Dean Grimes Talks Jesuits and Jobs


Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center. (Kyle Morrison/The Observer)


Rev. Robert R. Grimes, S.J., Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center. (Kyle Morrison/The Observer)

According to an annual list produced by U.S. News & World Report, Fordham falls in the number ten spot in the Colleges With Most Student Debt list. How does Fordham’s Jesuit tradition coincide with the student debt crises? The average debt of a student graduating from Fordham is $38,151. The cost of attending Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) for the 2012-2013 academic year is an estimated $41,000. The Observer had a conversation with the Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, Robert R. Grimes, S.J., Ph.D, about debt, jobs and Fordham’s Jesuit position on our nation’s current economic turmoil.


Observer: Will Fordham be proactive in targeting a student’s debt before it has accrued? Will adding a pre-professional program to Fordham be of assistance?

Dean Robert R. Grimes, S.J.: So what you want to do is to change the very nature of the college? You’re either a liberal arts college or a pre-professional school. I don’t believe for a minute that having a liberal arts education is going to hold you back from getting a job. There are some pre-professional programs at Fordham. A BFA in dance would certainly be one. Theatre performance and production tracks are certainly pre-professional.

What’s happening and what I am seeing happening is not that graduates aren’t getting jobs, it is that they aren’t getting jobs as quickly as they were getting them before. I would also say that students are looking for jobs too late. It’s one of the reasons we put Senior Convocation into place, which is coming up Oct. 11. We also want to help seniors start to think about jobs. If you don’t do anything, nothing is going to happen. You have to become actively involved in your own situation. But again, as I said, what I am generally finding is that people are getting jobs, but they aren’t getting them as quickly as before.

Observer: Is the emphasis of a liberal arts education a practice shared among all Jesuit institutions?

R.G.: I would say that Jesuit institutions are known for their commitment to the liberal arts. But there’s also another component to it and that is that the Jesuits value education for education’s sake. We hope that students develop that sense of lifetime learning; that you always want to know more.

I think the important thing is to realize that we are fundamentally a liberal arts college, and so we are fundamentally not a pre-professional program. Father O’Hare [former president of Fordham 1984-2003] used to say, “The world is changing so fast, the job you’re probably going to spend the bulk of your life in probably hasn’t been invented yet,” so there is no way we can train you for that job.

What we try to do is to help you develop your analytical skills, your reasoning skills, your thinking skills, etc… so that when confronted with a problem you can analyze it and then verbalize a solution for that problem. If you can do that well, I think it’s pretty clear that you’ll get a job, because those are the skills people are looking for. If we train you for something specific, what happens if that job no longer exists?

Observer: Is an internship the necessary pre-professional training a student would need outside of the institution itself?

R.G.: It would certainly help, but it depends on the individual; it depends on the internship. I think there are some internships that can be just exploitation or free labor, so you have to look carefully at what an internship is. But we do have the Career Planning and Placement Services. They do have a more and more important place in the university, but quite frankly, oftentimes students do not take advantage of what is there. We ask second semester freshman to do an online tutorial, and the tutorial is really to get students beginning to think what they want to do after college. The key to this is to keep asking yourself the question, and the answer may change.  I would say, the college years need to be years of discovery, not years of denial when it comes to what you are going to do later on.

Observer: Would it hinder a student if Fordham placed more pressure on a student to begin to target what they want to do post graduation?

R.G.: I wanted to say that I used the word “discovery” for a reason, because I wanted to leave it open. As you are educated through college, hopefully something is happening. Things open up to you that you had never thought of before. The big problem is avoiding the issue. Some people have too clear an idea of what they’re going to do; some people don’t face it that there is a life after college; they’re in denial that college will end. You want to keep discovering yourself in the world while you’re in college, but with an eye to what you want to do and how you want to contribute to this world. That is also an important part of it, not just saying how am I going to earn money, but how am I going to contribute? Even as students enter their last year, there are mentorship programs that alumni use to mentor students and help them in their process of finding a job. There are regular meetings for alumni looking for positions. There is something at the New York Athletic Club next month with recent graduates meeting successful graduates from Fordham.

Observer: Is there a final word you would like to say, that you did not get to address in our conversation?

R.G.: Fordham is just very steeped in the liberal arts tradition. As an institution, it believes in the liberal arts. That doesn’t mean that Fordham does not believe in professional education. It puts it on a different level. That’s why we have graduate schools of education, social service, and business. I know the Dean of the Graduate School of Business at Fordham is a strong believer that if you want to go into business, you should have an undergraduate liberal arts education. I know many people in the business world that swear by their liberal arts undergraduate education. I think right now some people are sort of downgrading the value of the liberal arts, and I think we do that at our peril.