Monday, March 03, 2008

Cutting the Core of a Catholic Liberal Arts Education

There's currently a major debate going on at Xavier University about our core curriculum. A committee has recommended that we reduce the required courses in Theology, Philosophy, History, and Foreign Languages in order to free up more electives for our students. Our experienced and erudite department chair in Theology is on sabbatical, so I'm currently serving as "interim" chair. I'm afraid that my legacy will be that as Theology chair, I will be the first in the U.S. to see the required Theology courses at a Catholic University fall below 6 credit hours. So I've been spending most of my time examining the core curriculums at other Catholic Liberal Arts institutions to try to find a way to effectively communicate to my colleagues why a Liberal Arts education is important, and why Theology and Philosophy at a Catholic school matters. But when I argue that we teach critical thinking skills, faculty in other departments counter that they do too. So some dismiss the resistance to change as territorial, and that Theology and Philosophy are just upset because we're being cut. Not totally cut, just cut in that now students need to take 2 Theology courses and 2 Philosophy courses for a total of 4 courses, and with the revised core they would have to take one Theology, one Philosophy, and one from either discipline, for a total of 3 courses.

This reduction of the core would no doubt be popular with students. They are often disappointed that they have to take such a wide range of courses, and faculty and students alike sadly look at the core as courses they need to get out of the way so they can take the important courses, meaning courses in their major. It's also influenced by this dominant business model, where the students are clients, and we need to give the customer what they want, which is choice. There are other institutions that do a much better job of embracing their core Liberal Arts, but there seems to be a movement away from this towards a more professional school model, much like in Europe.

Anyway, this debate is currently dominating my time. And to all my new readers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and its neighbors from the Republic of Congo, I'm sorry that you have to live with 50 foot long Congo Snakes. They look dangerous.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neither Oxford nor Cambridge can Xavier be; but reduced to voc/tech, oh gee.

2:14 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Maybe an anthropology course for #4?? 'Fraid Theology and Philosophy don't have the market cornered on critical thinking...sorry to agree with your colleagues (said as a fellow prof at Catholic University, in the great northern Mid-West...with a football season last year to match Nebraska's)

10:33 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

While I agree that Theo and Phil don't have sole access to critical thinking, do you think Sue would have much luck cutting Theology at Notre Dame below two classes? Why is that?

8:38 AM  
Blogger Sue said...

Because it's a male dominated theocratic institution?? Because Theology is the biggest department on campus and thus can out vote most of us? Because we have a 300 foot Jesus on the side of our library and a crucifix in EVERY room? I know, I know -- because we have a minor basilica on campus. Gotta teach the kids all about their roots so they can more fully enjoy the Catholic Theme Park that is Notre Dame.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Sue, do you really think ND could beat Nebraska? (Ducks) (N.B. My wife is a gilded to the quick Domer. Her older sister was in the first class to admit women. Whole damned family went).

As someone who thinks of themself as a Catholic School Survivor (1-12) who attended a public university, I have to admit one of the most useful classes I ever took was symbolic logic. I probably wouldn't be working as an English major turned computer systems person (well, moved onto project management, but in the past) until that class unleashed the potential hiding behind my general dislike of math itself.

And why go to a Catholic University (except, perhaps, for the football and beer) if you're not willing to carry the core courses that define it as a Catholic institution?

4:22 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

Sue teaches anthropology, a discipline that God frowns upon because of the whole human related to monkey thingie, and thus she is bitter. Go to confession Sue, and beg for forgiveness.

5:04 PM  
Blogger Michael Homan said...

Uh, here's a disclaimer. The above should probably have been an email to my friend Sue, instead of a posted comment. I'm a big fan of anthro, and am proud of my monkey relatives, except the Bonobo.

5:29 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Anthropologists are god-less heathens and purveyors of pornography according to some. Also grave robbers and treasure hunters, can't leave those out.

I think the big difference is that I define catholic with a little 'c'. We'd all be better off in the long run, if the hierarchy would recognize that concepts of social justice, peace building, and critical thinking we're the sole (soul??) property of one denomination...even if they are idol-worshiping Papists ;-)

5:39 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

Obviously, I meant to say "were not" in the second paragraph... Freudian slip??? hmmmmmm.

5:41 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Perhaps if anthro offered a course in Relics it could count toward the core curriculum. Either that or start wearing a slouch hat and carrying a whip and maybe they'd be just scared enough to leave anthro alone.

I still remember when I started carrying home a textbook from the course I took in Biblical Textual Criticism or some such (sniffing out the gospel authors that tht sort of thing; it was actually quite interesting). You'd a' thought I'd enrolled in the seminary. (This was, mind you, at U.N.O, a decidely secular institution).

Sadly, I spent most the rest of my credit hours that semester reading godless 20th century poetry, decadant late victorians and of course getting tight with my good buddy Milton and His Particular Friend.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I meant to say my mother reacted as if I'd enrolled in the seminary. The above makes almost no sense without that. Really must not do this at work, or of I do not hurry like I feel guilty about UH, YES, HAVE THOSE TPS REPORTS IN 15 MINUTES.

4:17 PM  

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