Franciscan Philosophy in AcademicsApplying the Franciscan Philosophy in Academics
Franciscan education is affective learning. It occurs in the personal interactions of faculty, students, and student affairs staff; it prepares students to address real issues in our contemporary world, and to raise critical questions. Siena has adopted a multicultural plan to foster its Franciscan commitment to being a community which reflects and appreciates the ethnic and cultural richness of the college community. Diversity in the college population and attention to ethnic and cultural diversity in the curriculum not only prepare students for the larger society they will enter, this diversity is also in keeping with the values of Francis who styled himself the brother of all creation.
The Franciscan tradition plays out in crucial areas of college life.
First, Siena's Franciscan identity requires us to be a student-centered community. It requires faculty, staff, and administrators to respect each student, to work with students attentively, to communicate a sense of enjoyment at being part of this college. It requires us to hold students and each other accountable for the quality of community life, while we also support each other in creating a Franciscan community. One specific result of this emphasis is that Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, professional staff and faculty, work together to provide an integrated learning environment. Students work together in programs which range from peer tutoring in the college to volunteering in the larger community. The emphasis on volunteering means that not only does Campus Ministry run an extensive volunteer program, but student organizations carry out volunteer programs as part of being chartered by the College.
Many colleges say they are student-centered, but Siena's Catholic, Franciscan vision of human life is essentially communal. It knows that life is lived in, with, and for, other human beings. At the same time, it respects the irreplaceable dignity of the individual and the individual's freedom of conscience. This communal and respectful experience begins within the college community and is carried out into the larger society. Francis's vision of community was egalitarian and non-authoritarian, concerned with growth and freedom, but he insisted on holding members of the community accountable for their contributions to community life and for their individual behavior.
Second, the Franciscan tradition provides resources which contribute to our academic excellence. Francis called himself simple and unlearned, but he had a profound and coherent understanding of human identity, social life, and the physical world. This understanding began with careful attention to the real experience of being human, living in a community, being situated in a particular place, but then he put this experience in the context of a tradition. He could also listen to and learn from people formed by other traditions. Bonaventure tried to organize all the knowledge of his day and to show that it was only coherent when one stepped back to reflect. He placed learning in the service of wisdom. Clare's presence in this tradition is a reminder of the importance of the of contemplative reflection in an age when quick responses and activism often replace careful thought. She is also a constant witness to the importance of prayer in the Franciscan tradition.
Siena's Franciscan tradition guides us in creating a curriculum which stimulates individual intellectual growth and civic responsibility, connecting knowledge and action. A specific example of this is the liberal arts core curriculum, especially the Foundations Sequence, which gives each student a basis in critical thinking and analysis of values.
Another way the Franciscan tradition guides our academic life is the approach we take to preprofessional programs. In keeping with Francis's respect for the importance of work and with the friars' traditional commitment to empowering people to participate fully and productively in the workforce, we take seriously the importance of preparing students to work and to work well. At Siena, this preprofessional education has always been integrally related to the broader liberal arts tradition by requiring all students to complete the liberal arts core. Evidence that this has always been Siena's understanding of its educational mission is seen in the fact that from the beginning the College included not only Arts and Sciences, but also a Business Division.
The Franciscan tradition also focuses us on pedagogical strategies which are both critical and interactive. It is the reason we limit our class sizes, it is the reason we emphasize the relationship between faculty and students.