Starting a University, Card. Newman

Any group that begins a university today is met not only with the difficulty of the actual organizational task; it is met with incredulity and pessimistic remarks on the part of many. Newman and the Irish bishops faced this in Dublin, and today other Catholic groups face similar criticism.

He writes: “WHEN the Catholic University is mentioned, we hear people saying on all sides of us,—”Impossible! how can you give degrees? what will your degrees be worth? where are your endowments? where are your edifices? where will you find students? what will government have to say to you? who wants you? who will acknowledge you? what do you expect? what is left for you?”

After reporting people’s remarks he reminds the reader of some of the salient points of his discourse: “a University consists, and has ever consisted, in demand and supply, in wants which it alone can satisfy and which it does satisfy, in the communication of knowledge, and the relation and bond which exists between the teacher and the taught. Its constituting, animating principle is this moral attraction of one class of persons to another.”

Position, land and influence are important, but they are secondary. “First intellect, then secular advantages, as its instruments and as its rewards; I say no more than this, but I say no less.” Newman does not deny the teachers and students seek “secular advantages” such as remuneration, but he asserts that a university can exist without this. He argues “what is just enough to constitute it, or what a University consists in, viewed in its essence.”

He notes that students travel to cities to improve their condition whether it is by learning trades or professions, studying literature or science. Newman thinks Ireland can trade in knowledge just as the inhabitants of San Francisco or of Melbourne seek to make a fortune by their gold fields, or those of the North of England by its coal. “If gold is power, wealth, influence; and if coal is power, wealth, influence; so is knowledge.”

Newman thinks the history corroborates that students will go to universities if they exist. “In all times there have been Universities; and in all times they have flourished by means of this profession of teaching and this desire of learning. They have needed nothing else but this for their existence. There has been a demand, and there has been a supply.” If teachers begin to lecture students will appear despite difficulties and discouragements. An irrepressible desire for knowledge exists among people that has endured in times of famine, tyranny and war. In the middle ages there were some patrons and protectors of universities, notably Charlemagne, but Newman points out that the Ireland of his time does not face the danger of invasions or the sudden rise of town mobs.

Still is the desire for learning and social peace sufficient for the rise of a university?

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