But whatever his major or degree, each student had to take a significant number of philosophy courses. The philosophy requirements had increased since 1903. This was due in part to the popularity of scholastic philosophy in Catholic circles, and also among segments of the broader American public, in the era between the two world wars. Thomists like Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson became popular even in secular venues, and Catholic colleges such as Santa Clara took the occasion to beef up their offerings in this seemingly burgeoning field.
All arts and sciences and business majors had to take the equivalent of a minor in philosophy (including 12 upper division units). Engineering students had to take a total of 12 lower and upper division units in their junior and senior years. The courses were generally sequenced. Freshmen took Logic; sophomores, Metaphysics I and Philosophy of Man; juniors Theory of Knowledge and Metaphysics II; and seniors, Basic Ethics and Social Ethics. Santa Clara’s most eminent philosopher, Austin Fagothey, S.J., declared accurately, “Philosophy [is] the pivot point on which the whole curriculum of a Jesuit university turns.”
Academic theology courses continued to exist, but they were not extensive. Catholic students generally took a single 1-unit course each semester. Non-Catholic students were exempted from this requirement. As was the case in 1903, campus life was the major agent in Catholic spiritual formation of students. A contemporary campus photo, for instance, pictured the student body, under a banner of the Virgin Mary, processing through the Mission Gardens behind cassocked figures bearing candles and crosses. Such devotional activities continued to be a significant expression of Santa Clara’s Jesuit and Catholic identity.
Few suspected it at the time, but this era was already drawing to a close. The popularity of scholasticism was waning, even among Catholics, in the 1950s. Critics complained that it neglected subjectivity, evolution, and historical development, and was thus increasingly irrelevant to post-World War II American life. Only a few graduate programs in the country trained such philosophers, and they were generally not the leading departments of the land. At the same time, the increasingly affluent, professional, and suburbanizing Catholic population was demanding greater academic excellence of its colleges and universities. That entailed hiring faculty from better graduate programs. The result of these trends was the almost overnight collapse of philosophy as the integrating discipline in a Santa Clara education.
As late as 1966, most students were required to take five philosophy courses. Three years later, in 1969, only three philosophy courses were required, as well as three theology courses for Catholic students. And two years after that, the only University requirement was three “religious studies” courses, for the first time required of all students, Catholic or not.
A few Catholic universities had attempted to adopt a “great books” approach as the integrating factor in their curricula, but Santa Clara did not follow that trend. During most of the 1970s, curricular requirements were set at the college and school level, with the three religious studies courses as the only University-wide requirement. Finally, the opening of campus life, which began with the influx of veterans after World War II, accelerated in the 1960s. In short order, campus extracurricular life lost the spiritual formation role it had exercised so powerfully for so long.
In 1978, a relatively new president, William Rewak, S.J., gave a brand new academic vice-president, Paul Locatelli, S.J., his first task: to create a new Santa Clara Core Curriculum. A number of other colleges and universities, whose own curricula had collapsed during the 1960s and 1970s for reasons both similar to and dissimilar from Santa Clara’s, were engaged in like enterprises. Santa Clara thus participated in a national trend. Locatelli convened a faculty/student committee that worked for more than a year. The committee identified seven areas in which Santa Clara students ought to take classes and demonstrate competency: composition and literature, Western culture, second language, social science, mathematics and natural science, ethics, and religious studies.
This curricular approach, which was broadly similar to that being adopted by many other Catholic and secular universities, was a frank admission that, in the fragmented intellectual and social universes of the late 20th century, no single discipline was able, by itself, to structure a university’s entire academic life and express its identity. Integration and distinctiveness would henceforth come, not from the overarching sway of one field like philosophy, but from a unique mix of subject matters and approaches that the curriculum would embody. Ten years later, another faculty committee, headed by Political Science Professor Eric Hanson, retained this basic approach and added requirements in non-Western culture and technology. This is the curriculum under which SCU students are studying in 2003.
History is not a predictive art. However, we can say with reasonable confidence that the larger patterns that have shaped Santa Clara’s curricular developments will continue to exercise their sway. Our new curriculum is already becoming a tradition, and there’s no doubt it will be modified by unforeseen forces of innovation in the years and decades to come.
SCU History Professor Robert Senkewicz is chair of the University Core Curriculum Committee. He has co-edited Lands of Promise and Despair: Chronicles of Early California, 1535-1846, (2001), The History of Alta California: A Memoir of Mexican California (1996), and authored Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco (1985).