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Message Regarding Thanksgiving Break

Dear Faculty and Staff,

One of the greatest things about Penn is the way that faculty and staff have always cared about our students. I experienced it as a student.  It was a driving factor in my return to Penn as an employee.  When I arrived for my interview I felt like I had returned home.

Thanksgiving Break was a topic of discussion at last week’s Cabinet meeting. While we have planned for this break for months, the realization of how a quarantine situation could impact a student after break dawned on me.  We have been safe thus far and I have confidence that will continue, but you all know that we have consistently had students in quarantine. For Christmas break, many of our students will use airplane, bus or train travel to return home. For those students, if they become exposed on Friday, December 4 they could not start their return trip home until December 19. If they are exposed December 9, they may not make it home for Christmas. With that realization, the discussion shifted to the idea of flexibility for students who go home for Thanksgiving to finish out the semester remotely.  This discussion was centered on compassion for the students that could end up finding themselves in this quarantine scenario.  To force them to come back and then force them to stay does not seem caring.

However, for many of our students, forcing them out of a face to face classroom experience is also not caring. Just this week I have had students and parents thank me for planning to continue classroom instruction after Thanksgiving. Today, Cabinet revisited this topic after receiving feedback from Academic Council.  While I am not adopting all the suggestions, we will allow those students who desire to finish remotely to do so after Thanksgiving Break. We will also allow students to return to the classroom. As we have learned throughout this semester, face to face instruction can be done safely with masks and our other mitigation efforts in place.

For our students to opt to a remote conclusion for the semester, they must do the following:

  • Register for Spring 2021 prior to Thanksgiving Break (if they plan to return in January);
  • Discontinue participation in extracurricular activities after Thanksgiving Break;
  • Complete end of semester dorm check-out procedures if they live in the residence halls

The procedures for this protocol and methods to capture student plans are currently being developed and students will be notified by the end of this week of the plan moving forward.

I’ve been disappointed to hear that some students have received inaccurate information from employees that Penn will be operating 100% remotely to end the semester.  That was never part of the discussion and a final decision to even allow the remote option was not made until this afternoon. Pronouncements prior to decisions being made only create confusion and anxiety for our students and for employees.

Let me reiterate this decision is not based on safety concerns, but rather based on caring appropriately for our geographically diverse student body. Campus will operate normally after Thanksgiving Break with all services available for those students that decide to complete the semester on campus. That is my expectation and our students deserve that.

Thank you for all your hard work.  It has been an extremely taxing year.  I recognize that the only reason we’ve been successful is because of the Penn family. I am fortunate to be part of this team.

 

John Ottosson

President