Santa Clara University and Fordham University name their first-ever lay-people (and women) to become president.
By Riley Mulcahy
Opinion Section Editor
Santa Clara University and Fordham University, two Jesuit institutions, named their first female presidents, breaking longstanding traditions to name priests or theologians in the role. Tania Tetlow, Fordham’s choice for president, broke a similar tradition as president of Loyola University in New Orleans, and Julie H. Sullivan comes from St. Thomas University in Minnesota.
Both women have been hailed trailblazers for breaking down walls in predominantly male institutions and as their perspective roles as presidents, creating a space for non-lay people to control a university. Saint Mary’s has also broken the tradition; however, the first two presidents to halt the practice have been two white men, James Donahue and Richard Plumb. Santa Clara and Fordham’s announcements come at a time where there is a reckoning of racial injustice and a sudden newfound awareness of what should have been obvious a long time ago: if we want to change in our institutions, we should hire people who do not necessarily look like who have been employed for decades.
One question that is on the top of a lot of people’s minds is what type of progress will be made now that these announcements have been made. For instance, will there be a ripple effect of colleges and universities hiring women presidents and finally acknowledging the changing landscape that may not have a Jesuit or Lasallian, white male Priest or Brother that can be the anchor of a college? Will we see more diversity in admissions and more scholarships and grants for students who need them? At the same time, the average endowment for colleges and universities has skyrocketed to 1.1 Billion dollars according to Inside Higher Ed.
At Saint Mary’s, there needs to be a conversation about why a woman was not chosen over another white male, now that there is no need for the president to be a layperson. This is especially apparent considering the qualifications of the candidates Plumb was chosen over. What does it say about the university that there have only been white men at the university’s helm, and how does it benefit the university not to hire women? In the public’s view, there is no benefit in not hiring women. We must break the cycle where men are always in control of academia because it does not showcase the diversity of the professors and students, which still needs to be improved upon SMC.
According to the press release announcing Sullivan’s presidency at Santa Clara, the University updated its bylaws to remove the requirement that its President must be a Jesuit priest in June 2021. One of the reasons for the sudden change could also be that there is a decline in the number of priests and brothers, let alone those who are called to be educators. Furthermore, a more cynical view could suggest that Sullivan and Tetlow’s presidencies are based on the decline of eligible laypeople. However, this should not negate the accomplishments that they have had and should be a sign of progress.
Melanie Moyer '22,