Fordham University hires Tania Christina Tetlow, first woman and layperson president

Tania Christina Tetlow was named the new president of Fordham University this month. Her tenure begins on July 1.
Photo courtesy Fordham University

After combing through more than 150 candidates in the search for its new president, Fordham University has chosen its first woman and layperson, or non-Jesuit, to preside over the Catholic university of 16,000 students. Tania Christina Tetlow will begin her tenure on July 1. 

At a recent press conference, Tetlow said she aims to raise the university’s profile and strengthen its relevance, seek new partnerships in New York and attract a more national student body.

Father Joseph M. McShane, the current president at Fordham University, has known Tetlow since she was named the president of Loyola University New Orleans.

“Tania is a very important player at the table,” McShane said. “Because she is visionary and practical at the same time. That’s a rare combination.”

Robert D. Daleo, chair of the Board of Trustees at Fordham University, revealed Tetlow stood out from the competition because of her “leadership skills, her successes at Loyola, both academic, programmatic and fundraising. And her beloved, compassionate and transparent leadership.”

McShane recently raised the alarming issue of the declining Jesuit priest population in the United States, of which there are only 2,086 left and their average age is over 70.

“The demographic realities that are ours are harsh,” McShane said. “They demand that we rise to the challenge and we embrace a new way of doing things.”

“I shall rest easy with her in the office,” McShane said.

Born in New York and raised in New Orleans, Tetlow was reared on Jesuit values, which have taught her to question assumptions and work for justice. One of four sisters, she would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Tulane University and her J.D. from Harvard Law School. Both her late father, Louis Mulry Tetlow, and her uncle, Joseph Tetlow, SJ, were Jesuit priests. 

Tetlow loves sharing her family’s origin story, which has coal mining roots and revolves around Fordham University and her parents, Louis and Elisabeth, meeting there as graduate students.

“It’s the reason that I exist,” Tetlow said. “It has always loomed large in my family as a beacon of excellence, of a place of such relevance in the most exciting city in the world. 

But her loyalty also belongs to New Orleans, the city where she has spent years gaining experience in higher education leadership and civil duty service.

Tetlow also became the first woman and layperson to preside over Loyola University New Orleans. In 2018, she became the school’s 17th president and the youngest woman to preside over one of the institutions belonging to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities.  

“Before you arrive, people will not always be able to picture you in the role,” Tetlow once told My New Orleans, an online news site. “Sometimes that means you have to work harder and clear the bar by more. That isn’t fair, but once you are there, it will get a little bit easier for those who follow in your footsteps.”

During Tetlow’s tenure, Loyola’s enrollment increased by 11%. The university recently welcomed its largest and most diverse freshman class in history. 

“President Tetlow will certainly be missed, and she leaves behind an important legacy,” said Father Justin Daffron SJ, the vice president of Mission and Identity at Loyola University New Orleans.

Tetlow has been one to appreciate the arts, in many arenas. Especially in times of crisis.

She volunteered as the president of the New Orleans Public Library Foundation Board, where she led efforts to fundraise $7 million to rebuild public libraries flooded by Hurricane Katrina. She reveres libraries, once telling Tulane Lawyer, a law publication at Tulane University, that libraries are “centers of community, Internet access and cultural preservation.” 

It’s a good thing, then, that Tetlow — who once said her favorite book is Henry James’ “Portrait of a Lady” — is coming to a university that is home to more than 2.4 million books.

Tetlow previously taught law at Tulane University for 15 years, before joining the administration as senior vice president and chief of staff. She then tackled campus issues around safety, race and diversity, and campus sexual misconduct reforms.  

She led Tulane Law’s Domestic Violence Clinic for almost a decade, where she supervised student lawyers representing victims needing restraining orders, divorce petitions or advice on gaining child custody. Tetlow told Nola Adore, a New Orleans-based lifestyle magazine, that her favorite causes revolved around advocacy for domestic violence and sexual assault victims. 

From 2000 to 2005, Tetlow was a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana. She prosecuted arson crimes, fraud cases, repeat weapons offenders, bank robberies, embezzlement and illegal immigration.

She’s also dealt with public health crises, leading a university in New Orleans, a city that was a COVID-19 hot spot, into a fully remote program. 

She described the deserted landscapes at Loyola University at the onset of the pandemic, when only a few dozen students remained on campus. She was supportive of the remote instruction model, and said that, “It’s gone really well. We’ve all been obsessed at Loyola for a long time about the possibility of a hurricane evacuation. So we’ve been practicing and drilling for needing to move online for quite a while.”

As someone who has voiced support for affordable college, Tetlow takes over Fordham University where tuition is currently $53,730 a year for full-time students at its three campuses at Rose Hill, Lincoln Center and Gabelli School of Business. Graduate programs are around $113,000 for its five-year MBA program. About 85% of its students received financial aid, according to the university. 

At around 7,200 students, Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx has the second largest population out of the three campuses. The campus is currently in the second phase of its campus center renovations

Tetlow pointed to teachable opportunities when raising topics about leadership, mental health, psychology, and language of the examined. Tetlow has called New York City the most exciting city in the world, highlighting its limitless possibilities. 

“Given the waning number of priests among us, we have to own the mission as laypeople, or else we will lose it,” Tetlow said. “It’s a very visceral reminder that we all have to understand who we are, and speak in that language and teach that to our students such that when they graduate, they each have a very eloquent and coherent answer to the question of what does it mean to be Jesuit educated.”

Reach Sarah Belle Lin at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes. 

More from Around NYC