Changes in the Humanities Program

By James Barrows

Come next year, Theology under the Humanities department will no longer be offered at John Paul the Great Catholic University. The Humanities department will shift its focus and Dr. John Kincaid will no longer be working at the school. The changes come consequentially from administration deciding to withdraw the MA Theology program due to economic concerns and new government regulations. According to JPCatholic President Derry Connolly, the removal of theology was decided with both mission statement and economic concerns in mind.

The emphasis in Theology under Humanities was created primarily as pre-theology for the Masters program. When the MA in Theology was removed, the administration did not think there was good enough reason to keep the undergraduate program. Dr. Connolly said, “When [the Masters in Theology] program ended, the need for having a feeder program [undergraduate Theology] disappeared.” With a low number of students entering Theology, the program itself was proving to be unstable. In addition, Dr. Connolly and the administration thought the program to be unnecessary and unimportant to the founding vision. “It was outside of what we decided JPCatholic was about,” Dr. Connolly explained.

Josiah Lerman, a junior at JPCatholic and one of the few students still studying Theology, voiced his concerns with the removal of Theology and its implications for the future of the school, saying, “I was more concerned with what quality of teaching would still happen…I didn’t really see a reason for a lot of the Theology, Philosophy, Humanities teachers [after the removal of theology] to stay…Kincaid is already leaving.” Sophomore Nancy Gossin voiced her concerns, saying, “I am a bit nervous about the immediate changes we are witnessing in the faculty and about who will be replacing said faculty. In my academic experience, a class is only as good as the teacher or professor. So, for me the faculty is extremely important. I want to know that my professors know their stuff, are available to meet with me outside of class, and are professors who truly care about my academic development. I have complete confidence in my Humanities professors and believe that they meet my expectations and even soar beyond. I have been so happy and thankful for them.”

The removal of Theology marks an end to programs at JPCatholic which are wholly separated from the Communication Media major while simultaneously marking a step back towards the founding vision. According to Dr. Connolly, the original idea in establishing Humanities was to provide a way for creative writers and screenwriters to have a firmer grounding in literature. He stated that “The number one reason for creating the Humanities degree was to allow an option for screenwriting students to have a greater exposure to literature…not requiring post-production or cinematography.” Dr. Connolly hopes to shift back towards this idea and expand upon it by tailoring the Humanities’ core towards artists. “We need to adopt our theology [and humanities] formation to creatives,” Dr. Connolly said. Aldo Nava, a recent transfer for the Theology program, was shocked by the change in Humanities and did not receive any information from the administration on the removal of Theology. “It was very much a shock to me, just to see that one day it wasn’t on the website,” he said.

From this change in direction arose disagreements on the practical application of such a shift, specifically on how the Humanities would be further integrated with Media moving forward. Originally, Dr. Harmon led as Dean and Chair of Humanities. He was developing a new curriculum for the Humanities and the core classes. He described his vision for the curriculum as such, “My vision for the Humanities was the coming together of the Catholic intellectual tradition in the humanistic disciplines, with the serious study and practice of media.” The curriculum was to be designed, in the words of Dr. Harmon, to “integrate the more technical side of things at the school, with the thinking things.” The university did not adopt Dr. Harmon’s curriculum and removed Harmon from his position as Chair and Dean of Humanities. It is somewhat unclear as to where the opposition to Harmon’s curriculum arose. As far as Harmon understood, the conflict between him and the administration seemed to be in the application of the integration and mission statement, and how much hard work and change it would have demanded from the University. Dr. Harmon commented, “I don’t think there was a difference in what we wanted to accomplish, there was a difference in applying it. I didn’t think we could [establish my Humanities curriculum] under the circumstance that had been prevailing.”

Josiah Lerman expressed his concern over the removal of Harmon as chair and how it would affect the Humanities’ foundation of the school. “I’m a little nervous that they removed the Chair of Humanities because I feel like there is a necessity there…if we don’t have someone as the figurehead of the Humanities side of things, even if there is not a specific Humanities degree…there is a risk of losing some of that foundation of the school. I just think that’s a little nerve-wracking.” Nancy Gossin commented, “I am very disappointed to be informed that Dr. Harmon has been removed as chair. Not only is Dr. Harmon an incredible professor and extensively knowledgeable in the field of Theology, but I also truly felt that under him the Theology program was flourishing. I had complete confidence in his leadership. Now, I don’t know who to look to.”

Along with the shift in Humanities and the removal of Theology, Dr. Kincaid announced his eventual departure from the University. After the 2017 Fall Quarter, Dr. Kincaid and his family will be moving to Steubenville where he will do Theological research with Dr. Scott Hahn and his mentor and teacher, Dr. Michael Waldstein. Dr. Connolly, speaking about Kincaid’s departure, focused on the professor’s opportunities in Steubenville as he commented, “You have to look at it from his perspective. When he went to graduate school, his great interest was in theology research… so we have to celebrate for him that he can fulfill his professional ambitions.”  Josiah, although sad over the loss of Kincaid, echoed Connolly’s sentiments about his departure. “I’m happy for him and I think it’s a good thing for him to leave…he seems to be overqualified for just teaching undergraduate stuff,” he said. Dr Harmon also commented on Kincaid’s departure, “It’s no doubt that losing Kincaid has been a loss, but there are still some of us here.” Dr. Kincaid declined to comment on his leaving.

In wake of Kincaid’s departure, questions remain about the practical application of the integration of Humanities and Media, the retention of the remaining professors, and what it all means for the school moving forward. Dr. Harmon said of the future Humanities, “The short answer is I don’t know where [Humanities] is going.” What the Humanities program, and the school, will look like in the next few years, remains to be seen.

Photo courtesy of Neil McDonough