The Student Experience
The inevitable result of the weakening of curriculum and the reduction of the Catholic faculty is an infirm Catholic education.
There has been a change over the years in Catholic students entering Notre Dame as a group. Many are not well informed about their religion. Many come from families with only a loose attachment to Catholicism. For many, Notre Dame is not their first choice but rather the highest ranked school to which they were admitted. For many, four years at Notre Dame weakens, rather than strengthens, their commitment to the Church and its teachings.
It is a commonplace that students entering Catholic colleges and universities are, as a group, singularly ill-informed about their religion. Notre Dame students evidently are no exception. Dr. Marian E. Crowe, who for some years taught the required Arts & Letters Core Course, reports, “Very few of them either know much about or understand even the most basic Catholic teachings.” More, in their fundamental outlook her students “express the relativism and individualism so rampant in our society.”
For a host of compelling data supporting Dr. Crowe’s classroom observations, go to the recent compelling, and depressing, study by one of the nation’s foremost sociologists, Dr. Christian Smith of the Notre Dame sociology department, “Young Catholic America.” Dr. Smith’s survey of Notre Dame students, mostly freshman, showed that “many Catholic students attending … Notre Dame do not know as much about the Bible and theology as they might and perhaps should.” For example, less than 50% of public high school graduates believed that the Holy Trinity had no beginning, that is has existed always. For that matter, so did less than 75% of Catholic high school graduates.
Perhaps even more unsettling is the discovery that “less than 20% of each group was very positive about the church,” with 75% of public school graduates and well over 50% of Catholic school graduates saying they were not “committed to living my life as a faithful member of the Catholic Church.”
Thus, the challenge to Notre Dame is now much greater than in the past, while its capacity to respond has been weakened by the relative decline in Catholic professors and the dilution of the curriculum.
The university could test how it is meeting that challenge through surveys covering four-year spans, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, so far as we can tell it does not do so. Nor would it release to us the results of such a survey that was made by the respected Higher Education Research Institute. HERI tested a number of schools of which Notre Dame was one, but it reported its results for the group as a whole. Notre Dame could have, but did not, release its results.
But it did release some of them to the student publication The Scholastic and they are troublesome indeed. Specifically, after four years at Notre Dame:
- With respect to abortion, the percentage of pro-choice students went up from 31% to 42%.
- With respect to pre-marital sex, the percentage of students who approved if the couple “really like each other even if they’ve only known each other for a short time” went up from 21% to 36%.
This may explain why the university will not release the rest of the survey. Another survey that provides discouraging supplemental and confirming evidence was conducted by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and reported in the February 24, 2005 issue of The Scholastic.
The survey framed the issue in terms of changes in “spirituality” over four years at Notre Dame. Almost half of the students reported no change in their spirituality, and of the remaining students, more than twice as many reported a decline as reported an increase in spirituality.
None of this means that students cannot get a fine Catholic education at Notre Dame. With determination and discrimination they can, and many do. But what is needed is the predominantly Catholic faculty that the Mission Statement promises and a curriculum to match so that all students and parents will be assured of the Catholic education they expect and deserve.