The discipline of theology, as "faith seeking understanding", is a distinct and integral part of the Notre Dame experience. No student should graduate from Notre Dame without having taken theology courses. Religious studies courses are objective studies of how religion interacts with various portions of the human experience, but theology courses allow students to think more concretely and directly about how matters of faith can and do influence and guide the human pursuit of truth. Theology is a good that must be pursued as a good in and of itself by Catholic institutions. To ignore this responsibility would be to ignore the heart of what makes Notre Dame a special place. No amount of federal national research awards can ever measure up to the true value of theology upon the student experience.
These THEO requirements have enabled generations of Notre Dame students to develop a faith that truly seeks understanding. My grandfather (Class of '53) used his theology background to supplement the way he saw the world and instill moral values in his children. His sixth child (and one of his six students to attend ND) was my father (Class of '86). My dad's commitment to his faith was nurtured by his study of theology at Notre Dame and affected the way he taught his children to love. My mother, an SMC grad of '86 and theology minor at ND, who is now coming back to pursue a master's of theology, finds that she is continually seeking to understand through her faith. The same goes for both of my sisters (Class of '10 and '16, respectively), who have developed notions of female adulthood based upon a true pursuit of truth through faith. For myself, my only regret is that I did not pursue more theology classes as an undergrad. I would never have known of my own insatiable desire to use my faith to seek understanding had it not been for those initial introductions in my THEO requirement courses.
Perhaps this decision is a reaction to some students' poor experiences in those THEO requirement courses, but that is not a reflection on the value of theology as a discipline. It is a reflection of the commitment of the University to nurture and develop its heart along with its mind. This phrase is used so often as lip service to justify enormous expenditures that push the University further and further from its core, and this decision to remove the THEO requirement is a sad expression of a loss of identity. If there is a problem with the courses offered or the faculty available, then, perhaps, Notre Dame would be better suited to use some of its expected $1 billion dollar expenditure over the next decade to reinforce an important and vital aspect of an undergraduate education. There are things that are truly important, and there are others that are not. How do we serve our students if we do not push them to think not only of their faith in this world, but also in the next?
Notre Dame should work less to be like its (so called) peer institutions and work more to be like itself. Catholicity, and thus the required study of theology, is the most important characteristic.