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Dean Barr welcomes the Ford School community to an unprecedented year

August 31, 2020

A letter from Dean Michael S. Barr to the Ford School community

Dear friends,

I know this continues to be a time of great uncertainty. For many, a time of fear. That is real.

At the same time, I’m so excited to be getting started tomorrow with the 2020-2021 academic year. The spring and summer have challenged each of us in so many ways. I’m glad that we’ll be back together again, online and in person, to continue our work.

We need to hold both of these things together. The real fear--of the pandemic, racist violence, economic pain, challenges to our democracy. The real hope--of all of you, the skills you will learn, the strengths you already bring, the society you are working to make better.

I will be with you for both the fear and the hope. 

Health and safety

At the Ford School, as we’ve worked all summer on our plans for Fall 2020, we’ve made the health and safety of each member of our community our top priority. We know that the pandemic affects our community members in different ways. We have not and will not ask our community to take on risks that they do not believe are appropriate for their own circumstances. We will ask each member of our community to look out for each other’s health and safety.

Students, please be sure to check the Campus Maize and Blueprint site: for the latest campus guidelines and resources. Our own Intranet is the best source for the latest on Ford School plans and answers to FAQs. 

In particular, for students headed to Weill Hall tomorrow and this week, please be sure to read our comprehensive Ford School Student Access to Weill Hall and Public Health Guidance document tonight. We have similar guides for faculty and staff. Each of us needs to take responsibility for making our community as safe as practicable.

Our community

The community we’re so proud of is simply, our people. I couldn’t be more grateful for or more humbled by the people of the Ford School.

Our faculty have worked so hard all summer to re-conceive their curricula to meet the challenge of teaching and mentoring in a remote, in-person, hybrid, and flexible way. I’m so grateful for the work of our Resilient Teaching Task Force, and individual faculty members who worked all summer--and are undoubtably working right now, tonight--to make our courses of the highest quality in these unprecedented times. Our staff teams, too, have risen to the challenge. They’ve learned new platforms and innovated in figuring out how to continue delivering top-notch career services, advising, practical learning opportunities, and public events. They’ve figured out how to safely maximize our use of Weill Hall to allow for in-person and remote learning and connections with the latest technology and public health practices. 

Staff teams also spent the spring and summer designing and building a beautiful new website that rightly positions us as one of the country’s top policy schools. We just launched it (softly) Friday--please check it out! If you have any suggestions, please reach out to the Comms team. I am so proud of and grateful for their work.

A word about our returning graduate and undergraduate students: their bond to each other and the community was cemented last spring, as together we experienced the uncertainty and upheaval of the pandemic. These students supported each other every step of the way as living, learning, and summer internship plans were re-scrambled. They’ve supported our incoming students all summer, too, finding ways to build community. I’m thankful for each of you.

Faculty, staff, and students alike worked this summer in so many ways to address the broader, unequal impacts of COVID-19 on businesses, families, and children. You can read some of those stories here. I’m humbled by your work, and proud to be a fellow Fordie.

We’re pleased to welcome many new members of our community. Last week we welcomed terrific, diverse, committed groups of new graduate students: 101 new Master of Public Policy students and 25 new students in our Master of Public Affairs program. We welcomed 81 new Bachelors of Public Policy students as well, and an additional 25 students who joined our community via our newly launched Minor in Public Policy program. Finally, we’re newly joined by an excellent, very promising, diverse cohort of five PhD students: one pursuing a joint degree in Political Science, two in our joint program with Economics, and two joint with Sociology.

Over the summer, we welcomed an incredible group of new faculty members. They are experts and leaders in fields ranging from diplomacy and international relations, to race and social policy, to political attitudes and the media--as well as international political conflict, data science, and education.  I hope you will get to know them well in the coming weeks.

Ford School Fall Launch

Please RSVP and plan to join us for our Fall Launch, this Wednesday, September 2 from 4:00 - 5:00 pm EDT. 

This annual event celebrates the beginning of the year and generally features an ice cream social. We've redesigned it a bit this year: the ice cream will be virtual but the excitement of a new school year is real! Two of our student leaders, Iqra Nasir and Peter Martel, will join me for a conversation about what’s in store for the upcoming year. After the conversation, we'll move into small breakout groups of faculty, staff, and students for what we're calling “Ice (cream) Breakers". 

If you can't attend the main session on the 2nd, you can watch a video of the conversation and join live alternative “ice cream breakers” on Thursday, September 3 at 8:30 am EST.

A momentous fall

At the Fall Launch on Wednesday and in the weeks to come, we’ll talk more about priorities for the school year, including voting and democracy initiatives--urgent issues that are on all of our minds as the weeks tick down to a momentous presidential election.

Racism and racist violence are on all of our minds as well--all too entwined with presidential politics. The brutal shooting of Jacob Blake by Kenosha, WI police and the subsequent homicides of two BLM protestors are just the latest painful reminders that we are each called on, at this moment, to speak about and work for justice and peace.

Our world is in desperate need of smart, ethical, service-driven leaders, and that makes our work at the Ford School as essential as ever before.

Welcome, and welcome back to our community, dedicated to the public good. 

Best wishes for the first week of classes,


Michael S. Barr

Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of Public Policy