TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE OPPOSITION TO THE IRISH UNIVERSITY BILL.
IT seems clear that both the Liberal and the Roman Catholic opposition to the Irish University Bill is becoming, in a certain degree, embittered, though we do not much believe in the seriousness of the Protestant opposition. Trinity College is, of course, by no means disposed to accept the Bill,—is recal- citrant against the too moderate tribute which Mr. Gladstone proposes to exact from the College towards the expenses of the new University,—is indignant at the idea of being affiliated on the same basis as small Roman Catholic seminaries to the new University,—and is quite indisposed to give away its power of determining the standard of degrees. Again, a great effort has been made by the Times to justify the retention of the Queen's University for the graduation of all who, while they can- not afford to attend Trinity College, Dublin, prefer the mixed system to the denominational system of education. On the other hand, the Roman Catholics appear to have dis- covered, for the first time, that no measure would be tolerable to them that does not endow the Roman Catholic University College, and put it on a fair footing with Trinity College,—(though the determination not to do this has been avowed for years by Mr. Gladstone, and has been the subject of innumerable interpellations from suspi- cious Dissenters),—to have taken great offence against the proposal to endow a new "godless College" in connection with the new University,—and to have committed themselves, at least in some instances, to a fierce onslaught on the non- Collegiate principle, though it is one which the University of Dublin has long ago recognised without injury to its degrees, and though we venture to say, that in the case of the University of London, so far has this principle been from injuring the academ- ical worth of the degrees, that the ordinary degrees of not one of the older Universities,—whether it be Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin' are half as well esteemed as real guarantees of study, as the London degrees. In short, as might well have been anticipated, agreat deal of intemperate nonsense has been talked by the opponents of the Bill on both sides • and the only favourable feature of the case is that the Roman Catholic Bishops have deliberated on the Bill with closed doors, which looks like a wish to avoid the blunders into which oratory of the popular description would probably have plunged them ;—but even from this we are far from auguring a favourable consideration of the Bill.
However, one or two points come out quite clear, which we may absolutely trust the good sense of the House of Commons to discriminate, and, we hope,—what is even of more importance,—the sagacity of the Pro- testant and Roman Catholic leaders in Ireland to appreciate fairly. In the first place, the tribute to be paid by Trinity College to the common University has been fixed at a point which indicates a tenderness and delicacy, not to say a weakness, of the Government for the feelings of the rulers of that powerful institution. It may be perfectly true that Trinity College, Dublin, is not, like the Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, when they were compelled to con- tribute to the common University fund, in possession of large endowments not applied to educational purposes. But it is equally true, on the other hand, that it is in possession for educational purposes, of truly national funds, and that the vast majority of the Irish nation either is really unable, or at all events through scruples of conscience thinks itself unable, to make any educational use of these funds while they are at the disposal of secular teachers who consult secular ends. Under these circumstances, the contribution proposed is not only reasonable but merciful. And should the Home-Rule cry ever succeed,—and nothing is more likely to make it succeed, than to prolong the bitterness - of Catholic grievances,—Trinity College will probably find to its cost that it will be asked for more than a contribu- tion of £12,000 a year (out of £60,000 a year), towards purposes in which Roman Catholics can claim a share. As to the grievance of being affiliated along with very poor Roman Catholic seminaries as Colleges of the new University, it is not a grievance at all, except to the poor feeling of caste. If the Catholic seminaries are poor and Trinity College rich, that is due to the length of Protestant ascendancy. If they are places of comparatively little learning and Trinity College of much, that is due to the same cause, and will show itself in the results of the degree exam- inations. Where is the grievance ? Trinity College already grants degrees to non-resident students who do not go through its classes, but only submit themselves to its examinations. Where is the grievance to its resident students of competing with men educated in Maynooth and Kildare, as well as with men educated by private tutors nobody knows where ? The objec- tion is absurd,—is rather the objection of a man who dislikes to be asked to meet persons whom he regards as inferiors at dinner, than one worthy of serious exposition by intellectual men. As to the fear of the Trinity College authorities that the value of the degrees will be lowered by being taken out of their han ds,—we can only say that that is a danger incident to any scheme for a National University, or a University of Dublin in- cluding a new academical area, and that the proper way to guard against that is to take care that influential, learned, and scholar- like men are put on the governing body of the new University.. As for the Times' proposal to save the Queen's University intact, we regard it as the very worst that has yet been made. The Times bases it on the ground that its competition may tend to raise the character of the degrees, and that it may remain the University of those who cannot study in Dublin, and who yet prefer mixed education. Now, first, it is precisely the competition of degree-conferring Universi- ties which lowers the character of degrees, as we have sufficiently seen in the competition of Universities against Universities and Licensing Boards for graduates and licen- tiates in medicine,—a Dutch auction which has resulted in the conferring of these qualifications on terms so discreditably low, that Government has thought it necessary to interfere. But, next, the Queen's University is very far from a success.
The academical standard, instead of being high, has become far too low, far lower than it was at first ; and there have not been wanting the most candid confessions that it was ab- solutely necessary to lower the standard in order to get a decant show of graduates. Nor can we see how this Univer- sity is wanted for graduates who prefer mixed education. Cork and Belfast Colleges are to be kept up. Irish students, therefore, can study in Cork and Belfast, and then take the New Dublin University degree, which must, in common decency, be a much more difficult degree to obtain, than the present Queen's University degree. The proposal of the Times is really only a proposal to spend another £10,000 on a graduating process which is not at present in very good repute,. and which will, in case the new Bill passes, be utterly and wastefully superfluous. So much for the objections on the one side. As for the Catholic objections, we have never for a moment denied that the true course,—but fpr the absurd and unreasonable prejudice we have so suddenly taken in this country against "concurrent; endowment,"—would have been to start the Catholic University College, which has probably no adequate endowment at all from private sources, with a revenue putting it on a footing of something like competitive fairness with the great secularist College. But it is no use crying for the moon. Roman Catholics know very well that the Protestant Church was disendowed in great measure because the English Nonconformists regarded the endowment of any faith as a mischief; and that to attempt to give even the most moderate endowment to the opposite faith would be a ridiculous failure, even if Mr. Gladstone were not himself pledged, as he unfortunately is, against it. Just or unjust, Protestants choose to think that by abolishing tests at Trinity College, and opening all its emoluments to persons of all creeds, they do give the Roman Catholics educational equality, and that it is a mere private caprice which prevents the latter from avail- ing themselves of their rights. That may not be true, but it is the working hypothesis on which English politicians must proceed ; and to call out for an endowment for the Catholic University College, is to entreat that the shadow may go back ten degrees upon the dial. For the moment at all events,—we quite admit that it is not creditable to our politi- cal good sense that it should be so,—the proposal is political moonshine. As to the new "godless College," against which the Roman Catholics contend,—i. e., those New University of Dublin Chairs on all subjects but philosophy and modern history which are to be founded by the Bill,—we should certainly say that if the Catholics won't have them, they had better not be founded. The use of them, if there be any use, is for the Roman Catholics, and not for the Protestants. The Protestants, if resident in Dublin, can attend Trinity College lectures,—which the majority of the Roman Catholics probably will not do. We think the Roman Catholics very foolish in not accepting the offer of a very great pecuniary lift for their own Collegiate teaching,—for it is clear that they would have much fewer chairs to keep up in their own College if they could by any means avail themselves of the University chairs, and it is certain that a certain number of such chairs would be filled by eminent Catholics. Still it is a matter for them to con- sider. If they are so horrified at the contamination of asso- ciation with Protestants that they decline to avail themselves of these great facilities for economising their own staff of teachers, it is not for Protestants to object. But we think they should consider well before refusing this really most important aid.
Finally, of the Roman Catholic objection, which our contem- porary, the Tablet, presses with such heat against the recogni- tion of the non-collegiate principle in the New University, we can only say this,—that its tone on this head is varymuch indeed opposed to Roman Catholic interests, instead of favourable to them. If only collegiate students are to be admitted to compete for scholarships and degrees, Roman Catholics all over Ireland who cannot afford to send their sons to college, but who could afford to get them taught by good teachers in their own neigh- bourhood, will be shut out from degrees altogether. It is pure nonsense talking of the dangers of cramming. The dangers of cramming are just as great, perhaps greater, in colleges than they are elsewhere. We do not deny that the compulsory associa- tion with other young men is a very great social and even intellectual advantage. But it is a very serious disadvantage to shut out all the poorer classes from the power of obtaining adequate testimony to the higher culture ; and the curious point here is that the principle of admitting non-collegiate students to graduation has been long admitted by the Uni- versity of Dublin, and without those awful consequences on which the Tablet is so eloquent. If the collegiate system be insisted on in future for all graduates, the Roman Catholics will be at a terrible disadvantage ; for Trinity College
must for generations to come far surpass all the Catholic Colleges in educational and social attractions. We find so little of real substantial objection in the Roman Catholic eloquence, —excepting only as to the refusal of endowment, which we admit, but which our Catholic contemporaries have long • known to be without remedy for the present—that we cannot but hope that the conference of Catholic Bishops may have
the wisdom to make the best of the Bill, i.e., to accept all the provisions of it which are favourable to their interests without making requisitions which they know cannot be granted, and which it would therefore be foolish to ask.