"Don't Be a Spectator" — Fairfield's First Fall Convocation
The future of Fairfield University, and the implementation of the new strategic plan Fairfield 2020 were the focus Thursday, as close to 300 faculty, staff and students — with 30 others watching online — attended Fairfield's first annual Fall Convocation at the Quick Center.
"Don't be a spectator," said University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., in his opening remarks, referring to the implementation of the new strategic plan. "Fairfield 2020 begins now, and it is a call to action to all of us to take initiative. Whether you are in the administration, or faculty, or student affairs or in support services — Fairfield 2020 is a challenge to all of us to embrace the responsibility to make changes, to make Fairfield the University it has the potential to become. We will succeed thanks to the efforts of hundreds of people, working together in the spirit of collaboration."
Following Fr. von Arx's address, Dr. Thomas Pellegrino, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs led a panel discussion with the President, Dr. Lynn Babington, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Kevin Lawlor, Executive Vice President and COO. Their conversation addressed a range of issues — including what the University is doing to increase diversity, the efforts to build up the University's programs for non-traditional students, new technology in the classroom, the "value proposition" of a Fairfield education and so on.
"It is remarkable that it has taken us 75 years to recognize how valuable a fall convocation could be for our community," Fr. von Arx began. "But cultures evolve, and every tradition has to start someplace, arising out of circumstances that call them into being — and it now seems very clear to me that we owe it to ourselves and to the wellbeing of our community to begin every new year this way — in fellowship and celebration, and talking about our plans, our hopes and our desires for the coming year."
In his remarks, the President said that Fairfield was entering a new era of growth. He said that in the future, Fairfield would carry a slightly larger undergraduate population of about 4,000 students, and that thanks to a number of improvements in enrollment, the University had its highest number of applications this year, and managed to lower its acceptance rate to 65% — meaning that the University was able to be more selective. The University also intends to grow the graduate programs, and develop more programming for non-traditional students, the fastest growing demographic in the region.
"Clearly our neighbors who are prospective non-traditional learners is a population which needs what we have to offer, and we are committed to building the infrastructure, creating the learning environment and embracing the teaching models that will best serve this population," he said.
While the strategic planning process was underway, the University was also conducting preliminary work on a University master plan, the President said, noting that there had been upgrades to the University classrooms over the summer, that the RecPlex was undergoing a major renovation and that there would be construction of an enhanced nursing and health sciences facility in the not too distant future.
In order to grow, the President continued, the University would need more resources. As raising tuition and fees is no longer a viable method of increasing these resources, the University is engaging on a major capital fundrasing campaign, which will go to a public phase in the coming weeks. The campaign will raise money for the endowment to support student financial aid and endowed faculty chairs, it will support new facilties like the renovated RecPlex and health sciences facility, and it will provide money for new programs. The President noted that already — in the silent phase — the campaign had raised a significant amount of support.
"So we anticipate that not only will we reach our goal, but that we have a very good chance of exceeding it," he said. "These funds will benefit us all: more money for financial aid that is generated by our endowment will mean more operating funds to work with from year to year; endowed faculty chairs will increase our full-time faculty; and improved facilities will help us to accommodate the growth we anticipate."
During the panel discussion, Kevin Lawlor was asked why Fairfield 2020 had placed an emphasis on non-traditional students. He noted that the traditional residential undergraduate dimension of the University would always remain at the core of Fairfield's mission, but added that only 45 percent of undergraduate students nationwide were in traditional four-years programs. "So that means that 55 percent are not," he said, noting that many were going part-time, or attending more than one institution, or extending their undergraduate education. He said Fairfield needed to reach out to these non-traditional students, noting that until recently, "if you were a 25-year-old Marine returning from Kandahar and you came onto our campus, looking to enroll, you would have had a hard time knowing where to go."
Asked about Fairfield's commitment to diversity, Fr. von Arx said that in recent years, following the recession, the recruitment of minority students had suffered but that this year about 15 percent of the undergraduate class were from AHANA backgrounds. He noted too that socio-economic diversity was a priority. He said that one of the key pillars of the capital campaign was to increase the endowment for financial aid. "Whenever I'm asked about where we need support," he said, "I say, 'to increase financial aid for needy students.'"
One of the primary recommendations of Fairfield 2020 concerned more fully developing a culture of collaboration on campus, a point stressed by all of the participants. "There is no more collaborative place than a University," said Dr. Babington. "It's like a village," she pointed out, with students, faculty, staff, public safety, facilities management and so on. "We need to make sure that we are intentionally building a just village, where everyone is valued."
A video of the event will be posted at www.youtube.com/fairfielduniversity.