Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: My proposal re: The Catholic University in the New Millennium

Here is the stark, raving proposal that I'm sending out in response to the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture's call for papers for their November conference entitled: "Joy in the Truth: The Catholic University in the New Millennium". If accepted, I might be well-received for pointing out a real problem, or ignored as an extremist. Any thoughts on that one?

- New models of Catholic higher education in the New Millennium
- The unity of the curriculum in the contemporary Catholic university
- Cultural dialogue and the New Evangelization

My proposal for a session would fall somewhere into the three areas listed above, as offered in the Center's call for papers. What I would like to address is a flaw--or even a downright failure--in the way Catholic universities are currently structured. In major Catholic universities, it is required for undergraduates to take a set of core courses, as it is in secular schools, to fill gaps in secondary education. In particular, it is required that students take a set of theology and philosophy courses. Focusing in on the theology requirements, we see that these are required so as to try to expose the students to a collegiate level of thinking on matters of the faith in hopes that this will be integrated into their overall undergraduate formation.

It is my contention that the theology requirements entirely fail to achieve this goal, and are easily allowed to be pushed to the intellectual periphery as students proceed with their course of studies. I will further contend that if real integration of theological reflection is to be a distinctive mark of the Catholic university, what will be required are not merely an introductory course at the beginning of the undergraduate experience, and perhaps some more isolated and specific advanced course at the end of the period of the core curriculum, but a kind of synthesis course, broadly conceived, at the end of the undergraduate education. Such a course, with an intent to make students integrate some sort of theological reflection that is related to their major, seems logically the only way that "theology requirements" can evade the structural marginalization to which they are currently subject.

This proposal is likely to be ill-received, if not outright dismissed, by the modern Catholic university because it obviously would involve considerable structural change from the common pattern of the secular university, which is more-or-less the same model Catholic universities currently use. It would involved hiring a considerable number of new staff, it would require a structural level of interdisciplinary competence in the faculty that is unheard of, and it would disrupt the current balance of requirements for graduation by requiring yet One More Thing. Such a proposal would doubtless be received by most departments with the grace usually reserved for plague-ridden corpses.

This, however, does not mean that I am wrong.

The paper would not be particularly what would be called a "research paper." I conceive of the presentation as being more "anecdotal" than anything else. I will look at the theology requirements at schools such as Notre Dame, Marquette, Boston College, Georgetown and the like, and engage in some conversation with faculty and administration at various schools. I will also talk to students who have graduated from such institutions about their experiences. Mostly, however, I want to take the time to draw attention to the issue, and to point out that if integrated, basic theological education is our goal, then we are not meeting it--that the Emperor is in fact not wearing any clothes--and that it is time to address our failure rather than passing quietly over it. I will then pose what seems like a pretty simple solution to the problem, as far as the logic of a course of studies goes, but then address the fact that achieving our educational goals will be costly, both in terms of faculty hiring, curriculum development and training for that faculty, and in disrupting the current "balance" in the course of studies. In other words, it is time for us to begin to consider just how committed the Catholic university is to achieving one of its most distinct goals, or whether we are prepared to explicitly acknowledge that we will only pay lip service to our intentions.

Michael Anthony Novak
Marquette University
711 N. 16th St.
Apt. 603
Milwaukee, WI 53233
Tags: education, notre dame, theological notebook

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