Imagine if, in addition to contemplating the true nature of justice and reading dense chapters of the “Aeneid,” the University of Dallas expected its students to understand some truly challenging aspects of chemistry, biology and physics.
The UD Core suffers from omitting serious science courses from its curriculum, and the Liberal Arts majors suffer most of all, because understanding science is absolutely vital to being the liberally-educated, well-rounded students we strive to be. Just as all students, including science majors, are expected to take advanced English and philosophy classes, all students at UD should be required to take one fundamental “science major” course: general biology, chemistry or physics.
To avoid science is to avoid what is the elephant in the room of a great education for several reasons, the most important of which is the certain kind of critical thinking skill learned only in difficult science courses.
For years, the university has advertised its academically challenging Core as the crucible in which its students learn to think independently.
Philosophy, English and history courses often surprise students by forcing them to look at the world differently. For example, the heroes of the “Iliad,” symbols of strength and honor, are harshly critiqued in Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Just as students begin to think they have a grasp on How to Be a Hero 101, the rules change, because being a hero isn’t that simple.
This shaken-up feeling is, I believe, what creates the concentrated intellectual environment at UD as students, especially freshmen, struggle to decide where they stand.
Science majors receive an extra dose of this cold-water shock of reality as they visualize biological processes too small to see, predict the future of chemical reactions and study movement in several dimensions at once.
Truly challenging science classes provide a venue for rousing a drained mind to go through a series of steps one more time, asking itself how a molecule behaves.
As great courses do in every department, these science courses force learning, and therefore, the exhilaration of victory and the rich rewards of understanding, where otherwise there would be half-hearted memorization and the waste of time and potential that accompanies a superficial course.
Perhaps the disparity between “science major” courses and other science classes is best illustrated by the first day of General Biology, when the professor stands at the front of Gorman A and, with the best of intentions, warns any liberal arts majors to get out while they can.
Of course this class is challenging, but propagating the falsehood that history or economics majors are somehow incapable of thriving in such a scientific environment does liberal arts majors a great disservice. Since when do UD students shy away from a course that forces them to think?
The Admissions office loves to print glossy photos of biochemistry majors laughing with theology majors, a stack of Great Books between them. We all want to belong to a community where a diverse variety of subjects are deeply studied, understood and loved, and yet, any non-science major at UD has the option of putting off his two required science courses until junior or senior year, or even fulfilling the requirement at another college or university.
The powerful books of Lit Trad could never hold such a position of semi-importance, because the university values them as structural necessities to forming great minds. The relevance of science — the studies that seek to clarify the physical universe — must rank higher in these great minds.
Science illuminates the world that near-graduates are about to enter, and yet many leave the university unenlightened in this area alone, the rest of their minds having been suitably molded by the rest of their education. Without chemistry, how can one join conversations on drug trials, environmental contamination or the best technique for baking chocolate chip cookies?
How can one defend the life of the unborn without an understanding of the characteristics of life as understood by biologists, or help decide whether the U.S. government should provide its citizens with healthcare without a strong background in human anatomy?
Of what use is it to have space exploration, structurally safe vehicles, and a taller and more regal tower than Trinity University’s tower if we stand on the sidelines, content to observe rather than participate in the physics of the universe?
Perhaps the true proposal, then, is not to change the Core, but rather to change UD’s mindset about science.
UD, it’s time to create an environment where there are no “science major” science courses, only bright students challenging themselves to embrace aspects of the sciences and the humanities and gleaning as much knowledge and truth as possible from both. Start by taking a “Gen” class: “Gen Phys.,” “Gen Bio.” or “Gen Chem.” would suffice.