Provost Wendell Pritchett surprised Penn students living off campus on Sunday when he sent an email to their parents announcing that he expected students not in University housing to return home.
Penn’s request was met with pushback from off-campus residents, some of whom are unsure of how to pay their leases without strengthened financial support from the University.
In the email, Pritchett urged students that the University has “communicated Penn’s position to local landlords and asked them to work with their tenants to support this public health necessity.” But this was contradicted by landlords like Campus Apartments, the Radian, and University Realty, who said they were surprised by the announcement and asserted that their tenants did not have to leave.
Pritchett's announcement followed the University rejecting many students' requests for on-campus housing, leaving some students unsure of where they will find meals and housing.
Students expressed frustration with Pritchett’s mandate because the email was sent to their parents instead of the students themselves, and previous directives from Pritchett only told off-campus residents to "discuss" their lease with their landlords and family.
Pritchett's email was also surprising to off-campus landlords. Chief Executive Officer of Campus Apartments David Adelman wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the company had “received no communication from the University.”
General Manager of The Radian Kayla Hoffman wrote in an email to residents that “no one at the University has a right to require you to leave your apartment, or to move out of University City or Philadelphia,” assuring residents that “The Radian remains fully open and accessible, both for Penn students and all of our residents.”
College senior Naeche Vincent called Penn's directive to off-campus residents “unnecessary.” She said the University's notice did not offer any type of financial reimbursement for students whose rent was already paid.
“I understand they have to kick people off of their actual campus because that’s a liability on their end, and they’d have to supervise those students,” she said. “However, if I live off campus and I’ve paid rent for the entire semester, Penn trying to intervene and tell people to go home — unless they’re going to pay for my rent for the entire semester — is not fair.”
College sophomore Justin Pita said even for students who haven’t paid their lease in full, Penn has no authority to defy the lease contract that was signed.
“Not everybody has the option to drop everything and leave. Even though school has shut down, people still have to figure out how they are going to be able to pay rent,” Pita said.
Pita said his non-work-study job with Penn Student Agencies has shut down and he is unsure if he will be compensated for the hours he would have worked in light of Student Registration and Financial Services announcing that student workers will be able to submit their regular hours and receive payment.
“I ran out of work-study [funding] and Penn declined to extend it, so I was forced to find a non-work-study job," Pita said. "While we were expecting to officially start after spring break, due to the school closing, I was left without a job, thus I cannot pay rent.”
College sophomore and University Campus Apartments resident Dallas Ryan previously paid for her rent through her work-study job earnings, but after maxing out her work-study funding, she could not get a non-work-study job in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
Ryan emailed her financial aid officer requesting an increase in work-study funding but was denied. She reached out again for further financial support for her lease, but was told she needed to communicate with her landlord.
“So you’re contradicting yourself,” Ryan said of Penn. “You just told me that there is no way that you are going to help me pay my rent, but you still want me to leave.”
Vincent said Penn's directive is harmful to first-generation, low-income students who live off campus.
"To assume that everyone has a structured place to just return to is completely false," Vincent said. "A lot of people do not have the same definition of home, and some students are homeless as well."
“I don’t think [Penn] was prepared for anything like this, when it definitely should have been devising a plan since January, or even December, when we first knew about this,” Pita said. “[The University] is very behind, and it’s just making decisions without really thinking of the repercussions of those decisions.”
Ryan said she felt that Penn rejecting applications for students to remain on-campus and declining to increase students' work-study funding contrasted their initial promises to help students who receive financial aid.
"I think they just lied, and they didn’t come through with everything that they were going to do," Ryan said.