Barbara Hilkert Andolsen, Ph.D., a feminist theologian and ethics scholar, was installed as Fordham’s first James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics in a ceremony on Feb. 11.
The new chair within the Department of Theology was established through a $2 million gift from James Buckman (FCRH ’66), vice chairman of York Capital Management, and his wife, Nancy M. Buckman. The couple joined Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, in welcoming Andolsen before a gathering of friends, family and faculty who filled Tognino Hall on the Rose Hill campus.
“We present you with this medal to acknowledge your position as a most accomplished researcher, educator and mentor, and to signify your special place within the Fordham family of scholars,” Father McShane said. “We are also honored that Jim and Nancy have endowed this chair. They are extraordinary benefactors, great lovers of our University, great friends of our students and believers in what we do here.”
Following the ceremony, Andolsen delivered an inaugural lecture, “Unyielding Hope: Racism and Catholic Social Thought in a New American Moment,” in which she called on American Catholics to enlist the virtue of hope in fighting against racism.
Andolsen called the election of Barack Obama as the nation’s first African-American president a “new moment” in race relations, but cautioned that racism still represents a “major moral issue” in the nation.
She cited instances of Catholic moral thought addressing racism, such as the pronouncement by United States bishops that it is an “evil which endures in our society and in our church.” Recently, she said, John Paul II and Benedict XVI have acknowledged the institutional nature of racism.
However, she said that church documents addressing racism were too few and far between.
“The record of Catholic moral theology in the post-Vatican II period on racism is abysmal,” said Andolsen, borrowing a quotation from theologian Charles Curran.
A cause for concern, Andolsen said, is that even in 2009, shifting patterns of racial inequality still exist. For example, while black women and white women had achieved virtual wage parity by 1980, in the last 25 years white women have pulled ahead in professional positions. Today, Andolsen said, black women working full-time earn 15 percent less than their white counterparts.
It is through the virtue of hope, rooted in a God of infinite love, Andolsen said, that a society will advance racial justice.
“Hope enables action,” Andolsen said. “In turn, courageous moral action inspires further hope.
“We must . . . say plainly and persistently—especially persistently—that racism must be fought because it assaults the fundamental dignity of people made in the image of God, and because it constitutes a turning away from the God whose love and reconciliation is held out to each person.”
Andolsen acknowledged that for whites, it is uncomfortable to look at institutional structures that have made life easier for them. “My theological point tonight is that in the present U.S. context, the journey toward full community with God must be an arduous journey toward restoring unity with all our brothers and sisters,” she said.
The Buckmans were honored at a dinner for their generosity and interest in Christian ethics following the inaugural lecture.
James Buckman, a Bronx native who works in top-level management, spent his formative years on the Fordham campus—first at Fordham Prep and then at the University, where he earned a degree in history. He said that one only had to look in the newspaper today to recognize that “the sensitivity to social ethics has dulled over the last several decades.”
Buckman credited his time at Fordham with instilling in him the value of a classical education; the Jesuit influence taught him to look at things differently than others in the world of finance did.
“My years at Fordham absolutely distinguished my experience,” said Buckman, a member of Fordham’s Board of Trustees. “It became part of my DNA—how I see things; how I view right and wrong; the truth and the moral dimension of everything I encounter.”
In creating the chair, he and his wife, Nancy, a devoted volunteer in church and education activities, sought to help ensure that an excellent liberal arts education at Fordham will be available for generations.
“I’ve always felt that Fordham University in particular, and Jesuit universities in general, can make their greatest contributions in the areas of theology and philosophy—those two areas where they historically have a great deal of strength, and where they act as the lights of the world,” he said.
“Hopefully, this chair will give Fordham a competitive advantage in staking out this particular academic and intellectual area of expertise.”