Encourage the shot, not the mask

Indiana County commissioners Robin Gorman and R. Michael Keith, county courthouse, Feb. 10, 2021. Image: Screen grab from online Zoom session.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA — A pandemic wave or two ago, restaurant closings were a news staple. Eateries failing, the story went, meant local economies tanking. Scofflaw restaurateurs defied state government orders to shut down during a peak in the pandemic. Then, help arrived early this year with $28.6 billion in federal Covid relief for local family-owned restaurants and bars.

Now, another pandemic wave is building, and masking mandates in public schools are making headlines. Local school districts — River Valley (formerly Blairsville-Saltsburg), Homer-Center and Indiana Area, for example – are voting to make masks optional when school resumes next month. (The Indiana Area School District board earlier this week reversed its mask mandate of earlier this month.) The political debate – pumped with enough disinformation to polarize a troll farm – has gone national.

The restaurant-and-bar debate ebbed with federal resources to the rescue. The masking debate can be similarly resolved, and with no new federal money, by spurring free and plentiful Covid-19 vaccinations and enlisting trusted local authorities to encourage the vaccine-hesitant.

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Masking fact, masking opinion

Masking opponent, East Pike Elementary School for Indiana Area School Disrict board meeting, July 19, 2021. Photo: David Loomis

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – On Monday, July 19, citizens gathered at East Pike Elementary School to rehash the Indiana Area School District board’s narrow July 12 vote to mandate masks in all school buildings come fall.

Anti-maskers said results of a recent internet survey found majority support among local respondents for their opposing view. Pro-maskers cited a report released earlier that day by the American Academy of Pediatrics that recommended everyone in school buildings over the age of 2 should wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. (Even Fox News, whose coverage of vaccines and the pandemic generally has been “dismissive,” posted the story on its website.)

Both sides cited a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that reported face masks were harmful. Fox gasbag Tucker Carlson had touted the article as gospel. The journal retracted the article for its questionable methodology and unsupported assertions.

On Wednesday, July 21, President Biden told a town hall in Cincinnati that vaccines for children under age 12 could be available by autumn. His announcement may have been aspirational. But the child-vaccination news is not whether but when, and not later but sooner.

In summary, the week’s national news is that the Delta variant is a pandemic wave more infectious among the young, and vaccine resistance is stoking it, especially in localities that voted for Trump. (Indiana County voted 2-1 for the loser in 2020.) Thus, the news since the Indiana school board’s July 12 mask mandate is supportive. But persuasive? Not likely.

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Masking debate continues at IASD meeting

Opponents of masking in Indiana Area School District buildings gather before Monday’s board meeting at East Pike Elementary School. Photo: David Loomis

INDIANA — On Monday evening, the Indiana Area School District Board of Directors convened a committee meeting to hear public comments on a week-old masking mandate for district buildings, and on other district business.

Few wore masks. About 30 citizens attended. Nine responded to the chairman’s invitation for commenters to alternate between pro- and anti-masking remarks. He began with an invitation to conservative activist Tammy G. Curry.

Commenters abided by the chairman’s request for civil discourse. The comment period lasted 35 minutes. Video of the meeting will be posted on the school district’s YouTube channel, a district technician said Monday evening.

A school district health-and-safety plan is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Health by July 30.  

Two anti-masking speakers were approached at Monday’s meeting for copies of their remarks. They declined. Two pro-masking speakers accepted the invitation. Their prepared remarks are published below.

The HawkEye invites comments from interested citizens. Comments may be submitted at the end of this article. Editor David Loomis can be emailed at doloomis@live.iup.edu

            — David Loomis


The school board has more options

By Lisa H. Price

I speak as a parent of rising 2nd and 5th graders who are not yet able to be vaccinated.

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IUP No. 2 talks the talk on retrenchment

IUP Provost Timothy S. Moerland, Fisher Auditorium, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Aug. 23, 2019. Photo excerpted from YouTube video.

 A review

By David Loomis

INDIANA – On Jan. 29, 2013, soon after he took over as IUP provost and vice president for academic affairs, Timothy S. Moerland spoke to the University Senate in Eberly Auditorium. It was mainly a meet-and-greet.

In brief remarks, the university’s chief academic officer (and substitute president when the president is absent) expressed thanks for the welcome he had received during his 11 days on campus. Then he delivered the requisite humorous observation.

“You may think that Dante’s Ninth Circle of the Inferno is treachery,” the Ph.D. zoologist said. “But I am here to tell you it is acronyms.”

Ba-DUM tsss.

One sentence. Still, it got a chuckle. Moerland’s audience may have appreciated truthful teasing about shared bureaucratic penchants for officialese and jargon that serve to exclude or obscure.

Mr. Moerland’s one-liner, after all, coincided with a boom in university business, which helped enlarge the county’s biggest single economic footprint. IUP enrollments were reaching record highs. Labor-management relations were relatively calm. The dry quip was an effort to bond with colleagues and the community. He made some announcements but invited no questions and yielded the mic.

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Covid resistance on a flight out of Latrobe

Illustration: The Washington Post

A pandemic travelogue

By Robert G. Bonnet

AMBROSE — My wife and I recently decided the coast was clear enough of the coronavirus to take a trip to a North Carolina beach. We figured it was worth the risk of an hour-and-a-half flight to avoid the 10-hour drive.  Since we are fully vaccinated, and Covid-19 infections appear to be declining, we headed for Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe for our first flight in more than a year.

At the airport, the most obvious difference from last year was the near universal mask-wearing, though it was a mixed bag of under-the-nose, under-the-chin, too-loose-to-do-any-good, etc. Nevertheless, everybody exhibited a face covering, even if effectiveness varied, depending on the wearer.

The terminal loudspeaker reminded passengers at regular intervals that masks were required, and proper use was essential to avoid consequences. The rules were reinforced by signs, reminders at the gate and acceptance by our fellow travelers. We boarded the nearly full flight.

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Sen. Pittman’s ride with the racehorses

State Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, at an April 8, 2021, budget hearing, Harrisburg. Photo: still from state Senate video.

 An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA — At an April 8 state budget hearing in Harrisburg, Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, aimed a barb at Agriculture Secretary Russell C. Redding over revenues for the Pennsylvania Race Horse Development Trust Fund:

“I don’t know how you can expect us to eliminate and reduce a trust fund that was established for a given purpose without a full appreciation and understanding of what the impact will be on the business model,” the senator told the secretary. “This reminds me a little bit of the definition of insanity,” he added.

The secretary ducked the senator’s dig, possibly to avoid stating the obvious: If lawmakers approve the governor’s Senate Bill 377 to reduce (not eliminate) the quarter-billion-dollar-a-year subsidy of Pennsylvania’s private racehorse industry, then the private interest will be prone to stumble. And at the rate of its current decline, the industry may have to reconsider, redefine, reevaluate, reexamine, reimagine, reinvent and do what other Pennsylvania institutions in similar straits have been forced to do with their legislated “business models.”

Consider Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, one of whose campuses generates the economic lifeblood of Mr. Pittman’s home county.

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Deer hunting in White’s Woods? Not so fast

Whitetail deer faun, Indiana, Pa., Aug. 19, 2020. Photo by Anne Kondo.

An opinion
By Sara King
INDIANA — There is much to consider about the plan to bow hunt in the White’s Woods Nature Center that was approved by the White Township Board of Supervisors at its June 23 meeting. Already people are raising a host of questions:
Is it really safe?  Will it be safe to walk at College Lodge?  Does it have to last 30 days?  Would two days be sufficient (as in other municipalities)? Are there more humane ways of killing these animals?  Will it really reduce the deer population on this 250-acre plot (that is surrounded by forested property owned by other entities)?  Does neighboring Indiana Borough support it?  The IUP Student Cooperative Association?  The residents who live on adjacent property?  How heavily is this recreation area used during the winter holidays?  Are there 10 people in White’s Woods on an average January day?  Or are there 100?  Isn’t it possible to keep one recreation area open for recreation and free from hunting?  How will the carcasses be removed?  Through other people’s property?  Only from the park’s public street entrances?

And, as one astute White Township resident asked at the June 23 supervisors meeting, “What is the goal of this plan?”

But before we can even get to these important questions, there is one really big problem: The bow hunting plan fails to meet Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural requirement for a White’s Woods management plan that incorporates long-term goals and objectives and a planning process informed by public input, extensive data and input from a variety of forest and recreation experts.

And the plan must be approved by DCNR in advance.

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Tales of retaliation and retrenchment at IUP

Henry Webb, former Indiana University of Pennsylvania business professor, in the campus Oak Grove, May 30, 2021. Photo: David Loomis

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Among a reported 15 percent of full-time instructors retrenched, retired or resigned at Indiana University of Pennsylvania since Halloween Eve are two attorneys on the business-school faculty. Until their layoffs earlier this month, Brion A. Scudder and Henry Webb were licensed lawyers among the hundreds of faculty members on the payroll of Indiana County’s largest employer.

Scudder and Webb, professors of business law in IUP’s Finance and Legal Department of the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology, share another trait: They are whistleblowers, not shy about asserting what they say are university administrators’ failings in the systemwide restructuring that reportedly hits IUP faculty harder than faculty at any other of the State System of Higher Education’s 14 campuses.

On May 26, for example, Webb sent a blast on the campus email system addressed to IUP faculty, IUP President Michael Driscoll, Provost Timothy Moerland and state-system Chancellor Dan Greenstein.

”If an administration intentionally planned to turn a university into a diploma mill that admitted unqualified students with no indicia of academic ability solely to obtain their tuition and fees, and such that nearly half of all students admitted fail to earn a degree within six years of their matriculation, how would that look any different than what has happened at IUP from 2012 to the present?” Webb asked.

“This administration has completely mishandled retrenchment and destroyed the morale of the remaining faculty and staff,” Webb concluded. “IUP desperately and immediately needs new, competent leadership…. How long will this be allowed to continue?”

Scudder followed on June 3 with an email addressed to more than 100 campus recipients and bearing the header “Proposed criminal indictment for IUP.”

“Right now (or in the next few months) there will be three lawsuits in federal court that deal with the curriculum changes in the Eberly College of Business,” Scudder summarized. “There are also multiple pending cases in front of union arbitration on these matters. Finally there are likely to be criminal charges filed.”

Scudder attached a proposed 19-page document with exhibits he says he will submit by month’s end to the FBI, the U.S. attorney’s offices in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and the state attorney general.

One of the draft documents alleges “illegal use of the curriculum process to deny faculty rights and violate the law.”

To wit: “criminal fraud,” according to Scudder.

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A ‘deafening silence’ on PA higher-ed funding

Dr. Jason Worzbyt, professor of music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Photo: submitted.

Last week, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education officials held four public hearings on a controversial proposal to merge six of the system’s 14 campuses. The public comments were almost unanimously negative. One of the commenters on Thursday was Indiana University of Pennsylvania music professor Jason W. Worzbyt. His comments are reprinted below.

By Jason Worzbyt 

INDIANA — I am a faculty member in the music department at IUP, a position that I have held for the past 23 years.  The State System of Higher Education has played a major role in not only my life, but that of my family as well. 

In 1972, my father joined the faculty at IUP in the counseling department, and I and my sister attended IUP for our undergraduate degrees.  After receiving what I believe was an undergraduate education second to none, I was honored to join the music faculty at IUP in 1998.  At the conclusion of this next academic year, a member of my family will have taught at IUP for half a century, which should hopefully inform you of my family’s dedication to this institution.

As I have witnessed the systematic defunding of PASSHE during my time at IUP, I remain baffled at the lack of collective outrage from the Office of the Chancellor and the Board of Governors.  Year after year, our system remains underfunded, and rather than making a full-throated defense of the importance of higher education in Pennsylvania and requests for proper funding, there has been deafening silence.

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RGGI represents Indiana County’s future

Jonathan Warnock, Ph.D., climate scientist at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; member, Indiana Borough Council

Indiana University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Jonathan P. Warnock, Ph.D., directed the following remarks to state lawmakers on Thursday during a conference call hosted by the Clean Power PA Coalition. The remarks have been adapted here for print.

By Jonathan P. Warnock

INDIANA — Indiana County is a coal county. Our economics have been tied to coal for more than a century. I live within miles of three coal fired powerplants; I can see one of them right now. Coal helped Indiana County to grow.

However, automation has replaced miners, and burning coal is an increasingly expensive way to generate electricity. Penelec raised its rates for residential and commercial customers just two days ago. Maybe they wanted to help me make my point.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Pennsylvania has lost more than 10,000 coal jobs since 1990, and that is just in mining. It doesn’t consider power plant workers, truck drivers and others who have jobs tied to coal.

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