More information is never a bad thing — that’s a thought we have not only as journalists, but as students and humans living through such unprecedented times.
Since Oct. 8, Penn State President Eric Barron and various other university experts have hosted weekly webinars over Zoom in an effort to address and answer questions submitted from faculty and staff about the coronavirus pandemic and other “related critical topics.”
This appears to be a great opportunity for the university to help inform its community.
But are these webinars effective?
As students, we recognize that these townhall-style webinars are focused primarily on the concerns of faculty and staff, though the information presented is also often relevant to students and the broader Penn State community.
Since the start of the semester, The Daily Collegian has received news tips and covered stories regarding the concerns of Penn State faculty and staff. Though the coronavirus pandemic has presented everyone with new challenges, many faculty and staff members expressed they were especially in the dark.
These webinars seem to show legitimate effort by the university to better inform faculty and staff, allowing these individuals to submit questions prior to the Zoom call via a Google Form and also submit questions during the webinar via Zoom’s Q&A feature.
As students, not only should we advocate for transparency from our university, but we should care that the university’s faculty and staff are well taken care of — after all, they’re the ones directly taking care of us.
Hosting webinars weekly is a smart idea, compared to, say, monthly. Even if there might not be any new information available from week-to-week, the webinars demonstrate that an effort is being made to help ease the mind of the public.
But still, there is always more to be hoped for.
Since questions are submitted by faculty and staff ahead of time, it might lead one to wonder if Penn State is picking and choosing the questions it chooses to address during these webinars.
During the introduction to the first webinar, Curtis Chan addressed those watching saying, “Many of you have shared questions ahead of the meeting and we will probably have more questions than we have time for today, so we’ll be condensing some of these questions we’ve recited ahead of time in order to answer as many questions as possible.”
Viewers are in a position in which they must trust the university to not only answer all questions submitted, but also take care not to alter the meaning of questions when “condensing” them.
Perhaps a better idea, though maybe more work, would be to have faculty and staff members ask questions live over Zoom, imitating an in-person town hall. This way, it would be known for certain that the university is addressing each question.
Recordings of the webinars are posted online and captioned, but it might also make sense for the university to release a document every week that transcribes and answers each of the questions received from both the Google Form and Zoom’s Q&A feature.
The webinar system seems to be the university reaching out a hand to its faculty and staff, looking to genuinely better communicate with those who might have felt lost beforehand.
And though it may not be a perfect system, the webinars are undoubtedly a positive resource for the Penn State community, and the university seems to be making a sincere effort in today’s challenging climate.
The university will host its fourth town hall meeting Thursday at 3 p.m, hearing from Barron, Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims, and Director of the COVID-19 Operation Control Center Kelly Wolgast.
Daily Collegian Opinion Editor Grace Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.