At Home at Fordham

| 04 Oct 2016 | 12:06

In August, Fordham welcomed Anthony Davidson as dean of their School of Professional and Continuing Studies and he already feels right at home among the faculty there. “I’m very happy to say that, having been at many high-level meetings, they don’t only talk the talk, they walk the walk. And it’s really very refreshing in today’s society, to be involved in an institution that does that.”

Having been a dean at both NYU and Manhattanville College, he comes to the position with the experience that Fordham was looking for to maximize their program’s potential. A Jesuit university, it is grounded in the principle of cura personalis, which translates to “care for the whole person.” Davidson cited the School of Professional and Continuing Studies, which is geared towards adults and nontraditional students, as a perfect example of that. “I think this school is the best manifestation of that motto, because we can develop the whole person and help people who come here be what they can really be.”

For Davidson, creating programs that benefit them is the most rewarding part of the job. “My greatest satisfaction is when I get emails years later from students who say this program changed my life.”

What was the first thing you tackled at Fordham?To me, the most important thing was to understand the tradition of Fordham, its mission, its values. It has a global reputation, of course, and their values are very important to them, starting from Father McShane and throughout the whole university. And that’s really one of the main reasons that I joined here.

What’s the atmosphere like at the university?I love the atmosphere. I find it’s very respectful of people. It’s very considerate of people. And I had an amazing outpouring of people, professional colleagues and friends, when they found out I was coming to Fordham, everybody spoke so positively about it. It’s very upbeat, so I’m very happy.

You were at Manhattanville for five years and created the Women’s Leadership Institute there. Tell us about that. It was a concept that had been in my mind for quite a while, even before I came to Manhattanville. But I felt that Manhattanville, with its history, having been a women-only college with some notable graduates, was the right place to launch it. It really was designed to help women advance in the workforce, to gain leadership skills. And we launched it in a very short period of time and have already two successful annual conferences. The first of which we had only four months after we launched the institute. And we ran a certificate in executive leadership and had women who were sponsored by companies like Morgan Stanley, Swiss Re, PepsiCo, MasterCard, Westfair Communications and they all reported tremendous development. When we talk about diversity, gender diversity is an important component.

I’ve taken journalism classes at NYU’s School of Professional Studies. You worked there for 11 years. How is it different from Fordham?At NYU, I built and became the founding dean of a division of programs in business. And these were very focused, applied master’s degrees, undergraduate, professional certificates, executive certificates. Fordham is poised to do the same thing. I think they wanted somebody who had done what I did at NYU for over here because people understand that that’s the bridge between your traditional academic institutions and the typical for-profits. For-profits don’t have the academic gravitas, but they do understand the market. They understand that there’s a whole bunch of people out there who want to become more qualified. Not all of those people want a graduate degree. Some of them want a certificate. And most of them, quite honestly, they just want to upgrade and update their skills. If you took marketing 20 years ago for your MBA, it’s not your marketing you do today.

What are some interesting courses that they offer here and what do you still want to see on the curriculum?I think adult reentry programs are very important. There was just a feature on CBS News actually. We have a student who is 100 years old. Talk about lifelong learning, right? There are people who come back to get their degrees and they should feel accomplished. I see lots of room for the development of programs and initiatives that fill a need in the marketplace today, where people can change their careers or can advance in their current career. And we are giving them the kind of skills that employers thirst for.

You grew up in London, but went to Baruch for your undergraduate and graduate degrees. I started coming to America in the summers because I started a soccer program in a sports camp up in the Catskills. I was always involved in business. When I was a teenager, I was running my own business exporting secondhand pianos to Europe. I wanted to do business and I had friends here and loved the place after spending a few summers here. And I moved and completed my education here, my B.B.A. and MBA. I did consulting work and always taught on the side. Then I decided to do my Ph.D. in Total Quality Management Systems at Cass Business School in London. Then an opportunity came to me at NYU and they asked me to build out first their program, and it became a whole series of programs, and then it became an entire division.

What are the best parts about working at universities and what are the hardest parts?Great question. Let me deal with the second part first. The hardest part is change. Universities, by virtue, are very charter in existence. They are difficult to change and attract people who don’t really want to change. And it takes a long time, very often, to get change implemented. And even those universities that recognize that things need to change and they do, just because of market conditions, there’s still a lot of pockets of resistance. The best part of universities from an individual perspective is when I create a program and people’s lives are changed as a result. And on a global perspective, it’s that you’re dealing with a different mindset than sometimes in corporate. Corporate could be a lot more hard-nosed and cutthroat. And in universities, for the most part, you are surrounded by really wonderful colleagues, and that’s especially true at Fordham.

How much interaction do you have with students? Do you keep in touch with them?The students are very important to me. I’ve always had a very close relationship with all my students. Even as a dean, every semester, I’ve always held what I call Dean’s Hours, where I invite students to just come and sit around the table with me for an intimate conversation. They’re not allowed to bring complaints, but they are allowed to bring suggestions. If you want to see my because you have a problem, I’ll see you in the regular protocols. This is for us to just be able to have a fireside chat. I’m proud of the fact that I do remember my students. I remember them by name, because I just have a knack for that. And I am in touch with students from 30 years ago still.