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For the first time Fordham University’s president will not be a Jesuit priest

FORDHAM UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT

Dana Maxon/Fordham University

John Burger - published on 02/11/22 - updated on 02/11/22

Tania Tetlow, who became first lay president at Loyola in New Orleans, will become the New York institution's first president.

For the first time in its 181-year history, the president of Fordham University in New York City will not be a priest. The Jesuit-sponsored university based in the Bronx announced Thursday that its Board of Trustees unanimously elected Tania Tetlow, J.D., as the 33rd president of Fordham. 

Tetlow, president of another Jesuit institution, Loyola University in New Orleans, will take office on July 1. She succeeds Jesuit Fr. Joseph M. McShane, who is retiring after 19 years at Fordham’s helm. 

The New York Times pointed out that Fordham now becomes the 21st Jesuit college or university to be led by a lay person and the sixth to be led by a woman.

A New York native, Tetlow received her Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from Tulane University in 1992 and her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1995. During the 1990s, she served as an aide to former Congresswoman and Ambassador Lindy Boggs and a law clerk for Judge James Dennis of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal.

From 2000 to 2005, she was a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She then began teaching law at Tulane, where she later became senior vice president and chief of staff. She also served Tulane as associate provost for international affairs and director of the university’s domestic violence legal clinic.

Groundbreaker

When she was appointed president of Loyola in 2018, she was also its first lay president. 

Announcing her appointment, Robert D. Daleo, Chairman of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, said that Tetlow arrived at Loyola “during the most challenging period in its financial history” but “successfully led a turnaround of the university, launching new academic programs and increasing enrollment and student retention. Loyola grew revenue and the endowment, improved its bond ratings, and returned to financial stability, all during a global pandemic.”

Tetlow is “beloved at Loyola for her compassionate and transparent leadership,” he said.

At Tulane, Tetlow served as a “key part” of the New Orleans university’s “remarkable leap forward in admissions, rankings, diversity, research strength, and fundraising,” Daleo said. “As senior vice president and chief of staff to Tulane’s president, she played a crucial role in the strategy of culture change, adding new ambition to an institution already doing really well. And she led Tulane’s efforts to make meaningful progress on race and equity, and on addressing campus sexual assault.”

Outgoing Fordham president Fr. McShane said in a statement, “Tania Tetlow has in abundance the qualities of leadership one needs to run a major university, among them discernment, patience, decisiveness, self-awareness, and magnanimity. Her commitment to Jesuit pedagogy and to Fordham’s Jesuit, Catholic mission is both deep and well-informed. I shall rest easy with her in the office I have occupied for almost two decades.”

Tetlow is “deeply rooted in, and a strong proponent of, Ignatian spirituality, and will be a champion of Fordham’s Jesuit, Catholic mission and identity,” said Daleo, of the Board of Trustees. He quoted from her candidacy letter to the Board of Trustees:

“The generation of students we recruit craves institutions like Fordham with clear values. They also, however, want something more than virtue. Born during the Great Recession, made cynical by the events of their childhood, they want to fix a broken world. They push on assumptions, question authority, and have remarkable courage. What they don’t know (until we tell them) is that there is nothing more Jesuit than that.”

Jesuit family ties

Daleo added that Tetlow is a daughter of a former Jesuit priest, Louis Mulry Tetlow, a psychologist who left the Society of Jesus after 17 years and got married to a woman who was studying at Fordham. 

“They taught me that faith and reason are intertwined,” Tetlow said in a video message to the university community. “They instilled in me an abiding curiosity to find God in all things. They sang me to sleep with a Gregorian chant and taught me the absolute joy of learning.”

In addition, Tetlow’s uncle, Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J., served for eight years in Rome as head of the Secretariat for Ignatian Spirituality, and has held other important roles ranging from president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley to associate editor of America Magazine.

Tetlow is married to Gordon Stewart, who is originally from Glasgow, Scotland. They have a 9-year-old daughter, Lucy, and a stepson, Noah.

“This is a historic and exciting moment for Fordham,” Daleo said. “As a university that seeks to transform its students’ lives, we are preparing to be transformed by bold new leadership — leadership that will build upon Father McShane’s legacy of academic achievement and institutional growth.”

Fordham enrolls almost 17,000 students, including about 9,900 undergraduates, 43.5% of whom are Catholic, according to the university. It has a satellite campus near Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, where the university’s law school is based.

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