Penn State Faculty, Students and Local Residents Protest for Mandated COVID-19 Vaccine for Students

Story posted August 17, 2021 in News, CommRadio by Jack McCune

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Over 50 members of the Penn State community, including faculty, students and State College locals, gathered at the Old Main steps Friday at noon under the hot sun in attempt to convince the university administration to mandate a COVID-19 vaccine for all students and staff before the fall semester begins on Aug. 23.

The Coalition for a Just University gathered the masked event and asked attendees, many who brought their own signs and posters in protest, to sign a petition with over 2,500 signatures, which was then posted on Old Main’s front doors beyond the stairway.

The assembly comes after the school’s Faculty Senate voted Friday 109-57 to pass a vote of no confidence in the administration’s plan against the virus for the fall. They also passed 128-32 a vote asking the university to have a stronger system to prevent virus spread after President Eric Barron reiterated Thursday that while masks will be required indoors on campus for everyone, vaccines are optional.

CJU member and assistant education professor Rebecca Tarlau opened and led the rally, pointing to common sense and saying that the university is more concerned about funding from the conservative state legislature than the well-being of its community.

“[It’s] emblematic of a larger, long-standing issue at this university,” Tarlau said, citing the “lack of power of faculty, students and staff.” She noted that over 600 universities and eight Big Ten schools have already instated a mandate for the fall.

And two of those Big Ten universities, Michigan and Michigan State, also have a conservative state legislature, undergraduate student Jacob Klipstein noted at the rally while reading a testimony from fellow student Josh Portney.

“The rumors started swirling around Penn State about being too afraid to lose funding from the legislature if they required [a vaccine],” Klipstein said on behalf of Portney. “[But] Penn State gets just about 5% of its budget from our … legislature. The University of Michigan gets about 4% from its … legislature.”

Several others spoke at the event, many being professors and instructors asking for reinstated social distancing in classrooms and remote-learning options. Several members of the CJU plan to hold a “Zoom-In”, in which they intend to instruct the first two days of classes on Zoom.

Anthropology professor Kirk French took the microphone with his young daughter next to him. He said the most important reason the university should require the vaccine is to protect the children like his daughter who are not old enough to receive the vaccine.

“If you don’t care about the faculty, which obviously you don’t, if you don’t care about the students and obviously you don’t, do you at least care about the children that live in this community that are unvaccinated?” French said, speaking directly to the board of trustees.

President Barron responded to the votes from the Faculty Senate and to the protest in a written statement later Friday afternoon. He addressed the strong feelings of the senate and CJU and pointed to the information collected by Penn State’s anonymous survey sent out to students earlier this summer asking if they were vaccinated against COVID-19.

He also noted that all students were required to upload their vaccination status online by Aug. 9, and that those who did not upload confirmation of a vaccine will require both a rapid test before returning to campus and random testing throughout the semester. With this collective information, the university estimates that about 88% of all University Park students are partially or fully vaccinated.

“The data indicate our shared goal of achieving high vaccination rates is making strong progress in surveys and in the number of individuals who are uploading their vaccination status with the University,” Barron said. “We will consider the matter raised in the resolutions (and discussion) recognizing the continuously changing circumstances that we are facing. I reiterate: We have the same health and safety goals as expressed today.”

Tarlau said the CJU’s efforts are ongoing, and that their unrest with administration and fight for a larger voice are far from over.

Jack McCune is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jxm1237@psu.edu.