Campus Open Space as a locus to align undergraduate education and campus strategic planning in a Jesuit setting
Fairfield University is a private, Jesuit, primarily undergraduate institution in a heavily suburbanizied landscape in the Northeast. The approximately 200-acre campus was established in 1942 through purchase of estates previously owned by prominent industrialists from nearby Bridgeport, the largest city in Connecticut. Prior to 2000, land was managed primarily to serve the needs of an expanding student body and associated academic and administrative operations. Beginning in the early-2000s, faculty began using open space on campus more extensively for research and education purposes and subsequent disagreements over alternative uses of campus space have become increasingly common. Negotiation and collaboration between faculty, staff, and students has resulted in significant progress, organized around the university's committment to suststainability as a reflection of core Jesuit values.
Initial use of campus open space as outdoor laboratories began informally with individual faculty arranging projects and notifying facilities management personnel. Interruption of multiple long-term research projects by campus development projects crystallized faculty action to argue for formal protection of significant open-space resources from campus planning and construction. Constraints imposed by federal, state, and town regulations in some cases assisted protection of open space, but in other cases resulted in tradeoffs between protection and loss of other habitat types. Resolution of these conflicts incorporated the standard assessments of ecological and economic values, but also incorporate a social approach derived from the Jesuit identity of the campus. Uses of the landscape, and disagreements about those uses, have led to the formalization of sustainability as a priority in campus planning and design, and have crystallized progress towards a campus sustainability plan. However, interpretation of language in the plan, and the relative weight of conservation, preservation, and development continue to arise for individual projects.