Upon reading the Idea of a University (the first part dated 1852 and published in 1853) many may think that Newman’s ideas of a university were abstract and utopian. They were instead thoughts based on his studies at Trinity College (Oxford), his teaching experience at Oriel College (Oxford) and his conclusions from the study of history.
In 1854, John Henry Newman began to write articles for the Dublin “Catholic University Gazette” which he started and ran for the University. In 1856, the articles were published under the title Office and Work of Universities. Then in 1872, he gave the volume a definitive title The Rise and Progress of Universities.
Newman notes that in the past Universities began as monasteries or colleges. The origin of the Catholic University of Ireland was different. “It has to be carried into effect in the presence of a reluctant or perplexed public opinion, and that, without any counterbalancing assistance whatever, as has commonly been the case with Universities, from royal favour or civil sanction.” Public opinion was against the establishment of the university. Newman wrote: “Public Opinion especially acts upon the imagination; it does not convince, but it impresses; it has the force of authority, rather than of reason; and concurrence in it is, not an intelligent decision, but a submission or belief.” Public opinion was against the idea that it was possible to establish an English speaking Catholic University.
Newman leaves the controversy to other and proposes to expound on the nature of a university and the origins of universities. Instead he proposes: “I will confine myself to description and statement, concerning the nature, the character, the work, the peculiarities of a University, the aims with which it is established, the wants it may supply, the methods it adopts, what it involves and requires, what are its relations to other institutions, and what has been its history.”
A reading of this work will increase our understanding of Newman’s ideas on university education so eloquently expressed in his Idea of a University.