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EDITORIAL | Denying Penn State students, professors remote learning options disregards health and safety

Students Studying in HUB

Students study in the HUB-Robeson Center on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.

Penn State announced during Tuesday’s town hall a plethora of actions — or rather inactions — it plans to take regarding coronavirus protocols for the fall semester.

With all of the focus on the decision not to mandate the vaccine, one major decision fell to the backburner, one that will affect all students and faculty alike: no remote learning options.

After a full year of hybrid learning with Zoom and asynchronous classes, many students and faculty are ready to get back into the swing of in-person activities. But they are not ready to revisit the fears and uncertainties brought on by the pandemic, which is starting again with the delta variant on the rise.

The variant is new and unpredictable, and while it mainly ails unvaccinated people, the vaccinated can still contract it, spread it and experience symptoms as well. Therefore, it's not fair to endanger students and threaten those who test positive with suffering grades by denying them access to online instruction.

Students should absolutely get vaccinated, but the university would be wrong to think that no remote educational options would act as any type of incentive for more students to get their shots.

No incentive but a university mandate is going to change the minds of anti-vaxxers, and fully vaccinated individuals who test positive for the coronavirus — something they can’t be expected to control — will be subject to falling behind in school. It’s a lose-lose situation in every direction.

Meanwhile, Penn State announced Thursday the HUB-Robeson Center will provide free resources to student clubs and organizations that choose to hold remote events.

Denying quarantined students the ability to stay up to date in their classes but ensuring they can still get involved in student organizations will not get the university any closer to a coronavirus-free campus.

Even with the indoor masking requirement, the spread of the virus is inevitable when not everyone on campus is vaccinated. So, it's safe to say not everyone will feel safe enough to attend classes in person with the more contagious variant potentially spreading in State College.

Penn State did respond to this concern, however, it was utterly passive to say the least. Nick Jones, Penn State’s executive vice president and provost, suggested students who can’t get the vaccine or have concerns about attending class in person just enroll in World Campos

Great, sounds simple — no.

Students work too hard to make it to University Park just to throw away all of the opportunities it brings for the entirely virtual campus option. While World Campus gives a wider demographic the opportunity to receive a Penn State education, there are some perks like club involvement that are not available.

The university should do more for its tuition paying students than provide no safer option other than transferring to World Campus. It’s Penn State’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its students alongside a quality education, and so far without a vaccine requirement, it’s clearly not doing a sufficient job.

Not only will the quarantined students battling an unpredictable illness and the uncertainty of falling behind in school face difficulty, but faculty and staff will also have to jump through painstaking hoops at the mercy of administration with every student who enters isolation.

Many faculty and staff members have already voiced concern about Penn State’s control over their modes of instruction. They are equally concerned for their students’ health along with their own, and they are fed up with Penn State’s decision to ignore the community’s overwhelming desire for things to return to normal — something that can only happen if the right preventative steps are taken.

Faculty will have the opportunity to request remote instruction on a case-by-case basis, but what happens to those denied? They have to risk their safety and come up with individual lesson plans for each quarantined student — a headache for everyone involved.

Providing a virtual option alongside each in-person class is not too much to ask for — the university has been operating this way since the pandemic started. So why is it that when pressured to mandate a vaccine, Penn State responds with an incentive method that further limits access to education instead?

Penn State is simply too indecisive and makes choices without taking everyone’s needs into consideration, which at a school with over 40,000 students, can surely be tricky — but one would think a worldwide public health crisis would be an exception.

Penn State wants to see campus life return to normal, but it's just not taking the right steps toward that goal.

What will the university do moving forward? Hopefully, reverse this decision to provide students an equal opportunity to succeed in school before the fall semester starts. Realistically, see a dangerous rise in cases and backpedal to implement stricter coronavirus policies too late in the game to be effective.

While Penn State scrambles and jumps back and forth between its policies over the next few months, universities with vaccine requirements are likely to sit back and shake their heads at the chaos in Happy Valley.

Daily Collegian News Editor Courtney Benedetto can be reached at cmb7747@psu.edu

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