Fairfield University in words and pictures, 1966-1989

Fairfield University in words and pictures, 1966-1989

This year marks Fairfield’s 75th anniversary. There are thousands of ways the history of Fairfield could be told, but we thought we would look back through the photographs in The Manor yearbooks, which capture the nuances and curiosities of campus life that would be difficult to express solely in words. In this installment, we look at the often turbulent but never dull years of the late 1960s through the 1980s.

Silent No More

Their parents may have been called the “Silent Generation,” but college students in the late 60s were anything but quiet. They spoke up for civil rights and social justice, they voiced opinions for and against the Vietnam War, and they expressed themselves freely in the counterculture movement. Their actions and words forever changed the landscape of higher education — at Fairfield and on campuses across America — in ways that still resonate today.

“X” Marks the Spot

In the pre-dawn darkness of April 14, 1965, an era of protest crept into Fairfield University history. It began with a never-identified group of students gaining entry to a caged area of Canisius Library where around 700 books deemed by the Catholic Church to be “harmful to the faith and morals of the faithful” were locked away. The students hastily “freed” about 100 volumes, distributing them randomly among the library’s open collection.

An article about the incident in The New York Times noted that the students departed for Easter break the following day, leaving behind an egg hunt of sorts for the University’s librarians. Fairfield President at the time, Rev. William McInnes, S.J., dismissed the incident as “a harmless prank” and no disciplinary action was pursued.

Months after what The Stag student newspaper called “The Library Affair,” Vatican II heralded the end of the Index, unlocking the library cage for good. These books — which included philosophical works as well as novels and even poetry — now sit on the open shelves of Nyselius Library, many still bearing a tell-tale “X” in their call numbers which identifies them as having been part of the historic Index.

Intellectual Activism

In a Stag article at the start of the 1967-68 academic year, President McInnes encouraged the Fairfield University campus to be “intellectually active and active intellectually.”

To that end, students attended Vietnam War rallies and listened to speeches by professors from Fairfield and neighboring schools. They invited pacifist Tom Cornell ’56, organizer of the first nationally televised Vietnam War protest, back to campus to discuss the peace and resistance movement.

As the fighting wore on and the draft lottery loomed, opposition to the war grew. A campus petition in favor of U.S. involvement in Vietnam was signed by 900 students in 1965 but by 1967, a similar campus petition collected only 200 signatures. On Oct. 15, 1969, students joined the National Moratorium demonstrations held across the United States. They staged a public reading of the war dead, held mass meetings, and organized a peace march through Fairfield town center. Conversation, debate and protest over the Vietnam conflict continued into the early 70s.

Calls for Reform

Many Fairfield students of the late 60s bristled at the in loco parentis oversight that dictated campus life. Although Student Handbook rules regarding female visitors, dorm sign-in sheets, and the dress code had loosened over the years, some felt that changes were not happening quickly enough.

In 1968, a group of students presented demands for academic and social reforms, setting off a series of negotiations and protests.

The administration agreed to a relaxed dress code, new dorm rules, and a number of curricular changes. But other big issues, including the ban of alcohol on campus, remained unchanged.

Reflective of the times, cigarette smoking was still permitted. The Student Handbook only cautioned, “Smoking in bed at any time is both foolish and dangerous.”

Light my Fire

“Tripartism,” a division into three representative groups, was the rally cry of Fairfield students throughout the late 60s. Part of Fr. McInnes’ response was to create the University Council in 1968, an advisory group with equal representation of faculty, students and administration. But by spring of 1970, the Student Government was clamoring for the creation of a tripartite board to govern — not merely advise — the University.

While waiting for the Administration’s response to this, students learned that a campus concert by The Doors, scheduled for May 9th, had been cancelled. Like fuel to the fire of their other unresolved grievances, the concert cancellation sparked a seven-day student strike.

During the strike, a fire mysteriously broke out in Canisius, destroying important University records. Several anonymous bomb threats were made. The University was not officially closed but it was estimated that 80 percent of students did not attend class over the course of the protest.

In addition to a binding tripartite government, students also demanded Fr. McInnes’ resignation. The strike ended after the University Council issued five resolutions, including creation of a neutral fact-finding board to look into accusations against Fr. McInnes, as well as opportunities for students to make up coursework missed during the strike.

“An Intolerable Outrage”

Just days after the end of the Fairfield student strike, President Richard Nixon appeared on national television to announce the U.S. incursion into Cambodia and the expansion of the draft, triggering massive protests at colleges across the country. During an altercation at Kent State University in Ohio on May 4th, National Guardsmen opened fire on a crowd, killing four students and wounding nine.

In the weeks that followed the Kent State violence, nearly 500 U.S. colleges were shut down or disrupted by protests. About 150 Fairfield University students took over Canisius Hall on May 12th and the next morning a second group took over Xavier.

Fr. McInnes described these takeovers as “an intolerable outrage against the University community.” This time, when dialogue and negotiation reached an impasse, he took legal action. At 6 p.m. on the night of May 14th, two deputies were dispatched from the Sheriff’s office to read a court order to occupants of the buildings. An hour later, the takeovers ended.

Thus, a turbulent academic year drew to an unsettled close. In June of 1970, 70 seniors staged a final “protest graduation” in Alumni Hall the day before the rest of their classmates attended official commencement exercises on Bellarmine lawn.

“A Society-wide Problem”

In the fall of 1969, a group of black students approached the administration with a list of demands which included a commitment to increase the number of black students, counselors and faculty members on campus; the addition of language courses in Swahili and Arabic; the creation of a campus holiday honoring the achievements of a black leader, and the designation of a black residence hall floor.

Unhappy with President McInnes’ initial response, the students staged a building takeover of Xavier Hall on the morning of November 21, 1969. With the help of members of the President’s Advisory Council and several community leaders, Fr. McInnes negotiated with the student group all day and into the night, ultimately agreeing to pursue their demands with the exception of the segregated dorm proposal. The students accepted this resolution and vacated Xavier shortly before midnight.

Newspapers across Connecticut weighed in on the campus disruption. The editor of the Bridgeport Post opined, “Agitation was not necessary to bring Father McInnes into the mainstream of current day thought. We seriously, and sincerely, doubt that the trouble which Fairfield University experienced late last week will be causing Father McInnes to do anything he and other University officials might not have done anyway.”

Fr. McInnes himself characterized the incident as “rooted in a society-wide problem of race relations — a problem that engulfs our entire country as well as our individual campus.”

“Welcome Fair-strangers, welcome!”

When students returned to Fairfield in the fall of 1970, a big change had come to campus: women.

Just three years earlier, in a front-page Stag article headlined, “Students Reject Coeducation,” it had been reported that undergraduate men opposed the idea of women joining their ranks by a two-to-one margin. Reflecting back, a male student in 1970 acknowledged, “I don’t know what we were thinking!”

The School of Nursing opened and women undergraduates were admitted to the College of Arts and Sciences to unanimous faculty approval. For the first time in the school’s history, undergraduate enrollment broke the 2,000 mark.

By all accounts, after the turmoil of the prior year, women brought a positive change to the social and academic climate on campus. An editorial in the newly established University Voice campus paper summed it up best:

“September brought the arrival of the first women undergraduates on campus and stirred the air that had stubbornly refused to change. The coeds with their youth, beauty and enthusiasm brought their own change, their own lightening of the mood…. Although each coed will bring her own strengths, needs, ideals and perceptions, together they will add a new and colorful dimension to the mosaic that is Fairfield. Welcome Fair-strangers, welcome!”

“The Man in the Gray Flannel Cassock”

When Fr. McInnes left Fairfield in 1972, the University was physically twice the size it had been when he arrived in 1964: the number of buildings, students and faculty had all doubled. The operating budget had increased from $1.7 million in 1964 to $9.2 million in 1972. The University’s first Board of Trustees had also been established.

Fr. McInnes had served on local corporate and social agency boards, becoming a prominent and well-respected public figure in Connecticut. His keen business sense prompted one faculty member to dub him “the man in the gray flannel cassock.”

Fairfield students followed their president’s example of community service, reaching out to the underprivileged both near and far. One particular service trip to Appalachia attracted the attention of U.S. President Richard Nixon, who wrote to Fr. McInnes in April of 1969:

“I was very interested to learn through a recent National Broadcasting Company film report that some forty students from Fairfield University had spent their spring vacation working in Lewis County, Kentucky. The activities undertaken by these students represent an outstanding demonstration of good citizenship and I want you to know how greatly I appreciate their generosity in giving of themselves for the benefit of others.”

Landmark Decision

In 1968, a lawsuit threatened to undermine the University’s financial stability and future growth. Filed against Fairfield and three other colleges in Connecticut, the case questioned the constitutionality of federal grant money being awarded to building projects at schools with religious affiliations.

At the time of the suit, construction of Nyselius Library was underway with $1 million in federal funding and Bannow Science Center was in the planning stages with a government commitment of $200,000.

As the case deliberated, Fr. McInnes was apprehensive, describing Fairfield as “a pawn in the struggle to delineate delicate church-state relationships.” The case made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where it was tried as Tilton vs. Richardson. A landmark decision on June 28, 1971 ruled in favor of Fairfield University and its co-defendants. With relief, defense attorney Charles H. Wilson credited the justices with focusing on evidence that showed “the defendant colleges were legitimate educational institutions which added a religious dimension to the education they offered.”

“Dedicated to Change”

Fairfield coeds celebrated in 1971 when the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. President Nixon told their generation of 11 million new voters that he believed they would “infuse into this nation some idealism, some courage, some stamina, some high moral purpose.”

They celebrated again in 1972 when Connecticut’s legal drinking age also went from 21 to 18.

And in 1973, collective sighs of relief (and, predictably, more celebrations) were heard on campus; first, when the military draft ended in January, and again in March when the last American troops pulled out of Vietnam.

Significant Fairfield changes marked 1973 as well: a new University President was installed, the Stags made their first of two back-to-back NIT appearances and the first pub (called the Stag-Her Inn) opened on campus. In tribute to all of these milestones, the 1973 yearbook was dedicated “to change. For the only true constant is change.”

“The Silver Fox”

In February 1973, Rev. Thomas R. Fitzgerald, S.J., left his position of academic vice president at Georgetown University and was installed as the sixth President of Fairfield University. He was the third (unrelated) “Fitzgerald” to hold the office, and the first-ever to be chosen through a national search by the Board of Trustees.

Until coming to Fairfield, Fr. Fitzgerald had spent his entire career at Georgetown. According to a 1973 interview in The Bridgeport Post, “Asked about his nine-year-old nickname, ‘The Silver Fox,’ Father Fitzgerald chuckled and said ‘it was either a mark of deceitfulness, or adroitness,’ and he hoped it was the latter.”

The 1970s was a decade of national economic flux, and Fr. Fitzgerald made it a priority to stabilize Fairfield’s finances through conservative spending and increased enrollment. An ad-hoc planning commission projected the University’s future needs and resulted in the establishment of the School of Business in 1978 and the School of Continuing Education in 1979. The School of Nursing building was completed in 1977 and plans began for the Center for Financial Studies and the RecPlex, both of which opened in 1979.

On a Streak

During the mid-70s, students took a break from weighty issues of the day —Watergate, inflation, the energy crisis, final exams — by indulging in the fads of a fad-crazy decade. Lava lamps and beanbag chairs decorated dorm rooms. Disco music blared from 8-track tape players. Mood rings signaled when a roommate needed some space. And when students really needed to blow off some steam… there was streaking.

A lighthearted article in the February 21, 1974 issue of the University Voice reported that on a single Saturday night “there were reports of seven streaks in the Quad.” In an interview with the paper, two anonymous male streakers recommended that streaking become a Freshman Orientation activity, “maybe to replace the tug of war, where so many people get hurt.”

The “Golden Era” of Stag Hoops

Another kind of streak — a winning streak — began when legendary Fairfield men’s basketball coach Fred Barakat took the Stags to their first National Invitational Tournament (NIT)appearance in 1973, prompting a sea of red-and-white clad students, alumni and fans to surge into Madison Square Garden to cheer the team through two exciting rounds.

“Despite the skepticism of Howard Cosell, we were hardly ‘kicked back up the Connecticut turnpike,’” wrote the editors of The Manor yearbook about Fairfield’s first-round victory over Marshall University. In front of a crowd of 17,000 cheering spectators, the Stags held their own in round two, losing by just a single point to eventual tournament champions, Virginia Tech.

Fairfield made a second NIT appearance in 1974, and Barakat made history yet again in the 1975-76 season, recording his 100th Stag coaching victory. That same season, three of his players: Joe DeSantis ’79, Kim Fisher ’78 and Mark Young ’79 each scored their career 1,000th points.

A third NIT bid in 1978 capped off a record-setting regular season in which the Stags beat #14-ranked Holy Cross with a final score of 123-103.

Barakat left Fairfield in 1981 as one of the most successful coached of all time, and was inducted into the University’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990.

“Thou Shalt Not Park Here”

The longest-serving President in Fairfield University history began his 25-year tenure in 1979. A Philadelphia native, Rev. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J., was a classics and philosophy scholar. From the start, he worked as President to grow the University’s endowment, enhance campus facilities and attract increasingly qualified students to Fairfield.

His efforts paid off in positive reviews and rankings in college guides such as the Fiske Guide and U.S. News and World Report. As a Manor yearbook profile described him, “He is big in mind and ideas. And his heart has a big space set aside for Fairfield.”

For years during the 80s, Fr. Kelley was a quiet neighbor to upperclassmen residing in the newly constructed townhouses. Most students were unaware of his presence among them, his unit identifiable only by the sign on the parking spot immediately outside his front door: “Thou Shalt Not Park Here.”

“Four More Years!”

Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential election victory ushered in an era of social, political and economic conservatism. A Mirror editorial summed up his first term in office by saying, “The Reagan Presidency can be viewed as the embodiment of a whole generation’s desire to move away from controversy, and to move toward some stability.”

On October 26, 1984, President Reagan made a re-election campaign stop in Fairfield. Fr. Kelley was waiting to greet him when his helicopter Marine One landed on the field across from Southwell Hall (the building that is now home to The Kathryn P. Koslow Family Counseling Center). The two presidents exchanged a few words before Reagan was whisked away to town.

Several times during his speech on the Town Green, Reagan was interrupted by loud chants of “Four more years! Four more years!” In television news clips of the event, the interruptions appeared spontaneous and unrehearsed but a Mirror reporter revealed that they were “actually a practiced routine the crowd was put through before Reagan arrived.”

Spontaneous or not, weeks later Reagan easily won re-election.

Prepared for the Worst

On September 28, 1985, students living at the beach were evacuated from their homes in preparation for the strongest storm to hit Connecticut in 30 years. With a threat of winds reaching over 90 mph, renters hastily taped windows, packed up valuables and boarded shuttles to campus.

Student Services provided beach residents with free meals in the dining hall and the option of overnight accommodations in Alumni Hall or the RecPlex. Many chose to stay with friends in the dorms and townhouses.

Classes were cancelled before the strong winds and torrential rains of Hurricane Gloria swept ashore. On campus, trees toppled and lights went out.

By the time the power came back, it was evident that the forecast had been much worse than the actual storm. Beach residents returned to their rental properties to find damage that included lost shingles, broken windows and minor flooding. Other areas of Connecticut fared far worse, with the state estimating $60 million in storm-related damage.


In 1985 the men’s basketball team finished in the basement of the MAAC conference.

One short year later, the determined Stags climbed their way to the top in what the Mirror described as “a MAAC championship as Cinderella as you can get.” Busloads of rowdy fans traveled from campus to the New Jersey Meadowlands to witness Fairfield’s 67-64 win over longtime rival Holy Cross.

As written up in the student paper, “Fairfield’s sixth man, the student body, performed quite loudly and ESPN commentator Dick Vitale noticed. ‘Maniacs,’ he declared, ‘This really is their national championship game. There will be some kind of celebration in Fairfield tonight.’”

Dick Vitale was right. The team bus returned to campus late that night with air horns blaring to alert students that the players were home. At the townhouses, Coach Mitch Buonagura “barely set foot on the ground when he was immediately lifted onto the shoulders of grateful students,” according to the Mirror. The following year they would win another MAAC trophy.

In 1988, the women’s basketball team picked up where the men’s squad left off. After an impressive 16-9 season playing against some of the toughest opponents in the nation (Notre Dame, Utah, Washington), Coach Dianne Nolan and her team entered the MAAC Tournament with one goal in mind.

After blowouts against Fordham and Holy Cross, the “Lady Stags” achieved that goal: their first MAAC crown with an exciting 55-50 win over LaSalle.

“We want George!”

The national political spotlight shone briefly on Fairfield’s campus again during the 1988 presidential election when Republican candidate and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush held a campaign breakfast rally in Alumni Hall. The $30,000 event (paid for by the Bush campaign) featured coffee, donuts, entertainment and 5,000 balloons dropping from the gym ceiling.

Inside the packed gym, FUSA President Frank Carroll ’89 — now Chairman of Fairfield’s Board of Trustees — led the crowd in a rallying chant of “We want George!” Fairfield student bands “Broken Bottles” and “Grand Design” performed, as did local marching bands and a jazz band.

Outside Alumni Hall, a group of about 150 students, clergy, faculty and town residents gathered in protest. Some demonstrated to bring attention to the plight of the homeless. Others voiced their disapproval of the Reagan administration’s handling of the Iran-Contra Affair.

Both the breakfast rally and the protests received national media coverage. Four days later, America “got George:” he was elected the 41st president of the United States.

“What’s a google?”

Some aspects of campus life that were taken for granted in the 1980s seem archaic today. Others are surprisingly still around.

Students of the 80s checked their campus mailboxes for letters and called home regularly from dorm pay phones. When they wanted to “leave a message” for a Fellow Stag, they used the ubiquitous write-on/wipe-off memo boards that hung on every dorm room door.

Mixed cassette tapes played on boom boxes and in Sony Walkmans across campus, but how students listened to music was evolving further thanks to a new cable TV channel, MTV. Early music videos launched the careers of 80s musicians as diverse as Cindi Lauper, Run-D.M.C. and The Police.

The tapping of typewriter keys was a familiar late-night sound in dorm hallways during the early 80s, but by the end of the decade students were heading to computer labs in Canisius Hall and the library to compose documents, save them on floppy discs and print on dot matrix printers.

When thumbing through Nyselius Library’s encyclopedias and dictionaries, a student of the 80s would not have come across the entry “google;” it wasn’t even a word yet.

Big changes had come to Fairfield in the 1980s — new technology, new buildings, new leadership and new traditions like Clam Jam. The only thing for certain was that even bigger changes were on the way.