A faculty member with nearly thirty years of service to Fordham’s community and its students reflects on the recent changes that she’s observed in the University’s mission and direction.
Dear Father McShane and members of the Board of Trustees:
My name is Gwenyth Jackaway, and I have been on the faculty at Fordham since 1989. When I arrived on the Rose Hill campus, I was right out of graduate school, filled with idealistic visions and a calling to make a difference in the world through the classroom. At the time, I knew little about the Jesuits, other than what I’d read about their commitment to ethics and social justice. Though not a Catholic myself, I was moved by the University Mission statement, and excited about the chance to become part of an Institution that seemed dedicated to helping to make the world a better place. I remember feeling so fortunate when I got the opportunity to meet Fr. Daniel Berrigan. The depth and totality of his commitment to activism was so inspiring, and offered a powerful role model for me as an idealistic young professor. I felt humbled and blessed to have joined the faculty of a University where such a remarkable man made his home. At the time, I truly believed his presence on campus was, in some way, a reflection of what Fordham stood for and the ideals that were, theoretically, so central to our mission.
During my first decade here, I had the unique opportunity to have, as one of my colleagues, a pioneer in communication policy activism, the Reverend Everett C. Parker. In fact, his office was right next to mine. Like Fr. Berrigan, Reverend Parker dedicated his life to fighting for social justice. He faced constant obstacles in his relentless efforts to protect the Public Interest standard in Broadcast Regulation. But he never gave up, working well into his 90’s. I remember the day, after a particularly disheartening faculty meeting, when I went to him for guidance on how to keep from getting cynical. “How do you do it?” I asked. “How do you stay hopeful in the face of entrenched institutional resistance to change?” He told me that we can never give up the fight, and that in the end the Force of Good will ultimately prevail. By then, it had become abundantly clear to me that there is always a gap between the stated ideals of an institution and the realities of daily practice. But still, I told myself, a University that had both Daniel Berrigan and Everett Parker on the faculty must, at least on some level, actually care about doing the right thing.
For the past five years, I have served as the Associate Chair of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the Lincoln Center Campus. During that time I helped to lead my colleagues in a complete redesign of our undergraduate curriculum. As we researched the current state of communication education in the U.S. today, I kept asking, what can we offer the next generation of media professionals for the 21st century? What can we teach them that will still be relevant in 20 or 30 years, something that will transcend the inevitable changes in technology, economics and politics that will shape their professional lives? What kind of media education can we provide that would be consistent with the ideals of the Jesuit University of New York City?
The answer soon became clear. In an increasingly interconnected and networked world, ethics in mediated communication has become central to helping to create and maintain a just society. Those in a position to shape the realm of ideas, using words and images, delivering the information and stories that contribute to the way we understand the reality around us have a great power indeed… and with that great power comes great responsibility. Thus, “Media with a Mission” is the theme we have chosen for our new undergraduate curriculum. What better way, I thought, to honor the legacy of St Francis Xavier — the founder of the Jesuit order — and Fr. Berrigan? What perfect timing it seemed, with the inspiration of Pope Francis showing the world what it looks like to be a Jesuit. It was – and continues to be — my dream that the graduates of our program will one day be able to help change the conversation in the media, to help shine a light on all the areas in our world that need more justice, to give voice to those whose stories have not yet been told, and to use the power of mediated communication to inspire social and political action. I’ve been so proud to be a part of creating a new undergraduate program with such a clear and hopeful vision. The students seem to like the idea too. We can’t keep up with the demand, and now have a total of over 1000 students, a number which just continues to grow each year.
Yet now, as I come to the end of my Administrative role, after working harder than I’ve ever worked in my thirty years in academia, I’m being told that my healthcare benefits are being cut. I’m being told that this new plan won’t cover the care I’ll need to heal the various stress related health issues I’ve accumulated after working through summers and holidays without pay, up at 5 am to answer e-mails and working late into the night most evenings, overseeing our rapidly expanding program while simultaneously redesigning it. Now in my mid fifties, as a parent to a special needs teen, I find myself suddenly worried about our healthcare. The therapeutic interventions that have been so crucial for my son are beyond my means without the reimbursements that I depend on from our insurance. Medication that is essential for my own health will also become harder to afford. After pouring my soul into building a Communication and Media Studies program that will help to shape the professional futures of thousands of students, I am being told, by the Institution to which I’ve devoted my professional life that my health, and the health of my son, no longer matters.
I keep trying to remember what Everett Parker told me. I want so much to believe he was right, and that I shouldn’t give up hope. I keep hoping that Fordham is in fact dedicated to the educational visions of St. Francis Xavier. I keep hoping that someone wise, someone with true vision who remembers what it means to be a Jesuit will step in and stop what’s happening on our campus. How can we inspire our students to make a difference in the world when working at an Institution that doesn’t even care about the faculty? How can we be expected to care for ‘the whole student’ when Fordham doesn’t care about us? Has Fordham forgotten? Without the faculty there is no University.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that Fr. Berrigan is no longer here to see what’s happening at Fordham. He’d most certainly be ashamed. Pope Francis has made his position on the issue quite clear, stating “in healthcare, we are responsible to the most vulnerable”. (Catholic News Service, Feb 10, 2017). And yet the Insurance Plan we are being asked to accept is one that requires those who are sick to pay more, and hurts those who are most in need. Surely this is not the way to show the world what it means to be “The Jesuit University of New York”. Today I am heartbroken to find that no I longer recognize the Institution that once inspired me. In the interest of expediency, Fordham has strayed far from the shining ideals of its mission statement and is in danger of totally abandoning its principles.
Scripture tells us that through Amazing Grace, those who have gotten lost can yet find their way back home, those who were blind can once again see. As we pause our classes for this Easter Holiday, I pray that those who hold the future of Fordham in their hands remember who we are meant to be, and help us once again become a place that inspires students and faculty to be men and women for others.
Gwenyth Jackaway, Ph.D.
Department of Communication and Media Studies
Lincoln Center Campus
A Fordham faculty member of more than twenty years, an award-winning author and teacher, an internationally-recognized expert on the rights of pregnant women, and a cancer-survivor, reflects on what having adequate health care coverage and the support of Fordham’s community meant for her recovery and her career.
Dear Fr. McShane, Trustees, and other esteemed colleagues:
I joined the Fordham faculty in 1995. I understand and respect the responsibility you and the Board of Trustees have to act as fiscal stewards of the University. I call on you now out of concern that you are losing sight of the mission in the process, including our shared commitment to cura personalis and being men and women for others.
To cut to the chase: In 2008, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I carry a known gene mutation that puts me at substantially heightened risk of a cancer recurrence or a new cancer, including pancreatic and ovarian cancer.
Fordham played a significant role in my treatment and recovery. I was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My medical oncologist, Dr. Maria Theodoulou, was a Fordham alum and a student of Grace Vernon. Coincidentally, my surgical oncologist was a longstanding family friend of one of my students. A former student worked as a MSKCC patient navigator; she noticed my name on the charts and got permission to come see me during my last chemo.
Fordham came through for me in innumerable other ways, providing invaluable personal and practical support. For this I remain deeply grateful. That difficult year proved to be one of the most meaningful years of my life to date. My excellent health insurance coverage (and Fordham’s humane and capable department and university administrators) permitted me to focus on treatment without worrying about how I was going to cover the costs. And the costs were significant. Ultimately, I had four surgeries (none of them elective), eight rounds of chemotherapy (~ $15,000/each), and eight weeks of radiation (~ $12,000/week). I was also treated for complications from chemotherapy.
I realize that it is faculty like me who drive up the cost of health care. I do my level best to stay healthy and to “pay it forward.” Here is a sampling of what good health insurance and life-saving cancer treatment has helped to make possible.
Two months after completing radiation, I flew to South Africa to begin a yearlong Fulbright research project that had been deferred due to cancer treatment. That same year, I published a book, Our Bodies, Our Crimes: The Policing of Women’s Bodies in America (NYU Press, 2009). As described by Conscience: The News Journal of Catholic Opinion, this book “shows how American women, especially those who are poor or incarcerated, face societal pressure, stigma and even legal procedures in attempts to force them to become the “right” kind of mothers—if they are deemed worthy of motherhood at all.” This work also received a 2010 American Sociological Association Distinguished Book Award.
I have presented widely on the subject of the need for humane and evidence-based responses to pregnant women, including those who use drugs, have mental health problems, or experience a pregnancy loss. In 2012, Sociologists for Women in Society gave me a national award for my advocacy and activism. In 2013, I published a co-authored journal article regarding the arrests of pregnant women that continues to receive national and international coverage. It has been cited in friend of the court briefs filed at the state and U.S. Supreme Court levels and is the subject a New York Times op-ed.
I also am a dedicated educator who has been recognized for my distinguished undergraduate teaching. Former students have gone on to become authors of books and editors of award winning publications. They themselves have overcome incredible odds in the wake of a parent’s death from cancer; more than one has gone on to become a college professor. They advocate on behalf of domestic violence survivors, and direct $180 million in global health initiatives for US AID. I remain in touch with scores of former students. Seeing what they overcome and achieve and put into the world is arguably the most rewarding aspect of this job.
In sum, I am deeply invested in Fordham. But it is hard not to take it personally when the place to which you have dedicated 20+ years of your life wants to skimp on your health insurance coverage.
Health care matters. The love and support of a community like Fordham matters. Being men and women for others matters. These things matter on the day you are informed you have cancer and a genetic mutation, and on every other day as well. Please honor your commitment to the statutes now in place, and return to the standards of co-governance that have served the university for decades.