A university committee is currently gathering internal feedback from professors regarding potential changes to Notre Dame’s core curriculum requirements.
Father Robert Sullivan, the Associate Vice President of the Office of Academic Mission Support, is chairing the committee.
According to Jeff Speaks, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Philosophy Department, “the university is revisiting all of its core curriculum requirements.”
“I’m on a committee which is part of [the review] process,” Speaks told the Rover. “I recently emailed my colleagues to get a sense of their views about the university two-course requirement [in philosophy]. That’s the extent of the internal discussion so far.”
When asked what the response from the philosophy faculty has been, Speaks said that “like most issues in academics, opinions are mixed. Most favor [the current two-course system].” He related that his own thoughts on the question of reform are “undecided.”
When contacted for comment, Fr. Sullivan responded that “the deliberations of the committee are closed to all media.”
“When we wrap up at the end of the semester, there should be something for public consumption,” he concluded.
University Spokesperson Dennis Brown told the Rover that the review “is simply a part of the University’s recurring decennial curricular review process.”
John O’Callaghan, a professor in the philosophy department and Director of the Maritain Center, said of the university curriculum that “a part cannot be understood except in its relation to the whole.”
“It would be a good thing for departments that will offer required courses in the colleges and university curricula to be clear about just how their parts—their required courses—stand in relation to the curricula of the colleges and university that we move to if that is what we are going to do,” he continued.
Under the current curriculum system, every undergraduate student must satisfy two course requirements in both philosophy and theology.
Curtis Franks, Associate Professor of Philosophy, told the Rover, “The most common complaint I hear voiced about the core curriculum is that it is a vestige from a time when the University had a different identity. The core curriculum is unlike what students at ‘peer institutions’ are navigating, and for this reason should be viewed as antiquated, even as an obstacle in the University’s mission to become an ever more excellent venue for educating college students.
“I disagree with this sentiment from top to bottom,” he emphasized.
O’Callaghan expanded on his thoughts to the Rover.
“[The academic departments] have a responsibility to be specific about how the goals of their courses—not just formal goals of reflection, analytical thinking, and good writing, but material goals of content—stand in relation to the goals of the curricula the university and colleges adopt as required,” he explained. “On the other hand those departments cannot fulfill that responsibility of specifying their relations as parts to the whole, unless the goals of the colleges and the university are clearly enunciated.”
Franks expressed his hope that Notre Dame will root its curriculum reform in its Catholic identity.
“In general I think it is a good idea to find ways to allow the Catholic identity of the university to help shape the makeup of its faculty and the structure of its curriculum. This is the sort of thing that Notre Dame can do most effectively to forge a unique identity, so that in meaningful ways it will have no peer institutions,” he argued.
“For these reasons, my hope is that the current review of the core curriculum will lead to its strengthening. If some of its contours are deemed vestigial or out of date, I hope that this judgment is made against the standard of the University’s own current vision and not against a standard set by other universities. Notre Dame stands to gain much more by further distinguishing itself from other universities than by striving to ‘keep up’ with them,” Franks concluded.
Monsignor Michael Heintz, Director of Notre Dame’s Masters of Divinities program and Professor of Theology, stated that “the review of the core curriculum is really a critical moment in the course of the University’s history, in particular undergraduate education.
“I can speak only of the importance of the theological component of the required curriculum: a formation in the discipline of theology is essential and grounds the student within a living Tradition of reflection, thought and praxis,” Msgr. Heintz told the Rover. “It is my hope that the review will serve to strengthen theology’s essential place and role within the curriculum.”
As the committee continues its work, the future of the present two-course systems for philosophy and theology hangs in the balance. The professors who commented to the Rover call the review an opportunity for improvement, but remain cautious about its execution.
“I hope to see (but fear I won’t see) a robust reflection upon and discussion of what we are trying to do as a whole in what we like to call Catholic education,” O’Callaghan lamented.
“It seems to me that the core curriculum is the right sort of thing for the University to reexamine at this time, not because of its faults but because of its potential,” Franks said. “It does have faults, I believe, some that I think I can identify and doubtless some that I haven’t noticed.”
He concluded, “I hope that the current review process is focused more on new ways to make concrete the ideas that motivate the current core curriculum and less on revising those ideas themselves.”
Michael Bradley is a senior studying philosophy and theology living in Dillon Hall. He thinks the joint major’s curriculum is just fine, and hopes that it doesn’t change. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.