Letter from the President – Winter 2014

Letter from the President – Winter 2014

Dear Friends,

As spring came to end, we dedicated one of our residence halls — the former Jesuit residence at Bellarmine Road — after St. Peter Faber, S.J., canonized by Pope Francis in December of 2013. I’ve had cause to reflect on the person and charism of Peter Faber ever since.

When we think of the origins of Society of Jesus and their early leadership, we think of Ignatius himself, his relentless determination to educate himself, to take his soldier’s passion and put it in service of the Divine Will. We also think of St. Francis Xavier — going off into the unknown on a voyage of evangelization fired with conviction — a model for the many Jesuit apostolates, to this day.

Then there is Peter Faber (1506-1546). Well, we almost never think about him. He was born in the Alps and tended sheep high in the mountains as a boy, but wanted to go to school. His parents reluctantly allowed him to study with the local priest. From there, he found himself eventually at the University of Paris, where — as happens with college students today — he needed a roommate. Along came Francis Xavier. And then another student came along, looking for a place to live — Ignatius of Loyola. The three founders of the Society of Jesus started out as college roommates, and a new idea for a world-friendly and engaged spiritual society was born out of the many conversations — deep into the night, one can imagine — that these three would share. In short, they became a team.

We all have this exhilarating experience now and then when things start to click in a creative group — that moment when a collection of talented individuals becomes a team, working with a unity of purpose that generates an inspired vision of the future that no single individual would reach on their own. Reading between the lines, it seems clear to me that Faber was the key. He was the glue that held the friends together. His “simple piety,” as Pope Francis described it, and his capacity to be “available straightaway” for whatever was asked of him was essential, and held the friends together in a unity of fellowship as their vision of the future took form.

I’m reflecting on Faber and that first leadership team as we look back over an extraordinary year at Fairfield University. We’ve had so many successes, and so much to be grateful for. We welcomed the largest freshmen class in our history this fall —1,056. Our professional schools continue to grow in stature, and 98 percent of our graduates are employed, in graduate school, or in significant volunteer programs six months after graduation. We have received significant donations to allow us to build Rafferty Stadium for our nationally-ranked lacrosse program and other sports, and other donations that will allow us to substantially revitalize our Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex. Fairfield is thriving.

But I think the most significant and marvelous development at Fairfield this year has the emergence of a strong leadership team — with many new faces that you will meet in the following pages. They are working together with critical individuals who have been stalwarts of our leadership for some years.
While we have always been fortunate in having capable leadership at Fairfield, the addition of new faces, and a renewed emphasis on getting all decision makers — the deans of all the schools, the leaders in admission and student affairs, as well as those leading marketing and communications, advancement, operations, mission and identity, and finance — in a room together once a month has created new energy and fresh ideas. There is a palpable sense of our institution taking a leap forward, particularly with regards to a unified vision of where we need to go in the coming years.

This re-energizing of our leadership group is happening in conjunction with Fairfield 2020: Building a More Sustainable Future, a comprehensive refresh of our Strategic Plan. Hundreds of faculty, staff, alumni, and students are engaged in a series of 11 task forces that are studying every aspect of our operations — our business model, pedagogical innovation, affordability, student outcomes, core curriculum, back office operations, continuing education, professional and graduate schools, candidates of the future, total student experience, and varsity athletics. (Visit strategicplanning.fairfield.edu for more details on this process, including videos and reports on the work to date.)

We expect these task forces to report their findings to the University a few weeks after you receive this magazine. Based on their recommendations, we will be implementing innovations across the University to make us more competitive, better geared toward the higher education environment that is currently emerging.

I can’t stress enough that it is essential that Fairfield take dramatic steps at this time to ensure its future success, and that the institution as a whole will need to move outside our comfort zone and work together to achieve the transformations that are called for. This enterprise is vital if we are to stay true to our mission: to form the men and women of today to be transformative leaders in the world as it is now.

The students we anticipate serving in the coming years will be more diverse. They will approach higher education with a greater emphasis on career preparedness. They will be more sensitive to cost. They will have a lot of options when it comes to professional training. They will also expect to be able to receive instruction online. Many of them will want the traditional four-year residential experience, but others will want more flexibility in order to work, or tailor their college experience to their own schedule — not adapt to ours.

And the need for further education and job training for older and non-traditional students will grow. Employers are looking for men and women who understand basic business principles, who have credentials that will help them thrive in the workplace.  We can provide that. People in our community will look to Fairfield to train them for the jobs in healthcare, communications, management, biotechnology, and other key areas that are predicted to be the growth drivers in our economy. We should and will serve that need.

So while we will always be a residential liberal arts university in the Jesuit tradition, we will need to be so much more as we adapt to meet the demands of the future. And we are fully engaged in that process of renewal as I write.

When Ignatius, Xavier, and Faber held their late-night conversations, I imagine that they looked around them at a changing world — one that was expanding in diversity, where education was increasingly valued and specialized, and where there was so much good to be done — and developed together a project that continues to thrive and evolve, and of which we are all a part.

What is so exciting about Fairfield today is that we are doing precisely what we need to be doing — asking ourselves the essential questions, examining tired assumptions, working together as a team to forge a unity of purpose in order to fulfill the mission which has always been at the heart of the vision — to form the men and women of today to be leaders in the world as it is now.

Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.