Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of the university, sat down with The Fordham Ram to discuss the dodransbicentennial, deferred action for childhood arrivals, free speech and other topics and issues of recent interest. This article has been edited for length and clarity.
The Fordham Ram: What was the purpose of this year-long celebration, Dodransbicentennial?
McShane: It’s actually two-fold: one is to celebrate all that Fordham and its faculty, staff and students have achieved in 175 years in serving successive waves of immigrants, and the city of New york and the church and the world. The second was to get back in touch with the driving ideals behind the foundation of the institution. It is, as our motto would say, wisdom, learning and service and faith. So it’s two-fold — one to celebrate the past but second, to propel us forward with a clearer sense of the ideals and goals that have always driven the institution, and that will put us into the future.
TFR: What was an instant that stood out to you during this whole campaign?
FM: It was a moment that really took me quite by surprise. On the morning of June 24, the kickoff event before we headed down on the Metro North to the cathedral, I stopped outside Cunniffe house. Rose Hill is deserted in June and I’d just come back from a retreat. I, without anybody else, I went out and stood on the steps of Cunniffe house facing John Hughes’s statue and it was one of those kind of very private, defining moments where I just kept looking at him and saying, “How are we doing? Have we kept faith? Have we served? Are these the students that you want us to serve?” It was just me and him. That was, for me, a more emotional moment than I’d ever expected it to be because there was no one there and everyone was there. Every student I’ve known, my father, my brothers: everyone was there in my mind’s eye. And I mentioned that when I got downtown there are moments throughout the year where that kind of introspective moment has come back to me about what it is that we’re about. And I say this with fair regulatory when I address our alumni, I see faces. Whenever I address our alumni to beg, which is a large part of what I’m called upon to do, people ask what I am thinking about, and I’m not thinking, I’m seeing the faces of our students, from both campuses and through time. So that comes back to me, that is, to me, a very important thing. I have to keep reminding myself, though I don’t need much reminding: it’s all about the students whose lives are transformed here, who are wonderful.
TFR: So as dodransbicentennial is wrapping up, do you think its purpose was realized. What were some of the biggest accomplishments?
FM: It’s not for nothing that it happens right as CUSP is that getting off the ground. One of the things during CUSP is that we want people to have really serious conversations about what our identity is, what our mission is, and what are our dreams within those two. And so, [the dodransbicentennial] gave us an opportunity. Fordham should be marked by bothered excellence. This is a Jesuit institution. You can never be satisfied with what you’ve learned. So a very important part of the dodrans is to recapture that. If you think of the best classes you’ve had here, imagine our faculty who are spectacular, have led you through that without you realizing it. Wonder, curiosity, questioning. That’s what we’re celebrating. That’s who we are.
Fordham was there for you. Be there for Fordham. And then I translate it. Fordham was there for you. Be there for your younger brothers and sisters who have great talent, but no money. So those two things have been very successful.
TFR: I wanted to take the opportunity to ask you about some national conversations that are going on. Particularly, we wanted to ask you about your thoughts on DACA and Dreamers.
FM: I signed the University onto Dreamers, years ago. We have never faltered in our advocacy for DACA. You can’t say it’s support; it’s advocacy. And so, when Dreamers first started to be talked of, both on the state and national level, I would write for it because we are, frankly, if the Johnson Read Act passed in 1980 rather than 1924, my brothers and I would be scrobbling over about six acres of depleted farmland in Ireland. So for me, this is personal. This is intensely personal and mission-driven. One of the issues surrounding Dream Act on the state level whether it’s in Jersey or New York or wherever you come from, is that the legislators had not committed to creating a revenue stream, which was supported. And this is, to me, very troubling because, when I go up to Albany, which I do with regularity to lobby, we run into, I say “We are,” “We are fairly Fordham, for the Dream Act,” and I’ll get these, “Oh, yes, we’re in favor.” How are you setting up a revenue stream?, and frequently enough, we get the response, which is an unacceptable response, that we will just tap into tap. And so they’ll dilute the buying power of what is already in the legislative budget. But I’m the guy that C.I.C.U. sends to talk to the president of the senate and the speaker of the assembly and the second floor. And I’m the guy sent in to beg for TAP, key-op, and the other interested government programs, because I’ve been doing it for 14 years, and I know these guys, and this is very important.
When I go to Washington, I say the same thing. It’s not enough to be verbally supportive of the Dreamers. It’s simply not. We have to find a way forward. DACA.
Now the next question. Are we sanctuary [campus]? No, we’re not sanctuary because it has a legal meaning. So what we’re doing is we’re saying that to our students, these are the resources that are available on campus. Use them.
We have looked very carefully at Homeland Security. I don’t know if you’ve read their manuals. There are sensitive areas of status, such as universities, hospitals. And we want everyone on campus to know that. All of our offices know that. So we will not put our students at risk of getting arrested.
TFR: After the election, there’s been an outcry for more free speech on campus. Can you comment on that?
FM: You weren’t here when we had the Coulter incident. I should say it’s widely reported in some parts of the press that Fordham said no. In fact, I said the time was that I found what she said and how she said it about our president, President Obama, offensive. And I still do. But we would not forbid her. We did not say she couldn’t come, but at the time, I did encourage people to have strong conversations about what it was that she was saying. And that’s the way we did it. It was widely misrepresented.
TFR: Just one more, because we are running an article this week on the vote of no confidence.
FM: I can’t speak about that. We are still in negotiations. The statement I made, you have to understand I meant it. I really did. I love our faculty. I love them deeply. I’ve known them for 25 years. So that’s the state, but we are still in conversation this week, so I can’t. I wish I could, but I can’t. The statement I made is the statement that I wrote from the heart, and I meant every single word of it. I love them. I am perplexed, but I love them. I always have, and I always will. And I look forward to working with them, as what they’ve always been. They are colleagues, dear colleagues.