Letter from the President

Letter from the President

Dear Friends,

We could not have asked for a more perfect autumn day than Oct. 20, when I had the immense good fortune to be formally inaugurated as the ninth President of this great University. I am grateful for all those who made the day possible, and for the representatives from over 75 universities worldwide who took part in the ceremony.  It was quite a remarkable experience — and a humbling one in the best sense — to be invested with the trust of so many, to be given the mace and the chain of office, and to be reminded that the “University exists and the President leads for the greater Glory of God.”

But lead in what direction? Higher education is at an inflection point. Institutions of higher learning must evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century and like any organic and organizational evolution, this effort should be about adapting aspects of our being to a changing environment.
I had the opportunity during my remarks to begin a conversation about what kind of university Fairfield will become over the next 75, 100, 125 years, and how we can embrace the great opportunity before us ­— the opportunity to be a model for higher education as the modern, Jesuit, Catholic University.

I proposed that such a university must be defined by three characteristics: A commitment to lifelong learning, a commitment to holistic education, and a commitment to extensive and expansive partnerships.

We have never been about simply training men and women for their first job or next stage of education. But while continuing to develop graduate and professional programs to serve students over the course of their lives, we must also recognize that the future holds bodies of knowledge, disciplines, and careers that have yet to be developed. We need to prepare our students for such a future.

Additionally, the modern Jesuit Catholic University must be committed to forming well-rounded men and women through cura personalis: caring for the mind, the body, and the soul. Cura personalis has a uniquely modern resonance as scholars of neuroscience have begun to appreciate how the body and the mind shape and inform one another. In recent years, we have reaffirmed Fairfield’s commitment to the true spirit of cura personalis and must continue to do so in the years ahead.

Finally, to be a model for 21st century higher education, we must be expansive in effort and extensive in outreach. We need to cultivate a mindset that encourages faculty and students to pursue knowledge, which purposefully reaches for frameworks of analysis outside of one’s “home” discipline and field.

If we are going to be successful, I think we need to broaden the parameters of our work and become a truly national institution. Shifting demographics — a decline in the Northeast’s college age population — suggests we will not be able to maintain the scale of enrollment we desire by simply focusing where we always have. Being national in scope is essential if we are to maintain and enhance inclusive excellence. We also need to be global in our approach, and embrace the capacity of new technology. Our mission demands that we continually seek to expand our impact on the world, and so we must use every resource at our disposal.

These characteristics and parameters I describe are inextricably linked to one another in support of a university.  And to be a university we must always celebrate and embrace the pursuit of truth.  Fundamental to this pursuit of truth is civil discourse and disagreement.  As steward of this great University, this is a prayer for all of us: that we as an institution, a community, and a family continue to uphold our core values and commitments while embracing the challenge of being a model for the 21st century, to make the most of our blessings and to continue our rise, and that we do so for the greater glory of God.

With very best wishes and utmost gratitude,

Mark R. Nemec, PhD