University seeks input in the midst of review process

This year marks the beginning of the university’s decennial review of the core curriculum, and a committee has been tasked with determining which requirements are essential for Notre Dame students.

Co-chaired by Gregory Crawford, Dean of the College of Science, and John McGreevy, Dean of the College of Arts and Letters, the core curriculum review committee brings together 14 professors and staff members of the university.

The chairs and committee members hope that the review process will include a campus-wide conversation, amassing the opinions of students and faculty members alike.  The committee charge on its website states that “every ten years, Notre Dame reviews its core curriculum requirements precisely because these requirements signify and determine, to the best of our ability, the knowledge, dispositions, and skills every Notre Dame undergraduate student should possess upon graduation.”

University President Father John Jenkins, CSC, writes in the committee charge that a preliminary committee formed last year has already accomplished meaningful work.  This committee, chaired by Father Robert Sullivan, CSC, “examined possible options for curricular reform and gathered data on curricular structures at other universities, particularly those which have recently undergone similar curricular reviews,” writes Fr. Jenkins.

The website does not list which universities were researched; the review is still in progress, and no conclusions have been reached.  The committee seeks to address a series of five questions, two of which (one and three below) have recently been discussed at committee meetings, the minutes of which are unavailable for public consumption.

Hosting an open forum for discussion by the faculty on November 19, the committee encouraged open discussion on the following questions:

  1. What knowledge, dispositions, and skills should all Notre Dame students possess upon graduation?
  2. How best can these be instantiated in core curriculum requirements, and what set of organizational structures—from academic advising to the relationship between the First Year of Studies and the Colleges and School—best facilitate their acquisition by students?
  3. How can our core curriculum not only sustain but also deepen our commitment to Notre Dame’s Catholic character?
  4. What, if any, relationship should exist between core curriculum requirements and advanced placement examinations?
  5. How do and should core curriculum requirements work in conjunction with academic major requirements?

Over 50 faculty members were present, and several professors shared their thoughts about the core curriculum with the committee chairs.  The Rover followed up with a few professors and staff members in attendance.

Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, Professor of History and Rover faculty advisor, began the discussion by referring to a letter he wrote to the committee chairs.

He wrote, “The content and coherence of our undergraduate education is at some risk at the present time.  You hardly need me to tell you that we have given up on providing some kind of integrated curriculum appropriate for the leading Catholic university we regularly proclaim ourselves to be.  Fred Freddoso [Professor of Philosophy] is right in suggesting that the core curriculum has deteriorated ‘into a series of disjointed “course distribution requirements” guided by no comprehensive conception of what an educated Catholic should know.’  This is a sad circumstance.


“I want also to propose for your consideration that a new (and perhaps interdisciplinary) requirement be introduced that has as its task familiarizing students with what might broadly be termed the Catholic intellectual tradition,” Father Miscamble continued.  “We need some course or courses that afford our students the opportunity to not only develop their writing, thinking, and rhetorical skills, but which will also address central questions regarding the ultimate ends or goals of the human person and the means for pursuing the common good.”

Others contributed to the discussion, including Cheri Smith, Program Director for Academic Outreach and Engagement for the Hesburgh Libraries.

“As a librarian, I would like to see more classes in the core curriculum include assignments that require students to conduct their own search for information,” she explained to the Rover.

“Students should be offered multiple contexts and opportunities to discover and use information throughout their course of study so that they can begin to understand the process of scholarly communication and can be better prepared to locate and use information after graduation,” Smith continued.  “The act of searching for information, in all formats, can spark curiosity and foster innovation in ways that assigned readings cannot replicate, and it is my hope that we can work toward providing more of these opportunities for students.”

Susan Blum, Professor of Anthropology, told the Rover, “I hope the core curriculum review team looks in depth at the ways students learn (‘how’) as well asat thecontent of what students learn (‘what’) because they are interrelated.  When students regard classes as tasks to be completed as quickly as possible, they rarely get excited about them or give them the attention faculty expect.

“There are multiple paths to accomplishing what we want, which is that students emerge from Notre Dame as curious learners able to make connections, act on principle, and evaluate claims in an ever-changing world,” she continued.  “If we are serious about trying to educate our students in mind, body, spirit, and social context, I would like to see students create a plan for themselves, in consultation with a variety of advisors, that is meaningful and reasoned; it could include curricular, co-curricular, off-campus, spiritual, practical, and physical components.”

“My concern is that our students today are oriented toward utilitarian, often narrowly careerist ends, and come to Notre Dame with little patience for courses that don’t evidently contribute to those concerns,” Patrick Deneen, Associate Professor of Political Science and Rover faculty advisor, told the Rover.

“In addition to requiring core courses, it is incumbent upon faculty who teach in the core to help students become aware of the reasons for those requirements,” he continued.  “That is, we need not only to teach our individual courses, but to help students understand the rationale for courses in philosophy, theology, and so on—especially to the extent that these requirements are not viewed by students as ‘useful.’  This means necessarily instructing them in core aspects of Catholic social thought that reject reductionist utilitarianism and individualistic concern for money-making, and instead seeks to connect those concerns to the ideals of vocation and common good.”

The review committee pledges that efforts to maintain transparency between students, faculty, and administrators will continue.  In preparing a website for sharing information and collecting input from all interested constituencies, the committee hopes to ensure a back-and-forth dialogue for the duration of the review.


Kate Hardiman is a sophomore PLS major and PPE minor living in Breen-Phillips Hall.  Contact her at  John VanBerkum is a junior from O’Neill Hall studying philosophy and can be reached at