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Professors express outrage after college officials dismiss vaccine requirements. Photo: collegian.psu.edu
Professors express outrage after college officials dismiss vaccine requirements. Photo: collegian.psu.edu

Professors at Penn State University demand virtual learning opportunities amid COVID surge

The outcry comes as the Delta variant is driving cases up around the country.

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On Aug. 4, Penn State University revealed its plans for a safe back-to-school approach. They announced that all students, staff, and faculty are required to wear a mask due to the spike in COVID-19’s Delta variant.

However, university officials did not offer any virtual alternatives for students who are in quarantine, or students who do not feel comfortable stepping on campus.

The approach led professors to stress over students who may have to quarantine sometime during the semester. Many teachers are planning on creating assignments for students who might not be able to attend in person.

The Daily Collegian spoke with James Tierney, assistant professor of economics, who said, he is teaching “over 450 students in a single room,” and will “inevitably need to provide materials for students who will need to quarantine.”

Not only do professors have to focus on lesson plans, PowerPoint lectures, and assignments for hundreds of students, they are also in constant fear of getting the virus.

Tierney also mentioned he will not force his students to attend in-person classes, no matter the university’s rules.

“I will continue to offer remote options for my class, even if the university denies my request to teach this class virtually in the Fall,” Tierney said. “It is the only way to ensure a fair and equitable education for all.”

Tierney isn't the only professor at Penn State University who is against a full classroom, The Daily Collegiate also spoke with English professor Paul Kellerman, who calls the acts of the university “disappointing” and says many of his colleagues have “pre-existing conditions and age.”

“We’ve been lucky in central Pennsylvania, but who knows how long our luck will hold?” he said.

Although a rise in COVID-19 cases have reappeared, the university is not requiring students to get vaccinated.

Kellerman said students who are not planning on getting vaccinated should choose to stay at home and take online classes, especially since the Delta variant is extremely contagious and running rampant all over the county.

“Every semester, a few students get sick, and I work with them individually,” Kellermann said. “If the Delta ravages the campus, I won’t be able to work individually with scores of students.”

The university’s main campus is home to around 46,000 undergraduate students. First-year students are required to live on campus despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Penn State students moved back into campus after being absent from the campus for over a year. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC), State College, the municipality where Penn State is located, is at a substantial transmission risk for its population of 162,385 residents.

Still, many professors are asking its college officials to take the surge in COVID-19 cases seriously, especially for those who have compromised immune systems.

“Last year, we had a plan, but not this year,” said Kellerman. “I’m fully vaccinated, but breakthrough infections remain a possibility.”

So far, Pennsylvania is seeing a seven-day average of 1,995 COVID-19 cases, despite 63.2% of its population being fully vaccinated.

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