Date: February 26, 2020
TO: THE NYU COMMUNITY
FROM: President Andrew Hamilton

Dear Members of the NYU Community,

While there are and have been no cases of anyone in the NYU community contracting the coronavirus known now as COVID-19, here in New York or elsewhere, developments resulting from the spread of the virus continue to be felt widely: in industry, in financial markets, in travel, among public health authorities and providers, and among the regions where its reach has been greatest.  

So, this is an apt moment to update you again, particularly because of the changes in circumstances for our fellow community members at NYU Florence.

As you may have heard in recent news accounts, the incidence of new coronavirus cases has increased sharply in northern Italy.  In response, the Italian government has taken swift action, including quarantining a set of towns in regions to the north of Tuscany, where NYU Florence is located.

While we do not believe there is a particularly pressing health threat to the NYU Florence community, the events of the last few weeks has conveyed a sharp lesson to us about how countries, in their public health efforts to curb the spread of the virus, can act swiftly and unexpectedly in ways that could abruptly restrict our community members' ability to travel.

So, against this backdrop, out of an abundance of caution, and guided by the priority we place on the well-being of our students, we have made the decision to:

  • Cancel classes for the rest of the week at NYU Florence
  • Have all students promptly travel home or to another appropriate location, which staff will assist them in doing with logistical and financial support
  • Suspend operations at the campus on Thursday
  • Resume holding classes remotely starting next Monday, making use of the tools being used by NYU Shanghai as well as the experience we have gained.

We plan to have the NYU Florence community carry on in this manner until at least March 29, when we hope everyone can reconvene at Villa La Pietra. We are also currently advising students elsewhere in Europe against travel to northern Italy.

We know that for many of these students, the opportunity to spend a semester in Florence -- a world center of culture, art, and beauty -- was a dream.  As a community, we share their sense of disappointment and regret that this illness has emerged to disrupt their studies in this manner, and their hope that things will be back to normal at the end of March.

At NYU Shanghai, classes - which are meeting remotely - successfully got underway last week, and they are proceeding well. Vice Chancellor Jeff Lehman, who is teaching a course this semester called “Creativity Considered,” conveyed to me that while everyone would, naturally, prefer to be together in a classroom, he and his co-teacher were pleased to find that the online tools we have employed have, in fact, allowed him to maintain authentic discussion and engagement.  He said he has received similar, positive reports from other members of the NYU Shanghai faculty.  And the students have not only been resolute and patient, but gracious in their praise (PDF) for the work that faculty and academic support did to get the semester underway.

Although US health officials have indicated that they do expect to see some spread of the virus in the US, there have not yet been any cases in New York City.  Classes started here on January 27, and the vast majority of our community had assembled here by that time; by this point, we are well outside the incubation window for those who were here for the start of classes.

In the 60-plus years since NYU opened a site, it has increasingly deepened its commitment to global education and engagement. Today, it is at the forefront of global higher education among US universities.

No one believed it would be easy, and that was not why we embraced that trajectory. The determination to engage the world also meant engaging the world's challenges; that is intentional: we want our students and faculty to help find the needed solutions. Having chosen this direction, NYU will inevitably be among the first universities to grapple with the complexities of increasingly interconnected world.

Global is the right course for NYU. And if it sometimes presents us with hurdles, our reaction should be to surmount them calmly, resiliently, and resolutely, as we have in this instance.