Newman scholar Edward Short interviews Paul Shrimpton for The Catholic World Report (Short had previously reviewed Shrimpton's book for The Weekly Standard). Two questions piqued my interest: a look at other books about Newman and university education and a discussion of the misunderstanding of Newman's purposes and achievement in founding the Catholic University in Ireland:
CWR: You mention a few highly regarded studies in The “Making of Men”—those by Fergal McGrath, for example, and A.D. Culler. How does your study differ from those? Are there other scholars from whom you have benefited in your work on Newman?
Shrimpton: Fergal McGrath’s Newman’s University (1951) is an impressive piece of scholarship, and it has been the definitive work on the Catholic University for 60 years, but it does have important gaps. McGrath says nothing about Newman’s previous educational activity in Oxford; he does not really give a picture of day-to-day life at the Catholic University while Newman was rector (which is surprising, because the book is full of detail); and he says very little about what happened after Newman’s departure. I was able to fill in the gaps using the archival material that McGrath could not find or did not know about, and so bring out the pastoral dimension of Newman’s vision.
The other major study, Dwight Culler’s Imperial Intellect (1955), focuses on Newman’s idea of a liberal education and his theory of knowledge, but the section dealing with Dublin is actually quite short. A lot of new material has appeared since the studies of Culler and McGrath were published; and the development of the history of higher education means that we can now put the subject within a broader context.
Besides the leading Newman scholar, Ian Ker, I have drawn ideas from the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre and the historian of education Sheldon Rothblatt. Of course, I have benefitted in countless ways from many others, and I have credited their input in my copious footnotes and bibliography.
CWR: Two vulgar errors dog Newman and his educational work. One, that he was an advocate for a kind of education for the sake of education, with no concern for the practical implications of education; and two, that his work in Dublin with the Catholic University was an immitigable failure. What do you have to say about these two misconceptions?
Shrimpton: In the first place I think Newman was very much alive to the practical side of education. I think that few people today realize that the most successful faculty of the Catholic University—by far—was the medical faculty: when the Catholic University Medical School was absorbed into University College Dublin in 1909, it was the largest medical school in the country. Newman had a good understanding of the dynamics of science and its need for “elbow room”: you can see that in some of his lectures in the Idea of a University. He set up the faculty of science in Dublin 20 years before Maxwell opened the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge; he had chemistry and physics laboratories and ensured that the library was well-stocked with scientific papers and journals, he offered scholarships and prizes for science students, and he urged the scientists at the university to undertake research. And the chemistry laboratory was not just for medical students or those doing pure scientific research, but also for practical purposes—agriculture, mining, metallurgy, bleaching, even brewing and sugar-boiling and paper-making. He also tried to set up a faculty of law, though he did not succeed. But despite all this, Newman believed that a university “should be formally based (as it really is), and should emphatically live in, the Faculty of Arts.”
It is true that the Catholic University failed to take off; but it does not follow that this was Newman’s fault. In fact the venture was simply impossible: no one could have made it work. Ireland was devastated after the Great Famine of the 1840s; the British Government would not give the university either a charter or an endowment; there was no tradition of university education among Irish Catholics, and people failed to understand what it meant; Irish society was deeply divided politically, and clericalism and anti-clericalism were prevalent too. Interestingly, Newman was sanguine about the long-term prospects of the university. On leaving Dublin he remarked, “It does not prove that what I have written and planned will not take effect sometime and somewhere because it does not at once. […] When I am gone, something may come of what I have done at Dublin.” He also explained that the Dublin “disaster” fitted a pattern that was not man’s, but of a higher order: “It is the rule of God’s Providence that we should succeed by failure.”
Read the rest there.