Date: August 18, 2020
TO: The NYU Community
FROM: Andrew Hamilton

Dear Members of the NYU Community,

This week, students start arriving on campus for the fall semester, signaling the annual resumption of our academic mission following the summer break. The first cohort (apart from some early arrivals, such as law and dental students) comes on Aug 18-19: those who have been in restricted states or overseas and are beginning a 14-day quarantine. Faculty, administrators, and staff are beginning to reconvene, too.

Teaching and learning and scholarship will proceed, as it does each fall. But fall 2020 will be an unusual semester, filled with new safety protocols that we must build into daily habits, and that are vital to keep each other safe. Due to our de-densification efforts, the undergraduate residence halls will have around 45% fewer residents than normal, and classroom occupancy will be reduced by at least 50%.

Notwithstanding the many steps the University is taking — more cleaning and disinfecting, modifications to air handling systems, installing hundreds of new hand sanitizing devices, changes to our physical spaces to reinforce distancing, restricting travel, and reducing density in classrooms and other settings — our individual actions matter.

Quarantining, mask-wearing, physical distancing, avoiding gatherings, frequent hand sanitizing, COVID-19 testing, using stairs instead of elevators: it is not an exaggeration to say that the success of our return (by which I mean checking the spread of the virus, keeping New York's progress intact, safeguarding our community's health and that of our neighbors, maintaining our hybrid curriculum) depends on our consistently adhering to these actions.

And as much as the University is prepared to penalize those who flout the rules — and make no mistake, we are — punishment alone will not carry us to a good outcome. Our collective success or failure will hinge on individual conduct; for this to work, all of us must embrace community-mindedness, steadfastness, conscientiousness, and shared sacrifice.

It's natural to want to get together with friends, share a meal, exchange hugs, to lean in and whisper a joke, to go have a drink and talk in a lively bar, to attend a jammed performance. Our fondest college memories are made of moments like these.

But for the time being, to achieve a greater good, we cannot. Try to remember for whom you're wearing a mask or skipping a crowded bar: for your professor who is in the age range COVID hits hardest; for a colleague who is immunocompromised; for your loved ones.

Many are betting that university communities will fail or be a weak link in the national response, and some universities have chosen a different path than NYU’s. Some have opened in-person and subsequently had to change course, going to all remote classes, citing unauthorized student gatherings or parties.

I believe NYU has good health and safety plans in which we can have faith, and that they go well with the flexibility we have built into our academic program. However, the plans will require every one of us — you, me, all of us — doing things right to keep each other safe and prove the doubters wrong.

It is a moment to lead.

I wish you all well with the fall semester. I will be in touch again soon.

Andrew Hamilton