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Universities / Higher Ed

The modern division of formal education into primary, secondary and tertiary levels is relatively modern. In the past most children were instructed informally within the family or small community, and this was only concerned with passing on basic skills, practices and traditions including oral chronicles and historical narratives. From the end of the first millennium in Europe regional administration and organisation, akin to what had existed in Roman times, began to be established and this gave rise to the need for basic and further levels of education. The demand for literacy and numeracy became greater and out the abbeys and cathedrals there emerged schooling based on the classical curriculum. This saw the beginnings of (Latin) grammar schools and the founding of colleges and universities to equip a small minority for the tasks of civil administration. Between the 12th and 15th centuries some thirty-five universities were founded in Europe including Bologna, Oxford, Cambridge, Padua, Coimbra, and Barcelona. In addition to the two English ones three were founded in Scotland: St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen, followed in the next century by Edinburgh. The importance the Scots attached to education beyond parish and grammar school level is indicated by the fact that while in England the first education act was passed in 1870, concerning schooling for children between 5 and 12, in Scotland the 1496 act required landowners to send their eldest sons to colleges or universities to learn Latin, liberal arts and law. The Scottish influence was strong in North America where many liberal arts colleges were founded on its model. By the end of the 19th century a new model of science and technology based education had developed in Germany and it began to be adopted in the US. The debate between humanities education and scientific and vocational training was a feature of the 19th century with Mill and Newman making important contributions. With the expansion of higher education across the world and its rising cost this is again to the fore as, with increasing percentages of populations attending college and university, is the question what are universities for? This has been intensified by the move from libraries to electronic resources and by the shift from class-based to online teaching and research as a result of Covid19 .

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    BRITISH JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL STUDIES, ISSN 0007-1005 DOI number: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2009.00443.x VOL. 57, No. 4, DECEMBER 2009, PP 347-362 THE VERY IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY: ARISTOTLE, NEWMAN, AND US by ALASDAIR MACINTYRE, University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA I no The case that hostile critics have urged against Newman's The Idea of a University is impressive. J.M. Roberts wrote nearly twenty years ago that ‘it is no longer possible to write a book with such a title general doctrine of universities is possible' (The Idea of a University revisited' in Newman after a Hundred Years, edd. Ian Ker and Alan G. Hill, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p. 222). And Bill Reddings later argued that Newman's conception of the university curriculum reflected a kind of literary culture that 'held together diverse specialities in a unity', a type of culture that no longer exists and that it is impossible to recreate (The University in Ruins, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996, p. 167). Those two critics could not have been more at odds with each other, Roberts being a distinguished member of the British University establishment, yet the two of them in agreement on Newman's irrelevance. What is held to make Newman irrelevant to the concerns of those now at work in universities are three of his central affirmations, each entailing the denial of a conviction central to the functioning of contemporary universities. So why does that make Newman's claims irrelevant rather than just false? It is because, on the view taken by his critics, it is not only that Newman's idea of a university fails to hold true of contemporary universities, but that anyone who thought that it might hold true would have grossly misunderstood the nature and functioning of the contemporary university. To criticise contem- porary universities from Newman's standpoint would be, on their view, like blaming a jet engine for not having the excellences of a windmill. What then are the three matters on which what Newman says is taken to be at once false and irrelevant? The first is his conception of the unity of knowledge, or more accurately of the unity of under- standing, of how each academic discipline contributes the knowledge of some particular aspect or part of the universe, so that in the 347 © 2009 The Author Journal compilation © 2009 SES. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. THE VERY IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY search for understanding we need to study not only a number of different disciplines - physics, physiology, history, literature, mathematics, psychology - but also how each of these bears on the others, what the relationships between them are (The Idea of a University, ed. Martin J. Svaglic, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1982, Discourse III, pp. 33–35 and Discourse VI, p. 103). Newman was careful to emphasise that it is not just the study of a number of disciplines that educates (Discourse VI, p. 98). What educates is knowledge of several disciplines, such that one comes to understand both the indispensability of each for an overall understanding of the order of things and the limitations of each. The superficial generalist is as much the product of a defective education as the narrow specialist. It is a commonplace that Newman in 1852 not only did not foresee the rise of the modem research university, first in Germany, then in the United States, but took it for granted that research was a task for institutions other than universities. What puts Newman in opposition to the research university, however, is not just this but, above all, his claim that intensive specialisation and narrowness of intellectual focus deform the mind, that the qualities characteristic of the minds of successful researchers are qualities incompatible with those of an educated mind. This claim follows from Newman's affirmation of his conception of the unity of knowledge, of the unity of understanding, together with his view of the effects of the academic division of labour. 'There can be no doubt,' Newman wrote, 'that every art is improved by confining the professor of it to that single study. But, although the art itself is advanced by this concentration of mind in its service, the individual who is confined to it goes back' (Discourse VII, p. 127). That you may tend to injure and deform your mind by developing a narrowness of vision and a onesidedness in judgment, if you devote yourself wholeheartedly to a life of scholarly research, is a thought that the protagonists of the twenty-first century prestigious research university are scarcely capable of entertaining. We might exaggerate somewhat, if we formulated Newman's view in contemporary terms by saying that the possession of a Ph. D. or a D. Phil. is too often the mark of a miseducated mind, but we would come close enough to it to make it clear why Newman must seem not just irrelevant, but offensive to such protagonists. Consider now a second way in which Newman is held to have disqualified himself from participation in our debates. He insists not only that theology is among the disciplines that must be taught in any university worthy of the name, but that it is the key discipline, that unless theology is given its due place in the curriculum, the 2009 The Author Journal compilation © 2009 SES 348 THE VERY IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY relationships between disciplines will be distorted and misunderstood. Since nobody in the twenty-first century thinks that an institution from which theology is absent cannot legitimately call itself a university, and since, even in universities where theology is taught, it is treated as simply one more specialised discipline among others, Newman's claims must sound eccentric to contemporary ears. We might be tempted to say that, for the vast majority of our academic contemporaries, it is their belief that universities are secular institutions that leads them to reject Newman's thesis about the place of theology in the curriculum. Yet Newman too held that universities are secular institutions. His claim is that it is qua secular institution that the university needs what he takes to be the secular discipline of theology. So what can this need be? Newman's answer returns us to his conception of the unity of understanding. Without a recognition of theology as the key discipline, the university curriculum, so Newman argued, will disintegrate into a fragmented multiplicity of disciplines, each self-defining, each claiming autonomy in its own sphere. Some disciplines will of course continue to draw on each other, as physics does on mathematics, geology on chemistry. But there will be no conception of a whole to which each discipline contributes as a part. And of course this is just how it has become in the contemporary university, a condition one of whose symptoms is the great difficulty that university teachers generally have nowadays in arriving at agreement on what, if any, general education requirements should be imposed on undergraduates. University teachers are no longer members of an educated public constituted by agreements on what books every educated person needs to have read and what skills every educated person needs to possess. For now there is no such public inside or outside the university, as Bill Reddings rightly insisted. I am not suggesting that the principal cause of this condi- tion is the absence of theology from the curriculum or its treatment as just one more specialised discipline. But it would have been. Newman's view that the fragmentation of our curriculum is a condition that needs to be remedied and that only an acknowledgment of theology as the key unifying discipline can adequately remedy it. Newman therefore with his judgments that the knowledge of God is a part of our secular knowledge and that such knowledge is the key to understanding affronts the secularised thinkers of our time, just as he affronted the secularising thinkers of his own. Part of what affronts them is that Newman was well aware that belief that God exists is contestable and that there are no knockdown arguments, equally compelling to every intelligent person, for the existence of God. But it is characteristic of contemporary unbelievers to believe © 2009 The Author Journal compilation © 2009 SES 349 THE VERY IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY that, only if they were offered some knockdown argument whereby belief in God would be incontestable, would they be rationally entitled to believe that God exists. To which the theist has to respond that any being whose existence was thus justified would not be God. It is not that there are not arguments sufficient to justify the theist's assertion of the existence of God, but that the soundness of those arguments will always be open to contestation, just because of the nature of God and of His relation to His creation. Newman's idea of a university is then taken to be irrelevant to the contemporary university not only because of the overwhelmingly dominant place that the acquisition of specialised knowledge through research has in the contemporary university, and not only because no discipline could be accorded the place that theology has in Newman's scheme, but also because the claim that the knowledge of God is at once contestable and yet genuine and indispensable secular knowledge is at odds with the present day secular university's under- standing of the secular. A third respect in which it seems to many that Newman's views cannot be brought to bear on the contemporary university concerns how a university education is to be justified, both to those who are invited to become its students and to those whom it invites to sustain it financially, whether private and corporate donors or governments. Universities today would not survive, let alone flourish, if they were not able credibly to promise to their students a gateway to superior career possibilities and to donors and governments both a supply of appropriately skilled manpower and research that contributes to economic growth. Universities, that is to say, promise to be cost-effective enterprises. For Newman, by contrast, the activities that contribute to the teaching and learning of a university have goods internal to them that make those activities worthwhile in themselves. It may of course be the case that incidentally univer- sities do contribute to career success and economic growth. But, on Newman's view, a university can succeed in both these respects and yet fail as a university. So there are three major issues that put Newman at odds with the contemporary research university's understanding of its mission: its pursuit of highly specialised know- ledge, the secular university's understanding of what it is to be secular, and the university's self-justification by appeal to consider- ations of social utility. If we recognise that, given these three charac- teristics, no contemporary university could exemplify anything like Newman's idea of a university, should we simply agree with Roberts and Reddings in taking Newman's claims to be not only false, but also irrelevant? 2009 The Author Journal compilation © 2009 SES 350 THE VERY IDEA OF A UNIVERSITY II I want to suggest three lines of thought which separately and jointly give us reason to take Newman's central claims seriously. Each of them begins from asking a set of Aristotelian questions and ends with an answer drawn from Newman. And about this we should not be surprised. For it was Newman who declared that 'while we are men, we cannot help, to a great extent, being Aristotelian' and that 'In many subject-matters to think correctly is to think like Aristotle' (Discourse V, p. 83). To think like Aristotle, for the questions from which I begin are perhaps not Aristotle's own, but they are questions which, if one presses an Aristotelian enquiry beyond a certain point, one is bound to ask. They are also – and Newman's remark on why he is an Aristotelian is very much to the point – questions that are inescapable for any sufficiently reflective human being, so that, even if Newman had never written The Idea of a University, we should have been compelled to raise them. The first is this: What is it that we need to understand, if on some occasion the outcome of our practical deliberations has been perhaps disastrous, or at least very different from what we had expected? What are the different ways in which we may have gone astray? If our conception of practical reasoning is in general Aristotelian, there are several ways in which our deliberations may have been defective. Consider for example the kind of decision that will alter the course of someone's life, perhaps too the lives of others close to her or him, such choices as that to emigrate or not to emigrate or to change the land use of one's farm in some drastic way or the choice between participating in rebuilding one's town after some natural disaster and starting anew somewhere else. Bad decisions may result from some failure to identify or rank order correctly the goods at stake in choosing this rather than that. And such failure may in turn derive from some misconception of what the agent's final good qua human being is. Or they may result from a failure to identify correctly the actions that in these particular circumstances would have to be undertaken to achieve the relevant goods. These two kinds of error will have been made in the course of formulating the premises of the agent's practical syllogisms. But they are not the only types of error of which we need to beware. For all such practical reasoning, whether successful or not, presupposes two sets of background assumptions about the natural and social contexts in which the reasoning and the actions that flow from that reasoning take place. Each of these types of assumption can also be a source of practical failure. What are they? © 2009 The Author Journal compilation © 2009 SES 351

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    Universities exist to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and culture that will prepare . . . .

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    The Enduring Nature of the Catholic University Commemorating the Anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's Address to Catholic Educators on April 17, 2008 A collection of essays on the renewal of Catholic higher education by Most Rev. David Ricken, Msgr. Stuart Swetland, Rev. J. Augustine DiNoia, Rev. Joseph Koterski, Rev. David O'Connell, and Dr. John Hittinger with a foreword by The Hon. Kenneth Whitehead THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF CATHOLIC HIGHER EDUCATION A Division of The Cardinal Newman Society in Support of Ex corde Ecclesiae The Enduring Nature of the Catholic University حمم THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF CATHOLIC HIGHER EDUCATION A Division of The Cardinal Newman Society in Support of Ex corde Ecclesiae The Cardinal Newman Society Manassas, Virginia Copyright © 2009 The Cardinal Newman Society, Manassas, VA 20110 All Rights Reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review written for inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast. Manufactured in the United States of America. Published by: The Cardinal Newman Society President, Patrick J, Reilly Executive Vice President, Thomas W. Mead The Center for the Study of Catholic Higher Education Director, Joseph A. Esposito Deputy Director, Evangeline C. Jones Layout and design by David J. Costanzo Director of Communications Dedicated to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI with gratitude for his vision for Catholic higher education

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    Video message sent by the Holy Father Francis to the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, for the inauguration ceremony for the academic year 2021-2022, which took place today in Milan, on the centenary of the University, 19 December 2021

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    Liberal Education at the Margins

    Thomas Hibbs, University of Dallas The Character of the University Baylor Symposium on Faith and Culture Baylor University, Waco, TX October 17-19, 2019

  • Integrated Humanities Programmes & the Renewal of Catholic Educa­tion

    Rev Prof Michael Sherwin, OP on "Integrated Humanities Programmes & the Renewal of Catholic Educa­tion" part of the 2021 Aquinas Seminar Series on the theme De Magistro: Aquinas and the Education of the Whole Person, exploring what Aquinas offers towards a philosophy and praxis of education, bringing him into con­versation with other thinkers and with movements towards educating the whole person. A copy of the slides from the lecture are available here: https://www.bfriars.ox.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Blackfriars-Talk-handout.pdf