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New Adjustments Help Bring 2010 Core Revision to Reality

UST Star LogoUST’s core curriculum, reformed in 2010, was further revised this spring with the introduction of new sequencing for core theology and philosophy classes, and qualifying guidelines for the synthesis courses first outlined in the 2010 reform. 

Starting in Fall 2014, students should see philosophy and theology professors referring to material in one another’s core courses more often as well as see some interesting collaborations among various academic disciplines in the synthesis courses, according to Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences the Rev. Joseph Pilsner, CSB.

One of the courses recently approved as a synthesis course is Social Justice and the Church. UST theology professor Randall Smith, who has taught the course for many years, said his department is in conversation with both the Cameron Business School and the Center for International Studies to explore how students in those disciplines could benefit from a social justice synthesis course that covers issues such as business ethics and global development from the rich perspective of Church tradition.

“There is some serious reflecting that has been done [on these issues] by various popes in various encyclicals,” Smith said.  “We hope our students can benefit from that.”

Achieving an Integrated Worldview

One of the most important dimensions of the 2010 reform was to enhance integration among disciplines in accordance with the Catholic vision of education set out in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s historic document on the role and identity of the Catholic university. 

Members of the UST community have been working since then to implement the vision of this document, which stresses that the most comprehensive understanding of reality is achieved when academic “silos” are avoided and knowledge from the various academic disciplines is integrated.  Especially important for Catholic liberal arts is the dialogue between faith and reason.

The new course sequencing, for example, helps take into account the way philosophy lays a foundation for theology, Pilsner said. The philosophy course Ethics, for example, must now be taken before the moral theology course Christ and the Moral Life so the latter can build on the former, and new students should work carefully with their advisers to ensure they register for classes in the right order, he noted.

The synthesis courses, meanwhile, were introduced in 2010 to help students achieve a more integrated worldview by identifying connections between various disciplines and discovering how they fit together as a whole, based on the understanding that truth possesses a unity, and that the whole truth transcends the conclusions of any one discipline.

Under the most recent revisions, the Core Curriculum Review Committee issued a document specifying the necessary attributes of two types of synthesis courses: cross-disciplinary synthesis courses such as Social Justice and the Church, and “higher synthesis” courses that provide a more comprehensive synthesis of the liberal arts.

An example of the latter is a revised course on John Henry Newman featuring his book, “The Idea of a University,” which explores how each of the academic disciplines plays its proper role in higher education.   

Synthesis courses are “housed” under the theology, philosophy and Catholic Studies departments.  Faculty members from other disciplines were frequently involved in the development of these courses, and will sometimes be involved in presenting the course material, either by teaching key sections, or even at times by co-teaching entire courses. 

A Major Step

“The recent revision of the core curriculum is a major step toward realizing the guiding vision for St. Thomas's core curriculum: integration,” stated Dominic Aquila, UST’s Vice President for Academic Affairs.

“I congratulate the faculty who collaborated across disciplines to produce an integrated, interdisciplinary experience that will uniquely benefit and enrich the lives of our students.”

By Marion Fernandez-Cueto

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