The Philosophy of the Curriculum of Franciscan University of Steubenville Adopted by Vote of the Full Faculty on September 16, 1994
We have already declared in our Mission Statement that Franciscan University of Steubenville belongs to the Catholic tradition and is committed to the faith of the Catholic Church. Since we also stand in the Catholic tradition as a university, we propose in this “Philosophy of the Curriculum” to complement the Mission Statement by declaring more fully our identity as a Catholic Franciscan university, especially as this identity is expressed in the curriculum.
Unity of All Truth.
Any university worthy of the name is committed to searching for truth and, as far as possible, to finding it. But a university must not limit itself to one region of truth to the exclusion of others; it should be open to all truth. Venerable John Henry Newman has explained in a masterful way how the professors and students of a university grow into this unity of truth. They do not just accumulate truths, learning one after another, but they set these truths in relation to each other so that they illuminate each other. Professors should lead their students in developing a sense of the unity of knowledge, so that they never forget the whole when they study the parts. In this way, as Newman says, they do not just enlarge their learning, but they begin to grow in the wisdom that “discerns the whole in each part, the end in each beginning...because it [wisdom] always knows where it is, and how its path lies from one point to another.”
This is why the curriculum at Franciscan University aims at introducing our students to all the main areas of knowledge. They study philosophy and theology, which have a special place in the tradition of Catholic learning; they encounter great literature and poetry; they develop historical consciousness; they are introduced to the rigors of the scientific method and of quantitative analysis; their artistic sensibilities are refined; they study man not only through philosophy but also through the natural and social sciences; they have some contact with art and thought outside the orbit of Western civilization. And our curriculum presents these things, not each by itself, but in such a way that each throws light on the other.
We aim not only at human wisdom, but also at Christian wisdom. In presenting the Christian faith, we take care to present it, not in isolation from other truths, but in relation to them, so that faith interprets them and is at the same time interpreted by them. We want to enable our students to make Christian sense out of what they learn in their natural science courses, in their social science courses, in their study of art and literature. This does not mean that the Christian faith should interfere with or overrule the methods proper to the different disciplines, or that it should make us unwilling to accept the contributions made by unbelievers; it means that these disciplines, while being entirely respected according to their proper autonomy, should, as the nature of each allows, be brought into relation to Christian revelation. And, in the encounter with human knowledge, faith not only gives but also receives; our students find that their faith becomes “embodied” in such a way as to be deepened and enriched.
This unity of faith and human knowledge is what we mean by Christian humanism, and we declare it to be one of the first principles of the curriculum. We commit ourselves to all that John Paul II says about Christian humanism in his “Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities,” Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
We understand Christian humanism in a specifically Franciscan way. In the New Testament the kingship of Christ in creation is revealed, as when St. Paul teaches that Jesus Christ is the “first-born of every creature,” and that “all things have been created through and unto him, and he is before all creatures, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–18). This “primacy of Christ” is especially dear to the Franciscan tradition. When we say in the spirit of Christian humanism that we relate all human learning to Christian revelation, we who stand in the Franciscan tradition mean this in the particular sense of relating all human learning to Christ. We aim at encountering Christ through the creation over which he rules, and to understand his creation through him who is “the first-born of every creature.”
Our curriculum also aims at developing in our students certain habits of mind that are connatural to the universal openness to all truth to which we are committed. Indeed, the proper concern of the curriculum is more with intellectual virtue than with moral virtue.
Thus, the curriculum educates our students to recognize the central issue in a discussion, and to distinguish it from other issues that are related to it only by association but not in an intrinsic way. We want to enable our students to develop a sense of proportion with regard to truth, and to know how to discriminate between first principles and remote consequences. When they listen to a speaker, they should not be dazzled by rhetorical flourish, but should know how to look for intellectual substance. They should not repeat as their own what is in fact someone else’s idea that they have not yet fully understood. They should mature intellectually in such a way as never to grow old intellectually, that is, never to reach a point where they are unable or unwilling to understand what another is saying, or to learn something new, or to do justice to challenging questions put to them about their convictions. They should also recognize issues that are beyond them, on which they are unable to have any informed judgment; with Socrates they should know what they do not know as well as what they do know.
We think that these intellectual habits also give our students a unique resourcefulness in facing life, so that they do not need a specially protected environment to thrive; their intellectual formation gives them an adaptability that is expressed in rising to the most unexpected challenges. It also prepares them for assuming positions of leadership in the Church and the world.
We think that nothing is as important for the imparting to our students of this spirit of just judgment, as the personal example of the professors who practice just and balanced judgment in all their teaching, writing, and professional practice. Very important, also, is the encounter with the classics of Western civilization, in which the greatest minds of our tradition still speak to us.
Our students, however, will not be formed by passive exposure to exemplary teachers and to canonical authors; they have to receive and absorb what they see being lived by their mentors and what they see in the past masters. This they do in a particular way in the activities of writing and of speaking. We are committed to a curriculum that places the highest premium on students being taught to express clear thought in good English.
In accordance with our Franciscan heritage, these intellectual virtues are developed at Franciscan University together with the moral and religious virtues, that is, together with love of truth and reverence for God and respect for all persons, including those with whom we disagree. Here, too, we aim at the fullest possible integration. But as we have already said, the curriculum as such is in a particular way concerned with the intellectual virtues; if it does not foster these, it is a failure. We resist confounding intellectual and moral excellence, and we know well that, as Venerable Newman insisted, the one does not necessarily follow upon the other.
Important as general liberal arts education is, it is not enough; without the special con- centration of study, which we call the major program, something important would be missing in the education of our students. Our students should learn to unite their broad studies in the liberal arts with the more specialized studies in their major discipline. The breadth of the one and the depth of the other should serve to complement each other.
The work in the major is done within the unity of all knowledge, and so it is protected from a narrowing spirit of specialization: The work in the liberal arts is focused according to the perspective of a particular discipline, and so it is protected from becoming superficial and diffuse. Indeed, the intellectual virtues to which we are committed require the specialized study in the major no less than they require the general studies of the core curriculum.
Relation of the University to the Larger Culture.
On the one hand, we resist the temptation to be “relevant” in a shortsighted way. We teach many important subjects that do not have direct consequences for dealing with the burning social issues of the day. On the other hand, we recognize our responsibility for addressing these social issues in our teaching and writing; indeed, it belongs in a particular way to our Franciscan spirit of service to recognize this responsibility. We affirm all that St. Pope John Paul II says in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (especially in paragraphs 32–34) about the dialogue that the Catholic university should have with the larger culture in which it is situated. We also affirm what he says about the unique contribution the Catholic university precisely as university can make to the Church’s work of evangelization.
One of our primary ways of serving the larger society is to provide various kinds of professional education, both on the graduate and on the undergraduate levels. Most of our students major in one of the professional programs, and we have an increasing number of graduate students who are receiving master’s degrees, each of which prepares the student for the practice of a profession.
In these professional programs, especially at the undergraduate level, our curriculum aims at uniting professional competence with intellectual formation in the spirit of Christian humanism, which we believe provides the best possible foundation for the fully human performance of a professional activity. The curriculum aims at educating fully competent professionals who at the same time remain full human beings, never losing their sense of the unity of all knowledge, and above all never losing their sense for the ethical dimensions of human activity.
The master’s programs have, of course, no general liberal arts requirements, but here, too, the curriculum tries to achieve the great advantages of specialized study while guarding against the dehumanization that can result from overly specialized study.
We think that the professional programs stand in a much closer relation to the Christian commitment of the university than one might at first think. Vatican II, especially in Gaudium et Spes, speaks of the task of lay Christians “to build up the earth” in the spirit of the Gospel; more clearly than ever before, the Church teaches that we should not only aim at saving our souls and at worshiping God in the liturgy, but that we should also claim all the regions of earthly existence for Christ, bringing his Spirit into them. One sees here the Christocentric spirit of Franciscanism. The Council goes so far as to say that by doing this we make present even now the kingdom of God, which will come in fullness at the end of time (see Gaudium et Spes, No. 39). One main way in which the university can contribute to this great task of the lay Christian in the modern world is to provide professional education in the spirit of Christian humanism.
These are the principles on which we have built our curriculum; on these principles we will continue to develop it.