University institutes yearlong personal development course
Notre Dame plans to abolish the university’s physical education requirement and replace it with a mandatory First Year Experience. The university will begin offering the yearlong course in fall 2015, and its content will focus on mental wellness, spirituality, cultural competency, academic success and discernment.
According to a university press release, this change was recommended by an ad hoc Committee on Physical Education Requirement Alternatives, created in fall 2013 by the provost. The First Year of Studies will offer the program, and the Division of Student Affairs will jointly oversee it.
The two one-credit courses will feature large assemblies, specialty presentations and smaller breakout sessions and will be centered around seven themes: orientation, health and wholeness, community standards and cultural competence, success in the classroom, discernment, spiritual life and mind/body awareness.
Hugh Page, vice president, associate provost and dean of the First Year of Studies told the Rover that he is “genuinely enthusiastic” about this newly established First Year Experience.
“The focus of these classes will be on wellness, cultural competency, and much more,” Page said.
“This reconfiguration will allow us more directly to involve a broad spectrum of campus educators in orienting first-year students to undergraduate life and in helping them to acquire those disciplines of the mind and habits of the heart that will enable them both to thrive and to take full advantage of the many opportunities for intellectual and spiritual development at Notre Dame,” he continued. “Moreover, they will be structured so as further to advance the educational mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross with its emphasis on the formation of the whole person.”
Diane Scherzer, Associate Professional Specialist with Notre Dame’s Physical Education faculty, has been on the staff for 23 years and is disappointed with the upcoming change.
“I am saddened that the Academic Council voted to eliminate the Physical Education and Wellness Department for the 2000 plus students we serve each year teaching them lifetime sports and wellness,” Scherzer told the Rover. “The ad hoc committee didn’t listen to the 74 percent of the student body when they expressed to keep the PE department the way it was.”
In the news release, Erin Hoffmann Harding, Vice President for Students Affairs, said: “Our division is delighted that this new requirement will provide first-year students with information and perspectives designed to help them to grow as individuals, foster a healthy and inclusive community and make the most out of their Notre Dame education.”
The program is designed to teach students how to “establish healthy relationships and an understanding of human sexuality in a Catholic context.” The courses will also attempt to “foster a spirit of inclusiveness on campus” and help students “develop a deeper understanding of the complex interactions of gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity and race.”
In addition to the new requirement, the university will offer voluntary, non-fee-based courses in swimming, physical fitness and other activities in which students will be encouraged to participate.
Laura Hollis, Professor of Business, is concerned that such encouragement will not be enough.
“Students need outlets that are not merely cerebral or emotional, and physical exercise is one of those glorious human endeavors that benefits all, regardless of their gender, background, beliefs, or ethnicity,” said Hollis to the Rover. “I hope students will continue to take advantage of the other physical education opportunities.”
“This decision is a real puzzle,” Professor of Law Gerard V. Bradley told the Rover. “There is surely a great need for all Notre Dame students to be educated in certain aspects of modern life. But that need won’t be met by this new regimen. It is a need that would be met, though, by a required year-long course in the documents of Vatican II,” he continued. “Instead, the University has abolished the physical education requirement, in favor of a hodgepodge of topics, few if any of which seem to be worthy of academic credit. That which is valuable in the new offering would better be required during Orientation Week, where it could replace some truly useless shenanigans.”
Scherzer believes students will miss the physical education requirement: “The students I talked to were disappointed about the elimination of the department. They asked what about the tradition of taking the swim test?”
She also gave examples of many students who have benefited from the requirement.
“Ask Michael Thompson, class of 2014, who learned how to swim from our department and then took swimming for fitness,” she said. “Ask the woman (2014) who learned how to play Ultimate Frisbee and now is the team captain for the ‘B’ team, ask the students who didn’t know how to ice skate and who now can go skate and play hockey, ask the student who didn’t know how to swing a tennis racket and now plays tennis, ask the student who didn’t know how to play squash and now is on the squash team. Ask the shy young man who took dance and now can dance at his own wedding. The list goes on.”
Alexandra DeSanctis is a political science major with a minor in constitutional studies. She thinks all freshmen should have to suffer through the swimming test like she did. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.