Humanistic Liberal Arts Education, the University, and the Catholic Tradition: from the Age of Van Doren and Hutchins to Today

May 24, 2019
Gavin House
1220 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Russell HittingerUniversity of Tulsa

Open to current students and faculty

a colloquium discussion with an introductory presentation by Professor F. Russell Hittinger, William K. Warren Professor Emeritus of Catholic Studies at the University of Tulsa, and a response by J. Columcille Dever, PhD Candidate in the History of Christianity at the University of Notre Dame
3:00PM Coffee & Tea
3:30PM Colloquium Discussion
5:00PM Close, Wine & Cheese Reception
Today with the emphasis on STEM and business education, the tradition of liberal arts education in America (and elsewhere in the world) faces a challenging environment. The recent abolition of several humanities departments at the University of Tulsa sparked protest from faculty and students who value the liberal arts tradition at that institution. Hittinger will report on the lessons to be drawn from the situation in Tulsa.
In facing this challenge, one can learn from the case made for a liberal arts education by figures such as Robert Maynard Hutchins and Mark Van Doren at The University of Chicago and Columbia University in the first half of the 20th century. At the same time, the current situation is radically different, given the loss of piety for the values of the "West" and its civilization in our multi-cultural, globalized society. In a similar way, the academic disciplines of the humanities are less able to make a case for themselves. And the Catholic intellectual tradition would be interpreted in a different manner from how it was seen in the first half of the 20th century.
One would expect leading Catholic universities to make the liberal arts tradition central to their mission and to be in a position to play a leading role in contemporary discussion of the relevance of a curriculum of humanistic education in a democratic society. Indeed this is done in a creative way on the margins of Catholic higher education, but not by the most prestigious or leading Catholic colleges.
Ironically, in an address to Catholic educators (cited by Msgr. John Tracy Ellis in his seminal article “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life”), Robert Maynard Hutchins urged Catholic colleges to emphasize the "the longest intellectual tradition of any institution in the contemporary world" and, in the words of Ellis, to "make it come alive in American intellectual circles."
Catholic colleges seem to have missed the pearl of great price pointed to by Hutchins, while they took up his second order challenge of matching the best secular universities in terms of "high academic standards, development of habits of work, and research...."
The colloquium discussion will focus on the question of how scholars at Catholic and secular universities might make a case for a humanistic liberal arts education in today's culture and how they see its relation to "the longest intellectual tradition of any institution in the contemporary world."
The article of John Tracy Ellis can be found HERE.

Russell Hittinger is the William K. Warren Professor of Catholic Studies and Research Professor of Law at the University of Tulsa. He is also a member of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas.  Hittinger is the author of many books, including A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory, The First Grace: Rediscovering Natural Law in a Post-Christian Age, Thomas Aquinas the Rule of Law, and most recently Paper Wars: Catholic Social Doctrine and the Modern State (forthcoming).