Penn State Answers Questions in Virtual Town Hall

Story posted March 24, 2020 in CommRadio, News by Jake Starr

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State hosted a live town hall on Tuesday for students and families to answer many pressing questions.

Upwards of 6,000 people tuned in as university President Eric Barron was joined by Executive Vice President, Provost Nick Jones and others for a one-and-a-half-hour virtual town hall. Barron affirmed that the school is doing everything in its power to ensure that students are still receiving all the resources that they need during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We are making decisions based on three foundations,” Barron said. “The safety of our students, staff and faculty, and to get you across the finish line to graduation or into the fall without this becoming a lost semester.”

Barron also added that this can be a stressful time for employees of the university as many around the country struggle financially.

“We have a focus on the financial wellbeing of our employees, including student employees,” Barron said.

Prior to the start of the town hall, Penn State confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on the University Park campus, an announcement that was sent out via text to all students. Barron ensured that the case was isolated, and employees are practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

Researcher for the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics Matthew Ferrari joined the town hall via Zoom to provide more details into the virus and offer his advice for how both Penn State and the general population can attack the virus.

“From a public health perspective, Penn State is doing the right thing,” Ferrari said.

The town hall moved forward as the logistics of online classes were discussed. It was clear that it was difficult to make the adjustment for many students, but Jones was impressed with the early returns of online classes from both teachers and students.

“On the first day of remote learning, we had 63,000 students on Zoom simultaneously,” Jones said.

Another topic that had been discussed often prior to the town hall was how graduation would work. Barron addressed a question about graduation and made it clear it would be nearly impossible to safely practice social distancing on a weekend where 45,000 people would pack into the Bryce Jordan Center.

Barron proposed what he calls a “two-phase option.” The first part was for a virtual graduation, which Barron said would not be popular with students and families. As for the second part, the university is beginning to work on a plan in which students and families can return to campus to celebrate graduation.

Many students have continued to grow curious as to how grades would be addressed with the move to remote learning. Associate Vice President and Senior Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education Yvonne Gaudelius joined the town hall to further explain how the process would work.

Students will be given the opportunity to choose between pass/fail versus a letter grade, up to one week after final grades are posted at the end of the semester. If a student is happy with their letter grade, they can keep it. If not, they can choose between three options of passed, satisfactory, or no grade.

“These credits will still count as credits earned,” Gaudelius said.

Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims talked about the logistics of how students will move out of residence halls. With Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issuing a “stay at home” order for a lot of the state, it is not possible right now for students to move out of residence halls.

Sims did add that there would be special exceptions made for certain students who need certain belongings and can’t wait until all students are allowed to move out, and those students can make plans to come up sooner.

“Some folks have belongings that are more important than others,” Sims said. “Students have left belongings that are important to their welfare and they should reach out to residence life and housing for accommodations.”

There have been many questions about how refunds will be issued to students and how much they will get. Penn State will provide a prorated refund to students who live on campus and have meal plans. Barron added there are no plans to refund tuition.

“We are working hard to ensure you get those credits and get the education you need,” Barron said. “It’s costing the university more to move to remote education.”

Some of the other topics that were discussed were more details on the coronavirus, the increase to online education, and how exams, especially finals, will be administered. The town hall left many Penn State students and families feeling more comfortable with how the process will work for the remainder of the semester.

Jake Starr is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email