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On John Henry Newman's Ideas of a University
Japanese universities have been struggling to maintain a balance between research and teaching. Although it is now self-evident that scholars should do research, for some it is not easy to justify teaching except as a necessary evil for the sake of doing research. In this regard, it is worth examining the classics of university ideals in western countries that have examined the traditional confrontation between the two. In this paper, the author analyses one of the classics in this field, John Henry Newman's The Ideas of a University (1873) and discusses his arguments about university teaching, liberal arts, gentlemen, and theology.
It is well-known that Oxford University and Cambridge University have a great tradition of colleges and tutorials. Unlike the German universities which transformed themselves into research institutions in the early nineteenth century, these British universities identified themselves as teaching institutions until the early twentieth century. It was in the middle of the nineteenth century when Newman wrote the book to defend classical education against the establishment of the University of London.
According to Newman, the university is essentially an educational institution. It exists neither for research nor for vocational education, because these activities tend to narrow the human mind. Neither is the university's function to foster geniuses. Its role is to educate ordinary people and so enhance the general intellectual tone of society. Newman takes an essentialist approach to education, and considers that commercial and academic interests will distort the original mission of the university, which is to produce sound citizens and leaders for the sake of welfare of society.
Therefore, Newman also rejects specialized academic concentration at undergraduate level, because it magnifies partial views and prevents students from grasping the whole. According to Newman, the whole lies in a broadly-based study of inter-related views. Newman rejects the modern approaches of learning and calls for a return to the ideals of the liberal arts in the middle ages, which emphasized, he asserts, leadership, virtue, and modesty, all of which were nurtured through mastery of classics and deference to authorities.
Newman also rejects academic specialization on the ground that character building is more important than academic discovery. He regards the training of gentlemen as the mission of university education. According to him, scientific pursuit is not compatible with the ideals of gentlemen, which demand composure, balance, and compassion.
No matter how beautiful and sophisticated are the ideals of gentlemen, Newman considers that they are secular and are insufficient for Christians. This is the reason why he claims that it is important for universities to have theology. He thinks that it is necessary for universities to integrate academic activities and existentialist concerns under the same moral reasoning. For this purpose, Christian doctrines should be disseminated not for the sake of inhibiting scientific inquiries but for the sake of achieving them thoroughly.
Newman's concepts of learning, interactive teaching, connections between character building and learning, and self-discovery through learning have implications for today's university teaching. His criticism of excessive research also has relevance to the construction of the undergraduate curriculum. Furthermore, his emphasis on the moral interaction between tutors and students is also relevant, because university teaching is losing such a component, which leaves students morally isolated.
Newman's genius lay in his ability to identify defects of modernism by adhering to the traditions of liberal arts and Catholicism. His calls for a Christian hegemony in the university, however, sounds anachronistic because of the prevailing secularism and multiculturalism, but it is arguable that, as George M. Marsden claims, the universities at least need to have space for religion and virtues.
Copyright (c) 2011 Author(s)