Last month, President Joe Biden announced an executive order reviewing Title IX regulations and how they pertain to sexual misconduct. This review comes less than a year after the Trump administration released rules that, among other things, narrowed the definition of sexual harassment to offenses that are “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” as well as restricted the type of offenses universities must intervene in to those occurring on campus or “in conjunction with an education program or activity."
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Penn administrators recently announced plans to return to in-person classes, research, and campus living for fall 2021. In the announcement, they cited widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution, projections of increased vaccine supply in the coming months, and campus safety measures as reasons to expect a return to in-person activities in the fall. According to current projections, most Americans will be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines by the end of the summer, which would greatly reduce the risks associated with in-person University activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic killed higher education as we know it. Instead of being a time when students could experiment with adulthood, many students were relegated to their childhood bedrooms as they took classes online. Knowing that their campus community faced more than normal amounts of stress, anxiety, and responsibilities, Penn and its Ivy League peers instituted pass/fail policies over the past few semesters, often allowing students to pass/fail courses while still counting towards academic requirements.
Since the beginning of the spring semester, a worrisome number of Penn students have exhibited callous and careless behavior with regards to the COVID-19 pandemic as demonstrated by Penn’s uniquely high case rates, the continuation of parties and gatherings despite social distancing guidelines, and the faking of Penn Open Passes to get around the University’s rules. Although case rates have declined in recent weeks, many students have continued to behave irresponsibly, both misusing their privilege and actively causing harm to others.
A few weeks ago, Provost Wendell Pritchett stated at the Board of Trustees meeting that there is a "50-50 chance" Penn could begin vaccinating students before the end of the spring semester. The recent promise by President Biden that the United States would have enough vaccines for all adults by the end of May likely confirms this, and may even speed up the timeline.
This past week, Harvard and Columbia announced their commencement plans, leaving Penn as one of two Ivies yet to announce its intentions regarding commencement. With the other Ivies split on whether or not an in-person ceremony is possible, it is not clear how Penn will weigh in on the issue. Although the University can be expected to make an announcement in the coming days and weeks, the Daily Pennsylvanian’s Editorial Board believes Penn should hold an in-person ceremony, provided the University meets the conditions necessary to hold such a ceremony responsibly.
Last Thursday, former Penn Presidential Professor of Practice and President of the United States Joe Biden participated in a CNN town hall. During the event, Biden was asked how he would make student debt forgiveness happen. In response, the 46th President stated that debt forgiveness should be limited to $10,000 per student, specifically arguing that it made little sense to forgive student loans held by students who went to schools such as Penn.
University officials recently announced the appointment of Whitney Soule as Penn’s next dean of admissions and vice provost. Soule, who will assume the position on July 1, is currently senior vice president and dean of admissions and student aid at Bowdoin College.
This past Monday, the University announced that all sophomores, starting with the Class of 2024, would be required to purchase one of three meal plans. The decision to mandate meal plans for sophomores, in conjunction with Penn’s soon to be implemented on-campus housing requirement for sophomores, represents a broader trend by the administration to build a so-called “Second Year Experience,” or SYE.
This past Sunday, the Perelman School of Medicine's Office of the Executive Vice Dean and Chief Scientific Officer sent an email to faculty members advising them to pause undergraduate laboratory research. This email came just a few days after a University-wide notification warning about increases in COVID-19 case counts, and the corresponding possibility that a campus-wide quarantine may be imposed.
This semester, more than 3,000 undergraduates returned to campus for the first time since March. With more students living on campus, the University has reopened many dining locations that had been closed in the absence of students, bringing back the over 100 workers it furloughed in the fall. While the increase in campus population has come with increased precautions surrounding the spread of COVID-19 — twice-a-week testing for undergraduates and at least weekly testing for faculty, graduate students, and staff — until recently, subcontracted dining workers have been unable to get tested on Penn’s campus. And it took public outcry and a petition with over 600 signatures to get to that point.
Last week, a number of deans and vice deans of schools at Penn released a joint statement strongly discouraging students from pursuing pass/fail grading in their courses, in particular for classes related to general requirements or one's major. This email came in spite of Penn's extension of the pass/fail policy back in December, which argued that such an extension came because of continued challenges related to COVID-19.
As COVID-19 continues to threaten those in the Philadelphia area and beyond, many West Philadelphia residents are concerned about Penn’s decision to bring students back to campus this semester. These concerns are not unfounded; a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that counties containing large colleges open for in-person instruction last fall experienced significant increases in COVID-19 cases. More disturbingly, a New York Times analysis found that COVID-19 related deaths in communities with large college populations have risen faster than in the rest of the United States. With the increasing danger posed by new COVID-19 variants and reports that Penn students are already failing to follow health guidelines, the return of thousands of students to campus has the potential to fuel outbreaks that extend far beyond campus.
At long last, Penn’s campus has reopened. With extensive testing procedures in place, vaccinations initiated, and students permitted in on-campus housing, Penn students and faculty are able to return to some degree of normalcy, albeit through a hybrid semester and mostly online classes.
Jan. 6, 2021 will forever be known as the day an insurrectionary, right-wing mob, egged on by President Donald Trump, stormed the United States Capitol, disrupting the official business of Congress in a disgusting display of domestic terrorism. Make no mistake: Donald Trump is to blame. Those witnessing his egregious behavior must speak up — and that includes the administration at his alma mater.
To say 2020 has been a difficult year has become a cliché at this point. Between event cancellations, rampant systemic racism, the loss of numerous American icons, and almost 300,000 deaths from an out-of-control virus, Americans have endured much over the past 12 months.
Earlier this week, Penn announced that it would cancel classes on three individual days during the spring semester. Professors will not be allowed to hold any form of classes nor give any type of assessment on these days. This decision reversed an earlier one where the only days off would come from a two-day spring break, much to the frustration of Penn's student body.
This week, many Penn students who have spent the entire semester on or near campus will travel back to their home states or countries. For all, Thanksgiving is a much-needed break from the stresses of school. With that period of relaxation and associated travel, however, comes the threat of COVID-19.
This past Tuesday, the University announced that it would donate $100 million over 10 years to Philadelphia public schools. The largest private contribution in the school district’s history, the funds will be used to ameliorate the environmental hazards present in those schools, including asbestos and lead.
Over the coming weeks, Penn students must decide whether they will be learning from home or at school next semester. During an already stressful time, Penn's cancellation policy for housing does its students no favors.