As coronavirus cases continue to soar in the U.S., the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School today (July 31) announced that it had changed its mind about a hybrid fall semester of in-person and online classes. Instead, Dean Erika James said that Wharton’s classes will be virtual this fall.
The announcement was made by James in a morning web conference with the incoming Class of 2022 MBA students at Wharton. Later in the day, however, the school issued a lengthly clarification indicating that MBA courses will be “mostly online.” “While the MBA program instruction will take place largely online this Fall, we will provide academic requirements in-person where it is essential to have an in-person experience in order to meet curricular and/or pedagogical requirements,” wrote MBA Program Vice Dean Howie Kaufold (see his full communication below). “For the past several months, we concentrated our efforts on creating plans for an in-person experience for you, but as the developments unfolded over the last two weeks, it became clear that what we could deliver would not be sustainable amid the shifting situation, nor worth the heightened risk for those of you attending.”
Kaufold noted that tirst-year international students can get a support letter from the MBA Program to confirm they are attending a hybrid program for the Fall of 2020. The school also restated that while the classes will be mostly online, there will be no adjustments made to tuition for the academic year.
The school had earlier said that its MBA for Executives Program would be fully remote for fall 2020. Harvard Business School and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business are still moving forward with their plans for a blended opening, though it is not known how many classes will actually be in-person on either campus. Harvard, however, expects on-campus students to take COVID tests as often as every three days.
Prior to today’s change of heart by James, the school was planning to re-open for the fall semester on Sept. 1. Using a hybrid model, students were expected to resume classes through a mix of online learning and on-campus classroom instruction. All large lectures were to be delivered online and in-class instruction was to involve greater physical spacing of students, as well as plexiglass separators at lecterns where appropriate. The earlier plans had called for all Wharton classes with more than 48 students to be conducted online, while classes with 48 or fewer students could be offered in a hybrid format, with students alternating between in-person and virtual attendance and no more than 24 students in-person at any given time. Everyone on campus was expected to practice physical distancing, wear face coverings, and agree to testing and contact tracing.
IN PHILADELPHIA, 30,213 CONFIRMED CASES AND 1,691 DEATHS FROM CORONAVIRUS
But cases of coronavirus have continued to climb in the U.S. and in Philadelphia, home to Wharton’s campus, the local government has warned that there is a high risk of community transmission. Thus far, there are 30,213 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Philadelphia alone, with 1,691 deaths due to the pandemic.
What’s more, a newly released The New York Times analysis shows that Penn currently has one of the highest coronavirus case counts among colleges in the United States. As of July 28, Penn has had a total of 176 confirmed or probable coronavirus cases — which comprise of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students currently in the country and abroad — since it began COVID-19 testing in March. Out of the survey of approximately 270 U.S. colleges, The New York Times reported Penn with the eighth highest case count. Yale University has 220 confirmed cases and has conducted more than 4,000 symptomatic tests since March 10, while Harvard University has found 160 confirmed cases as of July 27.
The earlier announcement that Wharton was pulling back on its hybird plan fueled a lively debate on community websites. “Setting aside your personal risk appetite for contracting COVID, imagine being a member of Wharton’s administration if even one student/professor gets seriously ill and has long-term consequences (or worse) as a result of attending in-person classes,” wrote one commenter on Reddit. “Yes, they’re shifting liability onto the students. From a business/legal perspective, it makes total sense.”
Adds another: “It definitely devalues the experience. Nobody is arguing that it doesn’t, that would be crazy. But what’s the number of deaths among M7 students, faculty, and collateral community spread that we can accept in exchange for returning to in-person classes? Is it 1? Probably not… if one person was expected to die of COVID in the M7 if they all fully resumed course, that’s probably a bet that people would take. But when does it become not OK? Can you put a number on it?”
GEORGETOWN ALSO IS GOING ONLINE
Wharton’s announcement follows a decision earlier this week by Georgetown University‘s McDonough School of Business to start its MBA fully online. Georgetown President John DeGioia had said that as cases of the virus have accelerated and travel restrictions expanded, the school’s previous plans inoperable.
“Over these past few weeks, we have been carefully monitoring the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our Fall plans,” DeGioia writes. “I write to share with you the difficult decision that, based on current pandemic and public health conditions, we will be amending our plans for the Fall. “Courses for all undergraduate and graduate students will begin in virtual mode.”
While Wharton has yet to post an official notice about the fall on its website, the University of Pennsylvania today announced that almost all undergraduate courses will be online as well with only a few, limited, in-person offerings.
‘THE PANDEMIC HAS CONTINUED TO SPREAD’
“Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our University’s planning and actions have been driven by two fundamental principles: that we do everything within our powers to protect the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and community, and that we provide our students with the very finest educational experience possible under these extraordinary and challenging circumstances,” wrote Provost Wendell Pritchett and Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli in a newly published update. “As we began planning for the upcoming academic year, we were well aware that bringing college students together from across the country and around the world in the midst of a pandemic presented uniquely difficult challenges. This has become ever more apparent as the pandemic has continued to spread over the past month with young people becoming the fastest growing cohort.
“In our message concerning the fall on June 25, we stressed that our decision was guided by the most current medical information and governmental directives, and cautioned that our plans could change depending on the progression of the pandemic. It is now evident that rather than plateauing during the summer, as many health experts expected, COVID-19 has instead gained momentum. Since our June 25 message, 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the United States, with the confirmed case count soaring from 2.4 million on June 25 to 3.9 million on July 22. This means that almost 40% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic have been reported in the last month.
“Against this backdrop and as the pandemic continues to progress, the University’s planning has evolved on several fronts. Undergraduate courses for the fall semester are being offered online, with a few, limited, in-person offerings.”
While most business schools had been planning to return with blended formats, government restrictions will also play a major role in how and whether MBA programs will have in-person elements this fall. Only yesterday, for example, Harvard Business School noted that new requirements on self-quarantine imposed by Massachusetts for those coming or returning to Massachusetts go into effect on Saturday 8/1. “As is true at other schools and universities, Harvard is looking carefully at what it means to have large numbers of people all arriving in a short window of time who then—different from residents or travelers who typically disperse to varied locations—converge in what is being called a “congregate setting” (aka a college campus),” according to the school.
“Harvard is likely to build on the state’s new guidance—which requires quarantine for 14 days or a negative test from within 72 hours of arrival—and require multiple tests spaced over at least a week, for all students, whether living on or off-campus. Testing currently is administered on Tuesdays in the Harvard Stadium and on Wednesday in Longwood. The strong preference is for students to use this HUHS-administered testing, as it is convenient, free to those being tested, and enables rapid follow-up (e.g., support, contact tracing) should a positive result be returned. This is, we know, a very structured start. But it is driven by our strong hope that we can reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 outbreak in our community. Maintaining a low infection level will be key in the future to enabling restrictions to be eased.”
Wharton’s full communication is below:
MBA Class of 2021 and MBA Class of 2022,
I am reaching out to follow up on Dean Erika James’ message this morning on Wharton HQ about the Wharton MBA fall semester shifting from its hybrid format to a remote model, and also the University’s similar announcement today regarding their updated plans for the fall. The purpose of this note is to provide further clarification on several aspects of this change, including the impact for international students, updates on testing and contact tracing and further guidance on individuals planning to come to Philadelphia for the fall.
I want to start by stating that the MBA Program staff and I share in your disappointment. For the past several months, we concentrated our efforts on creating plans for an in-person experience for you, but as the developments unfolded over the last two weeks, it became clear that what we could deliver would not be sustainable amid the shifting situation, nor worth the heightened risk for those of you attending. It is now evident that rather than plateauing during the summer, as many health experts expected, COVID-19 has instead gained momentum. Since late June, 1.5 million new cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in the United States, with the confirmed case count soaring from 2.4 million on June 25 to 3.9 million on July 22. All of Penn recognizes the challenges this creates, and are adapting plans to accommodate.
In-person Courses: While the MBA program instruction will take place largely online this Fall, we will provide academic requirements in-person where it is essential to have an in-person experience in order to meet curricular and/or pedagogical requirements. First-year international students can get a support letter from the MBA Program to confirm they are attending a hybrid program in Fall 2020. Please see additional, updated information on the International Student & Scholar Services website for more details.
Enhanced Virtual Learning: Wharton Computing has been hard at work to ensure that virtual learning will be maximized for MBA students and faculty. They are now supporting Zoom in addition to Blue Jeans (which has features that will enhance the virtual classroom such as expanded view of participants, embedded polling, raised hands, etc.). The Vice Dean of Teaching and Learning, Brian Bushee, has produced an extensive guide for faculty on delivering an online class that is drawn from student and faculty feedback from the Spring semester. We will schedule a session with Brian for next week in order to bring you more information about our enhancements in this area.
Wharton MBA Financial Relief Fund: As Dean James shared this morning, there will be no adjustments made to tuition for the academic year. The school has established the Wharton MBA Financial Relief Fund to provide students additional financial assistance for 2020-2021. The MBA Financial Relief Fund will support MBA students who have incurred unexpected expenses directly related to the COVID-19 disruptions including moving expenses, travel, insurance, covering multiple rents, technology to support virtual access, and other urgent needs as appropriate. All students are encouraged to complete the Wharton MBA Financial Relief Fund application on or before 11:59 PM ET on August 23. Applicants will be notified by the first day of fall classes, September 1.
Student Campus Compact: You should review the Student Campus Compact which applies to all Penn students in Philadelphia, regardless of whether you are living on or off-campus, and will be strictly enforced. Today’s announcement from the University offers additional clarification on the Compact and how it will be enforced. Please also note, that if you are uncomfortable with the requirements of the Compact, you should not return to campus.
Testing and Contact Tracing (PennOpen Pass): Campus access will require students to use the tracking program, PennOpen Pass, as a daily symptom checker to reduce the risk of COVID-19 to the Penn community. Penn is requiring anyone coming to campus with any regularity to perform daily symptom checks using PennOpen Pass before the start of each day including weekends, regardless of whether they are reporting to campus on that particular day. Specifics on contact tracing and PennOpen Pass can be found in the University’s update, and further information is forthcoming.
Co-curricular and Student Life: We are motivated in thinking about the ideas we can put into place to create what we are calling the Remote Plus experience. Though today’s announcement means we will not have Wharton-sponsored co-curricular activities in person on campus, as the Wharton Proud community, we remain committed to making the remote experience inclusive, engaging and educational. The Office of Student Life, in conjunction with the WGA Leadership, will be in touch in the next few days to get feedback on what sorts of engagement would be on the top of your list.
“Remote Together” Launch: We’re going to be actively connecting first and second-year MBAs in whatever city they happen to be in to study together, to prep for interviews, and to socialize in what we are calling “pods”. We’re also connecting those pods to the local alumni. Alumni clubs have been active all summer inviting students to their programming, including alumni clubs in NYC, Brazil, Singapore, Dubai, Chicago, Shanghai, New Jersey, and the Northern Capital Region. Working with our offices of Student Life and Alumni Affairs, we’re going to bring recent alums together with current first and second-year students for facilitated and self-directed activities – in person where it’s allowed, and virtually when it’s not. We’re also going to be working through the clusters and Student Life Fellows to build strong connections between students here in Philadelphia and their classmates around the world. More to come as we get a better idea of where people are planning to be for the Fall.
Grading: First, we will not be enforcing an upper limit for the MBA grade point average. When faculty assign grades in MBA courses that are typically bound by a B+ average (3.33), this upper limit will not apply. Second, faculty will not assign LT indicators in MBA courses. Academic performance standards, however, will be enforced. In other words, you cannot get LTs, but accruing F grades can risk your academic standing. These decisions are a continuation of policies we put in place last semester in response to the transition to remote learning. We feel it is important to provide the same support as both students and faculty adjust to the synchronous and blended delivery models.
That being said, we will be returning to our standard Pass/Fail in the fall semester. Each student may take up to one elective course unit on a Pass/Fail basis, not counting classes that can only be taken on a Pass/Fail basis. Standard deadlines apply, as well. This decision was made in accordance with other schools at Penn. While we understand this may provide students with less flexibility, we believe this is in the best interest of the MBA community. The above policies apply to Fall 2020, as no decisions have been made yet regarding Spring 2021.
Leaves of Absence: If you decide you would like to pursue a leave of absence (LOA), please email firstname.lastname@example.org by Tuesday, September 8, regarding the reason for your leave and how long you anticipate being away. All leave of absence requests are reviewed by the MBA
Program Office. An LOA from the MBA Program can be granted for a semester or academic year at a time. Leaves are not granted for a quarter only. Students must return to finish their degree within 5 years of their expected graduation date; a member of the Class of 2021 would need to return and graduate by Spring, 2026 and a member of the Class if 2022 would need to return and graduate by Spring, 2027.
When you are placed on leave, your student status will lapse. This may affect your loans, regarding repayment, so please check in with your lenders about the change in status. Questions about fellowships and other financial aid can be directed to the financial aid office. You will have the option to purchase health insurance from the university; please feel free to contact Student Health Services about those details. Your Career Path and Course Match access will be frozen while you are on leave and reactivated upon your return. Your email will remain active until your expected graduation date and you will have the option of extending past that date as well. If we do see a rise in leave requests this fall, there may be restrictions placed upon the semester in which you can return.
Fall Semester Survey: We recognize this decision could impact each of you in different ways including your intended location for the Fall semester. The deadline for you to let us know your plans has been extended to Friday, August 7 at 9:00 AM ET. We understand that some of you may need to alter your response to the survey, if so, please email email@example.com.
Staff Support: Our MBA Program staff continues to be teleworking and accessible to provide helpful information and advice as you prepare for the Fall semester. You can reach out to staff via email and also connect with us on Wharton HQ.
Finally, we are not only disappointed because this was not what we had envisioned for the Fall semester, but also because we will miss seeing you on campus. We look forward to seeing you virtually as we work together to stay connected with each other and as a community.
Stay safe and well,
Vice Dean, MBA Program