Michael Johnson leads a slightly different life than most of the University of Dallas students who walk along the Mall on an average day.
Johnson is a graduate student in his fourth semester in the Masters of Humanities program in the Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts, with an emphasis on medieval history.
He majored in Biblical studies, with a minor in humanities, at Criswell College in Dallas before continuing his education at UD, which he chose for its strong medieval courses and religious identity.
“UD proved to have an excellent array of medieval courses … I believed that the era would receive a fair treatment at a Catholic institution,” Johnson said. “I have a great respect for the Catholic intellectual tradition, and it seemed all too fitting to attend a Catholic university to study the Middle Ages, since it was in that period that Catholicism gave birth to universities.”
Johnson attends classes at the university two days a week, in addition to his day job and internship.
Many other graduate students have to balance similar loads, with day jobs or families to care for — something Johnson believes the university should take into account when creating the schedule of courses each semester.
“The lack of evening or block classes makes the schedule sometimes difficult, as many of the humanities students are teachers, or hold other day jobs that don’t exactly allow us to attend noon classes three days a week,” Johnson said.
Lack of support from the university is another problem for students in the humanities program.
Upon arrival, they do not receive an orientation to the university or even a tour or map of campus, leaving them puzzled by abbreviations on the schedule and some of the idiosyncrasies of undergraduate life, such as Charity Week.
Finally, the lack of a humanities department on campus makes finding professors for the six World courses that compose the core of the program — Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Modern and Recent — difficult.
“The World courses … rely on wrangling a professor from one of the established departments to teach classes that may or may not fall entirely within their realm of expertise,” Johnson said.
Johnson mentioned that Dr. Stephen Maddux, associate professor of French, has done an excellent job teaching multiple World courses, including Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque Worlds, and finding other faculty to lecture on subjects beyond the scope of his field of study.
Graduate students in the humanities programs, whether they are working toward a Master of Arts in Humanities or a Master of Humanities degree, are required to take any three of the World courses, according to the UD website.
They then structure their degree around either one or two concentrations or one or two time periods.
Undergraduate students do not often interact with graduate students on campus, nor do they know much about the university’s graduate programs, since they are often taking classes at different times.
Students like junior Mary Lindberg who take graduate-level courses, however, find the overlap of the two communities enjoyable and helpful.
“I like that grad students are really enthusiastic,” Lindberg said. “I think taking [graduate-level classes] gives me a taste of what going further into a subject area looks like.”
She encourages other undergraduate students to take these higher-level courses, even though they may encounter some difficulties.
“You might get a C on your first exam, but I think you’ll be glad you took the class in the long run,” Lindberg said. “There’s [an] upside to taking grad classes as an undergrad — it’s insightful and beneficial.”
Johnson said that, while graduate student life is less coherent than undergraduate student life, the two are not very different on a fundamental level.
“Truthfully, grad school isn’t that vastly different from undergrad,” Johnson said. “The lack of centralized academic life and the added stress of working — usually quite a bit — while taking classes are distinguishing factors, as are lengthier papers and perhaps the attendance of academic conferences or attempts at being published … but at the end of the day, we are fundamentally working toward the same goal: the betterment of self through education … or at worst, the desperate attempt to get a piece of paper that’ll land a good paying job.”