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Students returned to Penn's campus in August 2021 for the first in-person classes since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Credit: Kylie Cooper


In the summer of 2021, Penn confirmed that the fall semester would be held fully in person. For the first time in more than a year, classes were no longer to be held on Zoom, and campus amenities such as Van Pelt Library and Pottruck Health and Fitness Center were available for student use with appropriate indoor masking. 

In October 2021, Penn reached a COVID-19 vaccination rate of 99% for its undergraduate population. Alongside the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, the 2021-2022 academic year marked the first time that the flu vaccine was mandated for students. Penn held its largest-ever flu clinic, vaccinating nearly 14,000 community members. 

Penn’s COVID-19 cases rose at the end of the fall semester, with a positivity rate of 2.26% and a record 241 new cases in a week. On Dec. 21, Penn announced that all members of the Penn community must receive the booster vaccine by the end of January. After students petitioned to move final exams online, Penn announced that the second week of finals would be held virtually.

Following the January surge in Omicron variant cases in Philadelphia and Penn's estimate that 1 in 6 community members were infected over winter break, the University moved classes online for the first two weeks of the spring semester and pushed back on-campus move-in by one week. New requirements to double-mask or use an N95 or KN95 mask were also instated.

In February, cases on campus fell to a spring semester-low positivity rate of 1.81%. Penn later held its first in-person Spring Fling concert since 2019. 

Masking mandates were also dropped on March 15 in all indoor settings, excluding classrooms, medical facilities, and Penn Transit. 

Penn Presidency

In early July, President Joe Biden tapped Penn President Amy Gutmann as the next United States ambassador to Germany. Gutmann was slated to serve as president until June 30, 2022, or until the U.S. Senate confirmed her ambassadorship. 

Penn announced in September that it had formed a committee to select Gutmann’s successor, consisting of trustees, administrators, faculty, and students. 

In December, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began its first ambassadorship hearing on Gutmann’s ambassador nomination. The committee confirmed Gutmann’s nomination on Jan. 12.

On Jan. 13, Liz Magill was announced to be the University’s next president. Magill previously served as dean of Stanford Law School and was known for her extensive leadership in higher education. Former Provost Wendell Pritchett was tapped to serve as interim president until Magill’s term begins.

In February, the U.S. Senate confirmed Gutmann as the U.S. ambassador to Germany with a vote of 54 to 42. 

Penn's Board of Trustees unanimously confirmed Magill as Penn’s ninth president in March. She will begin her term on July 1. 


In November 2021, The Daily Pennsylvanian uncovered evidence of an allegedly toxic workplace environment in Penn’s Gene Therapy Program, with former and current employees detailing extreme work disorganization and inappropriate office behavior. Nearly half a year later, top University officials allegedly manipulated a Perelman School of Medicine investigation into the allegations of abuse to protect its financial stake in the company. 

In January 2022, Penn graduate and Rhodes Scholarship recipient Mackenzie Fierceton filed a lawsuit against the University in response to its investigation into allegations questioning her claim to be a survivor of abuse and a first-generation, low-income college student. Fierceton gave up her Rhodes Scholarship, and Penn placed a hold on her master’s degree of social work, which was lifted in April following public scrutiny.

Calls to suspend Penn Law professor Amy Wax also began in January, sparked by Wax’s remarks about Asian Americans and immigration policies. 

Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger initiated the University's ongoing sanctions process against Wax later that month, which would determine whether Wax had violated behavioral standards. In an interview, Wax retaliated against the decision, saying that revoking her tenure would undermine academic freedom. Months later, Wax appeared on national television, doubling down on her racist rhetoric.