Amidst a review of the core curriculum, professors meet to present their ideals


In February 2014, the Rover reported that Notre Dame was reevaluating its core curriculum requirements as part of the recurring decennial curricular review process.  At the time, Father Robert Sullivan, CSC, Professor of History and Associate Vice President for Academic Mission Support, chaired the review committee.  Currently, John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, and Gregory Crawford, Dean of the College of Science, co-chair this committee.  Father Sullivan declined to comment on any happenings during his time as chair.

“There are two committees—a kind of ground-clearing pre-committee that did some general research but made no specific recommendations, and a second committee now that is charged with actually putting forward a proposal,” Jeff Speaks, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Director of Undergraduate Studies, told the Rover.

“I was on the first committee, and don’t know anything about what’s happening with the current, more relevant committee,” Speaks continued.  “The pre-committee considered many options, some of which included cutting down philosophy and theology, and some of which did not, but did not advocate one way of going (just because that was not our job).”

The theology and philosophy requirements are at the heart of the core curriculum, especially in light of the Catholic identity of this university.  Currently, every student is required to take two courses from each field.  The core curriculum website explains the rationale for requiring studies in both of these subjects.

Quoting Ex Corde Ecclesiaein part, the rationale for theology states: “No Catholic university can give an account of itself as an intellectual endeavor apart from Theology … In particular, ‘theology plays a particularly important role in the search for a synthesis of knowledge as well as in the dialogue between faith and reason.  It serves all other disciplines in their search for meaning, not only by helping them to investigate how their discoveries will affect individuals and society but also by bringing a perspective and an orientation not contained within their own methodologies’ (16).  The core requirements in theology therefore lie at the heart of the education that Notre Dame strives to give to each of its undergraduate students.”

In a similar vein, the site says of philosophy: “Because Notre Dame is a Catholic university, its purposes also include the preservation, extension and transmission of Catholic thought.  Notre Dame students should learn to think in depth about the problems posed by a life of faith.  They should have the opportunity to learn how the great thinkers of the Catholic tradition approached those problems in the past, and what Catholicism has to say about those problems as they arise in the contemporary world.”

Theology and philosophy are just two subject matters undergoing review in this comprehensive look at the current core curriculum.  This lengthy process is not expected to yield results soon, so in the meantime professors and students, among others, hope to express their opinions on this significant portion of a university education.

“We anticipate many opportunities for students and faculty to weigh in on the core curriculum but we are not close to any recommendations,” McGreevy said to the Rover on behalf of himself and Crawford.

A panel entitled ‘Critiquing the Core: What is the Ideal Core Curriculum?’ will engage faculty from different departments in this question during this year of review.  The panel is sponsored by the Potenziani Minor in Constitutional Studies as part of the Professors for Lunch series and will take place on Friday, November 14 at noon in the Oak Room of South Dining Hall.

David O’Connor, Associate Professor of Philosophy; Joseph Powers, Professor of Engineering and Director of Undergraduate Studies; and, Susan Collins, Associate Professor of Political Science will discuss their conceptions of the ideal core curriculum as a means of critiquing the current core.  They will also address the potential differences and similarities between a core curriculum at a Catholic university versus that at a secular institution.

“The key characteristic of a core curriculum within a university education, Catholic or otherwise, is that the core focuses on a challenging set of topics that have demonstrated, longstanding value within broad sectors of society,” Powers explained to the Rover.

“Moreover, such a core should be able to serve as a springboard for the student to specialize in higher level studies.  One might expect a large overlap of a good Catholic university’s core with that of a good secular institution.  However, at a Catholic university, one should certainly expect to find additional elements relevant to Catholic thought explored within its core.”

The Professors for Lunch event this Friday will further express and develop these ideas, with the hopes of adding to the ongoing discussion on the core curriculum.


John VanBerkum is a junior studying philosophy.  He encourages everyone to attend this talk and to participate in the conversation.  Ask him what he thinks at