Fairfield University inaugurates its first president in 25 years


Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. becomes Fairfield's eighth president

Under a bright October sky, more than 1500 people gathered as Fairfield University inaugurated its first president in 25 years and the eighth president of the university, Rev. Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.

For the former dean and associate professor of history at Fordham College at Rose Hill of Fordham University, who previously served as chair of history at Georgetown University, it is a return to Connecticut, where he spent most of the 1970s at Yale University in New Haven earning a Ph.D., a Master of Philosophy and a Master of Arts degree, all in history.

In his address, Fr. von Arx used the two themes of his inauguration, learning and integrity, to challenge the university community to work together to achieve three leadership goals in Catholic higher education: the renewal of Jesuit liberal arts education; the integrity of life and learning; and the integration of Jesuit values in professional education.

As an historian, Fr. von Arx said, "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."

While noting that Fairfield already provides an Honors Program and "cluster courses" that provide interdisciplinary learning across the curriculum, he said, "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."

Calling for leadership in Jesuit education in the integration of life and learning, Fr. von Arx said, "I cannot help but be deeply concerned about the dissociation between living and learning in the lives of undergraduates today." He said most students he has encountered are a credit to their upbringing, but he expressed concern that there "is often no clear sense about how their studies connect with their living and their other activities." It is a problem, he said, that "gets replicated in the compartmentalization of professional, family and public life." The integration of life and learning, he said, "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."

In defining the third goal, he called for Fairfield to play a leadership role in instilling Jesuit values in graduate and professional education. "Professional education is appropriately concerned about the development of practical professional competence," he said, but it is also 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."

He invited faculty, students and the administration to form three task forces to work on the goals in the coming year, saying he would like them to draw on resources and expertise on campus and outside of Fairfield. The recommendations of the three groups will then be integrated into a university-wide strategic planning process. "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."

In his welcoming remarks, Fr. von Arx paid tribute to his predecessor, "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." During the hour-long ceremony, Fr. Kelley presented the Chain of Office to Fr. von Arx, and Paul J. Huston, class of 1982 and chairman of the Board of Trustees, presented the University Charter and Presidential Privileges and Responsibilities. The Very Rev. Thomas J. Regan, S.J., provincial of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus, officially invited Fr. von Arx to service as president of Fairfield University.

The formal academic program was highlighted by the colorful academic dress of more than 100 delegates who represented universities and learned societies from around the world and across the country, including the 453-year-old Pontifical Gregorian University, originally founded as the Roman College by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. Other delegates were from universities such as the University of Cambridge, Melbourne University in Australia, the University of Oxford, Catholic Institute of West Africa, and Harvard and Dartmouth Universities. Twenty-two Jesuit universities, including Georgetown, Boston College, College of the Holy Cross, Santa Clara and Seattle, were also represented.

The Most Rev. William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, offered the invocation and Rabbi James Prosnit of Congregation B'nai Israel, unable to attend, had his benediction delivered by Dr. Ellen Umansky, the Carl and Dorothy Bennett professor of Judaic Studies. Greetings were presented by Frank M. Turner, the John Hay Whitney Professor of History at Yale University who represented Higher Education, and by Susan Wabuda from the Royal Historical Society of Cambridge University, representing the Learned Societies.

Representatives from the University community who extended their good wishes were: Faculty: Irene T. Mulvey, Ph.D., professor of mathematics; Undergraduate Students: Paul A. Duffy '05, president of the Fairfield University Student Association; Graduate Students: Amy Boczer '99, Charles F. Dolan School of Business MBA candidate; Paul A. Richards, '71, president of the Fairfield University Alumni Association; and The Rev. Michael G. Boughton, S.J., president of Fairfield College Preparatory School.

Dr. Orin L. Grossman, academic vice president was the master of ceremonies and the 100-member Fairfield University Glee Club, under the direction of Carole Ann Maxwell and accompanied by Galen Tate, presented a musical interlude. The Brassalad Quintet provided the music for the academic procession.

Bookmark and Share

Media Contact: Nancy Habetz, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2647, nhabetz@fairfield.edu

Posted on October 7, 2004

Vol. 37, No. 77