Poetry for Peace: Young poets take the stage

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

The winners of the Poetry for Peace contest waited in line for their solos on the Regina A. Quick Center stage. Some took hesitant steps to the microphone stand when their names were called, dragging their gleaming red Mary Janes and black dress shoes across the wooden stage. Others approached the spotlight with some pep in their step, smiling and making faces to their family members out in the audience.

Though different in their heights and confidence, these children gathered in the Quick Center on Friday, Jan. 25, for one purpose: to share through poetry their ideas of peace.

Started in 2008, the Poetry for Peace contest allows students in grades kindergarten through eight from the Bridgeport and Fairfield Public Schools the chance to define peace through creative writing. The reading event used to be held in the Kelley Center, but because of growing popularity, the event had to be relocated to the Quick Center.

According to co-director of Poetry for Peace Dr. Jerelyn M. Johnson, associate professor of modern languages and literature, the judging panel received over 1,000 entries. They then split entries by grades, organizing them into four grade flights. From there on, a panel of Fairfield faculty and undergraduate and graduate students chose the winners, honorable mentions and the judges’ favorites.

The winning poems were published in a booklet, which was also distributed to the audience consisting of the Fairfield University community, parents and children.

Applause punctuated each pause before another poet went to the stage to read. Mothers juggled their children on their laps. Kids smiled to the camera as their parents beckoned from below in their seats. Confidence seemed to grow as the height of the poets increased.

The older children naturally took in the world events which disrupt peace, while most of the younger children compared peace to their own everyday activities.

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Certain students shared a humorous perception of peace. In his poem “What peace is to me,” Christopher Cirelli, a Fairfield Woods Middle School sixth grader, wrote: “Peace is not getting haircuts.”

There were also poems that gave surprising insight into how aware children are of the present world.

Fifth grader Alec Nardone from Burr Elementary School wrote that in a world without peace, humanity is on the brink of self-destruction: “We’re all on fire – and we don’t even know it / Soon our humanity will be gone, / Burnt.”

Grace Hilton, a third grader from Timothy Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield, brought up origami cranes, the symbol of peace sprung up after the 9/11 attacks, in her poem. She saw peace in the olive branch that Noah had spotted when he arrived on land in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Nardone and Hilton’s poems showed that, like many of the writings in the booklet, what children know should not be taken for granted.

Not only did the poems serve to entertain and to enlighten, but they also brought into perspective the contrast between the poems and reality’s fragile events that threaten current peace.

Johnson recounted the time when she and the judges met to consider the final entries. Three days later, the Sandy Hook shooting spree occurred, during which 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, most of them children.

Johnson said to the poets in the audience: “I know I speak for many of us when I say that during that seriously sad and dark moment, your words, and knowing that you and your poems existed, gave us hope. Such is the power of poetry.”

Mariam Anwar, a second grader at Osborn Hill Elementary School, wrote a poem entitled “Peace” and won an honorable mention in the grade K-2 flight.

Her opening line states that “peace sounds like the dolphins jumping in the waves.”

Encouraged by her teacher to think about things she liked when describing peace, Anwar said, “I thought about the beach and that’s how I came up with the dolphins. And I like mangoes,” she added, which referred to her line, “Peace tastes like a mango from a tree.”

She said reciting her poem to an audience was “easy” because “I wasn’t looking at the people.”

In his closing remarks, Poetry for Peace co-director and associate English professor Dr. Peter Bayers said, “We would like to thank all of you, the poets who are here, for sharing your voices with us. I think we would all agree that we have learned from your insights, your beauty and your wisdom. Your poetry attests to the power and possibilities of language.

“Your poetry has changed all of us for the better tonight. And for that: thank you.”

Brenda Perry and Wendy Accomando, teachers at Osborn Hill Elementary School, have been involved with Poetry for Peace from the start and always encourage their students to submit to the contest.

Perry, a fourth grade teacher, described this event as “wonderful,” while second grade teacher Accomando said Friday night’s poetry reading was “inspiring.”

“It’s inspiring for us,” said Accomando. “Poetry is a great medium; [the students] can use words, they don’t have to worry about grammar … they are creative and they’re open to writing things.”

Associate professor of philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, who coordinated the judging process, would agree with Accomando, believing that poetry is sometimes overlooked in education. “…A lot of time, modes of expression are squashed and lost in formal education,” she said. “We struggle as professors to bring it back – hold on to it and make it grow!”

Sealey also sees the benefits participants would gain from the writing process. She said, “In order for these children to be productive in life, they have to develop their own voice.”

Carol Ann Davis, published poet and assistant professor of English, is working on an “expansion” of Poetry for Peace. The program, called “Poet in the classroom,” seeks to combine the poetry teaching efforts of poets and interested school teachers.

This year, the Poetry for Peace Contest was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Office of Academic Engagement, the Department of English and the Program in Peace and Justice. Poetry for Peace was also a part of the MLK Holiday Observance Week.

Reporting on this event was contributed by Crystal Rodriguez.

Disenchanted, but not giving up

Want to be as happy as this kid? Join The Mirror. That’s Luigi DiMeglio, by the way; he’s the chief copy editor. See? Copy editing can be fun. Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

I’ve always been ambitious, particularly with journalism.

When I arrived at Fairfield University, I knew I wanted to major in journalism. I joined The Mirror, the student newspaper, right off the bat, and eagerly approached the editors with my ideas and comments. The entertainment editor seemed to notice my willingness to take part in the newspaper and he took me under his wing. I learned all about layout and news design from him, and then picked up more skills from my journalism courses. I rose from a contributing writer to assistant entertainment editor, and then, as a sophomore, I became the director of the entertainment section. Using the skills that I picked up freshman year, I tried my best to establish a standard for the entertainment section. I attempted eye-catching designs and longer feature pieces that tested the writer’s skills.

Examining past issues of The Mirror, I consider our recent issues to be so much more comprehensive and aesthetically pleasing than the previous years. We’ve been getting praises from administration, students and faculties, and they are saying the same thing. We’re doing a great job so far. I can accurately say that the editors at The Mirror are incredibly humbled by and proud of their work. Even though we complain about our miserable lives in the office on Tuesday nights/Wednesday mornings, we love working at the newspaper. Honestly, why else would we subject ourselves to torture every week. We can’t say it’s because of the pay, because, right now, we have no pay. That’s right. We have no external motivation to keep doing this, besides the fact that we love this. We love the environment. We love putting together a paper within 24 hours.

Now, that I’ve been executive editor/vice president of The Mirror for almost a year, I’ve noticed how much my attitude toward everything has changed. Instead of being preoccupied by my own success, I now worry about the legacy of The Mirror. What’s going to happen after our staff is gone? Honestly, I want to view newcomers to The Mirror as potential Mirror editors, and yet, right now, I don’t have much faith. I’m being honest. Maybe a bit harsh, but I’m not trying to distort reality. The journalism bug is not biting the writers.

At some point in the beginning of the semester, I wanted to just give up on journalism. Martin (the editor-in-chief) and I announced a news writing workshop for beginners and for people who just want to refresh their writing skills. I eagerly trekked from Dolan Hall to The Mirror office in the rain. I couldn’t wait to see who’d show up.

No one came.

This was utterly disappointing. I couldn’t believe that students could be so disinterested in journalism. I thought, “What’s the point?”

But I’m definitely not the type of person to give up. My mom and dad would seriously kick my ass because they didn’t raise a pessimistic daughter. They’ve raised a warrior.

So, I constantly ask myself: Why?

My awesome colleagues also contributed to reasons why people don’t often choose the newspaper as their first priority at Fairfield University.

Reasons

  • Being a part of The Mirror is just not worth it.

Talk about a stab in the heart. It’s not worth it to gain real-world experience in the field of journalism? It’s not worth it to hone your writing so that you can communicate effectively? It’s not worth it to learn design and editing skills from experienced editors? Oh yeah, it’s definitely not worth it.

C’mon. Picture this: On your résumé, you can put that you’ve written over 60 articles for an award-winning college newspaper throughout your college career. You can say that you’ve designed this and that. You can say that you were able to balance working in a newsroom and typical college workloads. You can say, to potential employers, that you’ve put together a newspaper from scratch.

  • There’s no incentive in writing for The Mirror.

See the first answer. But there are plenty of incentives. You can get paid, for example, if you’re consistent with your work and apply to be a staff writer or an editor. You get a lot of experience. You get to meet people who are passionate about journalism. You are more than likely to get extra credit in journalism courses. You can impress your peers, professors and family. The list goes on and on. Search for what you believe to be the right incentive and believe that it’s enough to get you involved with this newspaper.

  • I’m just not good enough.

Bullshit. You have something to give us. We know you do, and we want you to give us everything that you’ve got. Do you have an opinion that you just want to get out there? Write for the opinions section. Think you know politics? Impress us with your expertise. Do you have the uncanny ability to spot errors? Copy edit the absolute shit out of our shit. We need your help.

  • It requires too much work.

Don’t even start with me. That’s a cop-out, and it’s a cop-out that we absolutely abhor. I don’t know, but maybe students forget that the editors at The Mirror are students, too, and have their own share of vigorous workloads. And yet, they still manage to come out here and crank out an issue each week. I can honestly say that managing The Mirror and school work is doable. You just have to look hard at your schedules. Instead of, say, taking a two-hour nap when you could be writing an article, take a 15-minute nap, and then work on Mirror business. Work out a schedule with The Mirror editors. I think we’re pretty flexible. Co-write an article and share your load with someone you trust. Please, just don’t tell us that you have too much work, because it’s an insult to yourself and an insult to The Mirror editors as students.

  • The Mirror is too cliquey.

Okay. If someone said this to me two years ago, I’d laugh. As a freshman, I never truly connected with the editors and other writers. I was too scared. The editors seemed to have their own inside jokes and conversations, and I always felt left out. Now that I am a part of the Mirror ‘culture,’ I can say that The Mirror is a bit of a clique. But not in the “Mean Girls” type of way, because we’re all so very different. What I mean to say is that we are not totally inclusive. We are close in the sense that we’re stuck in the office together from Tuesday afternoon to (often times) Wednesday mornings. We go through the same struggles and have the same complaints. How can we not be a close-knit group after all of this?

If you’re willing to stick with us on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we consider you an official Mirrorite (the term is still being considered). If you write for us consistently and drop by to say ‘hi’ once in a while, you’re a Mirrorite.

  • Not a lot of people seem to do it.

This is true. In the beginning of the year, we had about 60 people crowded into our small Mirror office. There were people standing outside of the office, listening in. Sadly, however, the number has dwindled to the point that our Wednesday meetings consist only of the editors. We’re trying our best to keep students’ interest. I mean, we’re not scary. Are we? Sure, the editor-in-chief has a mohawk and a wild beard, but he’s chill…

To end this:

I’m still here, at the newspaper. The editors are trudging along. We get by, because we know that despite the lack of contributors, that doesn’t mean we can’t get an issue out. But I know that we can’t last this long. We need students. Like I said, I am not a pessimist, so I am hoping that in the future The Mirror will get the attention that it deserves and people will throw themselves into the awesome world of journalism. We are not giving up.

Beach residents adjust to Sandy aftermath

Students familiar with the Mateo Sanchez, S.J., room in the Ignatius Loyola Hall will remember its tacky couches and capacity to hold no more than 50 people. Now, there are five beds, five girls, and their belongings packed into one room.

Relocated beach resident Kaitlyn Lewandowski ‘13 now resides in that same room, one of many places on the Fairfield University campus that have been converted in order to host displaced Fairfield Beach area residents who had lost their homes in Hurricane Sandy just last week.

The east coast continues to clean up after the hurricane had destroyed houses, uprooted trees and flooded many streets that left residents discouraged in the aftermath.

A large portion of the 350 displaced  residents chose to return to campus rather than commute. Lounges in halls like 70 McCormick Rd., Gonzaga, Jogues and Campion are now converted to host students. Some seniors are staying with friends on campus or rooming with underclassmen in doubles.

Director of the Office of Residential Life Ophelie Rowe-Allen, said the housing process has been “hectic,” but they are doing the best they can to meet students’ needs: “If they need a place on campus, we try to find it for them.” She said she does not place students based on how long it might take for their beach houses to be renovated.

Staff members “have been working 24 hours to get everything fixed. They’ve worked from the beginning of the storm until to now … going home late, working very late,” said Rowe-Allen.

So far, students are aware of the University’s efforts. Lewandowski said, “It’s definitely a switch going from sharing a house with five girls to sharing a room with five girls. But we’re happy just to have a place to stay.”

Senior Andrew Bromstedt, whose house didn’t flood but needs renovations to its heating system, had originally planned to move into a townhouse, but it ended up having too many people, so the Office of Residential Life moved him into Gonzaga Hall.

Bromstedt said of Res Life: “They’re doing the best they can. You can’t be too mad; it’s not like it’s their fault that the hurricane came.”

Senior Kimberly Combs, who lives with five other girls in the converted third floor lounge in Campion Hall, shared Bromstedt’s sentiments towards the University: “The school has been very accommodating, they’ve done everything they can. I mean, it’s no one’s fault.” She noted that she and her roommates chose to move off-campus, so the University didn’t have to accommodate the residents, but still did so.

That is not to say they don’t have their share of complaints. Students are still getting used to relocating from life near the waters to life on campus. They must adjust to the smaller living area, for one, as Lewandowski said.

“Just sharing a room with five people is very different from having my own room. You can’t really have people over with five roommates,” said Lewandowski.

“The school doesn’t have enough room for everyone, we can’t live like this — six seniors in a room,” said Catherine LaGreca ‘13, who rooms with Combs. According to her, the school must consider the future of students who might want to live on the beach, if the option is available by next semester.

Even though the Office of Residential Life has given them beds, added laundry swipes to their StagCards, and placed them in residences campus-wide, they don’t have enough refrigerators for campus’ new residents, causing some issues with the storage of food.

Barone is one choice for some who want a 14-meals a week plan for around $600 for the semester. But LaGreca said that she and her roommates choose to go out for food, which is getting expensive, she noted. They also are hesitant to buy a meal plan when they aren’t sure when they’d return to their beach house and not have any more use for the beach plan.

The residents in the Campion also worry about the rest of the senior year. Though they agree that it’s something that all seniors will remember and bond over for the rest of their lives, Combs and LaGreca’s roommate, Paulina Foster ‘13, agreed that Hurricane Sandy had “put a huge damper on [our senior year].”

Because “residential guidelines still apply to all students,” according to Rowe-Allen, seniors might have to adjust their social lifestyle. But the director of Residential Life said that after three years, she is not at all worried that this year’s class-fused living situation will cause problems.

For many beach students, rooming in cramped quarters and changing their lifestyles is the only option. According to Lewandowski, her beach house needs three to five months to be repaired. She received two feet of water and sewage damage in her house, and most of her belongings were destroyed. Her landlord doesn’t seem to be helping the case; she heard from a neighbor that he flew out of country after the storm.

Campion’s newest residents are unsure of their beach house’s fate. Combs noted Wednesday and Thursday’s Nor’easter has the potential to cause more damages.

Rowe-Allen noted that Hurricane Sandy seemed to bring the Fairfield University a bit closer. Alumni have come to the rescue of Stags. Community members have offered their homes in such places like Fairfield, Trumbull and Darien. She is still receiving responses as of Tuesday. “The response was ‘overwhelming,’” she concluded.

The freshmen are also accommodating their older neighbors. Freshmen Nora Garrity sympathizes with the seniors: “It’s too bad that the seniors who live at the beach have to come back to campus and live with freshmen after three years of looking forward to living on the beach.”

Freshman Deirdre Simms also said, “I would say that it is really unfortunate that the seniors have to stay in the dorms but the most important thing is that they have a place to stay. I think everyone has been making the best of the situations in the dorms.”

Bromstedt and the new residents of Campion are adapting to their circumstances. Lewandowski has found a possible new home for next year and said she was excited about the find.

For the Class of 2013, life moves on.

For more information on Fairfield University beach residents:

  • Greenwich Times published an article about Father Jeffrey von Arx, S.J., and the beach residents he reached out to.

Fairfield U. campus belted by Sandy

Photographic spread of damages in Fairfield, Conn. from Hurricane Sandy. Loan Le/The Mirror

Yesterday morning, the sun shone down on the Barone Campus Center. Fairfield University flags reclaimed their places on light poles campus-wide. The gardening staff returned to meticulously caring for the evergreen lawns on campus.

This scene was in stark contrast against Monday evening at Fairfield University, when nearly all campus buildings had gone dark and was at the mercy of Hurricane Sandy’s 80 mph winds.

News about Hurricane Sandy, dubbed by some as “Frankenstorm” or “The Superstorm,” first emerged more than a week ago. The Weather Channel was quick to notify people about its severity and even tweeted that this hurricane “will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.”

Fairfield University cancelled Monday and Tuesday classes in preparation for Sandy. According to one of many StagAlerts that the University had sent out, “all students who can go home are strongly encouraged to do so.” For those who chose to remain, the school instructed them to stay inside at all times.

According to a campus-distributed survey, around 1000 students waited out the storm on campus.

During the storm

At approximately 5:30 p.m., the Townhouses lost power. Around 500 residents in the Townhouse complex had to be evacuated via shuttle buses to the BCC, but some students went to stay with friends in the other residence.

Because of its spaciousness, the connecting dining service and couches and furniture, the BCC became the main evacuation center during Hurricane Sandy, according to Nathan Lubich, assistant director of Residence Life, who spoke for the office. If the BCC was ever compromised, Lubich imagined that they would move students to Alumni Hall.

Some students complained about the evacuation, but Lubich said he understood the circumstances. “It’s really hard for people to be told to just sit and wait.”

But, ultimately, the Resident Assistants performed “really well,” Lubich said. The RAs, who were asked to remain on campus as “critical employees,” had their radios ready and went on rounds in their halls during the power outage. Public Safety officers also assisted in the patrol.

The Quad, the Village, Dolan and Bellarmine all lost power by 7:30 p.m. on Monday, but since the emergency lights stayed on, students were allowed to stay in their residences.

From then on was a waiting game for most. Students received Facebook and Twitter updates from the University, Fairfield Police Department, The Mirror, Fairfield University Student Association and Inter-Residential Housing Association.

Twitter also indicated smaller incidents, which happened during the outage. A fallen wire of 13,000 Hertz had caused a small fire on North Benson Road. In Mahan, some students were stuck in an elevator but were eventually freed later on in the night.

Then at about 11 p.m., almost simultaneously, power was restored to all buildings, save for the Townhouses.

Technically, Hurricane Sandy was downgraded to post-tropical cyclone status around 7 p.m. Despite this change, weather broadcasters had urged people to still take Sandy seriously.

Broken tree outside of Dolan Hall. Photo credit: Loan Le

The damages to the University campus consisted of fallen trees and some smashed cars, but these damages seemed to pale in comparison to those in the town of Fairfield.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Next Tuesday morning Fairfield was in a state of emergency with over 97 percent of residents without power. Streets and homes suffered severe flooding. Some roads were blocked by broken branches.

Because of road blockages and the power outage, for example, FPD had used the University Department of Public Safety radio frequencies to collaborate on responding to nearby damage, including the short-lived fire on North Benson Road.

Nationally, the statistics showed even more dire consequences. On Tuesday, approximately 8 million people were without power.

As of Thursday evening, CNN indicated the death toll in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean was at 157. The cost of economic damage is at an estimated $20 billion, with some news reporting that it could possibly amount to $50 or $60 billion.

However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Fairfield University moves forward with the resilience to overcome future difficulties.

Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas C. Pellegrino

The next day, Barone Campus Center Dining Hall provided full service to displaced Townhouse and Beach area residents and other students, an act that proved to Lubich the attempt to return to normality.

“Every crisis brings with it its own unique circumstances, and Hurricane Sandy was no exception. With that said, our approach is to keep students and community members safe, through best practices and through clear and timely communications,” Vice President of Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino said.

Dolan resident Amanda LaMattina ‘14 approved of the safety measures the University had undertaken during the crisis. “I personally felt safer there than going home. My parents actually encouraged me to stay here. I can honestly say that after the hurricane I was a lot better off staying here than going home,” she said.

Similarly, Sarah McHugh ‘15 said she felt safe because “when the power went out and this storm was going on I was surrounded by my friends.”

Junior Nicole Juliano, a Townhouse resident who stayed in McInnes Hall while the evacuation had been underway, said of her current situation: “The townhouses not having power is frustrating but I can’t really complain because there are students who lost their homes completely. I’ve been staying with friends in Mahan and McInnes and we’re allowed back to our houses during the day.”

Juliano and Lubich said that the University had done a good job with keeping student up-to-date during and after the storm. Parents on Facebook found the University updates to be helpful.

On the Fairfield University Facebook page, Lisa Fescoe Petramale, who has a son enrolled, wrote: “They’re doing a fantastic job so far for the safety of all.” Another parent, Suzanne Taves, resided in California and said she “ really appreciated the updates.”

Townhouse resident Rob Garrone ‘14 also believed the University did its best in response to the hurricane, but still had criticism for some of the school’s procedures.

“I think the university is being a little heavy-handed in its response to the storm in this instance,” said Garrone. “I could easily be sleeping in my bed in my townhouse in the dark at night instead of being in someone else’s room, inconveniencing my friends and other guests like the beach residents who really do need a place to stay. I’m not afraid of the dark.”

Pellegrino also pointed other areas of improvement during natural disaster responses: “In terms of what could have been done better, I think there would be opportunity for us to streamline our communications and see to it that we were meeting reasonable expectations in terms of clarity and timeliness. That’s always something that can be worked on.”

Moving forward

Fairfield University is eager to move on. “‘Tireless efforts’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot, but in this instance, these people have very much worked around the clock this past week adjusting to the needs of an extraordinarily difficult situation,” he said.

Pellegrino said: “Suffice to say, though, that these are going to be continually challenging times. We will be there for the students, and I think the level of support received from all sectors of the University has already reaped rewards.”

“As a Jesuit institution, Fairfield does this better than most,” he said.

Published in The Mirror on Nov. 2 in a special Hurricane Sandy issue

Fairfield garden serves needs of students

Photo Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

The collective efforts of Fairfield University students, faculty and administration in 2010 produced a sustainable garden that continues to push the school towards more green initiatives.

Located west of the Dolan School of Business, the 3,000 square feet garden hosts annual and perennial herbs and vegetables like butter squash, tomatoes, jalapeno and Swiss chard.

The produce grown depends on what students might like.

The concept of sustainability deals with the notion that the human race can depend on the natural environment for their survival. Humans and nature can function in unison so that the present and future can be secured.

Junior Jesus Nunez, a garden intern since summer 2011, pushes for the school to become more environmentally friendly. The garden tries to use as little chemicals as possible.

“We have enough energy issues as it is,” said Nunez. “The only way we can really survive as a human race, especially as our populations grow, is to cut down on energy use, on the use of pesticides and the use of fertilizers . . . The more we learn about how to grow our own food, how to grow it in a natural way, the better for everybody.”

Associate Professor of biology Tod Osier Ph.D., said: “I feel like the garden is coming into its own, but it still is evolving every year. New projects like the bees and looking into growing herbal teas are new areas of interest and very exciting. We are continuing to work with the chefs in the campus center to refine what we grow.”

However, the garden has encountered its share of problems since its founding.

“There is also the very real issue of just being successful in actually producing the crops that you want to grow in spite of the weather, insects and disease – that always keeps things interesting,” Osier said.

Nunez also mentioned that the garden once had to deal with powdery mildew, symptoms include white spots that form on the surface of the vegetables. The occasional cat or dog might sneak into the garden, but the deer might pose a problem, since they are herbivores and could eat the vegetables.

To combat these problems and prevent repeat incidents, different gardening techniques are employed. Every year, Nunez said they do crop rotation by planting vegetables in different areas within the land each season, in order to slow the spread of pests and diseases. To enrich and manage the soil fertility, cover crops, such as legumes, are planted.

Nunez and volunteers go in ‘work parties’ on Sundays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 4 p.m. to weed and clean up the garden.

“Facilities Management has also provided a lot of support by supplying mulch, compost, and top soil,” added Associated Professor of Biology Jennifer Klug, Ph.D., also an advisor.

The garden contributes to the campus’ dining services and residential life.

The dining services (Sodexo) use all of the herbs in the garden according to Resident Dining Supervisor Amy Krosky.

Recently, on Sept. 17, for a Bellarmine lunch, 75 percent of the produce used had been from the garden.

Sodexo employs professionally trained chefs who adapt the daily menus to the naturally grown produce that is available in season.

From Sept. 16 to 22, the school participated with 64 other locations in Farm-to-Chef Week, an event promoted by Connecticut Department of Agriculture which connects chefs and food service establishments with local farmers.

Junior Laura Ballanco, a former Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield member, remembers the previous ‘Farm to Chef’ weeks that the dining service has participated in. According to her, the taste of local produce is noticeable.

“You can taste the freshness. I felt like I was eating at home,” Ballanco said.

The garden is also not limited to campus use. According to the Fairfield Dining Service website, harvests are done during the fall and then the garden donates a portion to the Connecticut Food Bank through Harvest Now, a non-profit organization that pairs garden communities up with local food banks.

Though mainly funded by the Division of Administration of Student Services, the Office of Academic Engagement and the Biology Department and Program on the Environment also keep the garden afloat.

“Fairfield should be at the forefront of these agricultural-environmental issues, because it’s the future,” said Nunez, “because then everyone has the means to access good, quality food that has low-impact on the earth.”

Battle continues: Faculty rally, Von Arx under fire

Faculty and students make their way over to the Gonzaga Auditorium. Photo by Nick DiFazio.

Late afternoon on Wednesday, as students were taking their final exams, a united voice sprang from the outside. Students scrambled to their windows to discover the noise and to their surprise, they saw a line of faculty members and students marching towards the doors of the Gonzaga Auditorium.

As the group walked over to where President Jeffrey Von Arx, S.J., would make his end-of-the-year address to the faculty, they chanted in unison: “Fairfield united, we’ll never be divided” and “Unity, community, put the ‘fair’ in Fairfield!” Many wore signs and carried bright red papers that read “broken promises.”

The faculty members wanted to publicize at the rally the fight between them and the administration, which had, up until a few weeks ago, occurred without many students’ knowledge.

Since 1994, the University had been committed to keeping the faculty’s total compensation at a 95th percentile, a benchmark for the faculty’s salary and benefits. This high compensation is integral to recruiting faculty members to the school. Recently, administration said they must reconsider the terms of that 95th percentile.

In addition, administration also proposed cuts to the faculty’s benefits in health coverage and benefits. Over the years, faculty members have already conceded benefits in order to deal with the school’s financial troubles. In turn, the administration said they would commit to upholding the 95th percentile agreement. English professor Robert Epstein, had supported this because he said he trusted the administration to follow through with their promise.

Although the administration had once stood “firmly” behind this commitment to maintain a 95th percentile, they have since removed “firmly” from their language, according to an April 27 General Faculty meeting.

Because of the disagreements on the terms of their salary and benefits, the faculty has refused to sign a Memo of Understanding (MOU), a document that outlines the faculty members’ salary and benefits.

Read more background information on this issue in “Faculty battles broken promises,” published in the May 2 edition.

At the President’s address, Epstein has withdrawn his support for the administration. “I made the mistake of taking the President and the rest of the administration at their word,” he said to his colleagues. “And I promise you that I will not make that mistake again.”

More than 150 faculty and student attendees at Wednesday’s meeting.

Like other faculty members, Nancy Dallavalle, associate professor of religious studies, acknowledged the changes that are undergoing in institutions of higher education and the financial struggles the University has. However, she believes the commitment to the 95th percentile should not be sidelined.

Von Arx asserted that the administration’s agreement to maintain the total compensation at a 95th percentile benchmark is “not off the table.”

“The issue is not whether we hold this commitment to competitive compensation. Of course we do,” Von Arx said. However, the compensation may not be at the desired 95th percentile.

“For us to stand here and say we are committed to the 95th percentile moving forward when we know that we are in . . . a situation of financial constraint where we may or may not be able to reach the benchmark does not seem to be, to me, [very honest],” Von Arx said.

Von Arx proposed that the faculty and administration try to find an “appropriate and sustainable benchmark.”

Members in the audience expressed their discontent with murmured comments and scoffs.

David Crawford, a professor of anthropology asked Von Arx why the 95th percentile should be eliminated now, after the administration had repeated their commitment throughout the year.

He and his colleagues criticized the administration for a lack of communication. Another attendee said to Von Arx: “You are the leader of this community . . . You never thought to call us together when this crisis was unfolding months ago . . . you chose instead, as far as I can tell, to work at this with a small group of people behind the walls of Bellarmine.

“We hear you talk the talk about community but you don’t walk the walk.”

Thunderous applause followed.

According to Crawford, for the faculty to sign the administration’s proposed agreement that guarantees only short-term solutions to their salary and benefits would be “foolish” to do.

Faculty members also believe that the University has prioritized administration, athletics and renovation plans over the faculty itself.

Earlier that day, a document was sent to the General Faculty and it included information from IPED, the federal Education Department’s Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System, which puts a certain university’s expenditure into seven categories. The Mirror was able to obtain a copy.

In the document it is shown that for expenditures towards Instruction, Fairfield University placed second to last out of the 16 in the comparison group of universities it compares itself. Fairfield’s percentage of total expenditure on Instruction is 37.86 percent.

Schools like Wesleyan University, Villanova University, and Quinnipiac University spend over 50 percent.

Faculty members also criticized the high number of administrators, and how much of the University’s expenditure goes towards the Institution Support. The University ranks as the fourth highest with 23.69 percent of the expenditures. The school has 18 vice presidents, including associate and assistant positions, and 29 senior administrators, including the president, a number that seemed unreasonable to philosophy professor Joy Gordon.

Von Arx countered that all of these positions are necessary for the school to properly function.

Gordon also voiced her opinion that the money spent on athletics has increased unjustifiably. In 2003, the amount of money spent on athletics was 8.3 million dollars. In 2010, it was 15.7 million dollars.

Overall, the view of the rallying faculty members was this: Reducing the faculty’s compensation to offset financial constraint from bad administrative decisions is not the answer.

Ultimately, the faculty members believe the school’s reputation is at stake. One professor said: “There will be no quality university if there are no quality faculty.”

Not only professors spoke their minds; students also entered the dialogue. Several students joined in the rally before the meeting. Senior Jasmine Mickey said that she wanted to “support the faculty that supported us the whole four years.”

Similarly, at the end of the meeting, Mikaela Tierney ‘12, former Editor-in-Chief of The Mirror, said to the President Von Arx: “There’s one priority you need to focus on. It’s respecting and working with the faculty.”

He agreed to work on faculty and administration dialogue in the future.

“I am doing the best I can,” Von Arx said. “Yeah, it hurts; my heart bleeds over this stuff. But it is what it is. Right now, my sense is to carry on in the best way I can. We are in a very difficult situation.” He went on to acknowledge that other universities are experiencing some financial restraints as well.

When asked about his feelings towards the result of Wednesday’s meeting, which largely discussed the total compensation of the faculty, Von Arx answered that there wasn’t much that hadn’t been said in previous meetings, but it is still “always important to listen to how people feel.”

Published on The Mirror website

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Faculty and Student Rally, a set on Flickr.

Faculty battles broken promises

On April 27, full-time faculty members of Fairfield University expressed their dissatisfaction towards the 2012-13 salary and benefits proposed by administration.

Each year, the faculty negotiates the terms of their contract with the administration. To finalize their contracts, both teams agree to a Memo of Understanding (MOU), a statement that outlines the faculty members’ salary and benefits.

While they have a MOU for the school year 2011-12, the Faculty Salary Committee (FSC), which engages in talks about total compensation issues, could not negotiate a MOU for 2012-13 with administration.

Faculty members proposed at last Friday’s meeting that they disagree with the administration’s language in their statement of agreement and that they want FSC to continue working towards a compensation beneficial for the faculty. The faculty voted 185 in favor of the two motions.

No objections were made.

Irene Mulvey, professor of mathematics and secretary of the General Faculty, said of this result: “I cannot remember a vote like that in my 27 years at Fairfield. This is an unprecedented show of faculty unity behind protecting the reputation and quality of Fairfield.”

Irene Mulvey

18-YEAR AGREEMENT BROKEN

Collegial discussions between the faculty and the administration began in October 2011 and were supposed to end in this March; however, they have only resulted in frustration and disagreement.

According to the MOU of the school year 2011-12, the administration promised to maintain the faculty’s compensation rank at the 95th percentile.

Established in 1994, this high compensation is indicative of economic security, a means to protect the faculty members working in one of the most expensive towns in the county. “It is an agreement that the University will keep faculty compensation at or above an external benchmark,” Mulvey said. “The benchmark is the standard of our profession since it compares our compensation with other schools in our category.”

However, when the Faculty Salary Committee met with the administration in February, “the administration announced its intent to abandon this commitment to the 95th percentile which is incredibly important to faculty,” said Mulvey.

Rick DeWitt, current president of Fairfield University’s Faculty Welfare Committee (FWC), which is an affiliate of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), wrote in a March 2012 newsletter, “The 95th percentile is sacred to the faculty, and if President insists on pushing this, the situation at Fairfield may get ugly and public at a time when we are trying to recruit a class we are not sure we can get.”

Mulvey and her colleagues recognize that the decreased salaries and budget will have a “negative impact on the faculty we can hire which will have a terrible effect on the education we offer.”

Jocelyn Boryczka. Taken from Fairfield University website.

The FWC’s Action Committee encourages faculty members to respond to administration’s decision not to continue to engage in “collegial discussions” with the FSC, according to Jocelyn Boryczka who is co-chair of Faculty Welfare Action Committee and the incoming president of the Faculty Welfare Committee for 2012-13.

In September 2009, the faculty agreed to compromise with the administration by giving up benefit protections in their health coverage, retirement benefits, and more.

They were assured by the administration that they would maintain the 95th percentile.

In 2010, President Jeffrey von Arx, S.J. addressed members in a General Faculty meeting. He said: “The fact that we have been steadfast in our commitment to keep faculty compensation at or above the 95th percentile of the Carnegie IIA schools is the strongest illustration of our support for the faculty.”

However, this support, according to many faculty members, is no longer being shown.

“It is our position that the discussions have not been transparent and timely and that there has been a marked unwillingness to cooperatively arrive at compromises,” stated Joseph Dennin, who is a professor of mathematics and a chair of FSC.

The administrative team responsible for these discussions consists of Vice President for Finance Julie Dolan, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Fr. Paul Fitzgerald, S.J., and Director of Human Resources Mark Guglielmoni.

They’ve met with the FSC approximately 14 times this academic year, according to Dolan.

ADMINISTRATION

Dolan reasserted the financial difficulties that the University had encountered and stated the administration’s commitment to rectify the problems.

“We are trying to control costs as much as possible and, at the same time, are trying to keep our tuition increases as low as possible,” stated Dolan in an email. “We recognize that, ultimately, it is our students and their families who are paying for the wonderful education that our students are receiving.  We owe it to them to make sure we continue to deliver that high quality education and services and to make that education affordable.”

The current administration proposal includes a decrease in the University’s contribution to retirement from 10 percent to 8 percent, a decrease in the amount of Life Insurance coverage, and a 1 percent increase in salary.

“The Administration remains committed to compensating the faculty well, both this coming year and into the future,” said Dolan.

The approval of the MOU must come before the approval of the budget by the Board of Trustees.

THE FUTURE

Boryczka, Dennin, and other faculty members remain steadfast in their efforts to reach an agreement with administration.

“Fairfield University’s mission is grounded in social justice, which cannot be achieved when the door to continued discussions is closed,” said Boryczka. “Faculty want that door opened.  We want to protect the quality education that Fairfield students receive and to recruit and retain the faculty who provide it.”

Others hope that they will reach an agreement for the sake of maintaining the academic integrity at Fairfield.

Peter Bayers

Peter Bayers, English professor and a member of the FWC Action Committee, said: “I have always been proud of Fairfield University and proud to be a faculty member here. This pride is at risk.”

Bayers believes that by disregarding the needs of professors who come to teach at the University, administration also sacrifices the University’s status as a highly rated academic institution.

“The proposed change in the University’s commitment to the 95th percentile and its proposed cuts to faculty compensation will have reverberations for years to come, reverberations that will diminish Fairfield’s academic reputation,” Bayers said.

He also noted that some are ready to go and find other places for their academic employment if a satisfactory MOU cannot be met.

Bayers said: “[T]he proposed changes are already having their effect–it makes me terribly sad to say that I know dedicated faculty, including myself, who are already preparing to investigate teaching opportunities elsewhere should the University maintain its position.”

Cartoon by Vin Ferrer/The Mirror