Consider “The School of Athens,” Raphael’s Renaissance masterpiece fresco that depicts the greatest philosophers, scientists and mathematicians of antiquity engaged in what looks to be scholarly conversation.
Now, think of what a Villanova parallel might be: the finest minds of our University branching out across all the disciplines, congregating around the Oreo to discuss their specialties and how they can relate to and interact with one another. This would be cross-disciplinary dialogue in its purest form.
The breadth of Villanova’s academic offerings would seem to encourage its students to be experienced in many different scholarly arenas.
We hope engineers will have had some grounding in the liberal arts. It is assumed that business students will understand the underlying mechanics behind capitalist economics and how Adam Smith’s “The Wealth of Nations” was influenced by Hobbesian political thought.
Nursing students should understand the varying philosophies behind medical decision making in end-of-life situations. Students in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences should be well-acquainted with the economic impact on important topics within their major and how the free market drives practical applications of those topics.
In my search for the truth about the current state of cross-disciplinary dialogue at Villanova and its future, I sought the counsel of the man ultimately responsible for the intellectual and cultural climate of this institution, University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A.
His inauguration speech was characterized by his comprehensive vision for the future of the University and a call for dialogue across all disciplines. This is a part of the broader topic of student engagement. What are the University’s students doing to be involved in and out of the classroom?
“One of the flagships of Villanova in terms of outside of here is the freshman seminar,” Donohue said. “You’re looking at a lot of different things there, and a lot of different faculty are teaching it, not necessarily from their own disciplines, so they’re being asked to do things differently.”
Cross-disciplinary dialogue breeds the growth of knowledge and our discussion of it in places outside the classroom. The Augustine and Culture Seminar sponsors cultural events featuring speakers as varied as our own Dr. John Immerwahr talking about his thoughts on Plato’s allegory of the cave and internationally acclaimed Dr. Kwame Appiah of Princeton University speaking to students on the topic of “Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers.”
In order for this dialogue to be successful in forming our students to lead our world, the students must be immersed in these topics. Immerwahr’s theory of the cave should be dinner-table fodder on South Campus, and Appiah’s views on cosmopolitanism should be discussed well after the scholar has left the campus.
The challenge Villanova faces is in replicating this environment in every place possible. Our “School of Athens” should span the entire student body and be cultivated in the residence halls, in the dining halls, in the boisterous spots of Connelly Center and in our library – quite simply everywhere. The knowledge of the classroom must inform our lives and be first when we discuss the social, moral, political and economic implications of our actions both as individuals and a society.
Cross-disciplinary dialogue and greater student engagement will make Villanova a better place to get a degree, but beyond that it will better prepare its students to step out into the world and make their mark. So ask your engineering professor if he’s ever read that ACS book and talk to your philosophy professor about how the scientific revolution impacted Enlightenment thought. Those are the conversations that Raphael would love. If Villanova can do this, maybe a mural will one day depict the Oreo surrounded by scholars and students alike, breaking down the walls of the disciplines.
Bryan Kerns is a freshman from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]