UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. (WTAJ) — In less than one week, Penn State students will begin moving onto campus. But Thursday, the University changed the language on a compact students must sign before they attend in-person classes.
Some groups including PSU Student Government and the Coalition of Graduate Employees at Penn State have criticized part of the “acknowledgement” portion of the compact–claiming it was an attempt to waive Penn State’s liability if a student contracted Covid-19.
The original (old) acknowledgement in the compact is below:
“I assume any and all risk of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State, or participating in Penn State activities, and I acknowledge that exposure or infection may result in personal injury, illness, permanent disability, or death.”
Critics said the way the this was worded essentially equated to having students sign to waive away rights.
However, a Penn State Spokesperson told WTAJ the University never intended to waive students rights and that some have “misinterpreted the language of the Compact as a waiver of students’ rights”.
The spokesperson went on to say: “The Compact was to reinforce the University’s expectations and requirements, and to see that those requirements were raised to everyone’s attention. The language is being revised to clarify the purpose of the Compact.”
The old language in the compact has been modified to say the following:
“Even with the mitigation steps taken by Penn State and my compliance with this Compact, I acknowledge that Penn State cannot prevent the risks of exposure to COVID-19 that may result from attending Penn State or participating in Penn State activities.”
Before Thursday’s changes, Penn State said about 64,000 students already signed the compact.
PSU Student Ryan Kensinger said as of Thursday afternoon, he has not yet signed the compact.
“The previous wording was a little concerning. I don’t want to have to sign something that says if I die while I happen to be on campus it’s my fault… I don’t think that’s right,” he said.
However, after reading the new language in the compact, he said, “The way they have it worded now is much more suitable for people to sign. I would sign the new compact–I think everyone should acknowledge this is a big thing and if we don’t wear masks–there will be an outbreak, we have to do this.”
WTAJ consulted their legal analyst, Attorney Tony DeBoef on the original language of the compact.
“I don’t believe it’s an ‘I got you’ moment. You don’t have to attend Penn State. They want you to acknowledge that this is an international health crisis–they have no control over it. You might get it from someone who’s a resident of this community, that has nothing to do with Penn State. They were asking students to acknowledge that fact that they can’t control it-despite their best efforts.” he said.
Attorney DeBoef continued: “If you choose to do something to get yourself sick, or someone else in town not affiliated with the university–say someone visiting gets you ill–you’re acknowledging that Penn State is not at fault for that,” he said. “Penn State’s simply saying we’re doing everything we can–but that doesn’t mean you yourself might do something that has nothing to do with our best efforts.”
WTAJ asked DeBoef about the differences between the original and amended portion of the compact
He said: “There was an explanation of the consequences of Covid that were outlined rather bluntly in the first version–the second version simply says you know what the consequences of Covid-19 could be. Please understand it’s not Penn State’s responsibility for your behavior. There are lots of contractual situations you can put yourself into by choice, where the other party kinda gets to make the rules.”
All Penn State students returning to campus–and the campus community–must sign this compact before attending class.
However, those who are learning online and will not be on campus (or in the campus community) will not need to sign the compact.
The FAQ page on the university’s student affairs website states that failure to accept the terms of the compact will prevent students from engaging in functions through LionPATH, including adding/dropping classes or viewing their schedule.
Failure to accept or adhere to the requirements could also potentially subject a student to disciplinary action such as suspension or expulsion from the university, according to their website.