On Oct. 18, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, welcomed members of the University community back after a global pandemic that upended lives around the world. Yet, despite unimaginable loss and unprecedented disruption, the University weathered the crisis, coming out on stronger footing than many may have expected, he said.
“For Fordham, this past year, difficult as it was, was marked by heroism, creativity, determination, flexibility, and devotion,” he said. “I find myself filled with deep gratitude to all of you for all that you did to enable our beloved community to emerge from the many challenges it faced with such strength, such conviction, and such discerning love.”
New Talent On Board
Father McShane began his speech by welcoming several new leaders at the University, including Jose Luis Alvarado, Ph.D., the new dean of the Graduate School of Education, John Cecero, S.J., vice president for mission integration and ministry, and Anand Padmanabhan, vice president for information technology.
Admission Amidst Change
In an analysis of the past year’s student admissions, Father McShane said more than 46,000 applications were processed by the University for its three undergraduate colleges. Just over 53% of those who applied were admitted, which yielded a total of 2,848 students who enrolled—an increase of almost 800 from last year. The quality of the class is very strong, he said. The average SAT for the entering class is 1392, up 56 points from last year’s average, and the average GPA is 3.67. The increase in test scores could be partly be attributed to the test-optional policy instituted this year, he said.
As for the demographic breakdown, he noted that the following are our top three feeder states: New York, home to 36% of new students; New Jersey, at 13%; and California, at 7%.
“California sent 193 [students]—20 years ago it was just 20 students,” he said.
Massachusetts came in at 6%, Connecticut at 5%, Pennsylvania at 3%, Maryland at 2%, Illinois at 2%, Texas at 3%, and Florida at 2%. He noted that the Texas and Florida numbers are significant, as the University needs to draw more students from those regions, as well as the Carolinas, since attracting students beyond the Northeast is key to growth, he said. In addition, the University welcomed 172 international students in the new class, up from 111 last year.
Diversity in the New Class
Perhaps most importantly, he said, 44% of new students are from traditionally underrepresented groups, up from 39% last year. The number of Black students increased from 76 in last year’s incoming class to 189 this year, while the number of Hispanic students increased from 328 to 515.
“This is an inflection point in our history. This is a very important moment for us and we want to make sure we continue to engage, enroll, and retain larger numbers of Black and Hispanic students,” he said, before tipping his hat to teams from Office of Admissions, the Office of the Chief Diversity Officer, and the HEOP and CSTEP programs.
Best Fundraising Year Ever
On the fundraising front, Father McShane noted the University recovered from last year when the pandemic had a negative impact on fundraising.
“We rebounded magnificently and were able to raise $83,727,733, making the 2020-21 year the University’s best fundraising year ever. Moreover, the amount that we raised last year brought our fundraising total over the past 18 years to more than a billion dollars.”
As mentioned in his past two convocation addresses, he noted that the University is still in the quiet phase of a new comprehensive campaign, Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student.
“As its name suggests, this new campaign is aimed at helping us enrich the student experience in all of our schools,” he said.
He said the campaign has four central pillars: access and affordability, for which the University seeks to raise $100 million; academic excellence, for which $150 million is being sought; student wellness and success, with a goal of $70 million; and athletics, at $30 million. Efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion, for which the University is seeking $120 million, run through all the pillars, he said.
During the quiet phase the University has raised slightly over $155 million. He noted the public phase of the campaign will begin at this year’s Founder’s Dinner, which will be held at a new venue, the Glasshouse in Manhattan, on Nov. 8.
Father McShane noted that he and the Alumni Relations team have hit the road again after spending a year socializing on Zoom.
“You can’t shake hands remotely,” he said dryly.
He noted that alumni events are back in full swing, but he called out the “fusion” events in particular, where prospective students meet alumni.
“These are magic! Our alumni sell the place from heart, with great gusto, with stories, and with conviction. Therefore, the yield at these events is about three times higher than our overall yield rate,” he said.
Reviewing the Rankings
Father McShane noted that the University has seen its rankings in U.S. News & World Report rise and fall over the years. After a climb from No. 74 to No. 66 in last year’s rankings, this year the University fell two places to No. 68. However, the peer assessment score, which climbed from 3.1 to 3.3 last year, remained constant; the indicator gauges how other university presidents, provosts, and admissions leaders think about the institution.
“This a great achievement; it’s the most difficult thing to move the needle on,” he said.
He mentioned several “points of pride” that members of the University can tout.
“We are still No. 41 among all private research universities in the country—that’s pretty damn good, pretty darn good, sorry,” he said, to chuckles from the audience. “We’re No. 7 among the research universities in New York state; No. 6 among Catholic research universities; and No. 4 among Jesuit research schools—not bad.”
He highlighted the social mobility section of the ratings as an indicator that aligns with the University’s mission. The national ranking places the university at No. 179, up from No. 203 last year, landing Fordham as 18th among the overall top 70 schools—many of which did not receive a positive ranking in this area.
“That means we do a far better job than most other private intuitions in the country in making sure that our students achieve to such a degree that they are upwardly mobile socially,” he said, noting that this is particularly important to students from modest means.
Praise for Publishing and Pushing Forward
Father McShane said that despite the challenges of the past year, students and faculty continued to conduct research, receive awards, and publish in books and in journals.
“In the past year, our faculty published 195 books and book chapters and 525 articles,” he said. “In addition, our faculty have won grants in the amount of $17.46 million.”
Students also shined, he said.
On the prestigious scholarship and fellowship front, they won 72 awards, including three Fulbrights (and three alternates), and one Marshall scholarship.
In seeking acceptance to doctoral-level health professional schools, 80 students and alumni from Fordham College at Rose Hill and Fordham College at Lincoln Center applied for admission to doctoral-level health professions programs last year and 73% were admitted to at least one program. Two-hundred twenty-four students and alumni from Fordham College at Rose Hill, Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and the Gabelli School of Business applied for admission to law school, and 83% were admitted to at least one program.
Firm Footing for Finances
Father McShane said that frugality, caution, and a surprisingly bullish stock market pushed the endowment past the $1 billion mark, up substantially from the $830 million. The current total stands at approximately $1,028,000,000.
He said that with freezes on both salaries and in hiring, curtailed operating budgets, and infusions of cash from both the federal government and donors, the University was able to present balanced budgets during the pandemic’s nearly two-year run.
“As a result of these same factors, we were able to get through the pandemic without any firings or furloughs,” he said. “Out of an abundance of caution, the present year’s budget is a conservative one, but one that will still allow us to begin to increase our hiring across the University.”
Returning to Normal with Caution and Hope
Father McShane noted that the advent of the vaccines has made it possible for the University to resume many of its activities as in years past.
“But we are still not out of the woods,” he said. “Therefore, we have to remain vigilant as the coming months, and perhaps years, unfold.”
He noted that 99% of the faculty, staff, and student body are now vaccinated, and everyone entering our campuses must provide proof of vaccination.
“As all of us know all too well, COVID-19 is not the only pandemic that we are wrestling with,” he concluded. “We are also wrestling with racism, a pandemic that sadly will take longer to address and overcome than COVID-19. After all, racism has been a feature of American life for 402 years, and a wound that we have not been able to heal in those 402 years.”
He said that the mission calls for every member of the Fordham community to treat every human being with respect, affirmation, reverence, and affection.
“That same mission calls upon us to confront racism and to educate for justice,” he said.
The University has adopted a plan on addressing racism and educating for justice.
“We must give ourselves to that work with focus, conviction, creativity, and love in the coming months and years,” he said. “If we do so, we will be able to say that we have done our part in working to create 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.”
A full transcript of Father McShane’s address can be found here.