Tradition, Progress, and Passion

By: David Swinarski, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences

I joined the Fordham faculty nine years ago, and I am continually reminded of how fortunate I am to be a part of this team of passionate educators.

There is a cliché that professors only care about their research and do not care about their teaching. That cliché is definitely not true at Fordham. Here, I work alongside colleagues who genuinely care about their students. I am proud of the amazing work they do, and it energizes me to give my all, too.

Tradition plays a large role in both the guiding philosophy of universities and our day-to-day operations. It would be easy to view an initiative like Reimagining Higher Education as a threat to tradition. But I think it’s helpful if we can avoid dwelling on the conflict between tradition and progress. When you care about students as much as we do, it is natural to want them to get the best education possible, and therefore to continually ask what is working, and what is not. On the one hand, who is flourishing at our university as we currently operate, and what traditions support their success and should be cherished? While on the other hand, who is struggling, whom have we excluded altogether, and in what ways do our traditions create unintentional barriers to our students’ success? 

I believe that we have something amazingly valuable to offer students. I would not be a faculty member if I did not feel this way. Yet, I also want that gift to be available to all, and the crisis of affordability and the persistent issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in higher education challenge me to question many assumptions that I previously took for granted. I find comfort in an odd way in Cathy Davidson’s book, The New Education, which convincingly argues that many of the problems U.S. contemporary universities face, arise because our universities were designed with other issues in mind. This gives me hope that when we bring all of these issues into view, we can redesign our practices in a way that both continues the very best of what we have to offer, while addressing these very real needs.