Since 1956, the University of Dallas (UD) has earned a national reputation for excellence in both its fidelity to Catholicism and its academics, especially its core curriculum which emphasizes the classics of Western Civilization known as the Great Books.
Although founded by the Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, UD has always been an independent university governed by a board of trustees, comprised largely of alumni and lay business leaders from the Dallas area. There are a few Catholic religious figures on the board, most notably the bishops of the Dioceses of Dallas and Fort Worth, but no diocesan control.
As part of its mission statement, UD declares: “The University is dedicated to the recovery of the Christian intellectual tradition, and to the renewal of Catholic theology in fidelity to the Church and in constructive dialogue with the modern world.”
Located in Irving, 15 miles outside of Dallas, the University draws students from 50 states and 43 countries. Graduate students comprise more than half of the student body, but the undergraduate population is growing rapidly.
There are 29 majors rooted in the typical liberal arts disciplines. Included are classics degrees in Greek or Latin and a studio arts program. But unlike most contemporary universities with a range of departments and majors, UD students must take half of their courses in the thorough core curriculum to receive an undergraduate degree.
“A quality, rigorous liberal arts education is becoming rarer and rarer in the 21st century, as the vocational, pragmatic, job-oriented approach to education becomes more and more pervasive,” says Thomas W. Keefe, who became the eighth president of the University in 2010. “I believe that a liberal arts education is integral to humanity and human culture, and it is vitally important to the survival and flourishing of American and Western civilization.”
More than 80 percent of UD alumni attend graduate or professional schools. The University also claims six bishops, 225 priests, and 70 religious brothers and sisters among its alumni.
Along with its Catholic tradition, the University has the distinction of having gained a Phi Beta Kappa chapter faster than any other institution in the 20th century, the largest number of National Merit Finalists per capita of any Catholic college or university in the United States, and 30 Fulbright scholars.
UD reaches out to the broader Catholic community through its School of Ministry, which holds annual ministry conferences that draw more than 4,000 participants. In addition, UD has benefited from interaction with other Catholic entities. It has had a long relationship with a number of religious orders, including the Cistercians, Franciscans, Dominicans, Sisters of Saint Mary of Namur, and School Sisters of Notre Dame.
Tuition at UD is comparable to other private institutions in the area: $40,960 for tuition, room, board, and fees. The University provides generous financial aid and participates in federal grant and loan programs.
In addition to its orthodox Catholicism, the University is widely respected for intellectual rigor and quality of teaching. Ninety percent of the full-time undergraduate and graduate faculty hold a doctorate or highest degree in their field. An impressive 85 percent of pre-med and 90 percent of pre-law graduates are accepted into professional schools.
Resisting the nationwide trend of making colleges more like training centers, UD requires a two-year sequence of 60 credit hours as follows: four courses each in English and history, three in philosophy, two in theology (Scripture and Church history/theology), and one each in economics, politics, biological science, physical science, fine arts, and mathematics. Students must also reach an intermediate level in a classical or modern language.
The core courses emphasize critical thinking and fundamental principles of each discipline, drawn from the Great Books. There is a heavy emphasis on Greek thought and Catholic works, but students also read Shakespeare, de Tocqueville, and a significant number of American authors including Thomas Jefferson, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nearly 80 percent of the students, most in their sophomore year, participate in the Rome Program. The 15-credit semester is no vacation, and it is widely respected as one of the best in higher education. Students live and study in a villa with a vineyard outside of Rome, complete with a 108-student residence hall and athletic facilities. The Pope’s summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, is visible from the campus. Students are immersed in the culture and intellectual tradition as they study Western Civilization I, Art and Architecture of Rome, Western Theological Tradition, Philosophy of Man, and Literary Tradition III.
Most of the majors are offered in the College of Liberal Arts, but undergraduates can also earn degrees from the business and ministry schools. UD offers majors and concentrations in several sciences, music, journalism, and other disciplines not found at many of the other Newman Guide colleges.
Students benefit from several domestic institutes located at UD. These include the Center for Thomas More Studies, which sponsors courses, conferences, and publications related to the 16th-century English saint.
The University invites students to experience an authentically Catholic environment “where faith plays a significant role in every aspect of life.” Students have access through campus ministry to daily Mass, reconciliation, Bible study, and community service.
Masses are offered daily at the campus Church of the Incarnation where there are four Sunday Masses, including one on Saturday night. Confessions are heard six times a week and by appointment.
The campus ministry has a few programs, such as a weekly Dinner and Discourse faith-based social gathering and pro-life work through the active Crusaders for Life Club (a number of students attend pro-life observances in Austin).
Social service activities are particularly strong. Among these is a program that refurbishes inner-city houses and serves meals at homeless shelters. A weekly “Crochet Day” brings students together to create baby blankets for a women’s center. Another group volunteers every Friday afternoon at a local St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.
Students can share in the spiritual life of the on-campus Priory of St. Albert the Great, which includes 15 Dominican friars, and the nearby Our Lady of Dallas Abbey, which has 28 Cistercian monks.
All undergraduate students under the age of 21 or with fewer than 90 earned credit hours are required to live on campus. There are seven residence halls and a small number of apartments.
Genders are separated by floor in New Hall, which is reserved to upperclassmen; the other six residence halls are single-sex. UD’s handbook specifies visitation times throughout the week, and overnight opposite-sex visitation is not allowed. There are chastity programs promoted in the dorms and by student government.
UD prohibits immoderate and underage drinking, but students of legal age can consume and keep alcohol on campus. An alcohol-awareness week is held each spring.
The health clinic at the Haggar University Center addresses routine medical issues, and there are several hospitals in the area, including the Las Colinas Medical Center and the Baylor Medical Center at Irving.
Nearby Dallas is a world-class city, and the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex area includes about 5.8 million people. The region’s economy is largely based on health care, aeronautics, communications, and banking. The cultural, sports, and social opportunities in the area are extensive.
Crime in Irving is slightly above the national average, but the UD campus is relatively safe and free of violent crime. Most campus police violations are for alcohol abuse.
UD is easy to reach, especially via the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a key hub for American Airlines. Amtrak is located in Dallas, and there is a new Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Light Rail UD station on its Orange Line as of July 2012.
The University encourages students to take part in the more than 40 clubs and organizations on campus. In addition to typical collegiate groups, there is a Venture Club for outdoor exploration and camping, a Juggling Club, College Republicans (but not Democrats), and a Best Buddies program that works with children with special needs.
UD students can enroll in Army and Air Force ROTC programs, and an ROTC Club helps students keep in top physical shape.
The student government is reported to be strong and typically Catholic-oriented. In addition to an executive council, there is a Student Government Senate and an events programming board known as SPUD.
The weekly student newspaper, The University News, is impressive. The Rotary Club has recently formed a chapter at UD. Three language clubs—German, Italian, and Spanish—are up and running.
The intramural sports program is one of the most popular activities on campus, usually involving about 150 students in football, volleyball, basketball, soccer, and softball. Recreational classes are offered in dance, yoga, boxing, and more. Past workshops and tournaments have included dodgeball, tennis, chess, and photography.
UD is a member of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) and fields 14 athletic teams in NCAA Division III competition. Sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, track and field, and volleyball.
Every fall the junior class sponsors Charity Week, a major fundraiser for charitable organizations. Traditional events include Charity Week Jail, Male Auction, Shave-Off, Semi-Formal, Silent Auction, and Air Band.
A program called Dallas Year provides low cost opportunities for undergraduate students to explore amusement parks, entertainment, and cultural events in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Tickets are generally purchased at a minimal cost with free transportation to events.
The student-led SPUD (Student Programming at UD) provides a variety of social and academic events throughout the year, such as Oktoberfest, Battle of the Bands, the Bradford Debate, the Ruskin Rhetoric Competition, and the Spring Formal dance.
The Bottom Line
The University of Dallas is a premier Catholic university in the United States. It combines an extensive core curriculum, often emphasizing classical works, with adherence to the Catholic intellectual tradition. The University prides itself on its quest for knowledge, confident that any inquiry will lead to the Catholic Truth.
UD has an impressive study-abroad semester with its Rome Program; 80 percent of its students take advantage of this opportunity to immerse themselves in the classics in a region steeped in the antecedents of Western and Catholic thought. Many commentators and college rankings give the Rome Programs and the University high marks.
UD has served the Catholic community in Texas and throughout the nation for half a century. It has weathered some storms, expanded, and remained faithful to its mission. A Catholic student interested in a challenging education in the heart of Texas would do well to consider UD.