After 12 years of serving as Fairfield’s president, Father Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. prepares to say goodbye as his departure draws closer.

By the end of December, von Arx will leave for Cambridge, Mass. to head up to the House of Studies in Cambridge, where Jesuits doing graduate work at Harvard and MIT will be able to live and engage with an intellectual and spiritual community, according to Fr. von Arx.

Fr. von Arx looked back upon his career at Fairfield with fondness.

He commented that for anyone who works at an institution like Fairfield, “the biggest achievement is to see kids who come in here as adolescents, people who are dependent on their parents and have a certain lack of maturity, and to see them come out of Fairfield as mature, self-aware, self-realized adults who know who they are, who know what their values are and who know what they want to do with their lives.”

Fr. von Arx also discussed the reputation of Fairfield throughout his tenure as president and how it improved during his tenure.

“That’s something that everybody’s contributed to, but I think the perception is that Fairfield is in a much stronger position and in a much more prominent position as the kind of institution we are now than when I started,” he commented.

However, Fr. von Arx had to face some difficulties while president at Fairfield. He recalled the most difficult of these challenges, which, according to him, were the financial hardships of 2008.

“We had to look for ways to make sure that we were more efficient,” said Fr. von Arx. “It meant that we had to make difficult decisions about what we would or wouldn’t do at the institution.”

Fr. von Arx spoke on the difficulties of having to prioritize the most important aspects of the institution and launching initiatives to get through the financial crisis.

He also touched upon the difficulties of the school’s association with alumnus Douglas Perlitz ‘92.

Perlitz was convicted of sexually abusing children for more than a decade at a school that he founded in Haiti for the Project Pierre Toussaint, which resulted was in a sentence of almost 20 years in prison in 2010.

The school provided the children with money, food, clothing and electronics. Perlitz threatened to take these away and remove the children from the program if they told anyone about the abuse.

“The Doug Perlitz case was a tragedy in a certain sense,” Fr. von Arx commented. “It wasn’t really a scandal for the University in the sense that we did not actually have any control over Project  Pierre Toussaint and certainly Doug was not somebody who worked for the University in any way.”

“But he was a Fairfield alum who we thought was a wonderful person who was doing wonderful things, but as it turned out he was using his position to take advantage of and abuse minors, which is both a tragedy and a crime,” Fr. von Arx continued. “We’ve had to try to come to terms with it and have made significant efforts at different times to try to help the situation down there. Not always successful, but we’ve certainly tried.”

In spite of the difficulties that Fairfield has encountered, the institution is flourishing economically and academically.

In comparison to their net assets of approximately $279.1 million by the end of 2008, Fairfield accrued approximately $468.8 million in net assets by the end of 2014, according to the University’s 990 form.

Additionally, Fairfield is on its second strategic plan.

“The second strategic plan, Fairfield 2020 has to do with building a more sustainable future, which has obviously to do with issues like restraining tuition increases, increasing the efficiency of our operations and looking for new revenue streams for the University,” commented Fr. von Arx.

Fairfield 2020 has resulted in the Master Plan, which is the facilities aspect of the outcome of the strategic plan.

Another massive success for the school is the Fairfield Rising campaign to raise $160 million for the school, $134 million of which was already raised.

“We have every confidence that we will meet the goals of the Fairfield Rising campaign,” said Fr. von Arx. He believes that Fairfield will be able to exceed the goal.

When Fr. von Arx first arrived at Fairfield, he vowed that he would focus on academics more than building new facilities, as his predecessor President Aloysius P. Kelley, S.J. did a lot of building such as expanding the library and the student center. However, Fr. von Arx ended up accomplishing both.

During Fr. von Arx’s tenure, renovations and building projects such as the new Leslie C. Quick, Jr. Recreation Complex, Rafferty Stadium, Dolan Hall, 42 Bellarmine Road, Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies, the Aloysius P. Kelley Center and 70 McCormick and 51 McInnes Road have transformed the physical appearance of the campus.

However, in addition to these changes, there were also vast improvements in academics.

“The quality of the classes has improved year after year,” said Fr. von Arx. “We’ve brought down the acceptance rate over the last couple of years, so clearly we are looking for and getting better qualified students and it’s getting more difficult to get into Fairfield as a result.”

According to Fr. von Arx, if you look at SAT scores and how the students were ranked in their high school class, each recent class is better than the previous one.

Another success for the institution is an increase in diversity.

“One of the things I’m happy and proud about is that I think we’ve become a more diverse institution,” said Fr. von Arx. “When I arrived here, our diversity figures were quite low, the lowest in the [Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities], I’d say at around 7 percent. Before 2008, we got them up to 19-20 percent.”

“They took a little bit of a hit after 2008 [due to the financial crisis], but we are building them back up,” Fr. von Arx continued. “I think it’s around 14-15 percent right now. My goal would be to try to get it back to 20. Not just racial and ethnic diversity, which those figures reflect, but also I think a more diverse campus from a socio-economic point of view.”

However, Fr. von Arx believed that the University needs to improve in more than just the numeric aspect.

“I want to see us become a more open and welcoming community. A community that values the diversity of students and their backgrounds and their experience and what they bring to the institution,” said Fr. von Arx. “I think that’s an area where we all have a long way to go still — students, faculty, administrators and staff — in creating a truly welcoming, diverse community.”

Fr. von Arx also discussed the success of campus sports.

“I think people have a lot of admiration for our teams,” said Fr. von Arx. “I think men’s and women’s basketball are significant recognition factors for the institution. Lacrosse has been an important sport for us as well.”

“Then you look at something like women’s volleyball, which is probably the last couple of years our most successful and winningest team, and I think people really appreciate how those teams and their success and the wonderful people we have of the team have contributed to people’s improved perception of Fairfield and its position,” Fr. von Arx continued.

However, an important aspect of the school that Fr. von Arx discussed is the sense of community.

“That’s almost famous about Fairfield,” Fr. von Arx said of the community. “Our alumni and students while they are here talk about the friends they have formed at Fairfield and the fact that these friends are lifelong friends. There is a very close sense of community.”

2 Responses

  1. Paul Kendrick '72

    Father von Arx’s never ending efforts to distance himself and Fairfield University from responsibility of Project Pierre Toussaint (PPT) casts shame and disgrace upon students, faculty members, staff and alumni of a Jesuit education. His excuses simply do not pass the straight face test.

    As Father von Arx knows, Fairfield University provided seed money and ongoing financial support to Project Pierre Toussaint. Fairfield University promoted itself as a partner in the humanitarian work being accomplished at PPT by awarding Douglas Perlitz an honorary doctor of laws degree at the 2002 commencement and a “Magis” alumnus award in 2004 for his service to the poor and needy in Haiti.

    Campus Ministry Director Father Carrier was the “Voice of Project Pierre Toussaint” to the people of Fairfield County. Carrier solicited donations for PPT at his weekly masses held on Fairfield University owned property.

    Father Carrier appointed himself chairperson of the non profit Haiti Fund. Father Carrier traveled to PPT in Haiti on an almost monthly basis for many years.

    Father Carrier advertised and used a Fairfield University mailing address when soliciting donations for PPT. Donations were directed and processed through Fairfield University’s Office of Development.

    One could not visit Fairfield University’s Egan Chapel and Campus Ministry headquarters without being overwhelmed by posters, photos and information about Project Pierre Toussaint. Donors were thus able to assure themselves that their donations were in the good hands of a trusted institution like Fairfield University and its long time employee, Jesuit priest and Campus Ministry Director, Rev. Paul Carrier, S.J.

    Yet, in the end, it would be Father Carrier who co-authored a letter to donors in which he called the victims liars and defended Perlitz. Father Carrier’s words frightened donors. In a few months the school would be forced to close for lack of money. The displaced Haiti students were forced back onto the streets with nothing to eat, no school and no safe place to sleep at night.

    Reply
    • Richard Orareo

      Having followed the Fairfield/Perlitz case for many years, and now reading the summery provided by President von Arx represents a demonstration of the sin of omission. von Arx never mentioned the students who were molested, raped, humiliated and finally thrown out into the streets. Their strength and determination led to newspaper reports, police reports, court trials, and jail sentences.
      All while von Arx washed his hands of this Fairfield scandal. Currier lives in shame, von Arx is to live in Cambridge, Perlitz lives in prison, and the students live in the streets.
      Has JUSTICE really been served?

      Reply

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