Not only has Catholic faculty representation plummeted, but the Catholic elements of the curriculum have been radically weakened.
The weakening of Catholic identity through the change in faculty composition has been exacerbated by major changes in the curriculum over time. Theology and philosophy course requirements have been whittled down and the core curriculum attenuated. While elective courses afford the opportunity for a Catholic education, required courses do not provide it. There remain only six required Theology credits, only three of which must be in a specifically Catholic course. Similarly, only six credits are required in Philosophy, none in courses necessarily taught from a Catholic perspective.
While, fortunately, the theology faculty has a generally, though not by any means solid, Catholic character, unfortunately students may see little of it, since most of the sections in the one specifically Catholic course are taught by graduate students.
As to the philosophy department, the late Dr. Ralph McInerny, a much-honored philosophy scholar and teacher, painted a bleak picture. Observing that “[p]ositions dubiously compatible with the faith are maintained and taught all around us,” told of a colleague who declared that, since he regarded Catholicism as false, he had a moral obligation to disabuse his students of their faith. Dr. McInerny lamented that, for “a majority” of his colleagues, what he says about Thomistic philosophy “would be as intelligible as it would be at Meatball Tech.”
The weakening of the influence of Catholic faculty is reflected more generally in the balance of the curriculum. Dr. Alfred Freddoso, one of the university’s longest serving and most respected members of the philosophy department, as written and spoken unsparingly about the inadequacy of the core curriculum to the task of providing a Catholic liberal arts education. He writes:
Unfortunately, at Notre Dame we really do not at present have anything like a core curriculum of the sort I have just pointed to…. Every year at graduation time, when I hear all the high-minded and idealized talk about the integration of faith and reason at Notre Dame, I worry that very few of our graduates leave this place with anything like an intellectually integrated view of the world (or even the seeds of such) or with anything like an intellectually mature Faith. In this regard, we are just like a lot of other schools, both religious and secular, and especially like other research universities.
This attenuation of Catholic instruction is of special concern because of the religious illiteracy that characterizes so many college students. The results, as disclosed in surveys, are worrisome. We describe them in the “Students” section of this discussion of secularization.