Inaugural Address

A.M.D.G.
October 7, 2004

As the President of Fairfield University, I know I can speak for myself and for all of you when I say I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude today. That gratitude is in the first place for Fairfield University, where the hopes and dreams, the hard work and sacrifice, of many people over the years are realized in an institution where young people come to find purpose and meaning in their lives. It is a privilege and a blessing from God to have the responsibility of teaching and guiding young men and women in our undergraduate schools in making the critical transition to adulthood; of assisting students in our graduate schools as they develop professional competence and commitment to the greater good.

We are grateful for the presence here today of all the various parts of this community - faculty, students and staff, alumni, trustees and administrators of the University and of Fairfield Prep - demonstrating the unity and common purpose of Fairfield University. We feel honored by the presence of so many friends of Fairfield: representatives of our Church and of the Society of Jesus - we note the very welcome presence of our bishop, the Most Rev. William Lori, and of the Provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Tom Regan, no stranger, of course, to Fairfield! - and representatives of other communities of faith; representatives as well of our local and state government; of our sister Jesuit institutions and the community of higher education in Connecticut and beyond. And, of course, we are honored by the presence of so many who simply count themselves as friends of Fairfield, on whose generosity and support this young institution has relied from the very beginning. We are particularly blessed by the presence of the man who has led Fairfield for almost half of its history and really stands as the second founder of Fairfield University, Fr. Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. And I am personally grateful for the presence here of my family - and I thank God especially that my parents are here today - and of friends from every stage of my life, from my second grade teacher and classmates from elementary school, from high school, from Princeton and Yale, to colleagues from Georgetown and Fordham, Jesuit friends and former students who have been a part of my life as I have been blest to be a part of theirs.

If you're wondering what it's going to be like to have your whole life flash before your eyes in the moment before you die, organize an event like this for yourself! The gratitude I feel at this moment has its ultimate object God whose loving providence in my life to bring me to this moment seems so clear to me as well as my own undeserving.

The great blessing of being part of an institution like Fairfield brings with it an important responsibility. That responsibility is to be as clear as we can be about who we are as an institution and what we have to offer. Today, many people, inside and outside of government, are asking universities to give an account of themselves. This is entirely as it should be. And to no one do we owe this account more than to you, our students, who, together with your parents, sacrifice much to come here. What do we offer you to make these sacrifices worthwhile? What do we offer you to give you hope that is so much needed in our world, and a sense of who you are at a time when this is so hard to come by? How do we offer you hope and self-confidence born not of illusion or of self-deception, but of knowledge and the discernment of your deepest, truest self?

Last January, shortly after it was publicly announced that I would be the next president of Fairfield University, I was approached by the Inauguration Committee and asked what themes I would be emphasizing in my inaugural address. Reflecting back on my years as a teacher and administrator in Jesuit institutions, I tried to articulate the characteristics of Jesuit education that make it distinctive in the world of American higher education and recommend it to students and their parents who were seeking an education that will make them wiser, better human beings. I focused on a way of learning and the kind of person I hoped would graduate from a place like Fairfield: an education that was liberating, and a graduate who was a fully integrated person.

What I would like to do in this address is to present you a vision for Fairfield in terms of these two themes, learning and integrity. Then, in conclusion, I will outline three goals for Fairfield University as is strives to be a place of true Catholic and Jesuit learning and an educator of men and women who know themselves.

The education we offer our students is first of all about intellectual freedom and its corollary, liberation of the spirit. This liberation is properly a first theme for this inauguration because it is so fundamental to the Jesuit educational enterprise. Let me explain. We are no different from men and women of earlier generations whose servitude to the spirit of the age has nowhere been so well described as by St. Paul, to be reechoed by St. Augustine and Martin Luther and, indeed, by St. Ignatius Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises. That servitude is classically described in the Christian tradition as a slavery to sin, but we make a great mistake if we assume that our lack of freedom is only due to our own individual sinful acts or habits. Cultures, too, as St. Paul realized so well, can bind and enslave us. As a historian, I am convinced that there is nothing more difficult for people to realize than the ways they are constrained, and, indeed, sometimes enslaved by their own cultures. Not that everything about a culture is bad, but some things are, and it takes wisdom and moral judgment to say which is which. It is so difficult, as I have said, to transcend one's cultural and social context and achieve a measure of personal freedom from it. And, in my judgment, at no time in history more difficult than it is for young people today. The power of our culture to make us accept unquestioningly and uncritically the assumptions on which that culture is based has never been stronger. That power manifests itself all around us, in political propaganda, in advertising and the media, in entertainment both at high and low levels of culture: even, God help us, at universities. The power of our culture to enforce an uncritical acceptance of its values and practice conceals from us the fact that there is nothing inevitable about political systems that oppress people; or economic structures that impoverish the many in the interest of the few; or cultural constructs that dehumanize men, women and even children by portraying them to themselves and others as mere agents of consumption or objects of desire.

Freedom from the tyranny of culture is hard won. In a Catholic way of looking at things, it involves an opening of the mind, a conversion of the heart, and an authentic encounter with the other. That, my dear young friends, is what we have to offer you, our students, at a place like Fairfield University. I do not underestimate the difficulty of the task. If there is anything in my life that has brought me disappointment, it is the resistance in my own heart, not less than in the hearts of my students, to seeing things differently from everybody else around me. To help combat this mindless conformity, there is nothing more powerful or effective, I believe, than the Christian humanism represented by Jesuit liberal arts education. Jesuit liberal arts education asks that we see the human condition and the world in which we live from different points of view, both intellectual and spiritual. There are many ways of looking at the world, at society and at human experience. A liberal education should give students a sense of the particularity and distinctiveness of the disciplines, of how each of them contributes to a rich and nuanced view of human reality. It should give them a sense of how the disciplines relate to each other, as well as of their limitations: of how, for example, history relates to theology; of where social analysis leaves off and moral reflection begins; and that no single view of human experience, especially not their own, is an adequate or all-encompassing picture. Beyond that, Jesuit education should also be an encounter with others. Inevitably, this will be a personal encounter which results in understanding, respect and, ultimately, love for the one who is different from me. This is an imperative of the Jesuit tradition of the education of the whole person, and there are deep resources in the tradition for a multicultural encounter that is deeply respectful without being relativistic. Finally, the ultimate assurance against making our culture into an idol comes when the search for knowledge is open to the transcendent dimension of God's encounter with us in our world and in our human history.

There are two aspects of Jesuit liberal arts education that distinguish it from liberal arts education such as one might find at an excellent secular college. First, Jesuit liberal arts education takes religion and religious experience seriously, both as an object of study and as a matter of personal appropriation. How else to realize the conversion of heart which is an essential accompaniment to the opening of the mind toward the liberation of the person? That conversion will happen in different ways for different people, and Jesuits are just as pleased when someone graduates from one of our universities a better Jew, Muslim, Protestant or humanist as when we graduate better Catholics.

The second aspect of Jesuit liberal arts education that is distinctive is the conviction that all education is an education in values. If you, our students, are not thinking about the ethical implications of what you are studying, then we have failed you. If you do not consider how the careers you are choosing will serve those who have no one else to be their defenders, then we have failed you. Human moral agency over time is both responsible for the conditions in which the vast majority of the human family lives, and it is able to change them. And, pray God, you, our students, recognize yourselves as morally responsible. You should know that the human world is interconnected and interdependent, and I hope Fairfield teaches you to see for what it is the false and damaging attempt of forces in our culture to break down a sense of connectedness and human solidarity, and even to dis-integrate us as individuals at the level of our understanding of ourselves as whole persons.

And that brings us to a second important theme for this inauguration and for Fairfield's future, the theme of integrity. Integrity is not just a matter of personal wholeness as a moral being, although, of course, it is that: and who is it that does not understand that this kind of integrity is both seriously lacking and desperately needed in every aspect of public and private life today? But integrity is also a matter of a wholeness of vision and understanding, and of that possession of oneself that is a condition of possibility for moral integrity. Here again is a place where the need is truly desperate to give young people a sense of well-grounded hope in the possibility of knowing who they are, and hope in the possibility of leading fully integrated lives. The tradition of the Spiritual Exercises that informs Jesuit educational philosophy is a tremendous resource for the project of discovering oneself and discerning one's vocation. I am convinced that this project of self-discovery and discernment is both the greatest anxiety and the deepest desire of young people today. In the interaction between faculty and students at a place like Fairfield, I hope there is a realization that the struggle for an integrated view of reality is an imperative, and that such integration has important implications for understanding oneself as a whole person and a responsible moral agent.

How does, how should this integrity of learning work itself out at a comprehensive, Catholic and Jesuit university like Fairfield? I'd like to offer three goals that should define this institution and its place in Catholic higher education today, and I'd like to invite all of you - faculty, students, administrators, alumni and friends of Fairfield - to join in accomplishing goals which will help this institution to realize its truest, deepest identity and move into a promising future.

The first goal is to make Fairfield a leader in the renewal of Jesuit liberal arts education. One does not need to look very far beyond the twenty-eight Jesuit colleges and universities and a relatively small number of other schools, to realize how distinctive and special the kind of education we offer already is. Beyond these, few colleges have retained the commitment to a broadly educated person that inspires the core curriculum in Jesuit institutions. Not that general education in Jesuit institutions hasn't changed over the years, as any older alum who graduated from a Jesuit university will tell you. The curriculum has expanded to include disciplines in the natural and social sciences and the fine arts in addition to the original philosophy and theology, history and English. New perspectives on technology and globalism, pluralism and diversity have opened up the curricula of many Jesuit universities to acquaint our students with defining characteristics of the world they live in today. I know that entering students sometimes question requirements whose relevance to their career goals they do not always see at first. Yet it has been a common experience in my life to have students tell me that while they didn't see the point of the core when they started, they did when they finished. As important, our alumni frequently cite their exposure to the broad range of human learning as one of the most valuable aspects of their education.

But even something as excellent as general education in the Jesuit liberal arts curriculum stands in need of improvement. I have long thought that the core curriculum at best is too much of a menu selection - one from column "A," two from column "B" - that leaves the integration of the core up to the interest or commitment of students. Of course there are exceptions. At most Jesuit universities, as here at Fairfield, the Honors Program is a deliberate attempt to structure the curriculum in a way that helps a select number of students toward that "Aha!" moment of insight into the connectedness of the subjects they are studying. And Fairfield also has a program of "cluster courses," interdisciplinary learning communities across the curriculum, which offer linkages among core courses from the natural and social sciences and the humanities/visual and performing arts. But there is so much more to be done in integrating the core, especially, I have always thought, at the level of comparative methodology. Understanding the methods by which a discipline seeks knowledge helps students see the relationship among the various disciples that they are studying - and their limitations. I'd like to challenge my colleagues on the faculty to rethink the connectedness and the integration of the core so as to make it as meaningful an experience for our undergraduate students as it possibly can be.

Part of the genius and originality of the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum was the notion of the integration of studies, not only horizontally among the liberal arts, but also vertically, in the progression of studies from the simple to the complex and from the general to the particular. This original insight of the earliest Jesuit pedagogues is still reflected in the liberal arts curriculum today through the notion of the major or concentration. But I suspect that pre-professionalism and a fixation on the utility of a major has severed the connection between a holistic view of knowledge and the place of a particular expertise and competence in relation to the whole. We need to find ways of restoring the integrity of liberal arts education in this vertical dimension, too, and I'd like to challenge my colleagues on the faculty to make Fairfield a leader in this aspect of the renewal of Jesuit liberal arts as well. My own sense is that Fairfield is precisely the right kind of institution to undertake this challenge, in terms of its size, the quality of its students and faculty, and its flexibility as a young institution. I believe we are ready - and able - to lead the way in this renewal of liberal arts education for Jesuit higher education in the United States as a whole.

The second goal for which I would like to see Fairfield pursue leadership in Jesuit education is the integration of life and learning. Anyone who has spent as much time as I have not only working at universities but also living in student residence halls, cannot help but be deeply concerned about the dissociation between living and learning in the lives of undergraduates today. This is not just a matter of behavior inappropriate to a community of scholars. To tell you the truth, students take an unfair rap in this regard. The great majority of students with whom I've lived over the years have behaved like ladies and gentleman and are a credit to their up-bringing. But even among these students, there is often no clear sense about how their studies connect with their living and their other activities: extracurricular, athletic, service and social life. And there is a similar uncertainty among the faculty. Many faculty members at a place like Fairfield have a desire to be involved in student life as mentors and role models. But with some exceptions, they don't really know how to do this beyond the classroom. This dissociation between living and learning is, as I say, a problem, not only while student are on campus, but when they graduate. It simply gets replicated in the compartmentalization of professional, family and public life that characterizes all of our existences today.

A Jesuit university like Fairfield, with an ideal to educate the whole person, should not be satisfied with this state of affairs while our students are here or after they leave. And, once again, a place like Fairfield, because of our size and closeness, can and should be a laboratory for experimenting with new solutions to this problem. As a matter of fact, it already is. The Ignatian Residential College here at Fairfield is one of the most successful and imaginative experiments at integrating life and learning that I know of, and we will have to see how we can expand its benefits to more students. But I believe there are other initiatives that we could take to improve campus culture, and I'd like to invite the campus community, especially people in Residence Life and Student Affairs, to work closely with the faculty and with our students themselves in thinking these problems through. The integration of life and learning will require new models of collaboration between divisions at Fairfield, and we may need to rethink some of our structures in order to accomplish these goals. But unless we can come up with new ways of helping our students toward an integration of their lives now, ways that will be a model for their lives as adults, we are not realizing our goal of educating the whole person.

The final goal we should be pursuing and in which I see Fairfield playing a leadership role is to instill Jesuit values in our graduate and professional education. Mission-driven professional education will add real value to professional education at Fairfield and distinguish us from others. All too often, Jesuit education is identified with undergraduate liberal arts education. To think that Jesuit education does not have something to say to professional education is to cede that whole realm of university life to an instrumentalist point of view: professional education for the sake of training or to get a job or to get ahead. As the Dean of our University College pointed out to me recently, Ignatius himself can be considered the patron saint of part-time, adult learners, for his own educational resume five centuries ago was much more like that of our non-traditional students than our full-time, 18-22 year-old undergraduates!

That similarity aside, the purpose of professional education is, of course, different from the purpose of liberal arts undergraduate education. Professional education is appropriately concerned about the development of practical professional competence. But just as much as liberal arts education, professional education is concerned about integrity - not just the moral integrity of the honest practitioner, but also about the wholeness of the professional as a person concerned about the contribution of the professions to the common good. The professions - in the case of Fairfield, education, business, nursing and engineering and our graduate programs in mathematics and American Studies - are ordered to the good of society. Thus, professional education must always keep the dimensions of service and justice, especially justice for those who are so underserved in our society, before its eyes as goals every bit as important as professional competence. Professional education is always practical and, in the case of Fairfield's professional schools, local, in terms of those it educates and those it serves. Therefore, professional schools need to be focused and concrete in understanding the needs of the local community - in our case, Fairfield County and Greater Bridgeport - and responsive and flexible in answering those needs. Given our location in a region rich in resources, opportunity and need, Fairfield as a comprehensive university can and should be a leader in integrating Jesuit values of service and practical justice to the needs of this particular community.

These, then are three goals where Fairfield University can and should excel: first, the renewal of Jesuit liberal arts education; second, integrity of life and learning; and third, the integration of Jesuit values in professional education. I have already begun talking about these goals with our faculty, students and administration, and I am inviting them to form three task forces to work on each of these goals in the course of the coming year. I'd like these task forces to make use of the resources and expertise we already have available on this campus in planning to meet these goals, but I'd like them to draw as well on experts outside of Fairfield, and consider what is being done well at other universities in each of these areas. The work of these task forces should be public, and their aim should be to foster and develop a conversation on campus about how best to achieve each of these goals. I would hope for concrete and practical proposals from each of these groups. Their recommendations will then be integrated into a university-wide strategic planning process that we are beginning this year. It is my hope and expectation that in the course of two years, Fairfield will develop a plan for its future that will map out our growth and development for the next five to ten years.

I end this address, therefore, with an invitation to collaboration to all of the constituencies that make up this wonderful institution. There are important goals to be realized and projects to be accomplished in the years ahead that will transform Fairfield. But, for Fairfield, just as important as anything we do is how we do it, for that, too, will determine the kind of institution, the kind of community we are. To achieve these transformative goals will require a transformation in our way of working together. Faculty and administration must seek a new level of trust based on a real, shared responsibility for planning Fairfield's future. Administrative divisions must find new levels of collaboration, because each of these goals cuts across normal divisional lines. To guide these changes, our Board must become a leader in understanding the key issues facing higher education in general and Jesuit higher education in particular. Our students, too, must move from a place where they take cues for their thinking and behavior from a circumambient culture that is in many ways corrupt and corrupting, to a place where they engage in critical thinking on the basis of humane and spiritual values. I promise to listen and consult and to work collaboratively, but I also invite all of you, Board, faculty, students, administrators, staff, alumni, supporters and friends, to assume your proper responsibility for Fairfield's future.

Although Fairfield is a relatively young institution, it exists in the 460 year old tradition of Jesuit education and it has high goals and noble forebears to live up to. At a time like this, someone in my position cannot help but be conscious of the solemn duty we owe our students to offer them hope and inspiration, freedom and integrity in these difficult times. But I am equally conscious of the debt we owe to the past: to the hopes and dreams of men and women whose life's work this institution was and still is. By the very fact of our working together, Fairfield will realize its best and truest self and move forward into a bright future. Thus it will fulfill the hopes and dreams and justify the sacrifices and hard work of those who founded this university and have given it their lives. I invite you all to that hard work and sacrifice, as well as to the joy and privilege of this service, and I pledge my own life to Fairfield and its future.

God bless you all, and God bless Fairfield University!