The Undergraduate Assembly released a report on Penn's response to the coronavirus pandemic, featuring a set of recommendations to administrators based on a university-wide survey.
The UA-administered survey, conducted from March 20 to March 30, garnered responses from 944 students across all four undergraduate schools, according to the report. The survey presented questions about financial, personal, and academic challenges students are currently facing due to the coronavirus and how the administration can best provide support during this unprecedented time.
The UA is calling on the University to extend the opt-in pass/fail deadline, which is currently April 13 — making it the earliest deadline in the Ivy League — to the end of the semester. The report also urged the University to provide students with a timeline for dining and housing refunds.
The UA reported that the top "Student Personal Concern" is the University's "contradictory and vague" communication regarding the move to online classes. The most popular grading system for spring 2020 selected by students was the Double/Triple A Model through which all students will either receive an A or A- on their transcript.
The report was sent to Penn President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett, UA President and College senior Natasha Menon wrote in an email presenting the report to undergraduate students on Tuesday. College junior and UA representative Kristen Ukeomah added that the UA hopes Student Registration & Financial Services, Counseling and Psychological Services, and International Student and Scholar Services will also consider the recommendations outlined in the report.
The UA's recommendations were sorted into five categories: Student Financial Concerns, Student Personal Concerns, Student Academic Concerns, Student Grading Policy Preferences, and Concerns for Penn Community.
Ukeomah said, as the survey reflected, she and many students are frustrated with the Penn administration's lack of transparency and consideration of student input when making decisions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“[The University's communication] is problematic, fundamentally, given that these decisions are extremely impactful on how students will live their day-to-day lives and what their concerns will be,” Ukeomah said. “[The UA] felt that it was important that we do what [Penn] didn’t and create a survey and gather responses so we know what the student body feels.”
The UA reported that approximately 60% of students who filled out the survey supported the Double/Triple A Model, in contrast to the optional pass/fail system Penn has adopted for spring 2020. The Universal pass/fail system was the second most popular choice, with approximately 30% of students' votes.
As more peer institutions announce a mandatory pass/fail grading policy for students, Penn's administration said it has no plans to change the current optional pass/fail system, as the policy grants students the opportunity to earn letter grades for their GPA and graduate schools.
College senior and UA Vice President Brian Goldstein said he appreciates that students took the time to respond to the survey and share their ideas. Although he had hoped more students would take the survey, he is optimistic that the administration will consider the UA's recommendations when making future changes.
“One of the biggest takeaways was how interconnected a lot of the concerns were,” Goldstein said. “Someone would be providing their perspective on their financial concerns, but it would be so intertwined to their academic issues or personal issues."
College sophomore and UA representative Tori Borlase said UA members communicated via Zoom, a conference call platform used for many online classes, while crafting the report.
“I think people just wanted the University to recognize that we are facing extenuating circumstances and that this is not business as usual, and that the administration needs to be a little bit more compassionate and make sure that they’re actually listening to students,” Borlase said.
College and Wharton senior and UA Dining, Housing, and Transit Committee director Maria Curry said although the UA appreciates the University's support for students during this time of uncertainty, she feels Penn can do a lot more moving forward. Curry hopes that the administration will seriously consider the UA's recommendations and solicit student feedback in the future.
“I feel that all of our requests are reasonable, if not necessary, [which is] in the long term providing students with the care and support they need during this transition."