Date: September 16, 2020
TO: NYU Parents
FROM: NYU President Andrew Hamilton

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Loved Ones of Our NYU Students,

The most unusual year in higher education in memory is off to a pretty good start, notwithstanding the uncertainties, the many novel practices and differences, and the occasional stumbles. I am certain you must be wondering what campus life is like for your NYU students. Let me try to give you a depiction of it.

NYU returns

The year started earlier than it usually does. We opened our undergraduate residence halls two weeks early this year, to permit those coming from hot-spot states and abroad to quarantine. Apart from some missteps involving food delivery, the quarantine went well. The students' adherence to its strict rules was notable and commendable.

Move-in is usually a one-day affair; this year it was spread over four days in order to keep lines shorter and support better physical distancing as students moved in. It was remarkable how positively both parents and students alike adapted to the circumstances — virtually everyone wore masks, and was very patient with the hurdles COVID-19 has imposed this semester. More importantly, notwithstanding all of this year's difficulties, I saw the same upbeat spirit that has accompanied all the other move-in days I have seen: some trepidation, of course, but mostly parental pride, student excitement, and eagerness for academic work to begin.

Since classes started on September 2 for undergraduates and some graduate programs, what has stood out for me is how much quieter things are this year. But everything in the city is quieter — fewer cars, fewer commuters, fewer people out and about.

Approximately half of our classes are either in-person or a blend of in-person and remote, the other half are wholly remote. Between that and the efforts we have made to increase physical distancing and to reduce density on campus, the packed sidewalks that mark class change in a regular year are much less crowded now. Even such basics as student dining are different: last fall, our dining facilities were structured to support people having a meal together; this fall, our meal service is mainly grab-and-go.

You would be proud to see how conscientiously our students are observing the new safety and health rules. As I watch students settle into study seats they've reserved or simply sit in Washington Square Park, the vast majority of them wear masks and keep appropriate physical distance from each other. They are clearly conscious of the impact their actions can have on everyone's health in the community — particularly employees, who typically are older — and on the future course of the semester, and they are working hard to keep each other safe. This is a generation that cares deeply — about equity, social justice, righting long-standing wrongs; they may be uniquely well suited for the challenges of this pandemic, which require us to act in community-minded ways. More than 300 students have stepped forward to become Public Health Ambassadors (PHA) — dispensing masks, hand sanitizer, and advice about health and safety in equal measure, all while modeling the behaviors we need our students to adopt.

Everyone who is on campus — students and employees — were tested before being allowed to enter NYU facilities; that was the "arrival" phase of our testing. Last week, we began our regular, ongoing testing, which is also mandatory. In all, since August 1, we have conducted nearly 30,000 COVID-19 tests, and we have a positive rate of about 0.19 percent.

There are challenges, to be sure.

Washington Square, the public park at the heart of NYU's presence in Greenwich Village, has been home over the last couple of weekends to gatherings/dance parties where mask-wearing and physical distancing were spotty. Washington Square is a draw for young people throughout the region, and — notwithstanding press accounts that seem to assume every young person in Washington Square must be from NYU — it is not clear to us what fraction of those in the park are actually our students. In fact, the student reaction to events in the Park predominantly seems to be disapproval. Nevertheless, those nearby gatherings constitute the kind of unsafe behaviors we would like our students to avoid. Even though NYU has no jurisdiction in the Park, we deployed our PHAs to its entrances to hand out masks and safety information, we have been messaging our students repeatedly about avoiding the large crowds there on weekend nights, and we have been partnering with City agencies and civic groups to see safe behaviors reinforced there.

Here you can be a help to us, if you would. We want students to enjoy the Park: it is outdoors, and there is ample space — good attributes in a time of COVID. We just want to reinforce that they should avoid the large, crowded gatherings that have been associated with COVID spread in other states. If, in your regular conversations with your student, you could re-emphasize the hazard of those gatherings, we would be grateful.

Although our overall positive rate is less than 0.2%, we do have one residence hall where our most recent testing indicated that among the 400 residents there were six positive tests. This was, of course, a scenario for which we planned, so we have responded proactively. The individuals — who are all asymptomatic — have been isolated; we immediately conducted contact tracing and have quarantined their close contacts, as well. And in addition, out of an abundance of caution, we have also quarantined the rest of the hall's residents until another round of tests, administered Monday, comes back and our COVID-19 Prevention & Response Team (CPRT) has a chance to evaluate the findings. There's not much fun in quarantining, but the student response has been accommodating, level-headed, and responsible.

Despite the complications, we have had a respectable beginning to 2020-2021 — better, perhaps, than we might have expected — and the year is off and running. And students, faculty, administrators, and staff are settling in well, all things considered.

And, as part of my effort to give you a sense of the semester's start, I want to point you to a sampling of photographs from its first days I thought you might enjoy.

In closing, I would just like you to know how much we value the trust you have placed in us. Even as we proceed with fulfilling our teaching and research missions, the safety and well-being of your students are uppermost in our minds; that will guide our decision-making, and we will remain poised to meet the challenges that may come with flexibility.

I look forward to being in touch with you later in the semester as the year progresses.


Andrew Hamilton
New York University