation standards
5. Institute a more reasonable and flexible teaching and learning policy
6. Improve Penn State's mental healthcare resources
To date the letter has amassed over 650 faculty signatures and almost 600 signatures of students, staff, and others. It is not clear whether the Open Letter will produce any change in Administrative decision making. I suspect that calculus will tend to underweigh faculty concerns but center values based decisions on the risk of liability or loss caused by assessments of COVID impact, along with the political cost of taking a particular decision (and its impacts on budget negotiations with the legislature. It may also depend on the ideologies and politics of the Board of Trustees--but that is a black box (a subject for another day). More interesting, though, is the way that the Open Letter itself provides evidence of the way that Faculty shared governance has become something like a historical artifact that is retained for the gesture it represents to a historical period that is now receding fast.
Note that the issue survives whatever one's position is vaccination policy or mask wearing, or physical presence at the university. One does not have to be either pro or anti vaccination mandates, or pro or anti masking, or pro or anti physical presence to understand that the effective consequence here, evidenced by the process and impact of decision making, has shifted, perhaps permanently the role of faculty in governance, and certainly, has exposed the way and extent to which faculty is valued (in terms of risk to health, and the health of their families who may be affected) as a function of other objectives, goals, and principles, against which these may be weighed. And in the process, those who are required to bear the risk, no longer actively involved in controlling it, become an object in the governance of an institution and its institutional value maximizing calculus. Even that is not necessarily a bad thing--the effort to hide this, and to pretend that one still lives and operates in accordance with principles and expectations now abandoned (effectively), though, is a bad thing if only because it suggests the cultivation of misperception.
The Call to Sign follows below along with the text of the Request to sign cover note.