Penn’s Student Campus Compact, explained

Gary Purpura discusses the 2020-21 Student Campus Compact and what it means for those returning to campus for classes during the fall semester.

Student in mask sitting on grass

As part of the fall semester, international and the few undergraduate, graduate, and professional students returning to campus for some classes, will be asked to adhere to a Student Campus Compact, outlining communal responsibility during this unprecedented time. 

To explain the compact and its significance, Penn Today spoke with Gary Purpura, executive director of education and academic planning in the Office of the Provost. Here, he describes fall planning, the purpose of the compact, and how it will be enforced. 

Can you explain your job role?

I am director of undergraduate education in the Provost’s Office, so I work with Beth Winkelstein on coordinating issues around academic policies and procedures and anything affecting undergraduates. I became part of the Recovery Planning Group, the broader group tasked with thinking about the fall and what the fall might look like if we were to return students to campus. And faculty and staff, for that matter. Both for living and learning. 

So, I’ve been involved in that group that convened after the spring term ended, and that group has multiple subgroups and the particular subgroup this compact came out of has been focused on procedures that would need to be in place if we were to return people. This was all contingency planning for if we were able to return people for the fall. We realized early on if we were to have people come back to campus, we’d need to have guidelines, behavioral expectations around living and learning. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the research resumption plan for the summer, but there are a host of behavioral expectations and procedures surrounding that plan and we needed something similar and more expansive for the fall, because we were contingency planning around, ‘What if we were to bring back thousands of people for the fall semester.’

Penn has built a social contract of sorts into the fall plan. What are the expectations students should be aware of?

We wanted to make it explicit, or as explicit as we could, what we’re expecting of each other. And I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not just a compact for students, it’s also for faculty and staff and anyone who is going to be on campus. We have a document called a Student Compact focused just for them, but it’s really the same concept for faculty and staff. We realized life would have to be very different on campus and the surrounding campus area if we were to come together and live and learn, so we wanted to be clear as possible. We took—and this has been the approach all along—the best public health guidance from the CDC, the state of Pennsylvania, the city of Philadelphia, looking at what the trends are in the scientific understanding of the pandemic, and how this disease is transmitted and really using that as the foundation. And as any information in those areas change, we would have to change and adapt to accommodate those. That’s really been the guiding principle.

In some ways, I’d say the expectations of the compact should be very familiar to anyone who’s been living in the U.S. for the past few months. Obvious stuff around facial coverings whenever you’re not alone, distancing when around other people, minimizing contact with people whenever possible, and from there thinking about travel. There’s travel guidance the University has developed that we have included in the compact. We make it plain for people that it’s not just University-related travel but also personal travel. The disease doesn’t care if you’re on University-sanctioned travel or not; if you’re coming into contact with other people, you’re at risk. 

We’re just trying to make everything explicit for people, and one thing I want to emphasize is this isn’t about rules, these are norms—these are behavioral expectations you should have of me and I should have of you if we’re going to be able to coexist as a community and live and learn together. That’s really the foundation of the approach for the compact.

How do you enforce the compact?

We recognize these are norms and not everyone will always adhere to the behavioral norms of the community. We have a panel, a Compact Review Panel we put together comprised of staff and faculty, many with medical and public health expertise. Bringing in folks from the wellness team, Student Health Service, bringing in Student Intervention Services staff and bringing in staff focused more on student and campus life. These are people who have a very deep understanding of public health, and also student life and will understand the student experiences and the kinds of activities students are doing. 

So, we have a range of people on this panel that focus on [all students]. And the idea is, if there are issues of noncompliance they’re observing, people can make a report to this panel. We’re still developing details to how it will work, it will likely be a web form someone will use to report the information, and then the panel will be able to conduct an investigation, interview the people allegedly involved in the incident, and make a determination from there. 

It is a public health panel. It will be focused on whether or not someone is able to remain in the community in terms of campus access. The panel could deactivate Penn cards so that would restrict people’s access to campus buildings; the panel could also—depending how egregious the incident is—fast-track something through OSC [Office of Student Conduct]. So that, if we’re thinking about a large party off-campus that’s planned and with [many] people, that’s egregious non-compliance of the compact and something that would get fast-tracked through OSC and could result in suspension for students.

What do you mean by ‘suspension’?

‘Suspension’ is they would not be able to be enrolled, so that would be a complete separation. … There’s a range of possible outcomes here, which will depend upon how egregious the behavior is. We are also expecting that the sort of daily things that might happen, like forgetting a facial covering or mask, we’re going to have public health ambassadors throughout campus who will have masks. We’re also expecting community members to say, ‘Oh, did you forget your mask? Go back and get your mask.’ Those kinds of things. There may be the lower level things we are hoping we can reinforce the norms for each other, and the more egregious things can result in more serious outcomes.

Has there been communication with partners in the community? Restaurants, retailers, etc.

Not specifically about the compact. I think retailers and restaurants are their own businesses and have their own practices; they’re bound by the same rules everyone else is by the city and state. We’re continuing to implement those guidelines just as they normally would. For us, there’s an added layer of if it’s a student and an egregious example, that might get referred to the panel. Or to the Division of Public Safety; it depends on the setting.

Who do you ideally hope this message reaches?

The students. Primarily. I think faculty and staff have these messages communicated to them in different ways through HR, the schools, we broke out the student compact specifically just for a place for students to be able to go on the web and see what the expectations are. We’re really hoping the students understand what these expectations are and recognize them as necessary. They equally apply to me as the students or anyone else in the community. And I really hope that the students—and everyone—don’t think about the guidelines in the compact as things they need to try to get around. And this is asked a lot where students ask about consequences: ‘What happens if I do X, Y, or Z?’ I think the first thing they should think about is, ‘Am I putting myself and others I care about at risk?’ The first consequence they should be thinking about is the health-related consequences and quite frankly that’s the primary one, most immediate for them. I think if they are thinking about health-related consequences they’ll recognize behaviors of the compact are what you need to do to try to reduce transmission of the disease. We’re still living under pandemic conditions, no matter what the numbers might be in Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia specifically. Whether going up or down, we’re still living under pandemic conditions.