April 17, 2020
Dear SAS Graduate Students,
I hope that you are all safe and taking good care in these challenging times.
I am keenly aware that COVID-19 restrictions have adversely affected graduate student education. Many of you face serious obstacles in conducting research and are rightly concerned about your progress toward degree.
I appreciate your patience as I, along with fellow SAS Deans and our dedicated staff, have worked to develop solutions to address the challenges precipitated by this crisis. I want to address several steps that we have taken and will be taking to alleviate some of your concerns.
The transition to remote learning should allow most graduate students currently in coursework to move forward, albeit not under conditions that any of us would prefer. By now, you should be aware that you may select the Pass/Fail option for courses taken during the spring 2020 semester, and you have until April 29th to make that choice. The Graduate Division is also prepared to be flexible in extending benchmark deadlines for candidacy, degree, and other key milestones in response to the crisis. At the end of this letter, I am also sharing recent announcements about emergency funding, health insurance updates and other resources that will be useful.
I understand that many of you, particularly advanced graduate students, remain quite concerned about the disruption to your research plans. Many of you have spoken to me about the pressing need for additional funding. To alleviate the most immediate needs of our students—those in their final year of funding in 2019-2020—SAS Graduate Division has initiated procedures that allow students to request an additional fully-funded semester of graduate school.
Funding extensions will be available only to those who are currently in the final year of the funding package promised upon admission. Those who have deferred a final year due to external grants provided in the middle of a graduate career will be offered the full package guaranteed to them. Those who have accepted a completion-year fellowship —whether from Penn or from an external source-—after their full funding package has been expended—will not be considered for these emergency funds. We understand that international students may have particular challenges, and we will address those on a case by case basis.
The School of Arts and Sciences encompasses a tremendously diverse graduate student body with very distinct modes of training for the Ph.D. We know that needs vary considerably not only by graduate group but also by the particular stage of students in their programs, and by the nature of their research (whether it involves travel to archives, ability to conduct fieldwork, access to labs etc.). For that reason, requests for the one-semester extension of funding will be considered first by individual graduate groups. As part of the application for additional funding, we will ask you to explain briefly how your research has been impeded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Your graduate chair(along with your advisor/s) will send your requests to the Graduate Division where we will make final evaluations. My office will be sending out further information about the process very shortly, so please watch for messages from your graduate chairs tailored to the specific needs and procedures of your graduate group.We will be making every effort to conduct this process expeditiously, so deadlines may be shorter than usual, but the request form will be brief and straightforward.
I fully appreciate the fact that many students—not only those in the final year of funding—have experienced significant challenges, delays, and frustrations, and are understandably worried about the future. My office is providing graduate groups with the ability to offer limited funding to students at various stages in the program. But we simply must address those in most imminent need, namely those whose funding comes to an end this academic year. None of us knows how long this crisis will persist, and what further measures might be needed once we have a clearer idea of how events will unfold in the coming months.
In these difficult times, we remain committed to helping you become the next generation of scholars and teachers, and we want to support you to the extent possible in the midst of this unprecedented crisis.
Beth S. Wenger
Associate Dean of Graduate Studies
Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History
University of Pennsylvania