Leadership at a Catholic university in the 1960s: A portrait of Fordham's experimentalist president

Joseph Brady Desciak, Fordham University


This qualitative research explored the leadership of Leo Plowden McLaughlin of the Society of Jesus, president of Fordham University: 1965–1969. The inquiry identified the societal realities in the American experience of the late 1960s coupled with the dramatic changes in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. Three constructs of investigation were used to develop a snapshot of Father McLaughlin’s presidency. First, a thorough examination was conducted of Father McLaughlin’s presidential archives. The archives revealed a charismatic leader dedicated to the progress of higher education in the American experience and led to three findings arrayed as (a) experimental leadership, (b) forced acceleration, and (c) dramatic decline. Second, interviews were conducted to support the portraiture methodology. Interviewees included former lay colleagues, a Jesuit priest, and a former student who provided an understanding of Father McLaughlin’s personality. Oral histories of Fordham were used to obtain a perspective of deceased members of the Fordham community. Third, my personal perspective framed the findings and proposed areas of application. As an employee of the University, concerned with the Catholic nature of the institution, a mission-orientated lens was applied in analyzing the data. Father McLaughlin was ultimately ousted as president as a consequence of the university’s financial reality. His experiments expired under subsequent administrations, and the residual impacts are evident 50 years later. Many of the same issues still exist today making the study of Father McLaughlin’s legacy a helpful tool in addressing contemporary struggles.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Religious education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Desciak, Joseph Brady, "Leadership at a Catholic university in the 1960s: A portrait of Fordham's experimentalist president" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10146977.