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Dean’s list is an annual honor given to students based on their academic performance during the fall and spring semesters.

Credit: Abhiram Juvvadi

Penn announced that it will no longer award the dean’s list to undergraduate students effective July 1.

The policy change is a result of “the shared belief that a dean’s list designation does not reflect the breadth and evolution of students’ academic achievements over the course of their education at Penn,” according to a message dated March 24 from Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein and Vice Provost for Education Karen Detlefsen. 

Spring 2023 will be the final semester for which dean’s list will be awarded, according to an email sent to students on Tuesday from administrators from Penn's four undergraduate schools. The administrators wrote that the list was redundant and does not capture how a student progresses during their time at Penn. 

The dean’s list is an annual honor given to students based on academic performance during the fall and spring semesters. The award is given to any student who achieves a cumulative GPA of 3.7 or higher, provided they also take a minimum of six credits, receive no grade lower than a C, and complete all classes on time.

The administrators wrote that members of the Penn community — including deans and student representatives from the Undergraduate Assembly and Student Committee on Undergraduate Education — reached the conclusion that academic achievement is better reflected through other means, such as departmental and school awards.

“With Latin Honors and these many other awards remaining, our students will continue to have a rich variety of avenues for their academic achievements to be acknowledged,” the administrators wrote in their email to students.

The Pennbook will be updated in July 2023 to reflect the new policy and documentation of the change will be added to Penn transcripts, according to Winkelstein and Detlefsen's message. The decision was the culmination of several years’ worth of extensive conversations across the Penn community, including with student leaders, the administrators wrote.

Two UA members that the DP spoke with voiced varying opinions about the decision. 

“[Ending the dean’s list] takes away a chance for students to receive recognition for their achievement,” College junior and second-year UA College Representative Charlie Schumer said. “College is really hard, and I think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge the effort that people put in.” 

Schumer told the DP that the removal of the dean’s list was first discussed among the UA at a general body meeting in September. That conversation occurred after the proposal was brought to the attention of UA President Carson Sheumaker during a meeting with the Council of Undergraduate Deans. 

According to the UA GBM minutes, the deans cited a number of reasons for removing the award, including a high number of students qualifying for the list and peer institutions who no longer offer it. They also said it would deemphasize the value that students place on grades.

UA reactions to the decision were mixed, Schumer said. Members tended to understand the administration’s reasons for removing the dean’s list while still preferring that the University keep it, he added.

Wharton junior and UA Speaker Xavier Shankle said that the removal of the dean's list may seem "shocking on the surface," but serves as an indication that Penn is "consciously thinking" about how to reduce academic stress for students.

"Whether or not removing dean's list is the best way to remove or reduce academic stress … is something still to be determined," Shankle said, adding that the issue was centered around "finding a balance" between maintaining Penn's academic rigor while promoting academic wellness. 

While Shankle said that some students may experience an "adjustment period" without the dean's list each year, he added that it could be beneficial in the long term for promoting "learning for the sake of learning." 

He said that the UA brought up with administrators how removing the dean's list would impact students applying to graduate schools, jobs, and other positions that use the list as an indicator of academic performance. Administrators wrote that the end of dean's list awards will be indicated on transcripts beginning this fall "to eliminate potential confusion with employers or graduate school admissions committees." 

Winkelstein and Detlefsen's message said that the University will continue to recognize student academic excellence in a number of other forms, including Latin honors and school and departmental awards.

However, Schumer said that this recognition is insufficient. He said that it was important to acknowledge the effort that students put in on a yearly basis, and that the dean's list recognized improvement in academic standing.

While this year marks the end of the dean's list, the award was suspended through the 2019-20 and 2020-21 academic years in light of the University’s shift to online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended pass/fail policy that was adopted as a result.

In 2020, some students expressed frustration when the announcement was made. A 2020 petition demanding that the list be re-enacted received support from 249 students.  

"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 said.