For an hour Thursday, Aug. 20, five people stood silently along Main Street in Kutztown.
With four of them donning old-fashioned, plague masks — the kind doctors wore in the 17th century to protect themselves from infection and that give those wearing them the appearance of some sort of creepy alien bird — the scene had the look of a low-budget horror movie.
It most certainly made a statement.
And that was the whole point.
The masked men and women were Kutztown University faculty members. And their message was simple: The university hasn't done enough to prepare for its reopening.
"It's good to be golden. And alive," read a sign one of the protesters held.
"Follow the science. Know the data. Test everyone on campus," another sign stated.
"Save Kutztown's grandmas," yet another sign pleaded.
KU, like colleges across Pennsylvania, closed its campus in spring as the COVID-19 pandemic raged across the state. With the fall semester knocking on the door, those schools have been working to institute plans to reopen campuses.
The protesters on Aug. 20 were part of a group of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members who have been voicing concerns about Kutztown's reopening plan. Earlier this month they crafted an open letter detailing their worries, which has garnered more than 1,500 signatures.
Leaders of the group have said that if the concerns in the letter are not addressed, the letter will become the basis for a call for a vote of no confidence against the administration.
Dan Spiegel, a computer science and technology professor, said on Aug. 20 that although some progress has been made, the group's full list of concerns has not been addressed.
Speaking for his protesting colleagues — whose masks and silence protected their anonymity — he said their presence along Main Street wasn't an attempt to shut down the university, but a call to do what needs to be done to reopen without putting the health of students, staff and faculty at risk.
"We don't want the university to close," he said. "What we're talking about is planning."
Spiegel called the school's reopening planning seriously lacking, claiming faculty were not given enough of a voice in the process.
"If it had been done well, if the faculty was consulted, we could open up," he said.
In a statement provided by Matt Santos, KU's vice president of university relations and athletics, the administration acknowledged the protesters concerns, but stood by the reopening.
"We are aware there was a demonstration on campus today comprising about five individuals, and certainly respect their right to express their concerns as we reopen campus under the new normal," Santos said. "The university has experienced tremendous support from students and parents who desire the face-to-face experience on campus, and we have continued to implement many health and wellness protocols, while providing flexible options to faculty, staff and students, to make that a reality this fall. We will need full cooperation from the campus community in following health and wellness protocols in the days and weeks ahead, and will continue to monitor the situation very closely."
A list of what the group is still concerned about was printed on flyers that protesters handed out. They include:
• Students are responsible for answering a set of questions as part of their personal safety plan, but other than that the school will not conduct any health care surveys.
• Only students in quarantine on campus will have their temperatures monitored.
• While students exhibiting symptoms will be able to be tested at the university health center, there will be no periodic testing of others and faculty and staff are responsible for their own testing. There will not be a single source for data about cases on campus.
• The plan for contact tracing is convoluted and depends on students self-reporting close contacts.
• The facilities staff is undermanned, and students and faculty will be expected to conduct additional cleaning of classrooms without gloves or training.
• Adequate information about the ability of HVAC systems to function properly has not been provided by the university.
• Food services workers are provided no paid sick time and their health insurance is being paid out in arrears because of furloughs.
• The university has not increased funding for counseling services that may be needed by students struggling to deal with the pandemic.
"The bottom line: We believe that inadequate planning leaves no safe alternative to moving all classes that do not absolutely require in-person interaction to fully online formats," the flier reads.
Spiegel said the open letter and protest aren't about stirring up trouble or starting a fight with the administration. They're born out of love, he said, for Kutztown and for its students.
"Anybody who claims we don't care about our university is full of it," he said. "Anybody who claims we don't love our students is offensive."
Students began arriving on campus on Wednesday, Aug. 19, with classes starting Monday, Aug. 24.