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Credit: Isabel Liang

After Penn announced it would suspend the Dean's List for the 2019-2020 academic year due to the coronavirus pandemic, some students expressed frustration as they had dedicated efforts toward achieving the honor.

Provost Wendell Pritchett sent an email to all undergraduate students on April 9 announcing the suspension of the Dean’s List for the 2019-2020 academic year following student concerns about the pressure to take courses for a letter grade. In the email, Pritchett also announced an extension of the pass/fail opt-in deadline from April 13 to April 29, the last day of spring classes.

Dean's List is an honor awarded annually to students based on academic performance in the fall and spring semesters. To receive the citation on their transcript, a student must achieve a combined GPA of at least 3.7, given they have taken six or more credit units for letter grades, have not receive a grade lower than C, and have completed all courses on time with no Incompletes, NRs, or GRs.

NR indicates no grades have been submitted for a course, and GR is used for students who never attended class or never formally dropped the class but whose name still appears on the official class roster.

Some students said they should be able to receive the honor based on the work they did in fall 2019 and spring 2020 given the difficult circumstances of the pandemic. Others have also expressed support for a semesterly Dean’s List based only on academic performance in fall 2019, but the University has decided against this option.

Student Committee on Undergraduate Education Chair External and College junior Carson Eckhard said that she and Undergraduate Assembly President and College senior Natasha Menon proposed a semesterly Dean’s List for fall 2019 at the Council of Undergraduate Dean’s meeting on April 8, the day before the University-wide announcement.

Eckhard said administrators claimed that University staff had other priorities such as securing financial aid and housing refunds and administering the optional pass/fail grading policy for students. Eckhard said she and the SCUE steering committee agreed with administrators that the University should focus on these more pressing issues rather than trying to implement a semesterly Dean's List.

“At this point, there’s a lot of other ways that the administration can and should be supporting students,” Eckhard said.

Executive Director for Education and Academic Planning Gary Purpura wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the Dean’s List is calculated within Penn’s student record system, not Penn InTouch, and could be reconfigured to calculate Dean’s List by term if the University had decided to do so.

College junior Edward Jiang and UA College representative started a petition addressed to the Penn Office of the Provost urging the University to re-enact Dean’s List. Since its creation on April 11, the petition has garnered over 200 signatures.

"The removal of Dean's List for the 2019-20 academic year would be a great disappointment to Penn students who have dedicated efforts to their academics in these difficult times," the petition reads.

Jiang said he started the petition following conversations with friends who were upset Dean’s List was suspended. He said the suspension of Dean's List is particularly frustrating for certain students who were on track to receiving the honor for the first time. Jiang added that the suspension may hurt students' chances of applying for scholarships, as Dean's List is an honor typically expected of a competitive applicant. 

“The removal of Dean’s List doesn’t do anything to provide more resources for those students who are struggling,” Jiang said. “To say that the removal is alleviating stress with students, I don’t think I see the link quite there.”

Pritchett included in the University-wide announcement that there will be a notation placed on every undergraduate’s transcript to recognize the disruption to spring 2020 and changes to academic policies. Eckhard said members of SCUE and the Undergraduate Assembly will help write the notation on students’ transcripts regarding the suspension of the Dean’s List. She added that SCUE, the UA, and administrators will likely finalize the notation within the next week.

Engineering sophomore Divyansh Agrawal, who signed the petition, said he intentionally worked harder in his courses this year to achieve Dean's List, which he believes should be reflected on his transcript.

“If you’re not making a mandatory pass/fail, if you leave in the option to students to take courses for a grade, I think you should also reflect in the sort of titular achievement on the transcript,” Agrawal said. 

Agrawal added that he believes the Dean’s List suspension will hurt his hiring prospects as an international student looking for jobs in the U.S., as many other applicants will have the opportunity to achieve the honor and include it on their transcript.

College junior Justin Greenman, who also signed and shared the petition on Facebook, said, however, the decision to suspend the Dean’s List is a “relatively minor inconvenience” compared to other policies the University could have instated such as a universal pass/fail grading system. Greenman said he believes a universal pass/fail policy would have hurt students' scholarship chances, graduate school admissions, and employment opportunities more so than the suspension of Dean's List. 

Four Ivy League schools have adopted a form of mandatory pass/fail grading over concerns about academic equity and that some graduate programs would only accept satisfactory/unsatisfactory grades from students whose universities instituted mandatory policies.

"I still very firmly think that given this global crisis, that Dean's List is not something that needs to be prioritized," Eckhard said. "I understand the disappointment around it, certainly, but I think that the notation will mitigate concerns that it looks like students just did not earn Dean's List."