President and Provost's Message

A Message from President Amy Gutmann and Provost Wendell Pritchett to the Penn Community on the Coronavirus and Important Changes to Our Operations for the Remainder of the Semester

March 11, 2020

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, presents our world, country and University with a unique public health challenge that is all the more disquieting because of the uncertainties associated with its spread.  We write today with the latest update on the additional steps we at Penn will take in dealing with this unprecedented challenge, guided by current data and expert advice.  We will continue to communicate with you and update our plans as new data and evidence emerges.  Our primary goals, as always, are carrying out our educational, research and clinical care missions while ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors.


To help us achieve these goals under demanding conditions, we are compelled to make major changes to the final weeks of the semester.  We take these steps after much deliberation and with a determination to ensure that our students continue to receive the finest education in the world.  This cannot come without disruption in the normal routine of things.  Together we will work our way through these difficulties, guided by the inimitable spirit that makes this University so special.


The COVID-19 virus is readily spread through close human contact, which is a fact of life in a university environment, whether in classrooms, dining halls or at University events.  Eliminating large gatherings and creating social distancing are important steps to help prevent the spread of the disease.


To achieve that, we are announcing these measures:


•                     Spring Break is being extended for one week for all students, except for those students in health-related Schools and programs in which Spring Break has already occurred or who are actively engaged in clinical rotations.  During this time, the University will complete planning to migrate all classroom teaching to virtual instruction for both undergraduate and graduate classes beginning Monday, March 23rd.  Virtual instruction will continue through the remainder of the spring semester including examinations.  Graduate and professional Schools will notify their students about their specific schedules.

•                     In the critically important interest of public health, if at all possible, students who are currently out of town should not return to campus.  Students who are on campus should depart effective Sunday, March 15th.  University staff will be available and do their best to assist departing students.  We will work with students in the College Houses or University housing who do not come back to campus from Spring Break to facilitate the return of their belongings.  We will support those students living in the College Houses or University housing who are absolutely unable to return home for personal reasons.  For students on financial aid, we will work with you to ensure you are supported in this emergency transition.

•                     Medical, Dental, Veterinary and some Nursing students will continue their clinical rotations. Information about clinical experiences will be handled separately by the Schools and details will soon be provided in a separate communication from the respective Deans.

•                     Guidance on completion of labs and other non-classroom academic activities for graduate and professional students will be provided by each school.  PhD students who are on dissertation status or have completed their coursework will be advised separately in consultation with their graduate deans and the Vice Provost for Education, as we recognize individual research is different from classroom education.

•                     We are actively working with departments and programs at the undergraduate level to ensure comparable academic experiences are provided virtually.

•                     Whether students remain on campus or return home, all classes will be provided by virtual instruction, and on-campus activities will be limited.


Many details are still being finalized, so we ask for your patience as we work through the myriad issues involved in this major temporary change.  There will be ongoing communications as more details unfold.  We are determined that our efforts will be guided by a commitment to fairness in helping students complete the semester as seamlessly as possible.  We will work diligently to ensure that every Penn student continues to receive a high-quality Penn education, and to ensure that graduating students can do so on time and without delay or interruption.  As disruptive as this might be on the surface, we will do everything in our power to minimize its interference with learning, which is the reason we are all here.


The University has created a website ( to answer many of the questions you will have about this decision.  We will be vigilant in keeping the site updated as new events move forward.  Should you have questions not answered by this information, please email


Faculty with specific academic questions can receive guidance from their School Deans. Staff should not hesitate to contact their managers or the Penn Solutions Center at 215-898-7372 or


In this stressful time, we want to remind all students that there are extensive support resources available.  One call to the HELP LINE can assist you in finding personal and mental health support.  Similarly, faculty and staff always have access to Penn’s Employee Assistance Program:


Our thanks to everyone at Penn who has contributed to the planning for the remainder of the semester.  This is a unique and difficult challenge.  To get through, we need to work together and look out for each other along the way.  We are one Penn community, we will continue to be one Penn community, and we are grateful for your partnership in helping us make the remainder of this semester a productive and healthy one for all of our students.


With all best wishes,


Amy Gutmann, President

Wendell Pritchett, Provost


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