I have been following the sadly patched up disaster that has been the lurching progress toward what passes for policy at Penn State relating to the COVID pandemic (Pandemic
and the University: "An Open Letter from Penn State faculty to the Penn
State Administration and the Board of Trustees"). Not that any of this could be helped. All of the actors in this drama have been prisoners (and happily so) of the logic of the positions they occupy since the start of this pandemic, and they frankly know no better than what they are are doing. But a century from now that will be the epitaph of the first part of this century: here lies homo adminstratus incapable of agency other than to perpetuate the structures of power and culture into which they were willingly thrust. But administrators are not the only university actors trapped within the logic of the structures that they populate. University faculty also perform to type. That is especially the case for the faculty representatives in its University Senate. All people of good will--to be sure. But also all necessarily trapped within the logic of their position and discourses of power and legitimacy which binds each to the other. Faculty also may merit an epitaph of their own: here lies homo complicitus who is trapped by the logic of Esau, famished and willing to sell his birthright to the administrator Jacob for a pot of stew (Gen 25-34).
The Penn State Administration's choice to privilege the un-vaccinated using the discursive tropes of contemporary anti-discrimination for atmospherics, has produced something of a backlash. That backlash has been strengthened in part because Penn State leadership choices (unlike their usual cautious efforts to fall somewhere hidden in the middle of bench marked decision making) put them somewhere on the right side of the outlier curve.
That has provided an opening for the University Senate, which to some extent has been formally marginally in the process of developing administratively "sound" policy, within the meaning universe of the university administrative community. The Senate has rushed through that opening. It has called a special meeting of that body to vote on two resolutions, aptly named Resolution A and Resolution B--offering up of two related versions of a counter narrative, and plan of action, to that marketed by the university administration.
Resolution A offers a counter approach to the administration's COVID planning for the Fall 20201 Semester. It calls for an immediate vaccination mandate for eligible Penn State students, faculty, and staff and and demands that, until full vaccination can occur, that the university impose rules for universal mask mandates; twice weekly COVID-19 testing for individuals without proof of vaccination; and adherence to CDC recommendations.
Resolution B serves the purpose of condemning the current administrative approach. It os based on the obvious--the faculty was cut out of the process of decision making. It then seeks an affirmative vote of NO CONFIDENCE in the University’s COVID-19 Plan for Fall 2021. That s followed by a more meek request to be included in whatever revised decision making process might be triggered as a result of the vote.
That the university's leadership core takes this serious might be evidenced by a last minute appeal to the faculty in the form of an "open letter" signed by the University's president. It s a marvelous statement of its kind. At the same time its discursive allegiance to the forms and sensibilities of the administrative milieu evidences both the increasing gap that is now apparent in the way that faculty and administration approach an issue, and as well the differences in the way that risk is valued by those who bear the risk but have no control over risk versus those who control the risk but effectively can avoid bearing the risk.
The Presidents narrative is detached (though the words are meant to suggest caring, at least form a distance) and Olympian. It speaks from above conveying the sense of those burdened with the balancing of factors in a "greater game" of which the productive forces of the university (faculty, staff, buildings, services) play a role. The Senate narrative is risk based as well, but from the perspective of risk bearers the discursive form is more personal and more immediate. The Senate balances risk on their bodies; the administration bases its risk calculus on abstractions--important abstractions to be sure, but bloodless, ledger entries within ideological structures of compliance and accountability regimes. That remoteness, of course, diminishes the micro risks of those who must bear responsibility for the operation of the ecologies of principles that the administration seeks to advance. And it ignores the anger of a professional caste once central to the running of the university that increasingly is recast in hyper technical functionaries and transformed into live ingots that serve as one factor in the production of university welfare.
But decide for yourselves. In the immediate term the issue is simple enough--what and how does the university value most among the factors the university administrators balance, ad whose voices count (and how) in that balancing.
The text of the two Senate Resolutions. along with the text of the Presidential Open Letter follow.