Characteristics of Jesuit Universities

Dear Fellow Alumni and Friends of Fordham,

The return of students to Fordham's campuses heralds the end of summer and the beginning of a new academic year. Alumni of all generations can appreciate the feelings of anticipation and expectation that accompany the return to school—for many a home away from home. Among Fordham alumni, parents, teachers, administrators, and students there is an expectation, at times not fully articulated, that the school itself remain true to its Jesuit mission of educating the whole person, of providing opportunities to be men and women for others, of being committed to a service of faith that promotes justice. Put another way, there is the widely held expectation that Fordham continue to strengthen its Catholic and Jesuit identity.

As a guide to how that task might be accomplished, for the past three years Jesuit provincials and Jesuit university presidents have collaborated in a deep conversation that has recently borne fruit in a document titled "Some Characteristics of Jesuit Universities." They are seven in number, and allow me to share them with you.

  1. Leadership and mission. On every level—trustees, president and cabinet, academic deans and faculty—the leadership must clearly state, through the mission statement and personal initiative, the commitment to teaching, research, and service. All things being equal, they must seek committed Catholics familiar with Jesuit traditions for vice presidents, who understand how the Jesuit identity can be integrated into the curricular and extracurricular life.
  2. Academic life that reflects the mission. The overall commitment to research and teaching should demonstrate excellence, particularly in the liberal arts and Christian humanistic education for all students. The core must reflect the institution's commitment to faith and justice, should include the world's major intellectual traditions, major religions, and an introduction to Catholic thought taught by professors sympathetic to the material. Promotion and tenure decisions should reflect a commitment to these ideals. These principles should apply to professional and graduate schools as well.
  3. A Catholic Jesuit campus culture. All members of the community should work to foster a virtuous life characterized by personal responsibility, respect, forgiveness, compassion, a habit of reflection and an integration of body, mind, and soul. This includes liturgy, the opportunity to make the Spiritual Exercises, and the moral use of one's body with regard to sexuality, substance abuse, and health. It should also promote programs that offer an alternative to the "culture of superficiality" with which the Society [of Jesus] has expressed growing concern.
  4. Service. The university as an institution must insert itself into the world on the side of the poor, the marginalized, and those seeking justice. Those on service trips should learn the local language, learn to see the world through the eyes of those they serve. They should apply the Ignatian pedagogical paradigm: it stresses experience, reflection, and action.
  5. Service to the local church. The university should educate first-generation immigrant populations, Catholic and non-Catholic, and offer programs and resources that build the local church and provide a place where the local community can meet and discuss matters that concern the church and the neighborhood. It should sponsor ecumenical dialogues in a way that enables the church and the community to learn from one another. The president should have an open line between himself and the local ordinary who should be welcomed on the campus.
  6. Jesuit presence. The university must do all in its power to maintain a strong cohort of Jesuits—as faculty, administrators, and campus ministers—capable of playing a public role formally and informally in its life. The Jesuit community should be known for its vibrant hospitality. The university should participate actively in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and collaborate with other Jesuit universities throughout the world.
  7. Integrity. In its management practices, the university should offer compensation and benefits that demonstrate a commitment to fairness, equity, and the well-being of the employees. Fairness should distinguish its norms for promotion and tenure and its practices concerning gender, racial, and ethnic equal opportunity. Its recruitment and hiring policies—concerning administration, faculty, and staff—should be clearly published in the mission statement and should attract and accept candidates who share and will promote the mission of the university.

Please join me in working and praying that these characteristics be embodied in the ongoing life of Fordham University, thus strengthening its Catholic and Jesuit identity!

Wishing God's peace and blessings upon you,

Dan Gatti, SJ, JES '65, GSE '66