|"Today's class will be about the same thing all your other classes are about -- How to make money."|
First Things, Roger Scruton
"When Cardinal Newman wrote The Idea of a University in 1852, it was largely to uphold the old conception of the university, as a place apart, a quasi-monastic precinct opposed to the utilitarian mindset of the new manufacturing society. For Newman, a university exists to mold the characters of those who attend it. Immersing its students in a collegiate environment, and impressing on them an ideal of the educated mind, helps to turn raw human beings into gentlemen.
This, Newman implied, is the true social function of the university. Within college walls the adolescent is granted a vision of the ends of life; and he takes from the university the one thing that the world does not provide, which is a conception of intrinsic value. And that is why the university is so important in an age of commerce and industry, when the utilitarian temptation besieges us on every side, and when we are in danger of making every purpose a material one—in other words, as Newman saw it, in danger of allowing the means to swallow the ends.
Much has changed since Newman’s day. To suggest that universities are engaged in producing gentlemen is more than faintly ridiculous in an age when most students are women. Newman’s ideal university was modeled on the actual universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Trinity College, Dublin, which at the time admitted only men, did not permit their resident scholars to marry, and were maintained as quasi-religious institutions within the fold of the Anglican Church. Their undergraduates were recruited largely from the private schools, and their curriculum was solidly based in Latin, Greek, theology, and mathematics. Their domestic life revolved around the college, where dons and undergraduates had their living quarters, and where they dined together each evening in hall, robed in their academic gowns.
Only a small proportion of those who attended the old British universities in Newman’s day regarded study as the real purpose of being “up” at the alma mater. Some were there to row or play rugby; some were biding time before inheriting a title; some were on their way to commissions in the army, and were meanwhile rioting with their chums. Almost all were members of a social elite that had hit on this unique way of perpetuating itself, by coating its power with a veneer of high culture. And in this protected and beautiful environment you could also take culture seriously. With money in the bank and time on your hands, it was not so hard to turn your back on utilitarian values.
Today’s university differs from Cardinal Newman’s in almost every respect. It recruits from all classes of society, is open equally to men and to women, and is very often financed and provisioned by the state. Little if anything remains of the poised domestic life that shaped the soul of Newman, and the curriculum centers not on sublime and purposeless subjects like ancient Greek, in which there hovers the entrancing vision of a life beyond commerce, but on sciences, vocational disciplines, and the now ubiquitous “business studies” through which students supposedly learn the ways of the world."