Dear Father Jenkins, Provost Burish, and all members of the Decennial Core Curriculum Review Committee,
I write to you today in some degree of shock, having heard from reliable sources that the core theology requirement at Notre Dame is under threat. It seems, in fact, that the decision to abolish the theology requirement is all but made, leaving the majority of Notre Dame students without any semblance of theological formation, despite the dubious assertion that courses in “Catholic Studies” will fill the same need. One begins to think that the purpose of the University is not to make saints (which is, of course, the only reason for Catholic education) or scholars (which is the purpose of all education) but to make…what? Even now I can’t be so cynical as to assert that the University is concerned only with making money. Making the top 10 in the US News and World Report, perhaps. Making “leaders” with no roots in anything but their own impressive resumes. Making a “difference,” although to what end seems unclear. And so I write to you with great concern.
I write to you as an evangelist, as one who knows that it is Christ and Christ alone who can make sense of the human experience. I know the desperate need Notre Dame students have for Christ and I know how many of them don’t truly know him. You have only two semesters to introduce them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and this strikes you as excessive? Can it possibly be true that the leaders of Our Lady’s University are declaring that her sons and daughters have no need of her Son? “Let us study, let us serve, let us win on the field, on the court, on the ice, but let us not preach the Gospel. Not when there are secular schools to compete with and tests scores to boost. After all, what does it matter?” It matters more than anything else any person can ever learn. And you want to make it optional. You want to satisfy the requirement with a class on the Canterbury Tales or on the American Catholic experience while thousands of students leave the nation’s “greatest” Catholic university not knowing Jesus. For shame.
I write to you as a theology teacher, one whose high school apologetics class was widely considered one of the most academically rigorous offered in the school. Tell me what exactly your students have to lose by studying Aquinas and Augustine. Tell me what could be better for their intellectual formation than wrestling with the most difficult questions ever asked. How are they better prepared for law school or the business world because they avoided metaphysics in favor of some Flannery O’Connor or Hopkins?
I write to you as a Catholic. Notre Dame is the unquestioned leader in Catholic higher education (though it’s harder and harder to see why). Please consider the ramifications of dropping the theology requirement not only on your students but on all students at Catholic colleges. If Notre Dame eliminates the core theology requirement, schools that look to Notre Dame as the standard of American Catholicism will follow suit. Perhaps your “Catholic studies” courses will form hearts and minds in the Catholic tradition–though I think it unlikely. There is no guarantee that such will be the case for courses taught at the schools that will follow your lead. If you can’t remain Catholic for the sake of your students, do it for all of American Catholicism.
I write to you as an educated person. Education is not vocational training. It is not pre-professional studies. Education is the formation of the person. It’s the reason I had to take science classes and history classes and language classes–because I was in college to be educated, not to be trained. How exactly can we educate students when we remove the discipline that was at the heart of the university system at its inception, the queen of the sciences? How can we claim that our students are well-educated when their knowledge is an inch wide and a mile deep? Will you next remove the English requirement or the social studies? After all, they use English in their other classes. And really, people pick up on basic history from movies and such. And then would you call them educated? You would not. Tell me, then, why you can remove a study of the questions most often asked throughout the history of humanity and feel that you have done your job.
I write to you as a human being. I know what it is to wrestle with existence and purpose and evil. I know the questions that haunt the human heart. We can explore them using reason and the wisdom of those who have gone before. We can ignore them, pouring booze and pleasure and any other palliative we can find into the gaping hole in our hearts. Or we can answer them with Pinterest and ESPN and Nicholas Sparks novels. Can you really live with yourselves knowing that you have left a generation to find itself via Buzzfeed and Beyonce lyrics while Athanasius and Anselm, Buber and von Balthasar gather dust in the stacks? Perhaps Notre Dame students are above such drivel. And perhaps not.
I write to you as an alumna of the University. For years, I’ve endured raised eyebrows and snide remarks when I mentioned my alma mater. And I defended you. When President Obama was given an honorary degree, I defended you. When you caved before the Department of Health and Human Services, I defended you. “Notre Dame is the only school trying to be a top 20 university and authentically Catholic,” I repeated. I will not defend you now. If the University of Notre Dame thinks she can be a Catholic University without forming students in Catholic theology, she is lying to herself and to all who trust in her. She is betraying the Church that made her great.
I must apologize if my remarks are merely a response to rumors and the hysteria that has followed them. I trust that you are men and women of integrity, men and women who understand what it is to be a Catholic university, to be a university at all. I beg you to honor those who have gone before by giving their children an education worthy of the name.
Yours in Notre Dame,
Meg Hunter-Kilmer, B.A. ’04, M.T.S. ’06