The Forum | General Education

Disciplines, Not Goals

July 6, 2015

Francesca Aran Murphy, in First Things, challenges the University of Notre Dame to rethink the grave misstep it will take if it drops its two-course requirement in both philosophy and theology. This change to the curriculum could potentially shift Notre Dame’s education away from deep, discipline-based engagement to a vague set of “goals,” moving from a core of required courses to an amorphous checklist.

Murphy examines two dangers of the proposed change. First, Notre Dame’s academic excellence is at stake. If the administration chooses to cut its core requirements, it will certainly be at the cost, not the benefit, of the student’s intellectual growth. If Notre Dame’s mission is to provide a Catholic education, then theology and philosophy are two crucial disciplines toward that end. Second, intellectual integrity is itself at risk when a potentially tendentious set of goals replaces the objective study of an academic discipline. A danger of “goal based” education is that in abandoning the intellectual rigor of the academic disciplines, it glides easily toward controlling how students approach their studies and the conclusions they reach.

ACTA advises in Governance for a New Era that the onus is on trustees to “bring the big picture to bear in determining what graduates will need for informed citizenship, effectiveness in the workforce, and lifelong learning. Trustees must outline broadly what requirements will be necessary to achieve that mission.” Although reviewing and rethinking the curriculum is in the DNA of academic institutions, it is important that Notre Dame’s trustees remember that their mission is to continue a tradition of excellence in Catholic liberal education. Eroding core requirements will not further that mission.


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