- Fordham: A History and Memoir
Raymond A. Schroth makes good on both parts of his subtitle: his Fordham is both a history and a memoir. Since he graduated from Fordham in 1955, entered [End Page 576] the Society of Jesus two years later, and taught at the university for many years, the memoir proper, or participant-observer portion, extends over five decades. Yet the whole of his account has more the quality of an informal look-back over the past than of a conventional institutional biography. It is strongly focused on the personal, replete with descriptions of the locale and stories about students, faculty members, and others who had some association with Fordham—one of the latter being Edgar Allan Poe, who lived near the campus in the late 1840's. This approach presumably derives from the fact that Schroth's academic interests seem to be in literature, drama, and communication rather than history as such. It makes for an interesting and quite readable account, but the wealth of incident tends to reduce everything to the same level of importance and obscure the main lines of development.
Though the book is journalistic in flavor, Schroth has done his homework, historically speaking. There are no footnotes, but he has consulted the relevant materials, primary and secondary, and he supplies a chapter-by-chapter discussion of the sources employed as well as a comprehensive bibliography and thirteen-page chronology of Fordham's history. He covers the whole span of Fordham's past in a balanced way, but his discussion of the last four decades is of particular interest. The only other general history of the university—Robert I. Gannon'sUp to the Present (1967)—stops just as the momentous changes of the 1960'swere beginning to take hold. Yet Gannon, who was president of Fordham from1936 to 1949, saw enough of the administration of Leo J. McLaughlin (1965-1969) to be dismayed by its radical innovations. Schroth, who admits he didn't care for Gannon (though he does justice to Gannon's accomplishments as president), clearly found McLaughlin a more attractive personality and suggests that, despite the failure of several of his projects and a financial crisis that resulted in his summary removal from office, McLaughlin moved the university in the right direction. In any case, Fordham weathered the storms of the sixties and seventies—including building take-overs and arson by radical students—and prospered under the leadership of Joseph O'Hare, whose administration (1984-2003) is treated in a chapter entitled, "Identity Reconsidered."
Schroth does not regard that reconsideration as having made Fordham "less Catholic," though he grants that "today every [Catholic] university's Catholicism is more difficult to define." He adds that the key elements in Fordham's identity, which from 1846 to 1968 were "Catholic and Jesuit," are now "Jesuit and New York" (p. 350). It is hard to see how such shift could take place without Fordham's becoming somehow "less Catholic." But leaving that issue aside, Schroth's book succeeds splendidly in linking the university with the metropolis of which it became more intimately a part after 1900. This involved not only the establishment of downtown campuses culminating in a stunning Lincoln Center complex, but also the impact on the Rose Hill campus of the growth, deterioration, and partial recovery of the Bronx. The connection with the city likewise affected the ethnic and gender mix of the student body (women were admitted to some downtown programs a half-century before Fordham officially "went coed") and no doubt encouraged the university's emphasis on theater and communications. [End Page 577]
The solid merit of the book makes it doubly regrettable that careless proofreading missed such egregious blunders as placing the College of the Holy Cross in "Worcester, Ohio" (p. 14), having German troops invade Belgium in September, 1939 (p. 168), and stating that John F. Kennedy's assassination occurred two weeks after Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for the Senate, spoke at Fordham in November, 1964 (p. 261).