University of Dallas (visit 3/3/15)
UD is a “Catholic university for independent thinking.” They assert that there’s a truth and wisdom to be known and that it’s in people’s nature to question. They don’t expect students to know or learn everything but to take strides in that direction. In order to accomplish this, they have set up an extensive Core Curriculum: students complete 60 Core credits studying great thinkers and scientists as well as the questions posed by these people. This sets UD apart: think Great Books meets Liberal Arts. Students take many of their core classes in the first year but also usually take 2-3 core courses each of Junior and Senior years.
The Rome Semester, called “The Core of the Core,” covers 5 Core classes: Western Theological Traditions, Lit Traditions III (Tragedy and Comedy: Greek to Shakespeare), Philosophy of the Human Prison, Western Civ II (Greek to Renaissance), Art and Architecture. Because only Core classes are taken here, students of all majors can attend.
- Offering this to sophomores (80% go then) means that everyone can get a taste of another culture; many still study abroad separately as Juniors.
- Students live and learn on the UD-owned campus just outside of Rome in Due Santi (it’s believed that Sts Peter and Paul passed through there; there’s a well that dates back to then). Students have easy access to Rome on Public Transportation: a 100-yard walk to a bus stop will get to the train.
- The campus has a tennis courts, a soccer field, and a small pool.
- Tuition is exactly the same; all institutional and federal aid transfers over. Students pay for the flight and any spending/travel money there.
- Campus capacity is 118. Usually 110-115 students are there at any given time.
- Students travel to Rome, Florence, Assisi, Naples, Pompeii, and Greece (10 days) as a group. They stand in places they’ve been reading about.
- They also kick students off campus for 10 days; they have the freedom and responsibility to explore Europe and take care of themselves. They come back with the confidence that they can do anything. Students do everything from backpacking through Poland to hiking the Camino de Santiago is Spain.
Parts of the Dallas campus are very pretty; other parts are reminiscent of a ‘70s elementary school. “I’m not in love with the campus, but it’s not about the classrooms. It what happens inside them. That’s been really good to learn,” said one student. Another added that “the grounds are wonderful. They do a great job with the plants and all that – but the buildings aren’t great.” They do have a beautiful chapel, and it’s clear from looking around campus and inside the buildings that this is a Catholic school: sculptures, paintings, crosses, and other religious icons are visible. We talked to one student who wasn’t Catholic who did not feel that this was a disadvantage. “I don’t feel ostracized or left out.”
One student described UD as “a small school trying to be a large school. We have Big 12, a metroplex of 6 million people, great facilities – but also still have small classes and faculty who want to mentor students.” Another added that the “location is a little isolated. We can’t walk to Chic-fil-a or a grocery store but it makes you want to have fun here and people are really creative about their fun. People have fun in the bubble.”
Kids who are passionate, love to argue, want to look for truth (and believe that truth can be found), and are goofy will do well here. The feeling is that there’s room at the table for everyone. People complain, but not in a cranky way: they want to fix it. The nice thing is that “everyone is working as hard as everyone else. They love learning. We don’t have to convince them that this is worth it. They study science and philosophy and history in a way that pushes them,” said one of the professors. “Students talk about what they’re learning. It doesn’t end in the classroom.” Clearly the university is doing something right: they have a 91% retention rate.
Academics are generally strong here, but “there aren’t a ton of majors,” said one student.
- They offer 4+1 programs in Accounting, Cyber Security, Business (MBA), and Finance. Students apply as a Junior and will complete 4-5 grad classes done as a senior.
- Strong pre-health programs. Med school acceptance rate is about 80%. 3 mock interviews for med schools.
- They offer a cooperative program in Engineering with the University of Texas at Arlington.
- Students complete a team-based Senior Design project with about 20 students. They spend a full year solving a real-life problem posed by a company in the metroplex.
- The arts are strong here.
- They offer a BFA Program: students must audition to get in. They can appeal once at the end of the freshman year if they didn’t initially get into the program. They no longer have minors in dance or theater because it was detracting from the majors.
- UC was the first university to give a degree in ballet.
- “If I meet an actor who is outward focused, who wants to use the craft to make the world a better place, that person will fit in well here.”
- They offer unusual concentrations in Biblical Greek, Business for Non-Business Majors, Pure Math, Applied Physics, and Pastoral Ministry.
The faculty are engaging and clearly interested in helping students learn. “We won’t coddle you. We won’t tell you you’re good if you’re not, but we can do that and be kind at the same time. We’ll help you get better.” The classroom setups include Writable Walls; students use them to summarize homework, do problems, brainstorm, whatever. Students are actively engaged, are thinking critically, etc. Their favorite core classes to teach are:
- Am Civ 1: Mostly freshmen take the class. “For lack of a better word, they’re “innocent.” We use a lot of primary sources that contradict each other.
- The Divine Comedy: “It changes their lives.”
- Intro to Stats: “It teaches them to be critical about how stats are used. . . and sometimes I get a Stats major out of it!”