Dear Members of the Fordham Community,
I am writing to you while we are between the diploma ceremonies for the Classes of 2021 and 2020. Therefore, as you might imagine, our students and the experience that they have on campus are very much on my mind. It has been a great joy to see the pleasure with which students (and faculty and staff) have been greeting one another at in-person diploma ceremonies, after what has been a year’s absence for some of them. As you might also imagine, as I looked at the faces of our students and our faculty in the course of the many ceremonies that I have been fortunate enough to attend, once again, I was deeply aware of all that we have missed in the course of the past difficult 15 months.
Even as we were preparing to celebrate the members of the Class of 2021 and their many achievements, we have been giving a great deal of thought to what the coming academic year will look like, and what it should look like. Therefore, I would like to share with you the University’s direction for 2021–2022.
It goes without saying that we hope for full enrollment this year, not least to ensure that we can deliver a robust student experience and desirable environment in which to teach and work. Robust enrollment is also important in the next few fiscal years as the University regains its financial footing. If we want the students to return to campus, we have to be here to greet them.
As we all know from experience, our promise to provide our students with the cura personalis that is at the center of Jesuit education is best delivered and experienced in a vibrant, high-touch, in-person environment. Every member of the Fordham community, regardless of their role, contributes to the campus culture, and shapes the educational and work experience for students, faculty, and staff. This is just another way of saying that the full Fordham experience, for students and for all of us, is best achieved when most of us are studying, teaching, and working together in person. Since we all value the student-centered environment for which Fordham is justly famous, as I mentioned to you in a note that I sent out on March 9, we have made the decision to return to a fully on-ground format for all undergraduate students in the 2021–2022 academic year (the Office of the Provost will share guidance for graduate and professional schools). In order to do so, we want to ensure that we provide all of the members of the University community with as COVID-safe an environment as we possibly can.
Therefore, all students will be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 for the fall semester. In addition, it is our strong expectation that all University personnel (faculty, staff, and administrators) will be fully vaccinated as well, no later than the opening day of the fall semester. While Fordham hasn’t made COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for employees, other schools and employers are beginning to do so, and we will be weighing whether we will follow their lead in the coming months. Requests for medical and religious accommodations will be considered. Our rationale for considering moving in this direction is a simple one: In addition to protecting your health as individuals, vaccination helps protect your colleagues and our students. This belief has been buttressed by the dramatic impact that the broad vaccination of our students has had on our caseload and positivity rates: As soon as our students were fully vaccinated, our caseload and positivity rates plummeted.
In addition, we will continue to follow the directives that we receive from both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and New York State Department of Health. Therefore, we will require that their mandates with regard to masking, maintaining social distance, sanitation, and hygiene be followed at all times. You may have noticed that over the course of the pandemic, COVID-19 regulations and precautions have evolved. We expect further easing of mask and social distancing restrictions as a greater percentage of our population becomes vaccinated, and we expect that we will be allowed to have full-capacity classrooms, residence and dining halls, and event spaces in the fall. This is how good public health policy works: as evidence accumulates, policies are updated to reflect the latest scientific analysis.
Human Resources Management has been drafting policies that will prepare us for the full-scale return to campus in the fall. I assure you that the policies that are developed will be practical, equitable, and will serve Fordham’s mission well. In order to ensure that we get it right, there will be a University Town Hall meeting (via Zoom) in June to review such details.
Also, allow me to remind you again of the importance and effectiveness of vaccination against COVID-19: Last week’s Five Things email charts the abrupt decline of new COVID-19 infections as on-campus vaccinations increased. As of May 25, we have a 14-day streak of zero new infections. Fordham still has an abundant supply of vaccine doses on both campuses: Hours, locations, and other details are available here.
Anyone who has been fully vaccinated should send an image of their completed vaccine card to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com (use the same addresses to inform the University of COVID-19 test results).
Over the next several months you will receive a variety of communications regarding the return to campus policies and procedures from various offices (including the weekly Five Things updates). Those communications will be in addition to more town halls as we come closer to the beginning of the academic year.
I am very much looking forward to seeing you all in person in just a couple of months. This has been a difficult year for many of us, and has certainly stressed the University community in ways we could not have anticipated in March 2020. Until then, I hope you can enjoy a summer with loved ones and friends free of COVID-19 restrictions—you more than deserve it.
You are in my prayers,
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.