Fordham University’s new senior vice president for academic affairs and chief academic officer is no stranger to Jesuit education, the joys of scientific research and discovery, or the fertile educational climate unique to big cities. A native of Montreal, Stephen Freedman, Ph.D., spent 24 years at Loyola University of Chicago, where he taught biology and served as dean of Mundelein College. From 2002 until this past July, he was academic vice president at Gonzaga University. Below is a question-and-answer session Freedman had with FORDHAM magazine shortly before he started in his new position on Aug. 1.
You earned your doctorate in ecology and evolutionary biology. What have those disciplines taught you?
As an evolutionary biologist, I’ve discovered that one needs to take the long-term approach in thinking strategically. In my own research, I’ve been primarily interested in the ways land-use planning can be conducted by looking at the long-term consequences of human activity. And I’ve applied that in my administrative thinking. I attempt to look for balance and make decisions that will produce positive results, not only over the short term, but over extended periods of time.
Would you give us a quick description of your new job?
Most of my energies are directed at ensuring that the University continues to build upon its wonderful academic reputation, enriching its academic programs and its faculty through administrative and support processes that are as beneficial to students and faculty as possible. I see my role as working alongside the vice presidents to serve the president and the University through collaboration and consensus building.
What are some of the first things you plan to do?
My first goal is to meet with as many people as I can—the deans, the vice presidents, faculty, students, staff, administrators—and develop strong personal relationships and good working relationships. I want to understand what is important to others, and not make initial decisions without conferring as widely and broadly as possible. And listen intently. Listen very carefully. My second goal is to set priorities for the academic community in concert with the deans, faculty and staff.
Will new research initiatives be an important part of Fordham’s future?
Very definitely. Fordham has an outstanding reputation, a wonderful track record. I’d like to see faculty and students continue to be engaged in research in all fields in ways that benefit students, faculty and the community. Research encompasses so much of what we do, and it’s so much a part of what an educational institution is in a global environment.
What is your take on the relationship between science and religion?
I’ve always seen science and religion as complementary. My own scientific and religious backgrounds have enhanced each other, and I think informed discussions between theologians and scientists play a critical role in the shaping of ideas.
What attracted you to Fordham?
Father McShane, his energy and his vision—the sense that Fordham is at a stage where there are wonderful opportunities, given the internationalization of higher education. Fordham is as well positioned as any university in the country, perhaps in the world, to continue to benefit from that. And it’s a premier Jesuit university. I was attracted by the history of Fordham and the future, the potential it has. I also know for certain that I will love the excitement and the intensity of New York.
Do you plan to bring to Fordham any of the success that the
Gonzaga men’s basketball team has had?
Wouldn’t that be good! Let me put it this way: Whatever I can do to help.
Gonzaga basketball has been exciting, but I’m really looking forward to my new role at Fordham.