For the first time in Fordham history, the annual State of the University address was delivered exclusively via Zoom. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, spoke from the Rose Hill campus on Sept. 10, offering a powerful message of hope amid a nationwide pandemic and new civil rights movement.
“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,” Father McShane said to more than 700 viewers watching his lecture live.
In a 34-minute speech broadcast from Bepler Commons, Father McShane outlined the University’s diversity efforts, new appointments, admissions data, fundraising results, finances, rankings, and accomplishments from the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Diversity and Anti-Racism Efforts and Initiatives
George Floyd’s May 25 murder in Minneapolis, Minnesota, triggered “a call to a national examination of conscience on race relations and on racism itself,” Father McShane said, adding that Fordham must answer the call, too.
“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,” said Father McShane. “Therefore, let me be clear: anti-racism, diversity, and inclusion are institutional and mission priorities at Fordham.”
This summer, the University developed and published an Action Plan for Confronting Racism and Educating for Justice, which contains nearly 40 concrete action steps that Fordham will take in the coming months and years. Father McShane stressed that this plan is only the beginning and that it will evolve over time with the input of members of the Fordham community.
“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,” he said. “Let us now take up and meet the challenges that lie before us.”
Financial Ups and Downs in the COVID Era
Father McShane also addressed the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it has had on the University.
To prepare for the 2020-2021 school year, he said, the Fordham Forward Task Force worked with deans, faculty, and staff to create a flexible hybrid model of instruction, ensure that facilities were safe and sanitized, and outline a detailed approach to monitoring the health of the community. To create a contingency budget, Father McShane and the cabinet studied 18 different scenarios and found that the University needed to close a gap of $105 million. Thanks to several different steps, including the utilization of unspent money from endowment funds, the University is now approximately $16 million away from a balanced budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
Fordham raised $52,338,612 in donations last year, down substantially from the $67 million that was raised the previous year when it closed the $175 million Faith and Hope Campaign for financial aid. Father McShane noted that planning has begun for Fordham’s next campaign, which will focus on the student experience. While donors have shown enthusiasm for the campaign, he said, “there is also some hesitancy about entering the public phase of the campaign before late in the fall of 2021.”
Last year, the University experienced its 28th year of application growth. As a result of the pandemic, 2,059 students enrolled at the end of the cycle—a decline of roughly 200 from last year. Fordham offered admission to 52.5% of those who applied. The incoming class has an average GPA of 3.64, Father McShane said, and boasts greater diversity than last year’s new cohort. Thirty-nine percent of incoming students are from traditionally underrepresented groups, up two percentage points from last year’s count. And 108 students were enrolled in the University’s HEOP program.
In light of the pandemic, Father McShane said the University had to increase its financial aid budget in order to enroll the entering class and make it possible for many upper-class students to return.
Fordham also made several key new hires, including Tyler Stovall, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. The University welcomed 45 new scholars, including six endowed professors and 34 tenure-track faculty members. More information about them will be available shortly in a traditional opening-of-school memo.
In his address, Father McShane said that this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings were embargoed for a few more days, but that he would share the results soon.
On Sept. 14, Father McShane announced that Fordham “saw a significant turnaround,” rising from #74 to #66, a rise of eight spots in one year. Looking more closely at the numbers, this year Fordham is at #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.
Over the course of the year, U.S. News released other rankings for Fordham schools, including the School of Law, which jumped from #39 to #27. (Read more about Fordham’s rankings.)
At the end of his speech, Father McShane thanked the Fordham community for their tireless work for the University and its students, especially at an unprecedented time in history.
“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,” Father McShane concluded. “My friends, my sisters and brothers, my colleagues, my companions in mission: we will get through this … Of that I am certain.”
Read the full text of Father McShane’s 2020 State of the University address here.