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Increase focus on academic issues

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Notre Dame attracts students that are among the best and brightest – they achieve high grades, become involved in multiple campus activities and possess a strong commitment to community service.

But a closer look at Notre Dame student life reveals that athletics, drinking and the pursuit of a career tend to dominate students’ focuses while discussion of academic or current events and issues fails to occur outside of classes.

At Notre Dame, off-campus parties and intramural sports teams proliferate as attendance at lectures or knowledge of current events declines. Dorm conversations often revolve around the football team or weekend parties, but discussion of human rights issues or campus diversity is uncommon. Faculty-student interaction rarely takes place outside of class. The percentage of Notre Dame undergraduates pursuing doctorates across most fields of study is significantly lower than at other top-20 universities. A major concern for some administrators in the College of Arts and Letters is that business majors comprise about 30 percent of Notre Dame undergraduates, even though the University prides itself on the quality of its liberal arts education. While students at Notre Dame perform well in the classroom, some faculty members believe they do not have the same level of intellectual curiosity found among undergraduates at other top-20 universities. Students generally do not show up for office hours and if they do, many come only to discuss the results of a test or other topic directly pertaining to the class. Learning for the sake of learning has all but disappeared.

Students claim that they simply do not have time to keep up with homework, participate in campus activities and be knowledgeable enough to discuss current events and issues. They complain that faculty can be difficult to approach and find meeting with professors outside of class intimidating. But such reasons simply do not adequately explain the current situation among University undergraduates. College presents students with a unique opportunity to learn and grow as individuals and not focus solely on their future career paths. As students at a prestigious academic institution, undergraduates of all majors have a responsibility to view academic engagement as a high priority.

Current initiatives intended to improve intellectual curiosity among students, such as the Irish Inquisition or increased faculty-student interaction in the dorms, demonstrate an encouraging trend, but do not adequately address the lack of purely academic learning and research at Notre Dame.

While faculty and administrators must find creative ways to enhance intellectual discussion among undergraduates, students bear the primary responsibility for increasing their awareness and knowledge about current issues. A degree from Notre Dame may look good on a resume, but if students continue to focus only on their future careers, then the academic quality of the University will suffer as a result.