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University of Dallas and the Classical Western Curriculum

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Today I visited the University of Dallas in Irving, Texas. UD is a small Catholic college with a classical liberal arts curriculum. As one of the faculty members described it, UD offers a 21st Century Renaissance education. As such, UD is not a college that will appeal to everyone. But it has great strengths and knows how to serve its students well.
The curriculum is centered on a classical core stuffed with the best of the Western educational tradition: the classics, history, philosophy, theology, and the sciences. Here’s what’s required during the first two years of prescribed coursework:

  • 2 Theology Courses: Understanding the Bible, Western Theological Tradition
  • 4 Literary Tradition Courses: Ancient Epic Poetry (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid), Christian Epic Poetry (Beowulf, the Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost), Ancient and Christian Tragedy and Comedy (Oedipus Rex, Shakespeare), Lyric Poetry and the Modern Novel (Crime and Punishment, Mansfield Park)
  • 4 Philosophy Courses: Philosophy & the Ethical Life, Philosophy of Man, Philosophy of Being, another philosophy course that compliments the major discipline of study
  • 4 History Courses: Greece & Rome and the Middle Ages; The Reformation, Enlightenment and Modernity; The Founding and the Civil War; World Wars, Cold War and Globalization
  • Principles of American Politics
  • Fundamentals of Economics
  • Foreign Language Study (to intermediate levels)

From my perspective, the curriculum is purposeful and well-constructed, and it nurtures reflection within an unabashedly Christian context. The curriculum is reading and writing intensive. Students read at least 60 books, most of which are part of the Western canon. And the students do not read the “Cliff’s Notes” versions…they read Dante and Milton and Homer in their entirety. The school does not offer “composition” courses per se, but in English courses alone, students will write 20-25 papers on topics that are well-developed, that are based on the great ideas of the great books.
The students are not completely cloistered (even though they are still taught by a small and aging group of Hungarian Cistercian monks–in addition to a larger group younger, dynamic faculty). Nearly 85% of students spend a semester on the college’s campus outside of Rome, Italy. While the students travel there in groups of over 100, the saving grace is that the students are given a substantive curriculum during this semester. The courses are not fluff as they are in so many study abroad programs. Students also take group trips to Greece and other parts of Italy. This brings the classical curriculum alive for students.
I enjoyed my time on this campus. I really admired the dedication and involvement of the faculty. They believe in what they are doing, and fervently support their students in their intellectual, social, and spiritual exploration.
So if you are interested in a small, Catholic school with a classical curriculum University of Dallas may be for you.
Mark Montgomery
Montgomery Educational Consulting

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