Don’t Mess With Newman!

It’s already been three years since his inauguration as the president of Catholic University of America, but I still haven’t forgiven John Garvey, for his mildly disparaging remarks about Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I think John Garvey is an excellent man and probably the best man for the job at CUA. He deserves a big “thank you” for returning CUA to single sex dorms! This was an obvious reform to make – but it probably took a fair amount of courage to carry out in the face of strident opposition.

But I did take offense when he said, speaking of Newman’s The Idea of a University,

Thinking I might learn something to the purpose, I turned to them with interest.  The first thing I noticed was how much we disagreed.  Newman thought it was not the business of a university to extend the boundaries of knowledge.  “To discover and to teach,” he says, “are distinct functions; they are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person.”

I am always amazed when someone feels bold enough to say something like that. Disagree with Newman about what a University is?  How is that possible? How does John Garvey feel that he can say that? Does John Garvey feel that he can enter the same intellectual ring as the Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman? Does John Garvey feel that he is on the same intellectual plane as Newman? That must feel really good! But what are John Garvey’s qualifications for thinking that? Is he a master of Aristotle’s Metaphysics? Did Garvey specialize in the writings of Aquinas?

And then Garvey said,

Newman defended the idea of a liberal education – a notion I heartily endorse.  But he thought that imparting scientific, technical, and professional knowledge was not the business of a university.  He had one foot in the Oxford of the eighteenth century, and on this point too we part company.

How is this possible? How can president Garvey say this? On the one hand he says that liberal education is a notion that he heartily endorses, and on the other hand he says that he parts company with Newman on what the business of a university is.

Who says that CUA is a university that is true to the idea of a university? A university cannot impart a liberal education and a professional education at the same time (despite what I may have appeared to have said in the last three posts – here, here, and here).

And then Garvey says this

Then there is his nineteenth century prose.  It’s a style I loved in my youth (when I also loved Chopin and Turner and Melville).  But it doesn’t work for lawyers.  Legal ideas are hard enough.  You can’t let your writing compete with them for the reader’s attention.

The last thing that I think I will ever criticize is the prose of John Henry Cardinal Newman. He is a master of the English language. College and University presidents should simply avoid ever saying anything disparaging or condescending about the prose of Newman. Just don’t do it. Bad idea! Really bad idea! I just can’t belive that Garvey said that.

Is he proposing that the sterile, mind numbing, and stultifying legal prose of the day is some kind of standard against which the glorious rich, vibrant and life-giving prose of Newman should be measured?

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in education, Liberal Arts, Newman and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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