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The class of 2019 graduation. Credit: Son Nguyen

Penn instituted a new policy for revoking degrees from graduates who used fraud or other serious wrongdoing to obtain them.

The policy, which was published in the Penn Almanac on Aug. 27, outlines the process for revoking any degree conferred at Penn. 

Examples of conduct that could cause the cancellation of the degrees include providing false information on an application for admission, cheating on an examination, and tampering with records. The University could also revoke a degree in cases of plagiarism or research misconduct. 

Penn’s new policy comes months after a nationwide college admissions scandal sparked questions of whether schools would rescind degrees if students were accepted after falsifying application information.

In March, 50 people — including parents, celebrities, and athletic coaches — were charged in a widespread admissions scam. Documents revealed that dozens of students at top colleges cheated on their college admissions tests or were falsely recruited as student-athletes after their parents bribed coaches. 

Since the scandal erupted, multiple colleges have examined their own policies regarding rescinding admissions, enrollment, and degrees. The University of Southern California announced that it would revoke the degrees of students who misrepresented themselves on their college applications, The New York Post reported. In the wake of the scandal, Yale also reminded its students of its longstanding policy of rescinding admissions of students who falsified information on their applications, The New York Times reported. 

Penn's new policy details the investigation process after potential misconduct is discovered. An investigation can be launched if information is found that confirms or suggests wrongdoing in the process of obtaining the degree. Graduates will have the option to come to an agreement to possibly voluntarily give up the degree, or a formal investigation and hearing will be launched.

After the launch of the investigation, the graduate in question will be notified in writing of the investigation and the information used to make the decision. The information from the investigation will be summarized and given to the dean of the school that conferred the degree, who will make the final decision on whether to move forward into a hearing. 

For individuals who received graduate degrees from Penn, the Graduate Council will oversee the process and the hearings. In all other cases, the hearing committee will be determined by the school the degree was approved by. 

The hearing will end in a vote to decide if the degree should be revoked. The graduate will then receive a decision in writing. There is an appeal process outlined if the graduate decides they do not agree with the decision or more evidence surfaces. 

The policy was developed alongside all academic councils and then adopted and published to the PennBook and online on Penn Almanac. 

The policy does not include guidelines on the revocations of honorary degrees. After allegations of sexual harassment emerged against Bill Cosby and former Penn Trustee Steve Wynn, Penn rescinded honorary degrees from the two individuals in February 2018. The revoking of the degrees was a departure from the University's stance in 2016, when the allegations first emerged. 

At the time, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said "it is not our practice to rescind honorary degrees.” 

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