Dear Members of the Fordham Family,
I hope this finds you well and safe during these precarious times. Amid the suffering and uncertainty we all feel, let us recall for a moment that a Fordham education has always been grounded in the gritty complexity of the time and place in which we live. In our lifetimes, perhaps nothing has exerted such a formidable global threat as the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring individuals to join together to forge scientific breakthroughs, deliver health care on an unprecedented scale, address the psychological impact of social distancing, resuscitate the world economy, and develop robust partnerships between government and the private sector. Fordham will do its part to meet the challenges of our present time. We prepare our students for successful careers in which they can make vital contributions, placing academic training at the service of our community, the nation, and the world. We will continue to do this whether we are present together on campus, as we all hope, or operating remotely for a time. The following updates will help shed some light on the decisions we face, what we’re doing right now, and why I am confident Fordham will emerge stronger from these current trials.
Campus Health and Safety Concerns
Fordham is actively preparing to resume activities on campus this fall. Be assured that we will proceed in a manner that does not place any members of our community at undue risk. Governor Cuomo announced this week that New York State will need to approve colleges’ plans to reopen their campuses, including attention to adequate testing, contact tracing, and isolation protocols, as well as how the institution plans to conduct classes, housing, meals, and gatherings while observing social distancing standards.
Fordham benefits greatly from being represented on the “Restart Plan for Higher Education Task Force” (organized by the Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities in New York) and the Governor’s “New York Re-Opening Forward Advisory Board.” In alignment with these two statewide efforts, Fordham has established several working groups to address the multitude of questions about how the University can eventually resume on-campus operations while mitigating potential risks of transmission of the virus within our community. The governor has not yet provided us with a timeframe for considering which Higher Ed institutions in New York City might be authorized for a phased restart or when. We will let you know as soon as we have more information on next steps.
Ensuring Continuity and Quality in Our Academic Programs
The provost has been consulting with faculty, students, and administrators in developing plans for how Fordham can best deliver on the promise of a Fordham education whether members of our community are on campus or teaching and learning remotely. On May 11, the provost will share with the campus community the basic elements of Fordham’s approach for next year, and individual schools and departments will be providing additional details over the summer.
Our planning scenarios for enrollment in the year ahead anticipated registrations about 12% below last year’s fall levels. While it’s too early to be certain of outcomes, early indications are consistent with those projections. The administration has been engaged in intensive planning and preparing for multiple enrollment scenarios. Among the factors that play into enrollment projections for the fall are: students’ fear of contracting the virus, impact of the economic downturn, and the challenges of travel for domestic and international students, and others. We also don’t know the extent to which we will be able to host residential students, nor offer them a full array of dining services.
We saw a shortfall in the University’s FY 2020 budget (the current fiscal year) resulting from our decision to refund 50 percent of room, board, and select student fees this spring. To make up that deficit we took a number of measures: we instituted a freeze on discretionary spending; a freeze on all University-sponsored travel; cut all funds earmarked for Commencement and end-of-year ceremonies; instituted a freeze on hiring until the end of the fiscal year; and canceled a number of University events, including the annual Founder’s Dinner, Jubilee, and other alumni events.
The Board of Trustees approved a University budget for FY 2021 (beginning July 1, 2020) across three broad scenarios, largely tied to enrollment. The two variables most critical to University finances in the upcoming fiscal year are enrollment and in-person classes. Our Finance team has mapped out a series of budget-planning scenarios and identified the potential revenue shortfalls that could arise from lower enrollments and the need to operate virtually for some portion of the academic year. (While we hope to meet enrollment goals and operate in person for the entire fiscal year, we must anticipate a new normal, even if temporarily.)
We believe the most likely scenario projects a revenue shortfall of nearly $100 million.
Among other actions, we may freeze hiring and salaries across the University, and take a number of other measures to bring our spending in line with our income. As I have said before, protecting the current faculty and staff’s positions is among our top priorities: we would initiate limited layoffs for non-faculty staff only in the most dire circumstances, as was our policy in the 2008 economic downturn. We were successful in staving off layoffs then and I believe we will be successful again now.
We cannot use endowment nor our endowed funds to get us through this crisis for two reasons: most of the funds are restricted, meaning that the University can only spend them on specific uses, such as scholarships, or certain programmatic needs; and, only very wealthy universities have the option to use endowment funds (and only to a limited degree), because it takes a huge endowment to generate enough interest to cover operating funds.
In the coming weeks we will share more detailed information on University finances, planning for students to retrieve their belongings from campus (again, if and when it is deemed safe to do so), athletics, and a variety of other issues that affect the University community.
Knowing how unending weeks of physical and social isolation takes a toll on all of us, I want to remind you that Campus Ministry has a number of resources for members of the University community, as does Human Resources, including its Self-Care for Employees’ web page: www.fordham.edu/selfcare. If you are struggling, please do reach out to someone—either at Fordham or among your circle of friends and family. I pray for you and your loved ones to be well and safe, and for us to pass through this crisis as quickly as possible.
Joseph M. McShane, S.J.