President McShane Discusses Recession’s Impact on Fordham


McShane said that one of Fordham’s goals is to protect Fordham faculty and students during the recession. (Lisa Spiteri/The Observer)

Published: February 12, 2009

On Jan. 29, The Observer met with Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, to discuss the current state of the university and its future in the wake of the economic recession. McShane said he believes that Fordham will be able to withstand the rough economy and emerge with a stronger national profile and an increasingly talented student body.

McShane said, “Certainly there’s the potential for the recession to have a negative effect on all that we have been doing [to improve the profile of the university,] but… what we’re trying to do is to be proactive and… protect. It’s a really difficult thing to do when you don’t have the game plan in front of you, but the economy doesn’t seem to have a game plan right now.”

The State of the University

Contingency budgets, which call for a 3 percent cut in university expenditures, according to faculty senate minutes, are being constructed and will be put in place if needed, McShane said.

“Fordham has been affected most obviously and immediately in the decline of the value of the endowment,” said McShane. “The endowment lost a third of its worth over the last year. But because we’re not endowment-dependent for the building of our annual operating budgets, we’re not as affected as other institutions have been… ”

“We want to protect the students who are here, so we want to keep an eye on their financial aid. We also want to protect the faculty and staff who are here. We do not want to lose anyone. So that’s the first principle—make sure that we protect the Fordham family. This means there won’t be any large raises for anybody in the university, and I know that does cause some distress… I think the first thing we have to do is protect the…faculty, administrators and staff that we have… from that we have… from layoffs.  We haven’t had any layoffs, and we don’t intend to.

“We want to protect the quality of a Fordham education, so we want to make sure that we don’t do anything programmatically that will hurt the university’s offerings,” McShane said.

“The economy entered into a crisis mode right as we were really picking up speed. I’m frustrated,  but at the same time, even in the midst of this, I think the university and the students have a great deal to be proud of and to celebrate, [like the] rise that we’re seeing in the rankings of various programs,” McShane said. McShane used the executive MBA program, which the Wall Street Journal recently ranked as number 25 in the world, as an example.

“Even in a slower year than we’ve wanted, we’re still way ahead of every other year in the university’s history except the last two,” he said.

Financial Aid and Higher Education Budget Cuts

McShane stressed the fact that, despite the decline in the endowment and the poor economic climate, there will not be a decrease in scholarships or financial aid.

He said, “It’s one of [our] points of pride and the thing that people should know. The university’s commitment to financial aid is deep and heartfelt…We are, and will remain, a student-centered institution, so we want to make sure that our financial aid…is maintained.”

McShane said, “My job was to lobby [at the state capitol] for TAP and HEOP and lobby strongly, and I did. And in the course of the meeting, it was clear that the governor and his staff are very sympathetic to TAP and HEOP. It’s not just a student aid program; it’s an investment in New York’s future. [Without it], New York will lose its competitive edge. [TAP and HEOP] are building a long-term foundation for the economic viability of the city and the state.

“It’s easy for the assembly to smile indulgently at me when I go in to lobby for money for TAP and HEOP, and then forget me when I leave. It’s very difficult for them to encounter a student or a student and his or her parents. This has a very strong impact on them, and this is the message that I want to get out to the students.  You have enormous power to shape the state budget, and to shape the state budget in ways that not only help students but also prepare the state for the economic challenges of the future.

“New York’s future depends upon it being and remaining one of the idea capitals of the world. If we do not maintain that position as an idea capital, we will lose our position as the economic capital of the world and as the cultural capital of the world.

“We have to increase Pell, both the amount, and we have to raise the ceiling of Pell [eligibility]. A lot of families who are solidly middle class are now falling [down and need the money]. If we do not have citizens who are well-trained, well-educated across the spectrum, from the arts to the sciences… in the increasingly globalized economy that we face, the United States will not be able to compete.

Future Admissions Cycles

“We want to see if we… even in the midst of tough economic times, [can] continue to build on the gains that we have made in the degree of selectivity, the improvement in the quality of every entering class, [which] is very important,” McShane said. “…The admissions cycle is very promising right now. The early admissions had a double-digit increase, and the regular admit pool is running ahead…somewhere between 5 and 10 percent increase in all the schools, and the quality [of students] is up.”

Current Students Feeling Slighted About Future Plans

“It’s the way every generation of students feels—and rightly so, I understand that. It’s the way the students at Lincoln Center felt when we began to build McMahon. I think people understand that the university has changed and moved dramatically in the last decade. We’ve become more recognized, more solid in the recognition we’ve received. Students are benefiting every day from what has been done before they came. Your degrees have enhanced value now [more than they did when you applied and before you came].

“Take the non-capital projects: investments, investments in faculty, investments in scholarships.

“The thing that always fills people’s minds is capital projects—oh, they’re going to have a better building. Yeah, but you have a better faculty. More scholarship opportunities than the people before you. Are they annoyed? Yeah, a lot of them are; they say, ‘Oh, we didn’t have that.’ McShane said.”

The Election and the Future

“Reflect on what we’ve just gone through as a nation. The very divisive and, in many ways, ugly election, followed by an almost lyrically-beautiful transfer of power, where a very unpopular president really stretched to make a very popular incoming president welcome. A nation that rejoiced in the rediscovery of the hope contained in its own promises. What makes this possible? An informed, educated, creative citizenry. This is our glory. Not just a smooth transfer of power, but a celebratory transfer of power. I think [it was] one of the great celebrations of American life, spirit and democratic ideals that we’re going to see in our lifetime, at least, in my lifetime! You’ve got many more years.

“So we know there’s the immediate [economy] problem, but the long-term challenge is creating and sustaining what we have had: an innovative, creative, informed citizenry. This is what has made the U.S. an economic marvel. The same innovative, creative, informed citizenry is what has sustained the democratic dream.  And that makes us a marvel as well,” McShane said.

“So those are the things that the university has done and is doing to get through the economic maelstrom that we are going through right now.  We’re not out of the woods.  Everybody you speak to, all economists, are clear; we don’t know what’s going on.  What they do know is that it’s not over.  They all say that it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” McShane said.