University professors as Tutors, Card. Newman

ImageIn his first articles for the University Gazette of the Catholic University of Ireland Newman had indicated the primary role played by university professors. Newman’s friend objected: “I cannot help thinking that your Gazette makes more of persons than is just, and does not lay stress enough upon order, system, and rule, in conducting a University. ” He argued that the Church goes forward even when great personalities are lacking: “Look at the Church herself; how little she depends on individuals; in proportion as she can develop her system, she dispenses with them”

Newman acknowledged to his friend the importance of both teachers and a fixed order. His newspaper articles had only just started, and until then he had only presented the need for the former.

His friend explained his objection: “What is heresy in ecclesiastical history but the action of personal influence against law and precedent? and what were such heterodox teachers as the Arian leaders in primitive times, or Abelard in the middle ages, but the eloquent and attractive masters of philosophical schools? “

Newman replied to his friend: “When then I say, that a Great School or University consists in the communication of knowledge, in lecturers and hearers, that is, in the Professorial system, you must not run away with the notion that I consider personal influence enough for its well-being. It is indeed its essence, but something more is necessary than barely to get on from day to day; for its sure and comfortable existence we must look to law, rule, order; to religion, from which law proceeds; to the collegiate system, in which it is embodied; and to endowments, by which it is protected and perpetuated.”

A university consists of professors as well as a university system. Both are necessary. Professors give life to the system; otherwise it is dead: “An academical system without the personal influence of teachers upon pupils, is an arctic winter; it will create an ice-bound, petrified, cast-iron University, and nothing else.”

Next Newman recalled the separation that existed between tutors and students when he had been an undergraduate at Oxford. Although tutors and students met in the hall or chapel, the tutor did not wish to know anything about the student’s personal growth. “This was the reign of Law without Influence, System without Personality.” Many students went their way rejoicing in their liberty while some, “like sheep without a shepherd,” sought teachers who would guide them. Newman here made a veiled reference to himself and a few other tutors whom the college authorities had disavowed, and to the conflict that ensued. In the end Newman and his friends resigned their posts.

In writing about university education and the establishment of a university Newman not only based his ideas on history of the schools in Athens and the medieval universities; he looked to his experience as a tutor at Oriel College. He understood the pivotal influence a good tutor exerts on his students.

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