University of Notre Dame

The Story of Notre Dame
Academic Development: University of Notre Dame / by Philip S. Moore, C.S.C.


From this exposition of the academic development of Notre Dame from the beginning to the present a number of salient points emerge some of which we may take as guide-lines for the future. From the very first year there has been determination to improve and grow. This determination is stated repeatedly, and is also revealed in the addition of new programs and in the constant re-study of existing programs. There were periods of lull when at best the status quo was maintained but over the years the desire for excellence and greatness has steadily mounted. The story may be summed up as a series of new beginnings, and this will continue to be true. At no time in the history of the University has the passion for improvement glowed as brightly as it does today nor have such intensive means to achieve improvement been taken.

Nor has the drive toward improvement been limited to curricula. In fact, though no one underestimates the importance of a well-devised, coordinated program which brings unity and coherence to study and assures a content which is abreast of the times, it is realized that this is but a vehicle or framework for learning. It is the quality of the instruction, the quality of the students, and the quality of the Faculty that count. In general there has been steady improvement in the quality of all of these. Especially notable has been the increasing care in the selection of members to be added to the Faculty, as we have seen in Chapter VII. In regard to student selectivity, the picture appears bright for an indefinite future.

The introduction of the programs beyond the liberal arts in Science, Law, Engineering and Commerce showed an awareness of the contemporary scene with the changing demands that the increasing diversity of professions and avocations in the growing American society were making on the institutions of higher learning. On the whole this was good and contributed to the progression of Notre Dame toward university status. But we can question the wisdom of some of the departmental programs and wonder whether they were sufficiently thought through before being introduced. At any rate, most of these programs were discontinued after a longer or shorter period. From these experiences of the past, we of the present and the future can draw a lesson of caution. While it is laudable to be attuned to the demands and needs of society at any given time, an institution such as Notre Dame must be selective and undertake to meet only those that accord best with its objectives, its resources and its location. This seems especially true for the future because of the expansion we have presently reached. We shall return to this matter later.

This care and caution in decisions on the future of the University are not to be equated with arrested vision of what Notre Dame can become, nor with fixed pre-judgment of rapidly changing situations. We have seen how disastrous it would have been had the men of arrested vision and of erroneous pre-judgment of what lay ahead prevailed at the turn of the twentieth century. Today the situation is different, but the future is just as uncertain. The situation is different because today Notre Dame has achieved the status of its chartered title. There is no longer question of stunting in mid-course its growth from frontier school to university. The present composition of the student body in its proportion between undergraduate and graduate students seems stable for the foreseeable future and the decision to maintain this proportion at roughly four or five to one appears wise. But we should not become fixed in these judgments. As the high school rapidly developed in public education over the past fifty to seventy-five years, the junior college is now coming into the picture. It is reported that already one out of every four college students begins higher education in a junior college and predicted that within a few years at least one-half of the beginning college classes in many States will be in junior colleges. There are now more than 600 junior colleges in the country, and each year more are springing up.[188]

How great will be the impact of the local junior college upon four year liberal arts colleges is anybody's guess, but it certainly will be serious. As for private universities that draw a national student body, and specifically Notre Dame, prediction is even more difficult, but it is entirely within the scope of possibility that before the end of the present century these universities will have only upper-division undergraduate, professional, graduate and post-doctoral students. This possibility must not be ignored. And then, even apart from the growing junior college movement, it is not entirely fanciful that to maintain its position among American universities and to best serve Catholic higher education Notre Dame will some day find it not only wise but necessary to change its present student composition with growing preponderance on the graduate level. This would be comparable to the shift from high school to college students in the first two decades of the century.

In view of these possibilities all those in whose hands the future of Notre Dame rests must see the University wholly in its potentialities, that is, its potentialities on both college and university levels. In the colleges, the striving for excellence can never be relaxed because the goal will never be fully reached. Improvement must be a continuous process; a series of new beginnings that will never end as long as the colleges continue to exist. Quality of programs, of instruction, of students and of Faculty will have to be kept under constant review. This cannot be minimized nor can it be overemphasized. But while this is recognized, it must also be recognized that having achieved the status of a university the greatness of Notre Dame will come from its university stature, from the excellence of its work in the Graduate School and in the Law School. Colleges can be excellent but only universities can be great centers of learning.

To grow into greatness as a university, it is first necessary to understand the nature of the American university in itself and in its relation to the college as a distinct educational institution. We can deal with these matters together in their historical development in the United States.

Early in the colonial period of American history the need for higher education was recognized. To meet this need Harvard College was founded in 1636. Within the next hundred years William and Mary (1693), Yale (1701), and Princeton (1746) were established. They set the pattern for the many colleges that were to follow, and essentially the pattern remains today, though the scope of studies has been greatly broadened. They were four year institutions designed to impart a classical education. They were conceived as transmitters of acquired knowledge, largely by rote; they were never intended to advance knowledge, to push back the vast area of human ignorance, through research and independent study.

For roughly two hundred years the college was our highest institution of learning, but by the middle of the nineteenth century educators had become keenly conscious of the limitations of the college and of the need for an educational institution which would make up for these limitations. This is expressed in the first Catalogue of the University of Michigan (1852), which carries the statement:

As model for an American institution which would carry education beyond the college and make possible the "more extended studies in science, literature, and the arts, which alone can lead to profound and finished scholarship," the men of the time turned to the German university, and especially to its Faculty of Philosophy which was non-professional. The functions of the German university were advanced teaching and research. It was dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the advancement of knowledge. It recognized the freedom of the professor to carry on his investigations, and the freedom of the mature student to follow his intellectual interests and to master his subject in his own way.

In adopting the German university as model for an institution which would overcome the limitations in American education, the ideal would have been to create a completely separate and distinct institution, and this was unsuccessfully tried when Clark University in Massachusetts and the University of Chicago were founded. But economic necessity and other factors dictated that it be developed in connection with the college. And so the graduate school came into existence in the second half of the nineteenth century; undergraduate school or college and graduate school and professional schools, especially of law and of medicine, came to constitute the complete university. On the other hand, not all colleges added graduate schools, and hence the liberal arts college as a separate, independent institution of undergraduate teaching has continued as part of our educational system.

It is the graduate school which makes our universities and distinguishes them from our colleges. It is the graduate school's characteristics and functions which specify the university. These are research and advanced teaching and study carried on by faculty members and mature students. In its undergraduate division, in its professional schools, and to some extent in its graduate school the university hands on the heritage of learning which has come down to us from the past, but its principal function is to open up unexplored regions of truth and to add to knowledge. The university is out-post on the frontiers of knowledge as well as citadel and depository of the acquired knowledge and wisdom of the ages.

In its genesis, then, the American university is a two-level educational institution; the undergraduate and the graduate levels. This has created certain tensions in all American universities and Notre Dame is no exception. As an educational institution the university is primarily committed to the education of its students. On the undergraduate level this is done chiefly through teaching or classroom instruction; on the graduate level through both teaching and research. But the university is also committed to the advancement of knowledge through research by its Faculty which may not be immediately or directly involved in the educational process. The problem lies in maintaining proper balance between these two committments.

This problem is aggravated by the attitudes and vision of those who make up the university community, both administrators and faculty members, the attitudes and vision being conditioned by their academic backgrounds and by their images of what the university is or should be. Some emphasize the first committment to the practical exclusion of the second; others emphasize the second committment to such degree that they seem reluctant to contribute to the fulfillment of the first. Those who place emphasis on classroom instruction regard, or tend to regard, time given to research as beyond the duty or function of the faculty member; those who emphasize research rightly insist that it is essential function of their university position, but tend to regard as pretty much lost the time they must give to classroom instruction. These two emphases and the tensions they create have a solid basis in fact. But the picture can be overdrawn and distorted because it still remains true that the majority of the academic community recognize both committments. This is certainly true at Notre Dame. The cynicism of a recently growing literature seems based both on a distorted picture of university faculty members and on failure to understand properly the committment of the university to the pursuit of new knowledge. Thus, this literature gives the impression that university professors are anything but disinterested searchers for truth; their motivation is empire building, prestige, personal advancement and aggrandizement. Time given to their institutions is equated with time spent in the classroom; time devoted to research is regarded as time devoted to "their own work."[189]

The future development of Notre Dame into greatness depends upon the recognition that as university it is committed to research and the pursuit of knowledge, to "profound and finished scholarship." When engaging in this function, faculty members are fulfilling essential duty of their position. The proper conditions and the intellectual environment conducive to carrying out this duty must be provided. On the other hand, all faculty members must recognize their great responsibility toward the education of students. In meeting this responsibility they must willingly devote time to classroom instruction on the undergraduate level, from freshman through senior years. Moreover, their research should be tied in directly or indirectly with their teaching function. Only through these recognitions can the two essential committments of Notre Dame, and every other American university, be fully and justly discharged. Only in this way can the inherent tensions within a two-level educational institution be reduced to a minimum.

To fulfill its committment to the advancement of knowledge and to the research this entails, Notre Dame, like every other private American university, is faced with the tremendous problem of its financing. The cost comes high. One reason for this is that in certain areas, such as science and engineering, the equipment and instrumentation essential to research has become increasingly elaborate and expensive. Another reason, which applies to all areas of knowledge, is that to make time available for research the teaching or classroom instruction schedules of faculty members must be reduced with consequent increase in staff to meet the teaching committment. Leaves of absence, travel, expanded library resources, seminars and classes restricted to small groups of students, fellowships, and in some instances the publication of the results of research are other reasons.

Against this cost universities have almost no operational income. In consequence, support must be obtained from outside sources -- alumni and other private benefactors, industry, foundations, government. Fortunately, all these sources have become increasingly aware of their responsibility to help the universities. Well known is the support from industry and especially from government agencies for research in science and engineering. But accepting such support unquestionably involves risks and dangers both for the research workers and the universities. For the research workers, the greatest danger is that they lose their independence to do the research they want to do, the research they are most qualified to do in the unhurried, disinterested way that has traditionally characterized the scholar's search for truth, that has been most conducive to his creativity, and yielded the most fruitful results; for the universities, the greatest risk is that they become too dependent upon this outside support. Today, and for the foreseeable future, however, these dangers and risks must be run. Recognizing them is the first protection against them. Intelligent and prudent administrative control by the universities, the integrity and professional honor of faculty members, and understanding on the part of industry and government. In this matter, then, Notre Dame must continue to exercise intelligent and prudent administrative control of support from industry and government agencies for its work in science and engineering, and faculty members must continue to solicit support only for projects consonant with their scientific integrity and professional honor. This applies equally to faculty members in other fields whose work is attracting support from outside sources.

To meet its committment to research and the advancement of knowledge, Notre Dame, therefore, must diligently seek support from all potential sources and for work in all areas of the University where support is possible. Most of this support will have to be obtained in the future as in the past for specific programs which win the interest of the supporting agencies, be they industry, government or foundations. But unfortunately there are many problems urgently in need of study -- problems most vitally and peculiarly important to the advancement of knowledge within a Catholic university -- for which practically no support is forthcoming from these agencies. These problems are primarily in theology, philosophy and the humanities. And here danger of another kind arises. This danger is that because they cannot win specific outside financial help, these problems will not be studied, vigorous research in these fields will not be fostered. This is a truly grave danger because it seems no exaggeration to aver that in the measure it prevails, in such measure will Notre Dame, as Catholic university, fail in an obligation to Catholic scholarship.

Notre Dame is to be commended for the encouragement and support it has given to research in theology, philosophy, literature, history and other fields which engage Catholic thinkers and Catholic interests. This should be even more vigorously pursued for the future and adopted as policy understood by all concerned. In this way not only will the University discharge its obligation to Catholic scholarship but also obviate the frustration often felt by our scholars in these most vitally important fields as they view the advantageous position of colleagues whose research the agencies of our society are so generously supporting.

In pursuance of a determination, perhaps not always fully conscious of its implications, Notre Dame has reached its full chartered status of university. We need not pause to judge whether it is today a great university, because greatness is relative. We need only recognize that no institution ever fully achieves the strength and perfection of which it is capable. The task of the future, therefore, is to build constantly in strength and toward perfection. The future development and the greatness of Notre Dame will depend on our vision of the University, on how strong and great we envision it should be, and on the boldness we bring to the realization of this vision.

In carrying on this task, it must be borne in mind that Notre Dame is not only a university but a Catholic university. Its quantitative spread must therefore be sufficiently inclusive of areas of knowledge to constitute a university and provide broad enough base to build in strength; its peculiar emphasis must be in those areas of knowledge to which a Catholic university should especially dedicate itself.

The expansion presently reached embraces a spread of areas of knowledge more than sufficient to constitute a university and provide base for building in strength. The four colleges comprise thirty-one academic departments, plus the Program of Liberal Education: thirteen in the College of Arts and Letters, four in the College of Commerce, nine in the College of Engineering, and five in the College of Science. The Graduate School offers programs in twenty of these departments in regular year and in twenty-four in the summer session. In addition there are two research institutes, the Mediaeval Institute and Lobund. The departments of the Graduate School are distributed among four divisions: the Arts and Letters Division, the Social Science Division, the Science Division and the Engineering Division. They cover the basic disciplines in these four broad areas of knowledge. Then there is the Law School.

Of the programs in the Graduate School, sixteen lead to the doctor's degree -- three in the Arts and Letters Division, four in the Social Science Division, four in the Science Division, three in the Engineering Division, one in the Mediaeval Institute, and one in Lobund --, while six in the regular year and ten in the summer session are limited to the master's degree.

In view of this present expansion of the University or coverage of areas of knowledge, it now seems the part of wisdom to exercise great care against further expansion either on the undergraduate or the graduate level. Any additional department at this time or in the foreseeable future would seem justifiable only because it supplied a discipline now lacking but judged essential in a Catholic university.

One such discipline is Psychology, which is a notable gap in the programs we are offering and which should be among the areas of knowledge included in a Catholic university. It should, therefore, be introduced in the near future, perhaps only on the graduate level, and developed to the full strength of a doctoral program as rapidly as possible.

As to other areas of knowledge which should characterize a Catholic university, Theology leads the list. Progress has been made in this field but it demands special attention. It should be built in strength until it becomes a great center of Catholic theological learning. Integral part of this center in regular year should be the program in Liturgy in which we have taken the lead among Catholic universities. Philosophy in its own right and as a buttress to Theology should be equally strong. Modern philosophy cannot and should not be neglected, but emphasis should be placed upon a living philosophical tradition. In this connection, it now seems no exaggeration to say that the intellectual heritage of the West may be slowly lost in the United States unless it is fostered and preserved in Catholic schools. We need, therefore, vigorous scholarship in the patristic and mediaeval periods of our past. For the mediaeval period this is true not only in Theology and in Philosophy but in other branches of learning. In such light or perspective the importance and significance of our Mediaeval Institute are accentuated. Properly developed it can become a distinguishing mark of Notre Dame as a Catholic university. But for this it must realize its potentialities, which it has thus far not done; it must become a true center or focal point in which are brought together and cross fertilized research and teaching in the several fields of mediaeval knowledge. To achieve such a center at least two things are necessary. The first is a change of policy in regard to the status of the Faculty within the University; the second is more active participation of the Faculty, under the Director, in the affairs of the Institute. These two things are closely inter-connected.

Heretofore the policy has been that except for the Director faculty members teaching in the Institute have been members of the departments and made available by the departments to the Institute for specific assignments. Their primary responsibilities have been to the departments. Consequently, they have not had a sense of "belonging" to the Institute; they have not had the cohesion necessary to form a Faculty working together toward a unified objective. Under this condition their participation in the affairs of the Institute has fallen far short of what is required to create a center of mediaeval studies.

It, therefore, is time to reverse the policy. Faculty members highly qualified in the mediaeval period of several disciplines -- initially they could be limited to Theology, Philosophy, Classics, English and History -- should be appointed to the Institute. Under the Director, who no matter what his specialty should be a man of broad interests, they should through staff meetings conduct the affairs of the Institute. Theirs would be the responsibility to devise a balanced program of studies for students registered in the Institute and, in cooperation with the heads of departments whose disciplines they represented, a program of courses which would meet wholly or in part the needs of graduate and advanced undergraduate students in the departments. To them could also be assigned for direction departmental graduate students whose research fell within the mediaeval period. By such change in policy and in operation the Mediaeval Institute should realize its full potentialities and become the dynamic center of Catholic learning which it can be.

To build in strength and toward perfection our existing programs, each one should be considered in the light of its needs, its place within the University and its contribution to the objectives of the University. For Theology, as has already been stated, this will mean developing its program to the doctoral level. This also seems advisable for two or three more departments in engineering, but at the same time the policy of full cooperation of all departments within the Engineering Division to reduce to a minimum the multiplication of courses should be strictly enforced. In view of its contribution to the objectives of the University and of strengthening the humanities core of the Arts and Letters Division of the Graduate School, the question of extending graduate programs in one or two modern languages to regular schoolyear should be left open for future consideration. On the other hand, no other development of existing graduate programs and no introduction of additional graduate programs in present departments of the University seems now advisable.[190] This could change in the future in some areas, notably in Commerce, where the day may come when it will be advisable to transform it into a fifth Division of the Graduate School. In the meanwhile encouragement of research and the advancement of knowledge and provision of the conditions which will make this possible must be extended to all qualified faculty members in the disciplines in which no graduate programs are offered.

A word remains to be said about the Science Division and the Social Science Division of the Graduate School. Relative strength in science goes far back into the history of Notre Dame, and in no area have we had greater development in recent years. For this reason and also because of the predominant position of science in the world of today we must continue to build in strength our departments of science. That this will be done is evidenced by the steps the University has recently taken to provide strong leadership for both the College of Science and the Science Division of the Graduate School.

On the whole the social sciences are comparatively young as academic disciplines. But they have now well established their place in our colleges and universities. The contributions they are making to our knowledge of man and of the society in which he lives can scarcely be over-estimated. Their importance to Catholic scholarship is incalculably great. On the graduate level our departments of the Social Science Division vary in strength but all of them need to be greatly strengthened in Faculty, in students, in research and publication. To invigorate this Division the proposal for a dean who would provide strong leadership and coordinate the work of the departments in the measure possible appears to be essential first step to be taken. The addition of a Department of Psychology with strong doctoral program should add to the over-all strength of the Division. More initiative in devising significant research proposals and more active participation in the national learned societies are among other ways of building in strength this area of knowledges which can be so vitally contributory to the great ness of Notre Dame as a Catholic university.

In the Introduction to this study several references were made to Father John A. Zahm and to his role in furthering the development of Notre Dame toward achievement of its chartered university status. In bringing this study to a close, it seems fitting to cite words be penned over a half-century ago but which are as applicable today as they were when he wrote them:

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