The University as an institution and all of its various parts seeks to insert itself in the world on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and those seeking justice. It does this in particular by using its academic and professional resources.
Fordham University places high priority on inserting itself in the world on the side of the poor and succeeds in multiple individual efforts, but it can improve significantly through more strategic, long-range, intentional, and collaborative activity.
The principle of solidarity remains a high value in an organizational system that is relatively complex. Like many universities whose primary revenue source is tuition, Fordham must operate within fragile economies, where dedication to employees, for instance, must be balanced with consistent attention to concerns of affordability and cost to families. Institutionally, then, solidarity is a virtue that requires a quality of constant attention and discernment. In times of conflict, which are natural to any complex organization, all parties must be even more diligent in calling themselves to act in good faith and for the common good.
Certain data indicate moderate success in building a culture of solidarity, though also a continued room for growth. In a recent survey of unionized employees, for instance, 48% indicated they “strongly agree” or “agree” with the statement that Fordham’s employment policies are fair as written, while 41% indicate they “neither agree nor disagree.” In another survey, 65% of Fordham employees indicated they personally experienced being treated with respect always or most of the time by supervisors, while 92% personally experienced being treated with respect always or most of the time by co-workers (see Appendix Seven). When the University terminated its recent food service contract and opened up a request for proposals bidding process, the University indicated that it would choose a provider who received high marks in, amongst other qualifications, “fair treatment of employees and commitment to work with unions” (see Appendix Seven). Employees such as custodians, groundskeepers, tradespeople, and secretaries are specially honored at the annual 1841 Awards. At this event the President personally confers distinction on long-standing members of the community, as well as gratitude for their dedication. At a focus group of such employees, members communicated their deep appreciation for the working environment of Fordham and spoke about how they take seriously their responsibility to care for our students. Thus do they understand themselves as integral to the educational enterprise.
In programs specifically for students, there is a shared commitment to principles of solidarity. For instance, shorter immersion trips (such as those operated by a very successful Global Outreach program for undergraduates) surely do emphasize time living among those the students are visiting. The GO! program, as well as other programs, such as the Ubuntu Program in South Africa, stress mutually beneficial relationships, and the testimony of students strongly suggests that it happens. At the time of this Examen, the Ubuntu program has been temporarily suspended on account of concerns for student safety, but the pause also allows us the opportunity to consider how, structurally, certain aspects of this program may improve— especially in cultivating a deeper sense of solidarity and understanding among students and those who have historically enjoyed little access to wealth, power, or privilege.
Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm
Service learning is integrated into the curriculum in different ways, depending on college or school and whether the students are undergraduate or graduate. In general, there is a commitment, at least among a significant part of the University, to service learning. For instance, in a 2014 survey of faculty, 15% indicated they had taught a service-learning course. Of the 85% who hadn’t, 30% responded that they would be interested in doing so but did not know how (Middle States Reaccreditation Self-Study, 60; see Appendix Thirteen).
Graduate programs, particularly in fields such as law, social service, and education include substantive service learning natural to their fields (e.g., pro bono legal aid, supervised social work, student teaching, etc.). As the following section on community outreach will show, there is a great deal of work being done in these areas. It is especially at the undergraduate level, however, that service learning requires significant examination, including consideration of how well resources have been deployed. Data from the Middle States Report shows that, in recent years, service learning in the arts and sciences has dipped (Middle States Reaccreditation SelfStudy, 60; see Appendix Thirteen). In 2014-15, for instance, there were only seven service-learning courses, which included 161 registrants for both FCRH and FCLC, with an estimated 4,800 hours of engagement in the community. For a student population as Fordham’s, we should strive to do better.
In the Gabelli School of Business, undergraduates have the opportunity to reflect on the connection between the classroom and the community through the New York City Service Learning Program. Students identify a Bronx-based community organization and match it with a course they are already taking. The program allows students to learn local business theories and practices as well as the role of nonprofits in the community. In recent years, students completed an estimated 1,700 hours of engagement in the community.
While there have been genuine efforts to advance service learning, much work needs to be done. In the 2016-17 academic year, the Provost and the Vice President for Mission Integration and Planning have collaborated in order to set up more comprehensive University goals, learning objectives, and an optimal infrastructure to meet those goals.
In addition, the specific tension and challenges noted in this section of the Characteristics document are particularly apt. While there may have been a time when academics objected that “social justice” had little place in the academic pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, such tension, in that form, rarely obtains now. What can at times be observed, however, is a detachment of praxis from theory, so that “service” can be unfavorably compared to “social justice” rather than as mutually corroborating and ongoing practices. It may, in fact, be a sign of this particular moment in history that “social justice” is sometimes associated primarily with advocacy and activism rather than as a way of life to which all members of the Fordham community are called. Certainly, any bifurcation of social justice from active engagement in the community does not reflect the ideals of Jesuit education as articulated throughout the last 50 years.
Moreover, the challenge of “service and justice” being excised from an originating religious narrative can be seen in two ways: 1) a troubling phenomenon where students engaged in religious practices are not interested in “works of justice” and 2) where students who advocate for justice can seem suspicious and even hostile to the articulation of religious or generally spiritual motivations. In a pluralistic context and in a way appropriate to the diversity of commitments of students, faculty, and staff, we need to find new ways to find links between thought-worlds that have somewhat drifted apart.
Fordham has a long tradition of reaching out to be a good neighbor to the local and global community.
Although the main study abroad centers operated by Fordham University, such as that in London, focus more clearly on the development of our own students than on our hosts, in the case of our Ubuntu program in South Africa, we are especially aware of the multiple sensitivities of cross-national, cross-institutional, and cross-cultural programs, and we need to work with greater diligence to assure mutual respect and understanding of our common purpose.
Two unique Fordham programs that stress our responsibility to serve the larger global community include first, the program in International Political Economy and Development (IPED), an interdisciplinary program of the Departments of Economics, Political Science, and Sociology. The core of the curriculum is an advanced, interdisciplinary study of global economic relations and international development from a political and economic perspective. Second, the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) prepares current and future aid workers with the knowledge and skills needed to respond effectively in times of humanitarian crisis and disaster. The mission of the Institute is to train and educate current and future aid workers at local, regional, national, and international levels. The Institute regularly hosts events that aim to create an increased understanding of global humanitarian crises.
As noted above, Global Outreach (GO!) is a cultural immersion and service program where students learn about various issues of social, economic, political, and environmental justice, while living a simple lifestyle that fosters communal and spiritual growth. Teams of 11 students and one chaperone are sent to live, work, and learn in approximately 30 locations throughout the United States and countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe. Of the 30 locations, 14 are international and 16 are domestic. The goals of these projects are to create solidarity, learn about issues of poverty and injustice, and connect local and global realities. In the 2015-16 academic year, there were 427 applicants for a total of 300 spots on Global Outreach teams. The program is immensely popular among undergraduate students and remains the largest of its kind among all institutions in the AJCU.
At the more local level, Fordham is especially proud of its Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP), which identifies educationally and financially disadvantaged students in New York State who show academic potential, but do not meet admission requirements. More than 100 students enroll in the HEOP program each year with graduation and retention rates that are favorable compared to the overall University population.
HEOP puts special emphasis on being mission-centric for Fordham’s commitment to reach out to the local community as most of the HEOP students are from the five boroughs of New York City. The program has been at our Rose Hill campus since its state-wide inception in 1969.HEOP also contributes to the diversity and first-generation students on our campus through this additional HEOP enrollment. Based on data from Fordham University Office of Institutional Research, the following represents the graduation rates of HEOP students (in comparison to all Fordham undergraduates) for the cohort entering in Fall, 2009: four year 65.6% (all Fordham undergrads =74.9%); five years 71.6% (all undergrads = 79.9%). The results are exceptional in that the HEOP cohort was enrolled from a pool whose admission into the University would otherwise have been impossible. Fordham University is thus duly proud of students in this program, who represent our neighboring communities so well.
Consideration of Characteristic 4 leads the Steering Committee to recommend the following Mission Priorities discussed at the end of this Examen.
- The design/advancement of strategies for linking issues of diversity to mission/identity (Mission Priority #2).
- Significant advancement in strategic programming around community-based learning (Mission Priority #4).