Thanks to Penn Faculty for the Past Semester and Thoughts on Planning for the Fall
May 20, 2020
With Commencement now behind us, we wanted to take the opportunity to once again thank each and every one of you for the absolutely outstanding job that you did in moving your coursework online and for ensuring that our students had a rich and fulfilling conclusion to their academic year. This was a monumental achievement, done on very short notice, executed with grace and unwavering determination. We have always been extraordinarily proud of Penn’s faculty, but never more so than today.
This pandemic has turned many things in our lives upside down. Because of your commitment, Penn was able to navigate these past perilous months as seamlessly as any university in the country. A recent survey of our students found that they were overwhelmingly positive about their online experience. This is a tribute to your superb work, and we hope you all feel a genuine sense of pride. What you achieved was nothing less than essential to enabling Penn to carry on our world-class and life-changing educational mission.
These enormous changes to our campus life occurred as so many of you also had to deal with caregiving and other personal challenges brought about by the pandemic. We know how taxing this balance between work and personal responsibilities has been, and we deeply appreciate the professional and compassionate way that you have managed through this crisis.
Now we must shift our attention forward in contemplation of the fall semester. Several weeks ago we formed a Recovery Planning Group, comprised of leaders from across the key areas of our campus. Its committee structure includes many faculty voices, and you will shortly be hearing from the RPG as they lay out the considerations and options being explored for the coming academic year. Their work is driven by our strong commitment to ensure the safety of everyone in the Penn community while embracing the important work that all of you do in our classrooms, labs, studios, and clinical settings, as well as in our community and beyond.
We all want to return to normal campus operations as soon as possible, but government directives allied with health considerations may necessitate delaying various features of normalcy for some period of time. We are confident we can begin a phased process for resuming research soon. For students to return, we need to be sure that we have better and more available testing, contact tracing and isolation space for those who may test positive, adequate capacity to provide separation in housing and dining settings, and workable social distancing practices, to name just a few of the considerations. The RPG is hard at work determining what is most feasible and when. In planning for the fall, we are considering a range of options for undergraduate, graduate and professional students that cover everything from completely online to various hybrid (in person and online) models. Whatever decision is ultimately made, it is clear that even if most students return to campus, the needs for social distancing will necessitate many changes, including the possibility of remote instruction for some or most of our courses. Indeed, to be adequately prepared for the fall, our schools and their faculties should all be thinking about the best ways to present courses through remote instruction. The Deans have been working with us to think through our options, and we ask that you work with them to ensure that we continue to provide a Penn quality education no matter what platforms we decide to use.
As we plan for the fall semester, we are keenly aware of the unique challenges that this pandemic has created for you, our faculty, and our students. Despite the significant financial impact this has had on the University, please know that we are deeply committed to doing everything possible to support you, our students, staff, patients, and all who are part of the Penn community.
In the nearly 300-year history of the University of Pennsylvania, there has never been a challenge of the nature and magnitude that we face today. Navigating the year ahead will require all of us to be creative, flexible and resolute. We know that no faculty at any university in the world is more capable of rising to this occasion. Penn is enormously blessed by the strength that all of you bring to your work. We are deeply grateful for your commitment to your students, our patients, the critical research work that we do, and the overall success of our University.
Thank you for all that you do and for what we know will be exceptional achievements in the year ahead.
Amy Gutmann, President
Wendell Pritchett, Provost