KERNS: Striking at the core



Bryan Kerns

“I want Villanova to be Villanova” and “Our identity is who and what we are, have been and aspire to become” – pretty straightforward, right?

The first phrase was voiced almost two years ago by University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., during his Inauguration. The second was spoken almost 20 years ago by President Emeritus Rev. Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A., during his Inauguration.

These different men of different eras spoke with a singular take on this University’s past, present and future. With those simple utterances, it was clear that Villanova’s fundamental identity had not changed since Rev. John Possidius O’Dwyer, O.S.A., convened the classes of a traditional liberal arts curriculum for the first time on Sept. 18, 1843.

According to a history of the University, Villanova’s first 50 years were concentrated almost exclusively on the liberal arts but “remained open to the changes in the curriculum which were required to meet the needs of the time and the demands for specialization.”

Thus, the primacy of the liberal arts has been ensured since the University’s earliest beginnings, and Villanova’s identity has subsequently been reinforced both by our current president and his predecessor in their Inaugural Addresses to the University community. Part and parcel of that identity is not only a liberal arts curriculum but the notion that the University would adapt its pedagogy to the needs of those it serves.

The notion of adaptation is distinctly Augustinian. In the Order’s Constitutions it is written that friars “promise stability to no particular place.” This is to say that the friars are committed to serving those in need in any place where they are called.

As the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences begins its core curriculum appraisal, it must address the fundamental questions required of a thorough review if it is to truly serve those whom the College is designed to serve – its students.

As the central piece of this University, it is essential that the College undergo a transformation consistent with the institutional identity – one committed to the Augustinian tradition but adapted “to meet the needs of the time.”

If that requires the abolishment of the core curriculum as currently configured and the implementation of a system of general education much like the one Harvard University is currently considering, so be it. If that requires the redesign of classes within the present core in order to accommodate the educational realities that may not have existed in 1992 when the core was designed, so be it. If that requires the reassessment and possible recalibration of departments, programs, pedagogies and all other things attendant to institutions of higher education, so be it.

What all of that ultimately requires is an institutional discourse characterized by its candor and collegiality. It requires the shedding of institutional politics and a true willingness to broach topics as varied as the minutiae of distribution requirements and the College’s raison d’être.

What that discourse requires is individual and institutional courage. Individual courage involves a willingness on the part of all of the College’s stakeholders from administrators to faculty to staff to students to invest in the process and work toward the best possible outcome for the whole College, not just one component.

The institutional courage involves the College recognizing where change is needed and implementing it, whether popular or not.

This University was founded on courage. What wasn’t mentioned above was that O’Dwyer opened Villanova as the tumult of the anti-Catholic “Know Nothing” riots swept Philadelphia.

It took individual courage on his part and the part of his students to fulfill their obligations, and it took institutional courage for the community to persevere through those troublesome days and move forward.

If the community exhibits the required courage to do what is necessary, the well-articulated belief that our identity is who and what we are, have been and aspire to become will be further reinforced, and Villanova will be Villanova.


Bryan Kerns is a freshman honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].