THE UNIVERSITIES DEBATE. THE UNIVERSITIES DEBATE.
THOUGH we agree with many of the positions taken-up by Mr. Bryce in his speech of Friday week, we cannot say that, on the whole, we agree with his conclusion },hat at the present moment it would be advantageous to the six Universities now represented in Parliament if their representatives were taken from them ; still less that it would be advantageous to Parliament to lose the nine Members who represent those Universities ; or even advantageous to Parliament that those nine Members should be returned by large popular constituencies. We admit, of course, that if ever the " oneman-one-vote " principle is adopted as the basis of our whole system, the University constituencies must go at once. Almost every University elector is an elector in some larger constituency, and could not, if that principle were adopted, properly vote both for his borough or county district and for his University. Again, we are quite willing to admit, nay, to maintain, that the Universities have not in general returned in any sense characteristic Members, and not seldom at least have returned Members as closely identified with narrow political partisanships as any county or borough Member. Mr. Raikes, who represents Cambridge University, is such a Member at the present time ; and it would be difficult to find an abler partisan in his way than Mr. Gibson, who represents the University of Dublin. Still, considering that at the present moment, of the nine University Members, only two are vehement party men,—Mr. Plunket, though a steady Conservative, is certainly not a passionate partisan,—considering that two more, Sir John Lubbock and Sir Lyon Playfair, do undoubtedly represent to a rather exceptional degree the genius of academical bodies ; while of the four whom we have not yet named, Mr. Beresford Hope has a very fair right to say that he represents literary interests and aims, Sir J. Mowbray and Mr. Talbot are quiet and thoughtful Conservatives ; and of Mr. Campbell, the Member for Glasgow and Aberdeen Universities, not very much is known,—it is hardly possible to assert that the House of Commons would gain by the sacrifice of these nine Members, or even by compelling them, if they wish to be returned at all, to sit for other constituencies. For this at least is true of most of the University Members, and we wish we could think it were as true of the Member for Edinburgh and St. Andrews, as it is of the five English and the two Irish University Members,—that they are in no danger of being rejected by their constituencies for slight deviations from the politics of the majority of their constituents. If Oxford rejected Sir Robert Peel and Mr. Gladstone, it was at least for very startling changes of political conviction. Mr. Talbot and Sir J. Mowbray are in no danger of forfeiting their seats, even if on some second-rate question they did desert their party ; and we think we can answer for it that Sir John Lubbock remains perfectly secure in his, even though once and again he may have seemed to some of his constituents a little wanting in the steadiness of his Liberalism. Now, it is precisely by men who are thus fairly independent of their constituencies, who are sure that they will never be removed except for some very great change of conviction,that the general interests of knowledge and education can best be represented. Sir John Lubbock sitting for a London district would not be in any way the same kind of Member as Sir John Lubbock sitting for the University of London • and though we heartily agree that there ought not to be many of these unattached Members who can air their own crotchets safely in Parliament, we are disposed to think that a few of them, if chosen well, as Sir John Lubbock and Sir Lyon Playfair have been, are very useful, and add to the efficiency of Parliament.
Of course, the question remains whether political repre
sentation does not injure the Universities by mixing them up in politics, instead of really benefiting them. And it is to this point that Mr. Bryce gave the most weight in his able speech. He held that the University of Oxford at least, had been definitely injured by being compelled to split-up into two parties,—Liberal and Conservative,—and by the flavour of political bias which is in this way introduced into purely University questions. Nor do we doubt that he may be right, or that both at Oxford and at Cambridge, University questions have been troubled and rendered more perplexed and difficult by the political character of the 'Universities. Only even if it has been so, this is certainly not true of the other Universities. It would be false to assert that in Dublin, or London, or the Scotch Universities, questions affecting academical issues have in any way been disturbed by political considerations. In these Universities, the graduates are nothing but a select body of electors, who exercise their political functions now and then without any specific effect on the curriculum laid down, or on the character of the examiners to be appointed, or on the fitness of the teachers whom the Universities employ. There is, no doubt, at Cambridge and Oxford, a daily current of political life which there is not in Trinity College, Dublin, or in the Scotch Universities, or in the University of London ; but even if two Universities out of the six are a little the worse for their political status, seeing that the other four are not thus affected by it, this is rather inadequate ground for taking all the nine Members away. As no one proposes to do away with all anomalies and put representation on a scientific basis, it would be rather hard to abolish these anomalies so long as they in any degree improve the character of the House of Commons, simply because in two of the six Universities some injurious effects appear to result from the political status accorded to the graduates.
The strongest case, in our judgment, against the political character of the Universities, would be afforded by the predominantly Protestant character of the University of Dublin, were it not in Ireland especially, of all parts of the kingdom, that the effect of the division of counties into districts of equal population, with single seats assigned to each, is most likely,—indeed, almost certain,—to yield a decided unfairness of result of the precisely opposite kind, namely, a predominance of influence to Roman-Catholic electors over and above the influence to which their numbers would properly entitle them. The indignation with which Mr. Parnell opposed on Tuesday night the continuance of the University seats held by the University of Dublin, rather reminded one of the anger expressed by the wolf towards the lamb for disturbing the stream at which he was drinking. The only argument of the least value against the division of the counties into equal districts with single seats allotted to them, is that in Ireland it will undoubtedly increase Mr. Parnell's following beyond the proportions which the relative numbers of the Parnellite and the non-Parnellite voters would naturally assign to it. This is certainly not a sufficient reason for adopting all over the country an electoral method—like that advocated by the friends of proportional representation—which is radically unsound ; but it is a reason for letting-alone an inequality of one kind which is a sort of makeweight against a more serious inequality of another kind. On the whole, we should say that Mr. Bryce, while producing a strong case against a political expedient which is certainly out of keeping with the general principles of our representative system, and a political expedient which has yielded less fortunate results in the two older Universities than it has yielded anywhere else, chose a somewhat unfortunate moment for urging his case. If there is any danger that the new electorate will fail to return highly-cultivated men,—which we do not think there is,— or that where they do return highly-cultivated men they will return them too much fettered by pledges,—which we do think there is,—surely the very mild antidote which is afforded by the presence in the House of Commons of nine Members chosen by select constituencies, and for the most
part permitted to take their own course with exceptional
freedom, ought not to be abolished at once. Even though University representation be in some degree a fly in amber, an anomaly in a Democratic system, it is not such an anomaly as
can vitiate the system. And it may fairly be tolerated at least till we decide on removing other anomalies which are more important and less fruitful of incidental advantages.