Dear Members of the Fordham Community,
I hope those of you who celebrate Easter and Passover were able to enjoy the holidays as much as possible, and those of you who will celebrate Ramadan beginning this evening may likewise enjoy the company of loved ones, given the restrictions imposed upon us by the COVID-19 pandemic. I will tell you that it is an eerie experience to be the sole person afoot on the Rose Hill campus, and I imagine it is far worse for many of you who are separated from family and friends.
As I’m sure you know, Governor Cuomo extended New York state on Pause through May 15: schools and nonessential businesses are directed to stay closed during this period. Of course the period of uncertainty extends beyond that. This week the governor announced that when New York state reopens, it would do so by region. We are not yet sure what implications this has for Fordham.
The Big Question: When Will Fordham Resume Face-to-Face Instruction?
We are cautiously optimistic about resuming regular face-to-face instruction this fall, depending upon the advice of public health authorities. That said, we are not waiting passively to see what happens—rather, we are actively planning for operations across multiple scenarios.
The fall semester may look very different than in previous years. The provost has engaged senior academic leaders, consulted with the faculty, and initiated focus groups with student leaders to develop a more resilient approach to deliver on the promise of a Fordham education, no matter how the public health conditions evolve in New York City. When we are able to resume face-to-face classes on campus, we want to do so in a manner that fully accommodates students and faculty members who are remote, either because of personal health reasons or because of visa or travel restrictions.
Fordham will not be holding face-to-face courses on campus during the first Summer Session (May and June) but will be offering a broad selection of online courses instead. During the Second Summer Session (July and August), we are planning to hold a mix of online and on-ground courses, with the latter being conditional on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic at the time.
The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), of which Fordham is a member, has formed a task force to help answer this very question. The task force is charged with quickly developing a framework that can be shared with the state as it maps out overall reopening plans, and will provide general guidelines, including gateways with metrics and best practices, to Governor Andrew Cuomo for the restart of higher education in New York state. The task force is representative of a cross-section of CICU’s membership, including upstate and downstate institutions.
The task force will be co-chaired by Christine Riordan, president of Adelphi University and chair of the CICU Board of Trustees, and Michael Kotlikoff, provost of Cornell University. Our provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, Dennis Jacobs, will be one of the task force’s primary members. Other institutions represented on the task force include Cornell University, the State University of New York, Columbia University, New York University, Syracuse University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
We will of course keep the University community apprised of the task force’s work.
This is a critical issue, obviously, and in some ways the most difficult to address as we cannot forecast what our financial picture will be in six months, much less a year or two out. That said, next week we will lay out the plan approved yesterday by the Board of Trustees.
We have balanced the FY ’20 budget (the current fiscal year that ends June 30, 2020). To do so, the University has had to introduce significant cost-saving measures to cover increased operating and technology costs for remote instruction and staff working from home, as well as to offset the issuance of pro-rated refunds to students for room and board and certain fees, and to make up for the lost revenue associated with the cancellation of various conferences, events, and camps that were scheduled to take place on campus this spring and summer.
Our success in enrolling students is closely related to the budget, of course, as more than 90 percent of the University’s income is derived from tuition and other student sources. Since University staff have not been able to travel to meet admitted students, nor host on-campus tours and visits for prospective students this spring, our undergraduate enrollment and marketing and communications staffs have invested significant time and resources in online strategies.
Among these strategies, the enrollment team has invited students and families to virtual visit programs and offered virtual admitted students days, in which prospective students and their parents can see and interact with members of the faculty, staff, and current students. Our teams have created and deployed new video and online content, and have refreshed the undergraduate enrollment web pages, including the addition of information on the impact of on-campus life.
We are working hard under these unprecedented conditions to match last year’s enrollment in terms of class size, academic profile, and diversity.
We are committed to holding an in-person University Commencement and diploma ceremonies for the Class of 2020. We will rely on the advice of public health authorities to determine when it is safe to do so. An announcement will be made to the University community when a new date has been determined.
Fordham will also hold a videocast Baccalaureate Mass on Friday, May 15, and a videocast University Commencement on May 16, when the degrees for the graduates will be officially conferred. I encourage the campus community to join the graduates in watching the videocasts. Additionally, each school and college will have a digital program featuring slides of each graduate along with a message from the dean.
More information regarding the videocasts will be sent to the University community in the next week or so.
Amid the challenges, there are a number of positive Fordham stories coming out of our community’s response to the pandemic. We have collected all of those stories (with these updates and my Sunday meditations) on the Coronavirus Page at Fordham News. Among the articles are:
A Fordham faculty podcast about distance teaching and learning;
our student EMS staff donating Supplies to St. Barnabas Hospital;
and faculty recommendations for reading and viewing while quarantined.
Loss, Self Care, and Spiritual Renewal
I know that some of you have already lost loved ones to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please know that you have my deepest sympathy, and that of the entire Fordham family. For those of you who are looking for ways to cope with loss, or to stay connected or reconnect with your spirituality, Campus Ministry has an excellent slate of resources to help you do so, including a virtual prayer wall.
Human Resources also has substantial programs in place to help you navigate this unfamiliar terrain. They have created a Self-Care for Employees’ web page: www.fordham.edu/selfcare to help support the well-being of the Fordham family. I recommend you look these pages over—I believe you will find much substantive advice and comfort there.
Finally, please know that you are all in my thoughts and prayers every day. I miss seeing you all on campus, much as I imagine you miss seeing one another. It is my fervent wish that we can soon resume working, studying, and playing together as a physical community.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.