All universities are motivated at least in part by the conviction that they are engaged in shaping the world for the better – principally, of course, by forming young men and women who will take their place in society as creative and informed citizens. Certainly at Fairfield University, that is is our primary obligation. But as a Jesuit and Catholic University we have a specific obligation to do more than this. We have a duty to do what we can to serve the interests of justice, to try and transform social realities that perpetuate human suffering, and to take an active role in helping those in need.
As part of their education, our students are involved in service learning work. Our campus community is engaged in seeking solutions to global problems through our research and service activities, as well as through collaborations with local and international charities. In other words, our educational mission and our mission of service are not disparate emphases – they are integrally connected missions. They are one and the same in effect, because our overarching mission as a Jesuit apostolate is that we work to “help souls,” as St. Ignatius put it.
This week, we released a report into our financial involvement in Project Pierre Toussaint, a program founded by our former student to assist abandoned boys in Haiti. That project is now stalled as its founder has been indicted on charges of child sex abuse. This is truly a tragic matter for all concerned. The University conducted a review of charitable donations made to the Project’s financial arm (The Haiti Fund), through our University chapel. While the report did not find that any money was inappropriately diverted, it recommended that we monitor more closely how donations are handled, and we have taken steps to implement these recommendations.
Our deepest concern is that we do whatever we can to serve Haiti, particularly at this time when the people of Haiti need so much. With regard to Project Pierre Toussaint, I have been in discussions with members of the Board of Directors of The Haiti Fund for several months now, to explore how we can facilitate a partnership with charitable organizations on the ground to reopen the facilities in Cap Haitien. The decision to reopen the Project rests with the Board of the Haiti Fund, and we will continue to work with it to help reopen the facilities. In the aftermath of the earthquake, there is an even more urgent need to see if these facilities can be used to help alleviate the humanitarian crises in whatever way possible. (See the thoughtful editorial in the Post on this issue).
Meanwhile, there have been several University-wide initiatives in response to the situation in Haiti. We are working with the Business Council of Fairfield County together with other groups to collaborate on ways that we can respond to help rebuild the country. Our University’s chapter of the Jesuit Universities Humanitarian Network held a day of discussions in late January to begin to strategize on how we should respond to the needs of the people of Haiti. This has led to the formation of the Fairfield Haiti Task Force, which in the coming months will be identifying a potential partner in Haiti to work collaboratively on developing assistance programs. We also intend to make Haiti an integral part of our teaching curriculum next year, and several students have started a “Fairfield for Haiti” site on Facebook. More initiatives are under discussion or in process.
Fairfield University’s tradition of service in the interests of justice and compassion will continue, and as a University community, we expect to implement initiatives to be of direct service to the people of Haiti.