March 11 Update from Dean Lang

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Dear Liberal Arts Faculty and Staff:

As we have recently learned, the University is moving to remote learning for all in-person classes, seminars, and labs beginning Monday, March 16, due to safety concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19 at Penn State. This period of remote learning will last through Friday, April 3, with a plan to resume in-person classes on Monday, April 6, at the earliest. Undergraduate and graduate students are being strongly encouraged to return home, or remain at home, during this time frame. The mass email from President Eric J. Barron offers separate guidance for international students already on campus, as well as students who have to return to campus due to extenuating circumstances.

President Barron’s memo also directs us to cancel, reschedule, or offer through virtual means all non-essential on-campus events, regardless of the size of the activity. Likewise, no new non-essential events should be planned; and even events that are deemed as essential, and involve more than 50 attendees, will need provost’s office approval to proceed. For the time being, any planned on-campus faculty job candidates also should be temporarily halted until after April 6, when the period of remote learning ends. This recent update from the president’s office supersedes the “go/no go” date of Tuesday, March 17, that the dean’s office had previously established to determine whether planned College events involving traveling guests between now and commencement should proceed. We will still need to provide information regarding conditions and terms for reimbursements, where permissible and applicable..     

In light of this cascading news, further, I am asking that you immediately begin moving your residential courses to online instruction in preparation for Monday. I urge you, in the strongest possible terms, to use Canvas as your online teaching platform. For those of you unfamiliar with Canvas, please consult the following resources for absolute beginners.

Penn State Canvas Learning Center:

In addition, make sure you work with IT to get zoom and latest Microsoft Office products on your computer.  If you need help doing so, please contact IT as soon as possible.

For Zoom and Microsoft Office products submit a ticket here,

Whether or not you have used Canvas previously in your teaching, the Office of Digital Pedagogy & Scholarship and the Filippelli Institute are available right now to assist you with any questions you may have about course set-up, preparation, coordination, or management. 

To request help, go to:

More information is available at:

When residential courses shift online next week, you absolutely must hold your classes at the same times, and on the same days, as they have been scheduled thus far this semester. The first day of online meetings for residential courses should be used primarily as a day to establish contact with students in the online environment, reorient the class, and assess student accessibility needs (including computer and Wi-Fi access), rather than engage assigned readings and other required course material. Any exams scheduled for next week should also be postponed. Based on President Barron’s mass message, the University is making provisions for students who do not have access to computers and/or the internet. However, if you encounter students with computer/Wi-Fi needs, or other difficulties with accessibility, please contact the IT Service Desk ( As should be the case in residential courses, practice using preferred gender pronouns, and be mindful of the needs of students with approved accommodations.

To the fullest extent possible, you should conduct your online courses live (i.e., synchronously, or in real time). Where necessary, you may conduct your online courses asynchronously by recording lectures and making sure that PowerPoint and similarly static materials are readily available to your students, digitally or otherwise. Please be prepared, especially, to provide digital course materials for students who may not be able to otherwise access their textbooks and other course materials due to not returning to campus from Spring Break. Again, you can go to if you require assistance.

If you choose not to work with Canvas to manage your teaching and grade-keeping, I advise you to use another online platform supported by Penn State to manage your teaching, grading, and grade-keeping duties. If you use alternative platforms that Penn State does not support, College and University IT staff may not be equipped to assist you with troubleshooting, and you may be liable for any Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) violations, or other student claims related to course quality and delivery.

Finally, I want to underscore President Barron’s recommendation that all supervisors should be flexible, as is appropriate, in accommodating telecommuting arrangements for staff employees whose responsibilities can be accomplished outside the office setting or standard work schedule. Staff members should be in conversation with their supervisors and unit HR team regarding possible telecommuting options. The dean’s office will be working with our College’s HR team to establish reasonable parameters for remote work scenarios.   

I recognize that this memo may leave unaddressed a number of other relevant issues. In the near future, a virtual town hall, sponsored by the University, is scheduled to take place to provide students, staff, faculty, parents, and others to hear from upper-level Penn State leadership, ask questions, and offer feedback. In the meantime, this dean’s office will continue to work as closely as possible with University partners to resolve any emergent organizational challenges as expeditiously as circumstances permit. Please check for ongoing updates, and expect further information from the College as this fluid situation continues to develop.

I am deeply appreciative of your fortitude, and I thank you in advance for your responsiveness and diligence.


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