“I am thrilled that Tokumbo will be joining Fordham,” said Tania Tetlow, the University’s president. “He brings both big picture strategy and excellence of execution. He understands the complexity of higher education and the challenges ahead.”
Shobowale comes to Fordham from the New School, where he served as executive vice president for business and operations over the past decade. There, he managed a portfolio similar to the University’s—including IT, endowment management, and human resources—and navigated financial constraints, while identifying new opportunities and improving the institution’s credit outlook. Before entering higher education, he served as director of infrastructure for New York City’s Initiative on Rebuilding and Resiliency, a response to Hurricane Sandy. He also served as chief of staff to the deputy mayor for economic development, overseeing more than a dozen agencies, and as chief operating officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
Shobowale is a Minneapolis native who spent most of his life in New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University, as well as two master’s degrees, graduating at the top of his class: an M.A. from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs, and an M.B.A. from the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management.
In his new role, Shobowale will manage and strengthen Fordham’s finances. Shobowale officially joins the University this fall, following a national search led by a search committee chaired by Provost Dennis Jacobs, and eight years of service from his predecessor, Martha K. Hirst.
In a Q&A with Fordham News, Shobowale reflected on all aspects of his career—past, present, and future.
You managed the New School’s financial portfolio for a decade. What have you learned from your previous work that you’ll bring to Fordham?
At the New School, we created an expanded university budget committee, which represented a cross-section of the university, including faculty senate members, staff, and students. It’s really helpful in getting broad input, understanding priorities, and getting perspective on the budget, and has helped to guide decisions we’ve made. The second thing—which we did later, after having a series of conversations with people across campus to understand how that budget committee was working—was to form a financial transparency council. That council democratized budget information more broadly in the community, beyond the shared governance of the budget committee. Having these mechanisms was helpful at the New School, and I think something similar could also be helpful at Fordham.
Through this process, we learned that even with the ongoing work of our budget committee, there were still a lot of folks who didn’t really understand the budget. In retrospect, that’s not surprising because university finances are confusing. Many people don’t really understand how financial aid works—even those who have spent their entire lives in higher education—and how the endowment ties into the budget. When you have hundreds of millions of dollars in the endowment, it sounds like an extraordinary amount of money. But the purpose of endowment is to support the institution in perpetuity. You can’t spend all that money at any given moment. It has to be stewarded in a way that maintains its value—real value, even in times of inflation—over decades or centuries. It’s an important resource, but not a panacea that will solve all of a university’s problems.
What drew you to Fordham?
It sounds cliché, but the people. I have two former colleagues from the New School who landed at Fordham, and they were the ones who recommended this job opportunity. Back when I worked in public service in the city, I also had the honor of meeting Father McShane and learning firsthand about his spirit of service. Fordham stood out among the institutions in the city, in terms of its level of engagement with the surrounding community and really looking to serve the city beyond its walls. It’s been eye-opening, learning more about Fordham, Jesuit institutions, and their deep commitment to mission and service. It blends in with my previous work for the city—serving a broader community and meeting people where they are.
What accomplishments were you particularly happy with at the New School?
It’s hard to say this because the pandemic was a rough time, but I am very proud that we were able to make the transition, literally in a matter of a couple weeks, to fully remote instruction. That was in large part because we had done work over the preceding years to create infrastructure for information and technology systems that allowed us to do that—and to move the work, including the budgeting and HR, online very quickly. When we returned to campus, we were able to create a system of protocols that were really successful in keeping the community safe—despite how difficult COVID was—with testing and other protocols that were quite effective in protecting our community.
What are Fordham’s financial strengths? What areas do you hope to build on?
Fordham’s campuses in this vibrant city—the verdant Rose Hill campus, with acres of space and facilities, and the Lincoln Center campus, with these dense, urban, large buildings—are both incredible financial assets, as well as Fordham’s strong enrollment. It’s a good-sized university and has had strong enrollment for years, and that’s also a strength to build on.
I think that financial knowledge about the University’s budget and resources is also something to build upon. That’s not unique to Fordham. I’ve heard this over the past decade, while speaking with financial and operational leaders at other campuses. There’s a general lack of knowledge about university finances, and I think that’s something we can work to better address here.
What are your top priorities for this fiscal year?
My work with Fordham’s financial portfolio is in support of the University’s mission, so it’s critical to better understand not only each part of the University and all its schools, but also its mission because everything that we do—with our finances, our people, our technology—is in support of that mission. And so that is my number one priority—to get to know the community. I also know that President Tetlow is beginning the strategic planning process, and I want to support that by better understanding her priorities, as well as those of the provost and the deans.
The people I’ve met so far have been simply delightful. After my job announcement became public, a few people who I didn’t even know were associated with Fordham, who I’ve met elsewhere, reached out to me. I continue to be surprised and excited to learn about the people who are part of the Fordham community.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.