Fairfield has received positive accolades in the past few years for its academic rigor, but this year, the University also tops a few ignominious rankings as well.
The Princeton Review named Fairfield as the No. 1 school in the category for Little Race/Class Interaction. It also ranked No. 3 in Lots of Hard Liquor and No. 19 in Town-Gown Relations are Strained.

“The 62 ranking lists are based on surveys of 122,000 students at the 371 schools in the book during the 2008-09 and/or previous two school years,” according to a press release by The Princeton Review.

Fairfield did earn the honor of being named a Best Northeastern College, but the topping of the other rankings overshadowed that tribute.

Will Johnson, the assistant dean of students and the director of student diversity programs, disputes that interpretation of Fairfield.
“I certainly do not think this is an accurate reflection of our campus,” he said. “To those who are quite familiar with our school, the tremendous strides that we have taken to diversify our student body is well known.”

In 2005, when only 9.4 percent of the student enrollment was comprised of blacks, Native Americans, Asians or Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, Native Hawaiians or multi-ethnic people, all of which Fairfield identifies in its Fact Book as ethnically diverse. In 2008, that figure has jumped to 15 percent, the majority of which are Hispanics, comprising 7.6 percent.

“I do realize that these are only statistics but one would have to think that if you almost double the number of students of color in any environment there is naturally the probability of greater interaction amongst different racial and ethnic groups,” said Johnson.

In 2006, however, the national average of total minorities at four-year institutions was 28.7 percent according to the 2009 Minorities in Higher Education report by the American Council on Education. Fairfield’s freshmen class is comprised of 19.4 percent of AHANA students, Fairfield’s designation for ethnically diverse students, standing for African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American.

“The Princeton Review does not publish the exact methodology they use to come up with their ratings, so it is difficult to understand the placements on their lists,” said Rama Sudhakar, the vice president for marketing and communications. “I believe they survey students once every three years but their annually published guidebooks have not reflected any significant changes in the descriptive profile for Fairfield University in the past several years. Since the arrival of President von Arx, Fairfield has made significant strides in enrolling engaged and diverse students.”

She also noted that 18 students have benefited from the Bridgeport tuition plan, which provides free tuition to qualifying Bridgeport high school students, and that Fairfield has raised over $1 million to support multicultural scholarship funds.

Senior Stefanie Robles said, “It doesn’t surprise me that we’re number one with low diversity, but it also wouldn’t surprise me if other schools were worse.”

“The University has done a lot in terms of increasing diversity, as in ethnic diversity, on campus,” she continued.
Other students agreed.
“That’s pretty bad. I could see how we ranked that high though,” said Michele Espinosa ’11. “But I do see how we are trying to improve.”

Some students did not wish to comment for fear of saying the wrong thing.

Fairfield also ranked high in the amount of hard alcohol on campus, behind only Mississippi and Providence. According to the Dean of Students Tom Pellegrino, alcohol statistics are broken down by usage, not type.

“For college administrators, how alcohol gets used tends to tell the more important story than does type,” he said. “We do keep separate statistics for grain alcohol, but usage ranges from minimal to not at all from year to year.”

There were 1,285 liquor law violations in 2008, a crime rate of 23 percent. That was a vast increase from 2007 when there were only 900 liquor law violations, a rate of 15 percent.

“Based on my experience and on discussions with colleagues on other campuses, I don’t believe the behavior of Fairfield University students is any different than at our competitor institutions when it comes to alcohol usage,” said Pellegrino. “We are making important strides in key areas, and have gotten very good feedback as well as praise for our efforts in the areas of education and collaborative approaches to stemming alcohol abuse.”

The relationship between the town of Fairfield and University students also made the rankings, coming in at No. 19. Fellow Connecticut college Trinity topped the list.
“In terms of town-gown relations, these relations have improved greatly over the past few years, a sentiment that has been echoed by full time residents and by the Fairfield police,” said Pellegrino. “It is a collaborative effort that, like any relationship, needs continued attention. But no doubt, the situation has gotten much better each year and continues to improve.”

Robles concurred with the Review. “I agree that we have horrible relations with the town.”

“I disagree with the Town-Gown one though. I think they are at least trying to make an effort,” said  Brendan Flaherty ’11. “I’m surprised Barone wasn’t No. 1 in food though. You can’t beat it.”

Pellegrino also noted that college-guide rankings should be taken with a grain of salt and are not a substitute for experience at the University.

“While guides are also interesting to read, I don’t think they should be used as a substitute for internal research and experience,” said Pellegrino. “That is particularly true where, as in the case of the Princeton Review, the guide does not publish its methodology or allow for feedback when there are inconsistencies.”

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