When I was fortunate enough to be asked to be President of our University in 2004, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what kind of learning environment would be best suited to prepare young men and women for the challenges ahead.
In many ways, I didn’t have to look very far to find a model. My thoughts led me to the roots of the Ignatian tradition of education, and to the values that have always been at the heart of what we do. An adherence to these values is the reason that a Jesuit education has been considered for centuries to be perhaps the most comprehensive, rigorous, and inspiring educational model in the world.
The key, of course, is cura personalis – the “care of the whole person.” Hundreds of years ago, the early Jesuit educators understood that to liberate a person into their fullest potential required an educational approach that enhanced a student’s power to think, but simultaneously inspired in them a capacity to reflect on the wonder of their own being, encouraging them to develop their physical skills as athletes or artists. When you pay attention to the whole person something quite remarkable happens: what emerges is a person who is integrated, and fully alive – alert, healthy, mature, compassionate, and confident. I can think of no other educational approach that can create these kinds of outcomes, which is why I feel so privileged to be the President of Fairfield University, and to be an inheritor of this time-honored tradition.
In 2005 we launched our University Plan, inspired by our Ignatian roots, and set a course for the future. I’m so pleased, then, as I take this moment to reflect on the 2009-2010 academic year, to be able to look back at a year of remarkable developments – in the classroom, in our residence-halls and facilities, and on the playing fields and courts.
In complement with our broad, University Strategic Plan, we developed an Athletics Strategic Plan that went into effect in 2007. The goals are simple. We want to develop varsity athletic teams that excel, but also operate with the full appreciation that it is the personhood of our student-athletes that we are obligated to develop. Our student athletes are expected to do well in the classroom, and serve the greater community as well, as mentors, coaching youth teams, or tutoring in the local school system. Of our varsity athletes, 86 were named to the MAAC All-Academic team last year, meaning they maintained a 3.2 grade average or better. We can all be proud of what our athletes are able to achieve with their demanding schedules.
The collective achievements of our varsity teams are reflected in our winning the MAAC Commissioner’s Cup for overall success two years ago, followed by last year’s second place finish, as well as the strong performances of our men’s and women’s lacrosse teams under coaches Andy Copelan and Mike Waldvogel, respectively, in their first two years at the helm. Our men’s basketball team lost an overtime thriller to Siena in the MAAC championship game viewed by so many on ESPN, and in post-season tournament play achieved the largest post-season comeback in Division I history by overcoming a 27-point second half deficit to beat recent Final Four participant George Mason University in overtime.
The women’s basketball team also reached the MAAC championship game and earned a post-season win over Towson University. We were extremely proud when men’s Head Coach Ed Cooley was awarded the inaugural Ben Jobe Award, given to the top minority coach in Division 1 men’s basketball. This coming year, the MAAC basketball championships will be played on our home court at the Arena at Harbor Yard. For more, I refer you to the interview with Ed inside this President’s Report.
We made great strides strides this past year in developing our core curriculum. At a time when the currents of education are pulling many towards purely vocational instruction, we want to broaden our student’s minds, not narrow their horizons.
After considerable dialogue involving faculty from all our disciplines, our Core Integration project has identified six “pathways to integration” that will provide the framework for our student’s core curriculum of study: These have been identified as Appropriating Wisdom, Creative and Aesthetic Engagement, Global Citizenship, Quantitative Reasoning, Rhetoric and Reflection, and Scientific Reasoning. In support of our teaching ambitions, we have continued to strengthen our faculty at a time when many institutions have been cutting faculty or freezing their hiring programs. Our goal is to make a Fairfield University graduate someone who is ready to confidently engage with the future from the moment they graduate.
In recent years too, we have placed a great emphasis on the integration of living and learning – creating environments in which our students form bonds of community. To this end, we now have five residential colleges for our sophomores – modeled on the Ignatian Residential College. I refer you to the story on our Creative Life Residential College in this President’s Report for more details. This year, 75 percent of our sophomores live in these communities, where they are amongst peers who share their interests, and are engaged by faculty and community mentors to reflect on their lives and their experience. Meanwhile, our goal of integrating our Jesuit values into our graduate and professional programs continues to bear fruit, and our graduate programs experienced a large increase in enrollment last year.
Our excellent faculty received many prestigious grants and awards over the last year. Among them: Our Music Program Director Dr. Laura Nash, who has worked to bring music to inner-city classrooms, was named the 2009 Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Connecticut Professor of the Year; our Center for Faith and Public Life received a grant from the Ford Foundation to lead a study of how undocumented students fare at the nation’s Jesuit universities; and Dr. Ronald Davidson, professor of religious studies, and Dr. Joy Gordon, professor of philosophy, have been awarded highly competitive and prestigious National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowships, an honor shared by only 10 universities across the country.
Finally, this new year begins with the opening of the Bellarmine Museum of Art. In it will be housed the University’s own collection of paintings and antiquities, as well as works on loan from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exposing our students to the resonance of their tradition through the imagination of the artists of previous centuries is an invaluable educational experience for them. The Museum will also serve as yet another of Fairfield’s cultural offerings to the broader community, joining the world-class programming in the performing arts that we showcase at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, as we strive to become the pre-eminent center for arts and cultural programming in southwestern Connecticut.
There are too many other developments over the past year to take note of in this letter. We are achieving the vision that we set for ourselves five years ago. The groundwork that we have laid, and the ongoing refinement or our Jesuit and Catholic identity makes us a distinct and desirable institution. I am grateful for the strength of our community, and confident that Fairfield will continue to thrive and grow as our many virtues and innovations continue to bear fruit.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.