St. Catherine’s Civic Chronicle

How faculty at a Catholic woman’s college created a new curriculum by making their work “more public.”

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Entrance to St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota

In 1990, the faculty at the College of St. Catherine (now St. Catherine University, but forever “St. Kate’s”) in St. Paul, Minnesota, were stuck. For twenty years, they had sought to revise their curriculum. For twenty years, they had failed to agree. A grant proposal for faculty development identified the “institutional climate” as the problem. The college, it stated, suffered from “fragmentation and isolation of the faculty…along disciplinary lines.” Faculty meetings were uncivil and unproductive. Staff, even those with advanced degrees, were mostly barred from contributing to teaching or curriculum. Students were regarded as “recipients” rather than agents of their own education. The board of trustees issued an ultimatum: Get over your divisions and develop a revision of the core curriculum immediately.

When we make our discussions public, we can accomplish difficult and potentially divisive goals without acrimony.
William Meyers, former curriculum revision coordinator, St. Kate’s

A group of faculty, working with IPLW co-founder Harry Boyte, stepped up to the challenge, which they defined as “making [their] work more public.” Designing and receiving a faculty development grant from a local foundation to address this problem, they created Faculty Study Groups (FSGs) with a stipend for each participating faculty member. Each FSG comprised self-selected faculty from at least five disciplines. For a year each pursued a topic of mutual interest, including “The Twin Cities as a Classroom,” “Women’s Work in Third World Countries,” “Writing the Collaborative Novel,” and others. Each spring they reported back to their peer FSGs. Their intellectual, teaching, and administrative work took on new personal and public meaning. According to Nan Kari, then director of faculty development, “Faculty eagerly engaged with others in intellectual work they had long thought about.”

 

Meanwhile, William Myers, the coordinator of curriculum revision, observed that “when we make our discussions public, we can accomplish difficult and potentially divisive goals without acrimony”; working in public was a powerful encouragement “to create a spirit of openness and constantly to keep the common work of the whole college in view.” Over three years, between 1991 and 1994, almost sixty percent of the faculty and some administrators participated.

When a revised curriculum plan was presented to the faculty body for a vote, it passed unanimously. In the words of English professor Joanne Cavallaro, a new vision of the college’s mission and potential had emerged: “to establish a collegiate environment with lively public spaces and a rich public culture in classrooms, faculty meetings, and college forums…in which democratic arts can be learned and practiced by educators and students alike.”

 

See also: Nancy N. Kari, “Political Ideas: Catalysts for Creating a Public Culture at the College of St. Catherine,” in Harry C. Boyte, ed., Creating the Commonwealth Dayton, OH: Kettering Foundation Press, 1999), 30-54.