I am about to finish an MA in theology at Franciscan and after two years I honestly feel disheartened to the extent that I would say that coming here is the biggest mistake I have ever made.
There is a pervasive lie, about schools like Franciscan, namely, that only they can help you remain a faithful Catholic. The idea being that other schools might destroy your faith, etc. However, I actually came to the faith while attending a top 25 university. In fact, at my secular university, I found an amazing Catholic spiritual community among the students and my faith blossomed. So the claim that people make, about the dangers of stepping outside of the myopia of small ultra-conservative Catholic colleges, is an error.
While the â€œCatholic lifeâ€ at Franciscan can be good just about everything else is horrible. For starters, for being a nationally unranked school and for having a poor academic reputation even amongst â€œconservativeâ€ Catholic colleges (i.e. compared to Ave Maria, Christendom, Thomas Aquinas College, etc), the tuition is incredibly high. The truth is, I think, that Franciscan is a scam. The administration and board of trustees is far from perfect and there are some weird/shady things that they do with the schools money. I think that there are plenty of people who work at the school in such a capacity who feel NOTHING for Franciscan's purported mission statement. It seems to me that they know itâ€™s a terrible school, that they charge too much money, and that we are all going to fall all over ourselves just to come take a class with Dr. Hahn anyway. I even had one administration guy try and sell me on spending even MORE money to get a second MA in philosophy. He heard that I was interested in philosophy and so he told me that Notre Dame (one the best philosophy departments in the English speaking world) was "really interested in our graduates", a claim so outlandishly false that I can only interpret it as a bold faced lie.
The town of Steubenville (and surrounding area) is in a miserable slump. Now that the steel industry has dried up, so too has the town and consequently there is nothing here for a college student to look forward to. Donâ€™t expect to find a â€œcollege townâ€ atmosphere here, the town doesnâ€™t even have a decent coffee shop for students to study at. Also, if you need/want to go anywhere other than Wal-mart, well, Pittsburghâ€™s the closest city at about an hour away. For my wife and I, this means driving an hour to Pittsburgh ALL THE TIME. So, there isnâ€™t a lot here. What is here, instead, is a severe drug problem and an unusually high rate of violent crime (most of which takes place within an ear shot of the main campus).
The campus itself is not very equipped nor is it particularly attractive. The library is, sad to say, a joke. It houses a ridiculously small collection of outdated and non-scholarly books and yet by itself is meant to cater to Franciscanâ€™s overly ambitious collection of academic departments (including, for some reason, a number of noncompetitive professional degrees such as an MBA!). This essentially forces students to acquire every important text on a subject that they are researching through â€œinterlibrary loanâ€ (books have to come by mail). However, even then, they only let you order ten books at a time! So, if your taking four graduate classes and you need many sources for your papers, it can take you weeks before you can even begin to make progress due to how slow, clunky, and limited the process is. In other words, we donâ€™t have a real college library.
The party-line around here is that if we lack in other departments (and we do) that we at least have great humanities departments. That is, our strength is in theology, philosophy, english and a unique major (read un-transferable major) called â€œCatholic cultureâ€ or something to that effect. Now, as a theology student, I really cannot comment much about other departments beyond hearsay (I hear they arenâ€™t good), but I can comment on theology and philosophy. To say the least, I am deeply disappointed with this school.
The philosophy department has a couple bright spots but for the most part is hopelessly narrow and almost â€œdogmaticallyâ€ devoted to ONE thinker, an obscure post-kantian German philosopher named Dietrich Von Hildebrand. If you take an ethics class, for instance, it is likely to be called â€œintroduction to ethicsâ€ but will actually turn out to be â€œthe ethics of Von Hildebrandâ€. If you ever disagree, philosophically, with Hildebrand you are bound to be accused of being impious, breaking â€œfaithâ€, or just being stupid. It is very disappointing that there are few opportunities to study any other important philosophical topics because our professors refuse to think outside of a very narrow subcategory within â€œphenomenologyâ€. In fact, oddly enough, a number of the philosophy professors are affiliated/alumnus's of a strange/fringe â€œschoolâ€ in Liechtenstein called the â€œInternational Academy of Philosophyâ€ (opened in 1986!?). Look it up.
The theology department is somewhat better, I think, but it still has serious problems. The masters program for instance is in utter shambles. Some professors are good, but some are terrible. Like the worst Iâ€™ve ever had terrible. There have been instances in which Iâ€™ve literally learned ZERO in a given class because the professor just didnâ€™t feel like lecturing that semester or instead decided that having in-class student â€œpresentationsâ€ would be better. Now, I am aware that small graduate classes at most universities generally require students to do some â€œin class presentationâ€ of a paper, but when you have over 30 students in a class it becomes a tool to get out to teaching any material altogether. Also, the program in very lax in other ways which seriously harms our national reputation (and hurts studentâ€™s chances of going on for doctoral work): no language requirements (unheard of at other universities), does not require the GRE (ditto), and instead of covering the kinds of topics needed to be competitive in the academic world you are forced to take classes like â€œVatican IIâ€ (which might be ok if it were actually a GOOD class).
The program is just very weak and the professors seem to realize it as well. In fact, because of this reality, the professors (even the most famous and well respected among them) tend to be highly un-supportive of their students. After-all, if we were any good then why didnâ€™t we go to Harvard or Notre Dame for a terminal MA in theology? The sad truth is, most of the professors themselves donâ€™t even seem to realize that coming to Franciscan is supposed to be a rational choice! A matter of someone feeling called to come learn and then serve Christâ€™s Church! But, this is not the attitude, the attitude we get instead is: "well you donâ€™t know Greek/Hebrew, you donâ€™t have enough philosophy, you didnâ€™t come from a good university, youâ€™re not qualified for PhD work...here's some nice CCD to teach to the kids back home." This leaves many of us (I am far from alone on this point) to ask, â€œWHY, oh why did you encourage us to come in the first place? Why speak at conferences and/or get on EWTN and call on us to forgo opportunities elsewhere only to come and be derided by you for it?" The truth is, the professors know that the school and the MA program are a wash, yet for the sake of their jobs, continue to let it run as such without doing anything to actually change it or make it what it should have been all along.
Donâ€™t come here. If you have any kind of ability or intellectual gifts then serve God by nurturing them somewhere where they will be appreciated, and more efficacious. The Church needs holy people going to our countries top universities, She already has too many embracing mediocrity at Franciscan.