The coronavirus outbreak has hit Philadelphia. Peer institutions have moved to remote classes, but Penn has not announced whether courses will continue to meet in-person after spring break. Penn students, particularly those who hail from other countries or low-income backgrounds, deserve answers about how this will affect University life.
As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, there are 12 presumed positive cases of coronavirus in Pennsylvania, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania is treating its first coronavirus patient. In response to coronavirus concerns, Penn cut off all University-related travel and large on-campus events until April 17, asked teachers to prepare for potential online classes, and canceled Quaker Days, and the Ivy League canceled its men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. Peer institutions like Cornell University, Princeton University, and Harvard College have all announced moves to remote courses to protect students and faculty from the coronavirus. Harvard has even asked students to move out of their dorms by Sunday amid coronavirus fears.
Provost Wendell Pritchett announced new coronavirus prevention policies in an email sent to the Penn community Tuesday, including a ban on University travel and a recommendation against on-campus events of more than 100 people until April 17. The update, however, did not definitively announce whether Penn would follow other universities shifting to online classes after spring break.
With the spread of coronavirus and the decisions of other Ivy League institutions to move to online courses, Penn students have pressing questions about how the virus will affect University life. Many of these questions have gone unanswered. This leaves students in a challenging position, particularly international students and those from low-income backgrounds.
If students are asked to leave campus, how will low-income students afford tickets home? How will international students from countries like China, Italy, and South Korea find new housing in the United States if they cannot return home? What will happen to students who rely on their work-study positions as a source of income? Will tuition be discounted if classes move to online platforms? Will on-campus housing and dining plans be refunded if students can no longer stay on campus? These are all questions on students’ minds as the administration stays relatively silent about how the virus will influence their education. Students need to determine their plans for after spring break.
Coronavirus has sparked widespread fear, and Penn must start to answer the questions faced by students and their families. While it is important that University administrators take time to weigh their options and make an informed decision, it is unfair to leave students in the dark at a time of intense uncertainty and anxiety. Many students cannot afford silence on the University's plans for after spring break.
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