Fairfield Now - Winter 2009
The Idea Guy
By Nina Riccio, M.A.'09
He's taught and studied in Germany and Kenya, China and France, and spent many years at California's Santa Clara University, but these days it's Fairfield that the Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., calls home. As the University's new senior vice president for Academic Affairs, Fr. Fitzgerald has a hand in a range of issues around campus - from faculty development, to strengthening student living and learning communities, the further integration of the core curriculum, and the growth of the graduate student population. Last month, Fr. Fitzgerald sat with Fairfield Now to discuss his priorities and the vision he brings to the campus.
Fairfield Now: You came to Fairfield from Santa Clara University where you served as associate dean and senior associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. How long were you there?
Fr. Fitzgerald: I did my undergraduate work at Santa Clara, majored in history, and graduated in 1980. After I entered the Jesuits, I studied in Germany, and then came back to California to teach in Sacramento. After theology studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I taught briefly at Santa Clara, then went to Paris to study for my doctorate (in the sociology of religion) at the Sorbonne, returning to Santa Clara in 1997.
Fairfield Now: What in your background has most prepared you for this position?
Fr. Fitzgerald: Without a doubt, my years in the novitiate. We were deliberately thrust into new situations where we had to rely on other people, learn from communities, and really get outside our comfort zones and the ability to control a situation. I was assigned to live in a soup kitchen in Tijuana, Mexico, for six weeks, then in a garbage dump for another six weeks in Guaymas.
My novice master also made sure that each of us had a work assignment where we were supervised by a woman. One of my co-novices had a hard time with this - the experience revealed a deep-seated misogyny and he actually ended up being asked to leave the order. These novice experiments were designed to reveal deep-seated biases, but even more so, to help us grow in real freedom, to seek and find God's grace everywhere. Coming to Fairfield, I am constantly surprised by grace!
Fairfield Now: Fairfield has always had a rigorous core of required courses. Do you think this extensive core is important, and why?
Fr. Fitzgerald: I believe it's essential. The core is the skeleton that gives the rest of the curriculum some structure.
We want Fairfield to be known for a reflective, holistic education that prepares graduates for life. When we look at the portrait of the student at graduation, we want someone who can communicate, analyze, reason, and has a sense of integrity. We've structured the core courses to introduce students to both qualitative and quantitative skills. Above all, we want to graduate students who are able to find a deep sense of joy within themselves, combined with the realization of how they can contribute to the world.
Fairfield Now: Which books have been most influential in your life?
Fr. Fitzgerald: I'd have to say the Gospels, of course, and certainly the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, although that's not really a book, it's a process. I also love The First Jesuits by John O'Malley, S.J. I was a student of his at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology while he was writing the book. The book is great because it focuses our attention on the underlying inspiration of the Jesuits when they were first starting out. It helps me to focus on the core of Jesuit identity, freeing me to look again for ways in which to be useful to human beings and human communities. That has something to do with my willingness to leave Santa Clara and to come to Fairfield - the desire to be helpful and the willingness to seek and choose the greater good, freely.
Fairfield Now: You've spoken of the need for "inclusive excellence" within the University community. What do you mean by that?
Fr. Fitzgerald: A greater percentage of the students entering college in the next few years will be from African-American, Latino, Asian, and Pacific Islander families and communities. Our great opportunity is to re-create Fairfield, over and over, as a tremendously welcoming community, one that does more than just accept diverse students. Rather, one that welcomes and engages everyone. We want all our students to have a confidence in their ability to step over cultural boundaries and engage their peers at a deep level of respect, curiosity, and vibrant collaboration. As people come to know each other deeply, all will benefit. That's inclusive excellence. Without intentional and well-designed educational programs to realize these aims, studies show that diverse communities without a common set of shared values can lead to stereotypes being reinforced rather than overcome.
Fairfield Now: So few men are entering the Jesuit order these days. Can a Jesuit institution maintain its Jesuitness without a Jesuit president or faculty?
Fr. Fitzgerald: Well, we are not about to disappear as a religious order, but yes, an institution like Fairfield can remain a very vibrant Jesuit - or Ignatian - work with fewer Jesuits to the extent that there is a healthy collaboration between Jesuits and lay people who will then be able to continue the mission of Jesuit values. This could indeed be a Jesuit institution even without Jesuits in leadership roles on campus.
Fairfield Now: You were born in Burbank, California. Did you ever think about going into the film industry?
Fr. Fitzgerald: I didn't, but both my grandfathers worked in the industry. My paternal grandfather was a studio carpenter at RKO and Warner Brothers. My mother's father was an actor and a screenwriter, and he had a good career until he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early 1950's. He could prove that he was not a member of the Communist Party, but he refused to supply a list of 20 names of industry people who were subversives, so he was blacklisted. He died within a few years of tuberculosis, but really of a broken spirit. I wish I had met him, but I was born afterwards. I do have this sense of him, though, as a person of courage and conviction. Funny thing, my other grandfather, the carpenter whom I knew growing up, was also thrown out of Hollywood - for joining the IW (Industrial Workers of the World) instead of the AFL-CIO. I guess from both of them I learned to be careful about the groups I join, hence my 28 years in the Jesuits!
The Rev. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., is the new senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
The Five Outcomes of the Core
No undergraduate student graduates from Fairfield without having passed through a core curriculum - which includes courses in science and math, English and the arts, social and behavioral science, and religion and ethics. They must also take two semesters of studies in a foreign language.
Together, those core courses are intended to lead to outcomes; specifically, that students leave Fairfield with competency in five key areas: global citizenship, scientific literacy, quantitative reasoning, communication, and aesthetic appreciation.
The point, of course, is to develop students who can engage with the world outside their own area of specialty. After all, most college graduates don't end up working in the same field as their major.
And that's just fine, said Dr. Robbin Crabtree, professor of communication and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
"Fairfield's core resists the idea that an undergraduate education is about the mastery of an area or preparation for some particular job or career," she said. "We're holding fast to the tradition that says a liberal arts foundation is the best preparation for a dynamic and flexible professional life, regardless of career."
Dr. Crabtree and colleague Dr. Kathryn Nantz are part of the Core Curriculum Committee, now tasked with integrating the core courses more fully across disciplines.
"We're making sure there are more connections across the core and between the core and the major," said Dr. Nantz, associate professor of economics. "The major shouldn't be thought of as isolated from the core."
"Ultimately, what we're hoping to produce are graduates who are flexible enough to succeed in a rapidly changing world, and who embody the education of the whole person," noted Dr. Crabtree.