Rally to Vaccinate Penn State, sign

Amy Leddy, a former career counselor at Penn State, props up a sign urging Penn State to mandate coronavirus vaccines during the Student-Faculty Rally to Vaccinate Penn State, organized by the Coalition for a Just University at Penn State, outside Old Main on Friday, Aug. 27, 2021 in University Park, Pa. Following the FDA’s first vaccine approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine on August 23, faculty and students called for a vaccine mandate from Penn State as other Big Ten schools implement vaccine mandates. Leddy feels she was forced into her recent retirement, having to choose between work and her family’s health after submitting a request to work remotely and not receiving a timely response to the request.

In compliance with the Sept. 9 executive order from President Joe Biden, Penn State announced on Wednesday it will require coronavirus vaccinations for all University Park federal employees, contractors and others by Dec. 8, according to a release.

The mandate also encompasses graduate and undergraduate students who work on a wage payroll at the university, as well as students supported by University Park graduate assistantships.

Due to the Dec. 8 deadline, the last day faculty members can receive their final vaccination dose is Nov. 24. Approximately 81.2% of University Park employees are already fully vaccinated as of Oct. 13, according to the university’s coronavirus dashboard.

Faculty and employees can be excused from the vaccine through medical exemptions or religious belief accommodations. The release states information regarding the exemption process will be forthcoming.

Those who fail to comply with the university’s mandate could be subject to employment sanctions and even termination, according to Penn State spokesperson Wyatt DuBois.

Commonwealth campuses are not subject to this requirement, and the only other Penn State institution required to be vaccinated is Penn State at the Navy Yard due to Philadelphia’s vaccine mandate.

Following the urges from many professors to mandate the vaccine, Penn State has finally made the correct decision. As a step in the right direction, this choice hopefully will serve as a precursor for a student vaccine mandate.

But just because Penn State mandated the vaccine for federal employees, it doesn’t mean it deserves praise. Calling it a decision gives the university too much credit as the major reason why this requirement was made is a result of the Biden administration’s order.

According to Penn State News, University Park has roughly 1,000 federal contracts tied up into varying departments, such as the Applied Research Laboratory and various colleges. Federal funding for this has a collective value well over $500 million, and there are also certain federal grants and cooperative agreements possibly affected by the mandate.

While Penn State shouldn’t be accosted for mandating the vaccine, the criticism should stem from how delayed this decision came considering the initial release of the executive order. With under 20% of all faculty members being unvaccinated, it comes across as too little, too late.

Because both students and faculty are closing in on a 90% vaccination rate, why waste more time by not mandating the vaccine for both parties? Considering the amount of nationwide universities and the majority of Big Ten schools already requiring full vaccination prior to the executive order, Penn State is still behind the curve — even with this small step forward.

Though it may be easier to mandate the vaccine for just employees because the university is paying their salaries while students pay to attend, there should be no excuse at this point to incorporate all members of Penn State in this requirement.

The mandate also needs to apply to the over 20 commonwealth campuses across the state. These campuses may not employ the amount of people on federal contracts compared to University Park, but it doesn’t change the fact that members of these universities are still a part of the Penn State community.

Since academia is viewed as a typically left-leaning institution, this mandate shouldn’t have too drastic of an effect on Penn State’s faculty with the exception of a few cases. Professors shouldn’t stop in their efforts to hold Penn State accountable to require vaccines for students, especially after their work done with the protests held thus far.

The true demographic at risk of punishment at the university is the typical blue collar worker. According to an article done by PubMed Central, those in blue collar occupations are more hesitant toward the vaccine compared to white collar occupations. The pushback Penn State will receive from these employees will be something to keep an eye on as the sanctions haven’t been specified besides possible termination.

There’s also the emphasis Penn State President Eric Barron placed on “bipartisanship support” in regard to funding as a reason why the vaccine wasn’t mandated in the first place. The open letter penned by Barron in August serves as an overlaying reason as to why it wouldn’t be out of character for the university to not require the vaccine for all.

Because there was such an emphasis on a return to in-person learning, Penn State will base its future decisions on the idea of keeping a sense of “normalcy” on campus. While it’s still far from normal, the onus is still on the university to do more to return to an atypical year.

An employee vaccine is good, but there’s still more work to be done.

Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Joe Eckstein can be reached at jce5179@psu.edu.

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