Rationale for the seminar
The purpose of the Faculty Seminar in Catholic Identity, which has been offered each spring semester over the past four years, is to introduce new faculty to Catholic intellectual traditions and commitments in higher education in order to enable them, via their research, teaching and advising, to carry on and strengthen these traditions and commitments. Most new faculty, both Catholic and non-Catholic, have a limited understanding of Catholic higher education and how it differs from secular higher education, and they ordinarily have given little thought to how they might contribute to Catholic identity and mission. The role of faith in an educational atmosphere often dominated by reason seems at first very foreign. However, as new faculty participate with colleagues and the instructors in discussions of the readings for this seminar they come to have a much better appreciation of the centuries-old Catholic commitment to the mutually reinforcing roles of faith and reason in Catholic higher education and how they can contribute to this tradition.
The seminar meets once per week throughout an entire semester in a traditional face-to-face format. Content consists of an introductory module containing a rationale for the seminar, a detailed syllabus or plan for the semester and an extensive and detailed general bibliography on Catholic higher education and also bibliographies for specific disciplines. The introductory module is followed by twelve instructional units. Each unit contains a listing of expected learning outcomes, a description of the main topic for the session, electronic access to the readings(s) for each unit, a reading guide and a number of discussion questions that can be addressed in the face-to-face meeting, the online discussion function or both. Several of the units also contain an investigative assignment involving mission issues in one’s department and a reflection opportunity. The final unit asks participants to develop an action plan for what they might do to personally contribute to the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Marquette (or other Catholic institutions if they do not work at Marquette).
Evaluation of the seminar
Seminar participants evaluate online materials and the readings-based discussion following each seminar and they also comment on changes in their understanding over the course of the semester on specific areas of Catholic higher education. In addition, they develop action plans as noted above.
The instructors also obtained an evaluation of the seminar from a group of nationally known Catholic higher education experts.
Seminar participants reported much improved confidence over the course of the seminar in their knowledge and understanding in the following areas:
- Knowledge of the major issues that confronted Catholic higher education in the United states in the 20th century
- Knowledge of the major reasons for the establishment and continuing existence of Catholic institutions of higher education
- Understanding of how Catholic identity influences mission, especially in teaching and scholarship.
- Understanding how individual faculty can contribute to mission.
- Ability to explain the meaning of Catholic identity and mission to others
In addition to the confidence survey, participants have provided written feedback at the end of each seminar meeting. Several themes have been prominent:
- In addition to social justice themes that many of the participants were aware of before entering the Seminar, they were pleased to find out about the richness and complexity of other historical and intellectual contributions of Catholic higher education.
- Participants have been energized by the seminar, both from the new knowledge they acquired and from the opportunity to meet and discuss important mission-related topics with colleagues.
- Mission-related discussions across disciplines were experienced as an exceptionally helpful and energizing opportunity for faculty.
- There was strong interest in continuing mission-related discussions begun in the seminar in the departments and colleges of the participants.
- One does not need to be Catholic to respond or contribute to the mission of a Catholic university. There was genuine relief and then excitement as participants realized that the Catholic university context provides a hospitable environment to all for the melding of faith and reason in teaching, research and service. This was viewed as an unanticipated and valued opportunity by the new faculty.