Pets Banned From Campus Buildings? A-PAW-LLING!

Kate Foley:

On December 15, 2022, Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration, Cale Nelson, and Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College, Mark Schneider, sent a broadcast to Ursinus faculty and staff. The email announced a new policy regarding pets, explicitly stating, “Due to medical, safety, and professional etiquette concerns over pets being brought to work, a special task force was created by President Hannigan’s cabinet to research and develop an employee policy regarding pets on campus. That policy was blessed by cabinet on November 29 and will go into effect January 30, 2023.”

The entire policy can be viewed at man-resources/policies-and-practices/ pets-on-campus-policy/, but the bottom line is this: faculty and staff are no longer permitted to bring their pets into campus buildings. Not into classrooms, not into open lobby spaces, not even into personal offices.

There are a few exceptions — service/ emotional support animals, pets for whom employees residing in College housing have obtained permission from Human Resources, etc. — but the policy is a big change. And it came as a surprise to many. It probably comes as a surprise to you too, my fellow students, as this was not well publicized to students.

One of the most upsetting parts of this new policy is how the special task force did not consider students’ feelings about a new change in campus atmosphere: students were never given a heads up that this policy might be put into place. Faculty and staff were consulted, but The Grizzly is not aware of any formal student input being taken into account, despite some faculty members’ recommendation that students be notified too. Student government has no record of this being discussed at one of their meetings and the announcement email mentions conversations with employees but not with students.

Why wasn’t the email sent to faculty and staff sent to students as well? Was this a deliberate attempt to conceal the change, or did the special task force assume students would not care? This abrupt policy change ignores how important employees’ pets have become in students’ lives. Naomi Marin, ’23, says, “This new policy is extremely disappointing. I always loved it when dogs would visit us during rehearsal, it was a great break and definitely made me feel less stressed.”

Ever since hearing this surprising news, a series of questions have run through my mind. Questions such as, where is the middle ground? Why was there no attempt to compromise so concerns could be addressed while also considering the negative impact this would have on employees and students alike? Couldn’t well-behaved pets be registered through the school so they could be allowed in academic spaces? Why can’t faculty and staff bring pets into their offices, a personal and private space? Why this zero-to-sixty jump?

Additionally, why is my professor allowed to bring their child to class, but not their dog? Pets are some people’s children. A ban on pets in campus buildings now disproportionately affects certain faculty and staff members at Ursinus. Now, employees affected by this policy will now have to arrange for pet care, imposing an extra cost which not every employee may be able to afford. If that cost is not feasible, this pet policy could impact employees’ work schedule, productivity, mental health, and general well-being.

If allergies are the concern, it is impractical to expect that all pets be banned for a handful of students who might be allergic — after all, Ursinus has not made every academic building a nut-free zone or a perfume-free zone for students who might have those allergies. The expectation should be that students communicate these allergies with professors so the professor can set certain classroom guidelines about not having food in class or bringing dogs to that particular class. Olivia Cross, ’24, points out, “it’s interesting to me because [Ursinus is] still using the therapy dogs as a big drawing force,” revealing a double standard. The popular therapy dog program primarily takes place inside campus buildings, proving that there are obviously ways to safely and professionally allow dogs indoors.

In my experience, professors have been conscientious about bringing pets into classrooms to ensure no one was uncomfortable. Naomi shares a similar experience: “There were also always safety precautions: my professors would always ask if anyone was allergic to dogs before bringing them in.” These pets have been well-behaved and kept on leashes or in carriers (or otherwise monitored to maintain safety). Of course, it is reasonable to expect that ill-behaved dogs that damage property or are a danger to others should not be allowed indoors. However, if a dog is trained and registered, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed on campus just like any child would be.

According to the broadcast, “As part of the process for developing a policy, the task force referred to policies at other colleges and universities, and also solicited feedback from Ursinus employees.” The bottom line is students were not consulted for their opinions nor were they notified when the policy went into effect. For a school that claims to openly communicate with students, the administration did a poor job in this case of establishing this change. As students have found out about the pet ban thanks to word-of-mouth, they have not wasted time in communicating their disappointment. An anonymous senior student says, “I feel like Ursinus has touted itself as a dog friendly institution and as a way of being welcoming to the community, so it’s disappointing they’re rolling back on that considering that in the past they’ve always been welcoming to people who love animals.”

Students, I encourage you to express your opinions about this policy. Take your concerns and rightful outrage to senate meetings, email the appropriate channels, contact student government—if a change is to be made, we need to raise our voices and make that change. We deserve to be heard.