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At the end of the fall semester in 2020, Penn announced that all students were required to receive the COVID-19 booster by the end of January. Credit: Jesse Zhang


After more than a year of online classes, Penn announced over the summer that the fall 2021 semester would be held fully in person. Students would return to in-person classes for the first time in more than a year, regaining access to the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, Van Pelt Library, and other campus amenities. 

The University announced that fully vaccinated students would also no longer have to undergo regular COVID-19 testing, although all students were required to participate in Penn’s COVID-19 gateway testing program upon move-in. Penn also removed nearly all indoor masking requirements for vaccinated community members.

By October 2021, 99% of Penn’s undergraduate student body was vaccinated for COVID-19. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, Penn also required all students to get the flu vaccine, hosting its largest-ever flu clinic that served nearly 14,000 community members. 

As the fall semester neared its end, Penn’s COVID-19 cases rose, with a record 241 new cases a week and a positivity rate of 2.26%. Penn announced that the second week of finals would be conducted virtually, enabling students to return home earlier than anticipated. Penn also announced that all students were required to receive the COVID-19 booster by the end of January.

With the spread of the Omicron variant, Penn estimated that about one in six community members had been infected with COVID-19 over winter break. Consequently, the University announced that all classes would be held online for the first two weeks of the spring semester. Move-in was pushed back by one week, and students were told to double-mask or use a KN95 or N95 mask.

Following the instatement of these masking policies, COVID-19 cases fell to their lowest that semester during February, with a positivity rate of 1.81%. Later in the year, Cheat Codes and Flo Milli headlined the first in-person Spring Fling since 2019. In March, all masking mandates in indoor settings except for classrooms, medical facilities, and Penn Transit were removed

Penn’s Presidency

In July 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Penn President Amy Gutmann to serve as the next United States ambassador to Germany. In September, Penn announced it had formed a committee of trustees, administrators, faculty, and students to find the next Penn president. 

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmed Gutmann’s nomination on Jan. 12, 2022, one day before Liz Magill was announced the University’s next president. Magill, who previously served as the University of Virginia’s Provost and Executive Vice President, has held a variety of leadership positions in higher education. After she was unanimously confirmed by Penn’s Board of Trustees, Magill began her term as Penn’s ninth president on July 1. Provost Wendell Pritchett was selected to serve as interim president. 

Nationwide Controversy

In November 2021, Penn’s Gene Therapy Program fell under scrutiny for being a toxic workplace environment. The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke to 11 former and current employees, who shared stories of inappropriate office behavior and extreme work disorganization. Top University officials allegedly manipulated a Perelman School of Medicine investigation into these abuse allegations to protect its financial interests.

In January 2022, Rhodes Scholarship recipient and Penn graduate Mackenzie Fierceton filed a lawsuit against the University for its inquiry into allegations that challenged her claim as a survivor of abuse and her status as a first-generation, low-income college student. Penn placed her master of social work degree on hold, before lifting it in April due to public scrutiny.

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor Amy Wax made inflammatory remarks about Asian Americans and U.S. immigration policies, prompting calls to suspend her in January. Penn Carey Law School Dean Ted Ruger began the ongoing University sanctions process against Wax to determine if Wax violated standards of behavior.

Wax argued in an interview that revoking her tenure would undermine academic freedom. After a few months, she reiterated her racist remarks on national television.