The Academic Life

An Academic Life that reflects the Catholic and Jesuit mission as an integral part of its overall commitment to research and teaching excellence.

The University’s academic life and commitments clearly represent the Catholic and Jesuit interest in and commitment to the liberal arts and Christian humanistic education for all students. In addition, academic programs can be found which are distinctively informed by the University’s Jesuit and Catholic character, thus contributing to the diversity of higher education in the United States with an education shaped by the service of faith and the promotion of justice.

Fordham University manifests a deep commitment to humanistic education at the undergraduate level, as well as a concern for service and the promotion of justice at all levels, but our Jesuit, Catholic mission and identity has not been sufficiently understood either as an important resource for a life of research or as an asset in professional training.

Core Curriculum

The undergraduate core curriculum in the liberal arts (serving students in Fordham College at Rose Hill, Fordham College at Lincoln Center, the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, and the Gabelli School of Business) was revised in 2008 to more closely link to the University mission (Middle States Reaccreditation SelfStudy, 37; see Appendix Thirteen). Included in the requirements are courses on major philosophical issues and approaches, the examination of faith and reason, and an introduction to major religious traditions (see Appendix Sixteen and Appendix Seventeen).

A significant percentage (about 1/3) of the core courses, particularly in Philosophy and English are taught by Ph.D. students who have chosen Fordham’s graduate programs in part because of the commitment to preparing future faculty as teachers (not just as researchers). Both these graduate students and faculty are committed to the teaching of undergraduates within the liberal arts tradition.

The core curriculum for undergraduates has an implicit introduction to the Catholic intellectual tradition, as seen in course titles, such as “Faith and Critical Reason” and “Philosophy of Human Nature.” Whether or not the tradition is labeled explicitly as Catholic and as fundamental to the Jesuit tradition of education depends on the instructor.

Faculty Policies in Research, Teaching, Promotion, and Tenure

In the area of teaching and research, the University sponsors three programs aiming to develop mission among faculty and graduate students as well as a deeper understanding of and commitment to Fordham: a New Faculty Seminar on Mission available to all new tenure track hires, the Arrupe Seminar for continuing faculty and staff co-sponsored by the Jesuit Community and Fordham College at Rose Hill, and a Jesuit pedagogy seminar for 10 to 12 advanced graduate students.

With regard to promotion and tenure, currently no departments at the University include explicit mission-oriented criteria in their norms for reappointment, promotion, and tenure. Nor is it clear how that would be appropriate in an academic system where advancement depends mostly on the recognition of one’s peers for quality research, within the context of commitment to academic freedom. In the course of our conversations with colleagues, however, we discovered that in the minds of many faculty members, Jesuit, Catholic mission and identity is perceived as related to teaching more than scholarship. It would be prudent, therefore, to provide a more substantive opportunity for faculty of all ranks to find in our identity a resource for their own lives as scholars.

Such initiative would cohere with a suggestion made recently in the final report of the Middle States accreditation: that Fordham should intensify its efforts to engage tenure-track and tenured faculty in conversations about the role of mission in research and teaching (Report of the Middle States Visiting Team, 5; see Appendix Fourteen).

Centers, Institutes and Catholic Initiatives

Fordham University supports well over 50 mission-oriented centers and institutes ranging across disciplines and academic units. A brief scan of the relevant list will reveal a Center for Ethics Education; a Center for Humanistic Management; a Center for Urban Ecology; a Center on Race, Law, and Justice; and an Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs.

While the stated missions of research centers will naturally reflect the methodologies appropriate to their specific disciplines and publics, often they make explicit connections between their work and the intellectual traditions that have long inspired the work of the Society of Jesus. The Center for Ethics Education, for instance, identifies itself as drawing on the Jesuit tradition and states:

In this era of increased need for ethical discourse in academic, professional, and public spheres, the Center activities draw upon theological, philosophical, scientific and other areas of inquiry to foster interdisciplinary dialogue and scholarship on moral values and ethical issues of contemporary social import. The Center embodies the University's commitment to intellectual excellence by offering educational and research opportunities and public programming enriched through moral values, religious concerns, scientific and scholarly study, and active engagement in creating a caring and just world.

The Center for Humanistic Management finds itself within the Gabelli School of Business. Although it does not explicitly cite our Jesuit, Catholic tradition in its mission statement, it promotes the “defense of human dignity in the face of vulnerability” and stands against the instrumentalization of human beings as a “mere means for profit.” The preponderance of these research centers reflects values that are central to Jesuit, Catholic education.

While a great many research centers put our distinctive mission into action within their own disciplines, an unusually high percentage relate directly to the Jesuit, Catholic mission and identity of Fordham. Quite simply, they would not exist at institutions of higher education not so affiliated. To highlight just five:

  • The Center for Catholic School Leadership and Faith-Based Education offers unique graduate degree programs in teaching, educational psychology, and school leadership, including a Ph.D. program in Church leadership and Master's degree in Catholic school leadership, as well as leadership institutes and certificate programs in Catholic school leadership.
  • The Center on Religion and Culture seeks to enrich and elevate the public conversation about religion through public events and conversations on faith, religious institutions, and the challenges posed where religion and culture meet.
  • The Orthodox Christian Studies Center supports scholarship, teaching, and public programming on Orthodox Christianity that is critical to the ecclesial community, public discourse, and the promotion of Christian unity.
  • The Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies educates students to become religiously informed citizens; fosters ecumenical, interreligious, and interdisciplinary engagement with Catholic thought and practice; and promotes informed and compassionate analysis of critical religious and social issues.
  • The Institute on Religion, Law and Lawyer's Work sponsors seminars and public programs for legal scholars and practitioners on issues relating to religion and law, as well as how their own faith informs their work as lawyers.

While the range of Centers and Institutes clearly do much to advance the common mission of Fordham as a Jesuit, Catholic university, the Steering Committee observed that promotion of a deeper collaboration among them would be positive in many respects.

Professional Schools

At various points in the Mission Examen Priority process, we heard from some colleagues that, while Fordham (like all Jesuit universities) enjoys a long history of educating undergraduates in a distinctive way, we have less confidence in our ability to promote an educational philosophy among professional schools that is not simply the “industry standard” for individual disciplines. With notable exceptions, prospective students of professional and graduate schools are looking for excellent programs, not a personal and moral formation as such. Yet we also hear—from current students, faculty members, and administrators—a desire to consider how there can be deeper integration. And we understand the social call, often expressed among current professionals, to inculcate among the next generation a deep sense of ethical behavior in all fields.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to suggest that Fordham’s professional and graduate schools do not advance a very distinctive education leading to a powerful social good. For instance, one law professor indicated that faculty members in his area have, over the years, “built out a very significant set of justice-oriented, public service law programs . . . [and] we think we have a pretty good example of how a Jesuit law school diverges from the ‘industry standard.’” Indeed, he avers that the Law School “serves thousands and thousands [of people in need] each year in New York City and around the world.”

Although we encourage continued reflection, therefore, on how traditional core values of Jesuit education may be more deeply integrated into professional and graduate education, we find solid evidence that, at a high level, such values are promoted and that, at the programmatic level, much is taking place. We cite brief examples from each professional school:

  • The Gabelli School of Business emphasizes formation for ethical business practice and leadership as crucial components of its Jesuit mission. Instructors cover the themes of ethics and ethical decision-making courses such as “Markets, Business, and Society,” which introduces ethical case studies from all over the world and encourages frank discussions on how businesses should contribute to society.
  • The Graduate School of Education identifies itself with “the University’s Jesuit tradition of rigorous academic endeavor, service to complex urban and metropolitan communities, and dedication to the intellectual, moral, and socioemotional development of the individual” and offers an array of courses that aim to develop teachers in a humanistic fashion.
  • In accordance with the Catholic, Jesuit tradition, the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education encourages students “to integrate academic knowledge with personal wisdom, and to serve the church and society as committed and compassionate leaders.”
  • Through its degree and continuing education programs, The Graduate School of Social Service aims “to educate students to promote human rights and social justice” and “strives to improve the well-being of people and communities through teaching culturally responsive, evidence-informed practice and engaging in research, public advocacy, and community partnership.”
  • Fordham Law School’s motto, which is prominently displayed in its branding, is: “In the Service of Others.” The Dean’s Message on the Law School webpage indicates to prospective students that this is “the guiding principle that will prepare you for a life of responsible legal practice.”


Consideration of Characteristic 2 leads the Steering Committee to make a variety of suggestions, such as: a) promoting greater collaboration among the 50+ centers and institutes; b) deepening faculty understanding of the potential resources of the Jesuit, Catholic tradition specifically for the scholarly life; c) exploring ways to make the “humanistic” tenor of Jesuit education more relevant to professional schools.

Accordingly, we recommend the following Mission Priorities discussed at the end of this Examen.

  • A comprehensive and strategic plan for developing colleagues’ understanding of the Ignatian tradition (Mission Priority #1).
  • The design/advancement of strategies for linking issues of diversity to mission/identity (Mission Priority #2).