“What kind of universities, with what emphases and what directions, would we run if we were reforming the Society of Jesus in today’s world?”
That was the question put to me and other leaders of Jesuit institutions of higher education by Adolfo Nicolas, S.J., the Superior General of the Society during a meeting in Mexico City in 2010.
He challenged all of those present to have the courage to “recreate the journey, recreate the institutions,” because, he said, when we have lost that ability to recreate, “we have lost the spirit” of what Jesuit education has always been about — to develop men and women who will transform the world for the better.
Not the world the way we remember it, or the world that we wish we lived in, but the world as it is now! Jesuit education would not have continued to evolve for over 450 years if we had not possessed the courage — generation after generation — to recreate ourselves to meet the challenges of our place and time.
At Fairfield, we are taking up that challenge yet again. In January, I launched a process to refresh our Strategic Plan in order to ensure that we are recreating the institution to meet the needs of today. Fairfield 2020: Building a More Sustainable Future will be a year-long process of self-examination and self-discovery, as faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees examine every aspect of our operations to discover how we can better serve our community, reach more students from different backgrounds, develop new programs, take advantage of new technologies to give our students more flexibility and, in short, become the 21st century University that we have the potential to become.
This kind of rigorous self-examination is, of course, consistent with our Ignatian tradition. It is the spirit of the magis, “the more” — a disposition that characterized Ignatius himself: How can we do more to reach the underserved? How can we do more to have programs that are relevant to the evolving, lightning-speed workplace of today? How can we do more to offer a world-class education to as many worthy students as possible? This is the spirit of the enterprise that I have set before our community.
There are economic and demographic shifts in our culture that demand we undertake this challenge. While we have tried to maintain a cap on tuition, our costs continue to rise. Long-term demographic trends suggest that there will be fewer undergraduates in the Northeast in the coming decade, and those who do graduate will have greater economic constraints than the students of the past. These converging factors mean that we must broaden our revenue streams or we will find ourselves in the position of only being able to accept students based on their ability to pay. That’s not what Fairfield University was founded to do.
And there are new and exciting opportunities on the horizon as well: There is a demand for non-degree programs, continuing education, flexible part-time programs, online learning, and cooperative programs with our sister institutions that could broaden what we offer to our students. In other words, there are potential students who are waiting for us to extend our expertise to them. It is up to us to give them the tools they need to succeed.
By the time we have completed this refresh of our Strategic Plan, I am confident that we will have an exciting vision for our future, and a solid foundation to ensure that Fairfield will continue to be a leader in the “re-creation” of Jesuit education for the 21st century. Follow and participate in the process by going to www.strategicplanning.fairfield.edu.
As you’ll see inside this edition of Fairfield University Magazine, we are innovating on other fronts. We have developed a business incubator that brings our faculty into a hand-on, mentoring relationship with promising entrepreneurs in our community. Meanwhile, we continue to enrich our students’ experience of community life, as we did in the opening of the South Side Café, a weekend get-together venue that is helping our students to build the deep, healthy personal relationships that are the true riches in life.
Re-creation. That is what every generation is asked to do — to re-imagine the possible, and then build new frameworks to turn it into reality. At Fairfield, we have always been willing to embrace the spirit of re-creation, and that is what makes us a thriving community.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.