On August 26, Richard P. Salmi, S.J., was named the head of Fordham University’s London Centre. Father Salmi, President of Spring Hill College from 2009 to 2013, is a native of Cleveland who entered into the Society of Jesus in 1973. He sat down recently to talk about his plans for the center.
What excites you the most about your appointment?
Working for Fordham is really exciting. I think what’s very exciting is all the potential of the London Centre. It’s been growing quite quickly over the last few years, and there’s potential for more growth there, to make it into a truly global program.
Is there any particular growth area that you’re going to focus?
The largest of the three programs is the Gabelli School of Business, so I certainly want to pay attention with what’s going on there. But we also want to look at the London Dramatic Academy and see what resources they need. With liberal arts, we need to be mindful of our relationship with the University of London, and I want to make sure that where I am able to visit all those places where our students are studying. They don’t necessarily study with us; they study on the various campuses of the University of London. That’s exciting, but we want to make sure we have a handle on that.
We also have a lot of special programs. The Graduate School of Social Service has a program, and there are a number of others that are bringing people over for short stays. Are there opportunities for us to expand those kinds of programs and open up London for people who might not have a chance otherwise to go?
What are your goals?
The first goal is to make sure that what happens at London is best for Fordham and best for our students, whether they’re undergraduates or graduates, and the experience helps them understand the global reality that we’re in. American students tend to be a bit myopic in terms of the world. When they get onto campus, they live in that bubble, and they don’t watch the news or read a newspaper. To get our students into a truly global environment, and get them to understand that the world is bigger than New York or wherever they’re from, is important.
As we expand the program, I also want to work collaboratively with the other 27 U.S. Jesuit colleges, so they can send their students to London. We have some agreements now, but it’s a small number. We have a great opportunity to expand that number and really open up London not only to Fordham students, but to students at other Jesuit colleges.
What do you anticipate will be your biggest challenge?
There are a lot of moving parts to running the Fordham London Centre. The programs have some synergy, but there’s some independence in how they do it. So the challenge is, how do we make sure that all of them still carry the Fordham Jesuit educational stamp?
Why is it so important to be in London right now?
London is a world capital for culture and finance. Certainly Paris has a claim on culture, and you would also look at Germany and Italy, but in London, there are so many firms for finance and theaters in the vibrant west end that are right at our doorstep. I also hope to use London as a jumping point to travel to places like Rome, Berlin, Brussels, and engage our students in other EU capitals.
You oversaw the opening of a center in Bologna, Italy when you were the president of Spring Hill College. What lessons did you take from that experience?
We provide numerous student services here on our campuses, so students come to expect a certain amount of support and service. So part of what we need to be mindful of is how we are supporting our students outside of the classroom, and giving them places to study, places to interact, and opportunities to form community while they’re over there.
London’s program is kind of falling into that, so we need to be a little more intentional now that we’re growing, and make sure students are supported and have a good experience. Our academic program is strong, and we’ve got excellent faculty that we hire and bring over from New York. But we also need to mindful of all the other things that happen with our students outside of the classroom, much like we do here in the states.
What are our housing arrangements? Are they conducive to the experience we’re hoping they’re going to have? What kind of support services are there should there be problems? We have arrangements with some of the other bigger universities in London to access their staff, should we need to do that. But as the program grows, we may need our own staff to address those things. I’m a student affairs person, so I approach things from that perspective.
Contact: Patrick Verel