What follows is the text of Father McShane’s fall 2020 State of the University address, as prepared for remote delivery to the University community on Sept. 10.
Welcome back. Welcome to the opening of the 180th academic year in the University’s history, a year that promises to be one of the most challenging years (if not the most challenging year) in our history. As we begin, I would invite you join me in praying for several of our colleagues who died in the course of the past six months: Fr. Joseph O’Hare, S.J., the longest serving president in our history; Dr. Joseph Cammarosano, a distinguished professor of economics who served for a period of time as our executive vice president (who is widely credited with saving the University in a period of financial peril); Fr. Daniel Sullivan, S.J., a longtime member of the Department of the Biological Sciences; Fr. Raymond Schroth, S.J, a former member of the Department of Communications who was a great and towering presence on campus for many years; Fr. Donald Moore, S.J., a longtime member of the theology department who was known and loved by many; Professor Joel Reidenberg, a peerless educator and a dear friend to all who were blessed to know him; and Professor Joseph Sweeney, another legendary member of the law school faculty. Let us pray in thanksgiving for their lives and their service to our beloved University.
In the course of our time together today, I would like to cover the topics or areas that I normally cover in the State of the University address, namely: New Appointments, Admissions, Fundraising, Diversity Efforts and Initiatives, Rankings and Accomplishments, and Finances, all of which are covered in detail in the customary letters that I send out at the beginning of every academic year.
Before turning to those topics, however, I would like to reflect with you on the two major issues/events of the past year: the pandemic and the blossoming of a new civil rights movement aimed at addressing racism in our country.
Confronting Racism and Educating for Justice
401 years ago, the first enslaved Africans were brought to America against their will. 157 year ago, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. 155 years ago, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. 56 years ago, the Civil Rights Act was passed. 55 years ago, the Voting Rights Act was passed. 108 days ago (on 25 May), George Floyd was killed on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
401 years. Our nation is at an inflection moment in its history. After centuries, we still have not created the kind of nation that our founding documents promised to create. That is to say, we have not succeeded in creating a country and a culture in which all of our citizens are truly equal, a nation in which each citizen is treated with dignity, respect, reverence, and supportive affection, rather than with brutality, disrespect, and exclusion. Sadly, and tragically, the Black community has never enjoyed the kind of respect, and has never had access to the range of opportunities that other communities in our country have had. Therefore, the heartfelt protests that have occurred across the country in the aftermath of the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd are both a cry of the heart from a community that has been the victim of systemic racism for our entire history, and a call to a national examination of conscience on race relations and on racism itself. This is, then, indeed an inflection moment for us. This is a moment for hard, uneasy but absolutely necessary conversations, conversations that can (if we listen attentively to what the protesters are saying) lead to the creation of that “more perfect union” spoken of in the preamble to the Constitution.
I believe with all my heart, therefore, that the present challenging moment is an opportunity, an opportunity to listen and to heal, an opportunity truly to become what our founding documents promised at the time of our national beginnings. I may be wrong, but I think that the peaceful protests that have taken place all over our country in the course of the summer are the beginning (or the first sentences) of our necessary national conversation. They have brought together people from every race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and age group in our country, all united in the strong belief and an urgent message that Black Lives Matter, that Black Lives Are Sacred. They have called us to understand, in this inflection moment in our national history, that attention must be paid, and that change must be effected.
We at Fordham have not been immune to these tensions and this pain. The heartfelt testimony given by members of our community in the course of the summer have made it searingly clear that racism is present here at Fordham. As painful as that admission may be, we must face up to it. Therefore, let me be clear: anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion are institutional and mission priorities at Fordham, priorities that grow out of our identity as an American, Catholic, and Jesuit institution located in the City of New York. As a result of our roots, our mission calls us to treat not just every member of the Fordham community but indeed every human being with respect, affirmation, reverence, and affection. That same mission calls upon us to confront racism and to educate for justice. (With regard to confronting racism, let us be honest. This is and will be an ongoing challenge, for we will be called upon to confront both the kind of blatant, brutal racism that was behind the deaths of George Floyd and so many others of our sisters and brothers, and the racism of indifference that gives blatant racism its real power: the racism of the blind eye, the racism of silence, and the racism of self-absolution.) In the course of the summer, the University developed and published an Action Plan for Confronting Racism and Educating for Justice. The plan contains nearly 40 concrete actions that we will be taking in the coming months and years. I want to stress, however, that the plan is just a beginning. I also want to stress that it will (and must) evolve over time—with the input of the members of the Fordham community. For my part, I want to take this opportunity to apologize from the heart to those members of the Fordham family who have suffered the painful sting of racism here at Fordham. Let us now take up and meet the challenges that lie before us.
The Pandemic and Its Fallout
Six months ago yesterday, we made the difficult but necessary decision to send our students home and to complete the 2019–2020 school year remotely. As you know, after only two days (to give the faculty time to adjust their courses to an online format and to allow the students time to get home), we resumed the semester remotely. Initially, we thought that we might be able to return to normal at the end of spring break. By that time, however, it was clear that the national health emergency would not be over in such a short period of time. Therefore, the final third of the semester was completely online.
I cannot thank the faculty enough for the energy, creativity, and generosity of heart that they showed as they made the difficult transition to online instruction. I also cannot thank the staff of the University enough for all that they did to make the students’ departure from our campuses so smooth. (I would also like to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by the study abroad office staff to get hundreds of students back to the United States and to place them in online courses at Fordham.)
When it became clear that we would not be able to complete the semester on-ground, we had to face the task of balancing a budget that suddenly had a $38 million hole in it ($25 million of which was devoted to refunding room and board charges for our resident students). In order to close the gap, we suspended all University travel, froze all salaries and hiring, and swept as much of the money in discretionary accounts as we could to the bottom line. As a result, we were able to finish the year with a balanced budget.
As the pandemic continued to rage (and as the metropolitan area saw catastrophically high numbers of cases and fatalities), we faced a new set of challenges: drawing up a plan for reopening for the fall semester; creating a contingency budget that would be based on a set of informed assumptions concerning enrollment and expenses; and preparing the campuses to receive students back.
With regard to the planning, informed by the guidelines drawn up by the state and the CDC, the Fordham Forward Task Force drew up a plan that would (we believed) make it possible to resume our work and fulfill our educational mission. Dr. Jacobs worked with the deans and the faculty to develop a hybrid flex model of instruction; Mr. Valera worked with his staff to ensure that our facilities would be up to the codes that the state and the city developed; Mr. Gray worked with his staff to prepare for the safe return of our students. Since the health and well-being of every member of the community was our first and central concern, the task force worked especially hard on developing a layered approach to monitoring the health of the community, an approach that included preliminary education, universal testing (followed by surveillance testing), universal daily screening and contract tracing, as well as a universal mandate for the use of face coverings on campus.
With regard to creating a contingency budget, the cabinet and I went through an extended period devoted to scenario planning, during which we looked at 18 different scenarios. The general headings for the exercise were three:
-On-ground for the full year;
-Online for the full year;
-Online for one semester, and on-ground for one semester.
Under each of these headings, we considered the following variations:
-Full enrollment (based on the preliminary budget that we had built, which was itself based on last year’s budget); then budgets based on projected enrollment declines of 5%, 10%, 12%, 15%, and 25%.
After taking the temperature of our admissions markets, the experience of our peer and aspirant schools, as well as the situation in metropolitan New York, we focused our attention on the scenario that assumed that we would have one semester online and one semester on-ground, and that we would experience a 12% drop in enrollment. (As it turns out, we seem to have landed where that scenario predicted that we would. That meant that we had to close a budget gap of $105 million—the gap between the budget that we had planned to present to the Board in April and a budget that would be based on the conditions I just outlined.)
In drawing up the contingency budget, we were guided by three principles:
- People come first. Therefore, we have done all we can to hold on to our people, the treasure that makes the University what it is and has always been.
- We will do all we can to protect and preserve the University and its mission, the mission of providing our students with a world-class Jesuit education that is informed by our commitment to excellence, rigor, and cura personalis.
- The need to emerge from the pandemic with the strength needed to fulfill our mission and to confront the challenges of the future with renewed hope and vigor.
All of our budget discussions, debates, and tussles have been guided by these principles. I wish that I could tell you that it was a painless exercise, but that would be a lie. The discussions were at times tense. At times, they were hard and painful. The budget that we put together is also a hard one, and one that includes a number of painful but necessary cuts.
Among other things, we have:
-Continued the hiring and salary freezes that we imposed in March;
-Suspended all University-sponsored travel;
-Suspended our overseas operations;
-Pared discretionary spending to the bone;
-Cut back on part-time work;
-Cut back on the use of outside consultants;
-Introduced voluntary separation plans for clerical workers and administrators;
-Reduced University events;
-Reduced hourly labor;
-Utilized unspent endowment funds;
-Tapped all contingency funds;
-Reduced capital spending.
At the present moment, we are approximately $16 million away from a balanced budget for the 2021 fiscal year. We are watching enrollment figures, expenses, and residence hall occupancy (which is now down by 33%—with 1,595 empty beds on our campuses) by the day to see if we will have to seek additional cuts to the budget on top of the $16 million that I just mentioned. For my part, I have to tell you that I stand in awe of the generosity of heart, the patience, and the devotion to Fordham and its mission that every member of the University has shown in the face of these challenges. And my heart is filled with gratitude to all of you. Every day. We will get through this. Of that I am certain. That, of course, is not enough. We have to come through standing tall and ready to continue the sacred mission of the University, a university that has withstood the Civil War, the World Wars, the Great Depression, and a host of other challenges.
As a result of the careful policies adopted by the board, a market that has proven to be rather turbulent and resilient at the same time, and conservative budging, the endowment and operating investments now stand at approximately $810 million, down $30 million from $840 million last year.
Fundraising in the COVID Era
Although we were in good shape on the fundraising front for the first three quarters of the fiscal year, the pandemic had a negative impact on the final quarter (the quarter during which we usually close many of the gifts that we have been working on). As a result, when we closed the books on the fiscal year, we had raised only $52,338,612, down substantially from the $67 million that we had raised the previous year when we closed out the $175 million Faith and Hope Campaign for Financial Aid.
As I mentioned at last year’s Convocation, as soon as the last campaign was over, we began to plan for our next campaign, a campaign that will focus on raising money to enrich the student experience in all of our schools, and whose goal has tentatively been set for between $350 and $400 million. We engaged the services of Community Counseling Services to assist us in the preparations for the campaign. Their research has indicated that there is great enthusiasm among our donors for the campaign, but that there is also some hesitancy about entering the public phase of the campaign before late in the fall of 2021.
Fundraising was not the only Development casualty of the pandemic. Our traditionally full calendar of alumni visits had to be pared down considerably after 9 March. (This meant that we were not able to hold “fusion” events to which we invite both our alumni and our prospective students. Since our yield from the student groups who attend our fusion events on the road is around three times higher than our overall yield rate, this had an impact on our admissions efforts as well.) We intend to return to the road as soon as the national health emergency is over.
Admissions in the COVID Era
Last year, we had our 28th year of application growth. In fact, this past year, we received and processed 47,884 applications for admission to our three traditional-age undergraduate colleges, 16 more than last year. We offered admission to 52.5% of those who applied. At the end of the cycle, we enrolled a total of 2,059 students, a decline of roughly 200 from last year. (In order to enroll the entering class and to make it possible for many of our upper-class students to return, we had to increase our financial aid budget. As a result, our discount rate rose, putting further strain on the budget.) The quality indices for the class are very strong: the average entering SAT for the class is 1336, down 19 points from last year’s average, and the average entering GPA is 3.64. The number of National Merit Scholars is 43 (down from 54) and the number of National Hispanic Scholars is 57 (down from 62). The number of Presidential Scholars is 6 (even with last year).
As for demographic breakdown, the following are our top 10 feeder states:
New York: 37%
New Jersey: 14%
In addition, we have 114 international students in the freshman class, down from 168 last year.
As for gender breakdown: the class is 41 percent male and 59 percent female.
As for ethnicity, 39 percent are from traditionally underrepresented groups in American society. While total enrollment fell from 2,236 to 2,059, Asian enrolls went up from 286 to 310.
Finally, we enrolled 108 students in our HEOP program.
New Hires and Appointments
I would like now to turn to the first topic that I mentioned a few moments ago, namely the introduction of a key new hire:
Dr. Tyler Stovall, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Stovall comes to Fordham from the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he was dean of the Humanities Division and Distinguished Professor of History. Before arriving at UCSC in 2015, he served as dean of the Undergraduate Division of Letters and Science at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2016–2017, Dr. Stovall served as president of the American Historical Society, the oldest and largest society of historians and professors of history in the United States. He earned a Ph.D. in modern European/French history from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Internal Promotions and Appointments
Ms. Margie Ball has been named Secretary of the University and General Counsel of the University.
Dr. Akane Zusho has been named the Interim Dean of the Graduate School of Education.
Mr. Edward Kull has been named the Interim Athletic Director of the University.
Mr. Nicholas Milowski has been named the Assistant Treasurer of the University.
This year, we have welcomed 45 scholars to the faculty of the University. They include 6 endowed professors, 34 tenure-track faculty members, and 5 non-tenure track visiting scholars. (You will find more information on these new scholars in one of the traditional opening-of-school memos that I will send out next week.)
Rankings and Accomplishments:
Rankings and rating first. As you know, in the course of the past several years, we have seen our U.S. News ranking among national research universities fall from a high of #53 to a disappointing #74 last year. Thanks to the hard work of many members of the University community, this year we saw a significant turnaround: we rose from #74 to #66, a rise of 8 spots in one year.
Looking more closely at the numbers, this year we are #41 among private research universities in the country; #7 among research universities in New York state; #6 among Catholic research universities; and #4 among Jesuit research universities.
- Rankings in the Categories Behind the Overall Ranking:
- Peer Assessment: 3.3 (up from 3.1)
- Undergraduate Teaching: #44 (down from 34 last year)
- Student Excellence/Selectivity: #69 (up from 70 last year)
- Pell Graduation: 80%
- Faculty Resources: #56 (down slightly from 54 last year)
- Financial Resources: #108 (up slightly from 110 last year)
- Graduation and Retention: #73 (up from 78 last year)
- Veterans’ Ranking: #38 (up from 45 last year)
- Alumni Giving: #45 (up from 52 last year)
- Best Value Ranking: #82 (up from 87 last year)
- Social Mobility: #203 (which puts us at #23 among the top 70, and #34 among the top 100; as well as #6 among private schools in the top 70 and #8 among all schools in the top 100)
In addition, I remind you that The Chronicle of Higher Education has ranked us #15 among private colleges and universities for improving the upward social mobility of students who come from families of very modest means.
The Gabelli School of Business
- Undergraduate Program: #67 (down slightly from 66 last year)
- Entrepreneurship: #15
- Finance: #14
- International Business: #10
- Marketing: #20
- Full-Time MBA: #80
- Part-Time MBA: #58
The School of Law
- Overall: #27 (up from 39 last year)
- Part-Time Program: #2 (up from 3 last year)
- Trial Advocacy: #9
- Dispute Resolution: #13
- Clinical Training: #17
- Intellectual Property Law: #21
- Business-Corporate: #17
- Contracts-Commercial Law: #23
- Criminal Law: #17
- Constitutional Law: #25
Separately, in the recently released National Law Journal’s “Go-To Law Schools” ranking, Fordham Law ranked 21 overall and 11 in alumni promoted from associates to partner. This ranking is based on law schools that sent the highest percentage of the J.D. class of 2019 to the largest 100 law firms.
The Graduate School of Social Service: #25
The Graduate School of Education: #39
Achievements and Accomplishments
Prestigious Fellowships and Scholarships: 235 Awards, 2 Alternates, 14 Finalists, 5 Semifinalists.
Highlights include seven Fulbright U.S. Student Program (with two alternates); one Fulbright Public Policy Fellowship in Cote d’Ivoire; one Fulbright Hays Fellowship in Senegal and Burkina Faso; one Coro Fellowship; three Critical Language Scholarships; one Henry Luce Fellowship (declined); one Boren Fellowship; one MacArthur Fellowship; one Goldwater Fellowship; two Department of Defense (DoD) Cybersecurity Scholarships; two Truman
finalists; one University of St. Gallen’s Wings of Excellence Award; two U.S. Presidential Management Fellows; one Horatio Alger Award; one Technology and Public Purpose Fellowship; one NYC Urban Fellowship; two U.S. Department of State Student Internships (Undergraduate); four U.S. Department of State Student Internships (Graduate); one DHS Honors Internship Award; one American Psychological Association Minority Fellowship; one U.S. Foreign Service Award; three continuing Clare Boothe Luce Fellows; one Clare Boothe Luce Fellow; four continuing Clare Boothe Luce Scholars; six Clare Booth Luce Scholars; and four Clare Boothe Luce Summer Research Scholars.
Acceptances into Medical and Law Schools
Doctoral-level health professional admissions: 114 students and alumni from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and the College of Professional and Continuing Studies applied for admission to doctoral-level health professions programs last year. (These programs include M.D. and D.O. programs, M.D./Ph.D. programs, dentistry, veterinary, optometry, and other health professions schools.) To date, 78% of those applicants were admitted to at least one program, up just slightly from last year.
Law school admissions: 228 students or alumni from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and the Gabelli School of Business applied for admission to law school. As was the case last year, 84% were admitted to at least one program. (Nationally, admissions were somewhat lower this year, so Fordham’s admissions rate is 14% above the national average.)
Scholarly Work: In the past year, our faculty published 202 books and book chapters and 554 articles, with the following breakdown:
- Arts and Sciences: 130 books and book chapters, 252 articles
- Business: 10 books and book chapters, 116 articles
- Education: 2 books and book chapters, 37 articles
- Religion and Religious Education: 4 books and book chapters, 5 articles
- Social Service: 15 books and book chapters, 78 articles
- Law: 41 books and book chapters, 66 articles
In addition, our faculty have won grants in the amount of $11.55 million.
Let me close now, if I could, by thanking all of you for all that you do for the University and its students every day. Your work on behalf of our students has always been extraordinary. During this past very challenging year, however, you have outdone yourselves. Every one of you. Every member of the University community: faculty, staff, and administration. You have given of yourselves generously. You have given of yourselves selflessly. You have worked as if there were no clock. (In fact, I know many of you have worked long into the night every night to make sure that the work of the University could continue, that the mission of the University might be accomplished every day in these difficult times.) Your generosity of heart and devotion to the mission of the University fill me with hope, as we face this most challenging year in our history together.
As I said before, I will repeat now. My friends, my sisters and brothers, my colleagues, my companions in mission: we will get through this. We will get through this. Of that I am certain. But as I also said before, just getting through is not enough for us. We’re Fordham. Therefore, we are what I refer to as a necessary university, a university that takes upon itself the great and challenging work of educating students who become graduates with a difference: graduates whose lives are lived by a sense of purpose, the noble purpose of transforming the world. The work of educating hearts and minds to take on that task is always necessary, but especially at this time—for the good of the whole human family.
And so, my dear friends, Fordham is necessary. And if Fordham is, it is necessary for us not merely to get through this; we have to come through standing tall, ready, and strong to continue the sacred and transformative mission that has always been Fordham’s. With your grit, your determination, your devotion, your love, and with the help of God, we will do just that. Fordham. The Jesuit University of New York. The Jesuit University of the Capital of the World. Fordham, the necessary university for this moment in human history, will do great things. Will continue to do great things. Will continue to astound the world with the goodness of its graduates, the excellence of its faculty, and the generosity of everyone associated with it. Thank you. May God bless you all. May God reward you for all that you do. And may God bless Fordham.