Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Father O'Hare I Knew and Loved

During Father Joseph O’Hare’s Long and distinguished tenure as President of Fordham University, I was honored to count him as a friend and well as an academic leader. We didn’t agree on all Issues, and locked horns on a few, especially athletics, but in several key instances, Father O’Hare made decisions which showed his love of justice, and his concern for our community’s most vulnerable members , which earned him a special place in my heart and in the hearts of my Departmental colleagues
I am going to share two stories which reveal this aspect of Father O’Hare’s character. Since I have not seen these mentioned in other tributes to him, i think it is important that I share them, especially in a time when we are all being tested by the worst crisis of the 21st Century
The first occurred right after Father O’Hare’s inauguration. For several years, Urban Studies majors I had been working with at Fordham were trying to persuade the University to create a Community Service Program to encourage students to get involved in a Bronx community that was fighting an uphill battle against redlining, disinvestment, drug epidemics and the stigma the Bronx carried in public discourse. Less than a month after Father O’Hare took the helm of University leadership, he agreed to meet with me and my students about this issue. After listening for more than an hour to what they had to say, he agreed, on the spot to implement what they were calling for. Within a year, Fordham launched a fully funded Community Service Program which has evolved over time into one of the best in the nation. Father O’Hare’s empathy, vision and ability to take decisive action made this possible
The second instance took place nearly five years later. At that time, the University authorized a search for a scholar of African American religion who would be primarily housed in the Theology Department, but in which the faculty in African and African American Studies would have significant input. After a national search in which both Departments participated, the committee prepared to make an offer to a brilliant young scholar and teacher, Dr Mark Chapman. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the Theology faculty refused to make the offer. My Department chair, Dr Claude Mangum and I were so enraged by this they we actually arranged to move to another area university that was prepared to offer us tenure and relocate our African American and Urban Studies entities. But before we signed our contracts and left Fordham, we decided to meet with Father O’Hare to explain what we were about to do. As we described what had transpired during the search, Father O’Hare became increasingly dismayed and concluded the meeting by doing something for which Claude Mangum and I were forever grateful- he ordered the Vice President for Academic Affairs to create the tenure track line for Dr Chapman in African American Studies, not only allowing Claude and me to remain at Fordham, but instantly turning our Department into an Academic powerhouse.with a brilliant young religious leader on its faculty
I would not be here at Fordham, about to celebrate my 50th year of service at the school I love, had not Father O’Hare once again taken decisive action
Since that time, Father O’Hare has anyways held a special place in my heart, and in the hearts of everyone who who sees our Department as a valued part of the Fordham community
I mourn him. I miss him. And I try, every day, to keep his legacy alive

1 comment:

teacherken said...

Good leaders are always willing to listen to the concerns of their subordinates. Great leaders are prepared to move quickly to take appropriate actions. You write about such a leader.