Research ∕ Learning


Lorcan 2 min read
Newman House, Dublin. The original building of the Catholic University of Ireland. 

And speaking of UCD …. To be a student at University College Dublin was to be very much aware of Cardinal Newman, in name at least, as he lent it to various buildings, institutions and initiatives. Cardinal Newman has been much in the news recently, in advance of his beatification by the Pope in Birmingham earlier today.

John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was the founding rector in 1854 of the Catholic University of Ireland, the antecedent institution of University College Dublin. Newman lived in Dublin from 1851-58 and in those years delivered the lectures and wrote the articles which were later published together as The Idea of a University, one of the most enduring texts ever written about university education. [UCD – Remembering John Henry Newman]

Here is the Times Higher on Newman (in a piece ‘reprinted’ in Inside Higher Ed), quoting Robert Anderson, emeritus professor of history at the University of Edinburgh …

When asked about the cardinal’s impact on higher education, the professor said that Newman’s ideas were little discussed until the 20th century – and then more so in the US than in Britain. “He is seen as a spokesman for the idea of liberal education, and in some ways that is more of a live issue in America than in Britain, with liberal-arts colleges.”

Many of Newman’s ideas do not fit with the “sort of rhetoric vice-chancellors use” when they pepper speeches with references to The Idea of a University, the professor added, and go against the modern concept of “league tables, the research university – the international model”. [Saintly champion of liberal values out of step with business zeitgeist]

The irony here of course is that the Times Higher has just published its World University Rankings, for the first time this year carried out in conjunction with Thomson Reuters.
Similar sentiments to Robert Anderson’s are expressed by Conall 0 Móráin in the UCD Today magazine as he introduces an interview with “Director of the UCD International Centre for Newman Studies, Dr Pádraic Conway about Theologian, Educationalist and UCD’s Founding Rector, John Henry Newman”. [PDF]. He contrasts a utilitarian view of the university with Newman’s views.
This contrast, between Newman’s views on a liberal education and a perceived view of the values of some modern universities, was expressed with typical strength by Terry Eagleton recently …

It was in the plan for his Catholic university in Dublin that Newman’s generosity of spirit can be seen at its finest. Catholics in Ireland were barred from Trinity College, Dublin, and the Queen’s Colleges, established by the British government to civilise the natives and render them less troublesome, were secular institutions where no theology was taught. Newman, however, did not insist that theology should rule in the Catholic university. He believed that pursuing any branch of knowledge for its own sake was a religious activity, since the whole of Nature was God’s creation. In The Idea of a University, he speaks up for an ‘intercommunion’ of all the principal academic disciplines and for disinterested scholarly inquiry. The task of a university is to foster intellectual culture for its own sake, which means that it can be the tool of neither church nor state. His book needs to be placed in the hands of the vandals, philistines and soulless bureaucrats who are currently destroying our places of higher learning. [LRB – Washed in milk]

Note: Feature picture added 8 November 2022.

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