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Professors Urge Notre Dame to Make Curriculum More Catholic

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Kim Scharfenberger - published on 12/16/14

Critics say required courses don't reflect ideals of Catholic education.

At least a few Notre Dame faculty members have taken the occasion of a ten-year academics review to argue for the improvement of the University’s core curriculum requirement, which one professor said “has deteriorated,” The Irish Rover reported.

A 14-person committee of professors and staff members has been formed in order to study the core curriculum and determine “which requirements are essential for Notre Dame students,” the Rover reported.

On November 19, an open forum was held giving faculty members the opportunity to share their perspectives on the direction that they felt the curriculum should take. The committee encouraged discussion on such questions as “what knowledge, dispositions, and skills should all Notre Dame students possess upon graduation,” and “how can our core curriculum not only sustain but also deepen our commitment to Notre Dame’s Catholic character?”

“The content and coherence of our undergraduate education is at some risk at the present time,” said history professor Father Bill Miscamble, CSC, during the open forum discussion. “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.”

Father Miscamble reportedly agreed with Notre Dame philosophy professor Dr. Fred Freddoso’s suggestion “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,’” according to the Rover. “This is a sad circumstance,” Father Miscamble reportedly stated.

He continued, proposing 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.”

“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,” the Rover reported him as saying.

Father Miscamble was not the only faculty member to raise concerns over the university’s current curriculum.

Dr. Patrick Deneen, associate professor of political science, reportedly observed that “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.”

“[W]e 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,’” Deneen reportedly stated.

He went on to add that “[t]his 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 Rover reported that the review committee is now preparing a website to collect input and share information, in order “to maintain transparency between students, faculty, and administrators.”

Kim Scharfenbergerwrites for Catholic Education Daily, an online publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. This article was originally published at Catholic Education Daily.Click here for email updates and free online membership with The Cardinal Newman Society.

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