When I first heard that the university was planning to revise the core curriculum some time ago, I was immediately skeptical.
Whether you love it or hate it, Xavier’s core is arguably our defining feature as an institution. In my own process of interviewing at medical schools this past year, the breadth of my education gave me an undeniable edge over applicants from far more “renowned” research universities. And clearly the value of the core extends far beyond even such pragmatic concerns — so why compromise that which makes us most distinctive?
After an in-depth reading of the proposed core models, I have tempered this attitude with a healthy dose of humility. I can now acknowledge that this is a remarkably complicated issue. I do not know what the best course of action is for our future. Our current core may not be ideal or even feasible in the near future.
However, as a student who has benefited so enormously from Xavier’s education, I feel compelled to offer a few comments regarding the models that have been proposed, and to suggest a few central ideas that all of us — students, faculty and administrators — could do well to bear in mind as we move through this period of transition. On all the points that follow, I am open to any criticisms or dialogue.
I think it is fair to say that the proposed new models seem to place a great emphasis on problem-solving and application, with new requirements in “applied” theology and ethics, and with one model referencing “problems-based introductions to the Jesuit tradition.” The lion’s share of each model seems to be given to depth of exposure to a particular topic rather than breadth, in concert with a preference of application over theory.
As a student of both science and the humanities, I recognize that learning to apply our knowledge to solve complex problems
is an invaluable component of our education. However, I would contend that a true liberal arts education is yet more ambitious in its scope. A document penned and approved by the XU faculty in the eighties defines the purpose of a liberal arts education as “to develop the intellectual, imaginative and moral abilities of the person,” and emphasizes that such an education must “free” students by inducting them into the “broad range of human experience.”
This is a much more expansive notion of education than the mere problem-solving that is being stressed today. Within an authentic Jesuit framework, education must be more than simply gaining problem-solving skills, learning about contemporary issues and developing “post-college” readiness in a variety of practical matters.
Rather, education is about forming students into independent thinkers and achieving emotional and moral integration. Ultimately, although I recognize this may be a contentious claim, a distinctively Jesuit education is concerned with the formation and actualization of souls, all for the glory of God.
Of course, it is true that a common theme in many of the proposed models seems to be an inculcation of “Jesuit values,” taking place through a variety of means: special seminars, four years of Manresa and so on. And I affirm wholeheartedly that our curriculum ought to be rooted in our Jesuit heritage. But I wonder sometimes if the brand of “Jesuit Ignatian values” that we promulgate at this university is not a tad shallow.
The Jesuits are, before anything else, an order of Roman Catholic priests and brothers founded in the 16th century, their primary
mission being (in Ignatius’ words) “to help souls.” Any notion of “Jesuit values,” if indeed we must make use of this rather vague term, ought to be linked (and always has been linked) to more basic Catholic commitments: the dignity of the human person formed in the image of God, faith in Christ as the ultimate source of all truth and salvation and a dedication to charity and the unconditional love of others. These commitments are developed and lived out within the context of an inclusive, diverse and faithful community. Again, I recognize these are controversial statements, but fundamentally, this is our tradition as a Jesuit university.
Stemming from these acknowledgements, we see that with respect to education, a Jesuit university actually need not overemphasize the indoctrination of any set of values. It need only be uncompromisingly rigorous, based on the Catholic conviction that intellectual growth leads us to God.
My best professors at Xavier have never sought to dictate to me any particular set of values, explicitly or implicitly; rather, they have taught me to think. In this way they have been preeminently “Jesuit,” by demonstrating a virtuous way of life and showing me what is even worth thinking about. Addressing contemporary moral-political problems — which, in contrast to what the core models seem to suggest, will never be “solved” by Xavier undergraduates — forms only a part of this larger picture.
I continue to have hope for this university’s bright and blessed future. At the same time, however, I can say with near certainty that if the university had been operating under one of the proposed new core models when I applied four years ago, I would not have chosen to attend here. The reduction of Xavier’s core to an exercise in developing solutions to world problems will, ironically, probably solve nothing. What is needed most of all is a renewal of commitment to the formation of our intellectual powers, accomplished through a rigorous course of liberal study in the authentic Jesuit tradition. It is, without a doubt, what we do best.
Michael Petrany is a senior philosophy major from Huntington, WV.