William Atwell, P’08, takes over the helm

Well, first of all I’m blessed with a very experienced Board, and I’m fortunate to be inheriting a strong Board thanks to [outgoing chairman] Paul Huston. That’s the legacy he leaves to me after ten years as chair. The Board he is leaving me is very committed and enthusiastic, and that was one reason that I decided to take on the chairmanship. And I’d like to say thanks as well to those outgoing members of the Board — Stephen Bepler, David Chafey ’76, William Lisecky, Michael McGuinness ’82, P’09, ’16, and Stephen Lessing ’76 — all of whom gave so much of their time and energy to the work.

A lot of people don’t know what trustees do. One of the things that I can say with my six years on the Board is that it’s not just attending quarterly meetings. These are people who are giving a lot of their time. They are involved in the governance and fiduciary oversight of the University. They are very involved in the life of the University. For instance, there were trustees who worked with Dean of Enrollment Karen Pellegrino and the staff on the enrollment committee, using data to help us fine-tune our recruiting. Karen and her staff did an excellent job in using a data-driven approach to focus on our applicants — and — lo and behold — it resulted in the largest recruitment class in our history.

So, now we need to fine-tune the profile of the class. We need to be sure we are getting the students that we want in terms of background, diversity, and geographic spread, and the trustees will be turning their attention to that.

And there’s more to it than that?

Yes. In addition to the time that the trustees give, they are also generous with their money, and also making the outreach to the broader community. They work together and with the University to encourage others to give generously to the work of the University as well.

What do you think are the critical challenges facing higher education right now?

Oh, it’s affordability. There is a dynamic change going on in the economics of higher education that universities have to respond to. In the past, the solution to the rising cost of education was raising tuition. We cannot continue to raise tuition because we are pricing ourselves out of the middle class market. Whatever increases we make in tuition, we have to give that back — and more — in scholarships and aid, so that strategy doesn’t work anymore. We need to work together with the administration and the faculty to keep the cost of education affordable, and at the same time keep looking for new opportunities to expand our educational offerings so that we continue to grow.

The University has identified three key areas for the future — increased financial aid and endowed faculty, expansion of the health science facilities, and enhancements to athletic facilities. What is your perspective on these priorities?

Well, again, the first one speaks to the question of affordability. We need to build the endowment so we can increase financial aid. This is critical. And ensuring we have the best faculty to meet our goals is also critical to maintaining our standards. What makes Fairfield different is the engagement that faculty have with the students and the quality of those interactions, so we have to keep investing in that.

Where the health sciences are concerned — this is one of the fastest growing areas of the economy. We have great potential in this area. We have a great School of Nursing. We have a great School of Business. How can we build on that? How can we bring our areas of strength together to prepare students for the future? So, we can look at our current programs and build on a firm foundation in this area.

As to the facilities, we have to make sure that all of our facilities — recreational and athletics included — are appropriate and attractive, as I mentioned above, because that will attract the students we want, and they can then have the educational experience we want for them.

What message would you like to send to the University community and the alumni in particular?

That they have a stake in the success of the University going forward. They are graduates of the University, and they should continue to be involved in the University over their lifetimes. We have generations of graduates who are deeply involved and we want to build that alumni network to be a national network and, over time, a global network. Get involved! There are many different ways of being involved — helping graduates obtain jobs is one way. There is a strong history of that at Fairfield. The University is a community and there is strength in that community.

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