Monday, May 18, 2015
The Soul of the University I
The Core Curriculum and the Nature of a University
Francesca Aran Murphy, a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, writes in the June, First Things,"A curriculum, especially its core courses required of all students, is an educational institution’s constitution."
I would go farther. A university's core curriculum (AKA, general education requirements) defines the university. Thus a battle over its core curriculum is a battle for the University's soul!
A Christian liberal arts university's core curriculum has two important and interrelated implications, one intellectual and one economic.
A core curriculum evidences what the university believes it is. A grab bag of vague choices bespeaks of a university that does not know who it is. It reflects the politics of the moment when it was constructed rather than the idea of the university, to borrow John Henry Newman's phrase. A well constructed core curriculum constitutes an integral understanding of what that particular university is. It is evidence of a self confident self awareness.
A university that has no clear understanding of what it is and what it is for will fail in the marketplace for students and donors. In an increasingly competitive market, there is little reason to pay substantial sums for a pig in the poke. If a university's core curriculum is a Chinese menu of cookie cutter courses that are indistinguishable from its competitors, families would be very rational to send their students to get those same courses at a community college and the university will see its margins fall into the red. Ultimately it will fail.
Professor Murphy's article is well worth a thoughtful and prayerful reading even if you are at a Christian liberal arts university that is not Roman Catholic. She asks some troubling questions which must not be shirked. Look to this space for more comments on her insightful piece.