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Leadership's Commitment to the Mission

The University’s leadership competently communicates and enlivens the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the institution.

Fordham University enjoys a strong and consistent commitment to mission among leadership of the University but less consistency and clarity on how the mission is best communicated.

Mission Articulation

The Characteristics document provides an excellent starting point: the mission statement is to clearly state its Catholic and Jesuit inspiration, as well as its commitment to research, teaching, and service. Fordham University clearly does so in its published statement, adopted by the Trustees in April 2005 which begins:

The Mission of the University: Fordham University, the Jesuit University of New York, is committed to the discovery of Wisdom and the transmission of learning, through research and through undergraduate, graduate and professional education of the highest quality. Guided by its Catholic and Jesuit traditions, Fordham fosters the intellectual, moral and religious development of its students and prepares them for leadership in a global society.

The University Mission Statement further elucidates these terms in subsequent sections that discuss characteristics of a University, a Catholic University, a Jesuit University, and a University in New York City (see Appendix One).

Throughout this Examen process, colleagues returned again and again to the statement in the Characteristics document that discussion of mission and identity should be “broad enough” and “deep enough” to be both inclusive of all and advancing of the Jesuit, Catholic tradition in its own right (Characteristics, 6). In the best of senses, finding this balance is an art.

Recent research associated with Fordham’s accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education indicates that knowledge of the mission statement is very broad. In a 2014 survey of staff members, 94.5% stated that they are somewhat or very familiar with the University mission. In addition, 88% have read the mission statement, and 72% agree or strongly agree that “Fordham’s mission informs the way I carry out my job” (Middle States Reaccreditation Self-Study, 3; see Appendix Thirteen).

Articulating the Jesuit, Catholic mission in a way that is “deep enough” remains a challenge in a population where many crucial members do not self-identify in this way. In a context that is increasingly pluralistic and prizes all forms of diversity, there is a natural concern about privileging one religious tradition. A recent strategic framework adopted by the Board of Trustees, for instance, made little reference to the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the institution, largely in order to give everyone a sense of ownership in it (see Appendix Eleven). The question, therefore, of how to articulate our Jesuit and Catholic identity in a way that is inviting and inclusive but also respects its distinctiveness remains a chief concern and, in practice, requires great practical wisdom and human sensitivity.

Board of Trustees

As a legal entity chartered by the State of New York in 1846, the University’s Bylaws do not state its mission and identity as a Jesuit, Catholic university (see Appendix Two). The purpose of the corporation stated in the Bylaws repeats the purpose noted in the charter, namely “the promotion of education.”

In 2012, a Statement of Shared Purpose was signed by the Trustees and the then New York Province of the Society of Jesus. While not a legal document, it goes beyond the charter/bylaws to indicate that, as part of its fiduciary responsibility, the Board of Trustees “supports, maintains, and promotes the Jesuit, Catholic nature, identity, and mission of the University.” It sets out a number of ways he board will be committed to this purpose, particularly in “curriculum, programs, practices, and policies of the University” (see Appendix Three).

Although the board has had a Mission and Identity Committee for many years, under the current chair, it meets jointly with every other committee in succession. The purpose of the meetings is to consider how, in the area of oversight a particular committee has, our common mission and identity informs their work. Since February 2016 the Mission and Identity Committee has met with the following committees: Academic Affairs, Audit and Risk Management, Student Development and Athletics, Facilities, and Finance and Investment. These meetings have been extremely helpful in keeping questions of mission and identity in the forefront of trustees’ understanding of their fiduciary responsibility.

While unfortunately members of the Board of Trustees have not had the opportunity of a spiritual retreat in over five years, their biennial business retreats include a half-day devoted to implications of Jesuit mission for the University.

University President and Cabinet

The University President, Joseph M. McShane, S.J. is an exceptionally articulate promoter of Fordham as a Jesuit, Catholic institution. The University’s mission and identity pervade all his activity and communication, and he is exemplary in taking advantage of large symbolic occasions to champion who we are. Much of the work of communicating mission and identity broadly is left to the President, though Vice Presidents, both Catholic and not, have a deep familiarity with Jesuit education. The Provost, for instance, has been affiliated with four different Jesuit institutions f higher education since college.

One vice president noted that Fordham is very good at “walking” but not necessarily “talking” the mission, and as a whole, the cabinet looks to the President or other Jesuits as those who can best articulate what it means to be a Jesuit, Catholic university. Another vice president observed that, because of the culture, people who work at Fordham generally appreciate working here but that they do not necessarily make an explicit connection between the quality of the workplace and its mission. As a leadership body, we need to work harder at helping people make the link.

With a few exceptions, members of the cabinet are much more comfortable with living out the mission than talking about it. Their example speaks, and they feel more qualified to carry out their duties with virtue and a commitment to core institutional values rather than explicitly engage in conversation that may seem to require special knowledge or a “thick” understanding of the tradition noted in the Characteristics document (7). Although one vice president has regular orientation and development sessions for people in his division, most strongly acknowledge the need for orientation and development programs across the University. An element of such programs would include normal, enterprise-wide opportunities to learn more deeply about what it means to be a Jesuit, Catholic university in n increasingly diverse and pluralistic context.

Academic Deans

As with vice presidents, academic deans are very committed to the mission and identity of Fordham but are not always certain how to talk about it, particularly with faculty or potential faculty. As the section on Characteristic 2 will show, they support a great variety of programs that advance the academic, religious, and social justice mission of the Society of Jesus and the Church, and they are always looking for ways to develop within their units a culture more attentive to the needs of the poor. The deans of undergraduate colleges and schools place high value on students’ personal development, which is a hallmark of Jesuit education. In addition, the professional schools clearly identify service to those most in need as central to their own mission in law, in social service, in education, and in religious education. One dean, for instance, remarked that it is crucial to “ensure reflection and require clinical placements with the poor and disenfranchised.”

Deans are especially eager to improve their units as a way of advancing the University’s mission, including the recruitment and promotion of faculty. But many acknowledged they needed help in knowing how to do so. Given the great diversity of students and faculty involved in these areas, it is not always clear how much they should link what they do explicitly to the mission and identity of Fordham as a Jesuit, Catholic university. All recognize a tremendous need for more strategic, systematic and comprehensive faculty development in this area, and yet the language of “hiring for mission” is commonly understood as hiring individuals on the basis of their religious affiliation. As one dean put it, “before we talk about ‘hiring for mission,’ we need to talk about what exactly that means.”

Because this Examen was taking place in a year that the President commissioned \ and responded to a report to a Diversity Task Force, some deans noted the University should take care to link diversity with mission and identity. There is a perception among some members of the larger population, for instance, that by definition a Jesuit, Catholic university cannot be truly diverse. The burden for Fordham, in some respects, is to prove the opposite. The narrative framework should shift, in other words, from “even though we are a Jesuit, Catholic university, we strive for diversity” to “because we are a Jesuit, Catholic university, we strive for diversity.”

Conclusion

Consideration of Characteristic 1 leads the Steering Committee to 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).