The Jesuit Way: Adapting to the Times

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Fordham has found ways to maintain its core Jesuit values throughout time and apply them to an ever changing world. (photo by SAMUEL JOSEPH/THE RAM)

By EDDIE MIKUS

Fordham has found ways to maintain its core Jesuit values throughout time and apply them to an ever changing world.  (photo by SAMUEL JOSEPH/THE RAM)
Fordham has found ways to maintain its core Jesuit values throughout time and apply them to an ever changing world.
(photo by SAMUEL JOSEPH/THE RAM)

From the time of its founding, Fordham University has emphasized values relating to its status as a Jesuit institution.

The exact definition of those values, however, is not something that remains static. Instead, Fordham’s values evolve as the population of students, faculty and leadership at the University also changes.

To gain a sense of the evolution of Fordham’s values, The Fordham Ram spoke to Robert Himmelberg, a professor in the history department who has been on faculty since 1961.

Himmelberg said that he identified three distinct categories of values that Fordham emphasizes: religious, social and academic.

“They’re all reflections of the values that you maintain and that you accept and try to live,” Himmelberg said. “They all stem from the same thing, from a core attitude.”

Himmelberg stated that one area where he saw major value changes was in the area of religious observance, something he attributed to an increase in residential students at Fordham.

“The opportunity for worship, not only Catholic but otherwise, is broader than it was,” Himmelbeg said.

Himmelberg also said the campus places a greater emphasis on service than they did in years past.

“There’s a much greater stress today on service,” Himmelberg said. Referring to the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 until 1965, he stated, “I think there’s been quite an emphasis on expressing Fordham’s religious values through service in recent years. I think the Church has turned in that direction. I was going to say, I think Fordham embraced Vatican II rather firmly from the very beginning. Vatican II in the sense of trying to open to the world and trying to just stress service to the world.”

Himmelberg also said that there was more religious diversity at Fordham than there used to be.

“It never was a narrow place, in terms of religion,” Himmelberg said. “But certainly, I think you see the presence of more religious traditions than you did before.”

Himmelberg said that he believed this increase in religious diversity to be part of a larger trend of the University becoming less discriminatory in the people it admits.

Thomas More College, to which Himmelberg referred, was an all-female college that opened on the Rose Hill campus in 1964 and merged with Fordham College at Rose Hill in 1974. Himmelberg stated that this increased inclusiveness was a means for Fordham to practice its values in the course of daily life.

“To maintain its mission, it would have to open more to the rest of the world,” Himmelberg said. “How are you going to have an impact upon the world, if you’re not inclusive in your own practice? Any attempt to maintain a mainly Catholic faculty dwindled. It’s true that there’s still a big Catholic presence at Fordham in terms of student body. The faculty, however, is much broader, partly striving to represent the world, and partly in seeking excellence.”

In terms of academic values, Himmelberg stated that Fordham has always been an institution that emphasized research, teaching and the development of individual students.

“It’s always valued research,” Himmelberg said of the University. “It valued research then, it values research now, that is the promotion of research to forward knowledge. But as far as the attitude of our faculty towards individual students, I think it was and still is a student-centered place where there is a genuine respect for students. The term ‘cura personalis’ is used a great deal, which can mean many things, I suppose. But it means, among others, that there’s an attitude about, a wish to develop student abilities. There’s a respect for students.”

However, Himmelberg also said that while the university has always maintained the idea of an academic core, the skills it seeks to develop in students are also evolving.

He also spoke about the specific changes that have taken place in the core over the years.

“There’s more emphasis today on skill development than common content,” Himmelberg said. “There was more emphasis then upon everybody should know the main body of English lit, of American history, of recent European history, and so forth. You don’t have that as much anymore. A lot of the core courses don’t try as much as they used to convey to all students a common set of skills by discipline.”

Even as Fordham has opened up to the world and become more diverse, its commitment to Jesuit ideals has remained as it adapts to change.