The Monopolists of the Univeristy of Dublin

From Modern Ireland: Its Vital Questions, Secret Societies, and Government, 1868

By 'An Ulsterman'

The sensations of the engineer hoisted with his own petard could hardly be less agreeable than the feelings which, since the division on Mr. Fawcett's first motion, have possessed the partisans of educational monopoly in Ireland. For some time the monopolists of the University of Dublin have been assiduously playing a double game; and their tortuous policy has at length brought its reward. At first, they supported the denominational scheme against the mixed system as represented by the national schools; and to the Queen's Colleges they bore no great good will. Their open enmity to them was bought off by a concession, and no college under the new system was established in Dublin. Representatives of their views were placed upon the governing body of the new University to watch over and guide its progress; and if, like Archbishop Whately at the National Education Board, they sapped the outworks of their theological adversaries, they had, like him, to act "with one hand, and that the best, tied behind." However it came about, the measures taken to perfect the plan of the new college system were calculated to make it gradually less mixed and at the same time more unpopular. The professorial staff of the Belfast College was strictly Protestant. It was leavened, indeed, by one Catholic professor of Celtic languages, whose post was made a sinecure by the regulations adopted, and who, consequently, resided in Dublin. He is dead; but appearances are saved by one Catholic medical professor being placed on the list. Care indeed is taken that no prominent chair in Arts shall be filled by a Catholic in any of the colleges, but men are not allowed to say that in the teaching element the mixed system is not visible.

To promote the interests of this system sincerely in a province where party spirit runs so high as in Ulster, it was especially needful to give Catholics a fair representation on the teaching body. It has been urged that there would have been no possibility of getting Catholics sufficiently educated to fill their proportion of chairs. The character of the argument is apparent from the fact that to accept it we must believe France and Germany incapable of producing Catholics to hold Professorships of Modern Languages in the three colleges. Nor can any one who knows that almost all the judges are Catholics, believe that if capable Catholics had considered the professorships really open to their ambition, they would not have aspired to several of them. In the Southern and Western Colleges of Cork and Galway it was requisite that, among populations so overwhelmingly Catholic, Catholic professors should be in a more visible proportion in the teaching body. They were admitted accordingly; but still they were kept chiefly to one faculty—that of Medicine. In both colleges they are in a minority; and the worthlessness of the argument we have quoted is singularly illustrated by the fact, that whilst the number of educated Catholics must have increased during the existence of these colleges, the number of Catholics on the teaching body has not only not increased in the same ratio, but has diminished!

Under such conditions as these, it was most improbable that the colleges should become popular, whatever might be the impartiality, ability, and earnestness, of the professors. It is difficult not to suspect that the appointments were controlled by a sinister influence which had no desire to make the colleges popular, but regarded them as outposts that should in prudence be taken possession of in the interests of ascendancy.

At all events, it would appear that the monopolists of the University of Dublin considered themselves to have made the new collegiate system "safe;" for they are next found, with a rapid change of front, ardent in its defence. Mr. Whiteside showed signs of this studied policy when he concluded his speeches on the Education question, in Parliament, by swallowing his early utterances, and defending what he had before attacked. The National System of mixed schools was no longer the danger it had been, though possibly it may now have become perilous again, since the Commissioners have at length decided that teachers are not under certain pretences to give religious instruction to children of another creed. Mr. Whiteside's confession of faith was a fair indication of what might afterwards be expected. The representatives of Trinity College on appropriate occasions followed suit with dignified alacrity. When the question recently arose of a connection between the Queen's University and the Catholic University, the subject might have been supposed to be one which chiefly concerned themselves. But, in point of fact, it occasioned as much, if not more, excitement to their elder sister, whose opinion was not asked for at all. An ostentatious affection for the mixed system was suddenly developed at the headquarters of denominational ascendancy; the Provost's house demonstration was made; and its declaration in favour of the mixed system was hawked about for signature among its influential supporters.

The Chancellor of the University of Dublin had been appointed upon the Senate of the Queen's University, but had rarely, if ever, attended its meetings. It might have been expected that as the Chancellor of another University, he would be disposed to make a point of absenting himself when the question of the acceptance or non-acceptance of the Supplemental Charter came on for discussion in the Senate. On the contrary, he took the exceptional course of being present, and employed his influence as Chancellor of the University of Dublin, and his vote as a senator, against the acceptance of a charter which would have enabled the Queen's University Senate to admit to degrees whomsoever it thought worthy of admission. By the filling up of vacancies the Senate had, for the first time, been made to consist of Protestants and Catholics in almost equal proportions. These proportions, it is true, bore no reference to the relative numbers of each religious belief as constituting the population of the country; but if the Catholic majority was satisfied with having simply one-half of the Senate of its own religion, there was no ground for complaint. Complaint, however, came from the other side, in the ludicrous form of an allegation that by such an arrangement the Senate was "packed," or, in other words, that the ascendancy party would no longer be allowed to manage matters in their own way. But they succeeded in making the Senate's acceptance of the Supplemental Charter of no avail; and thus have, in their sense, saved the mixed system. They wanted no denominational system but their own. To save that, they would, indeed, if necessary, follow a different course.

They have cried so long and so loud, however, in favour of the mixed system, and have made so many protestations about liberality and equality in matters of education, that they have attracted the attention of Liberals who are disposed to take them at their word. It did not require long observation to discover that if, like Milton's lion, they were fair to view in front, and strong of roar, they were also caught by their hinder parts in gross earth; and Professor Fawcett accordingly came forward to liberate them from the earthy system of denominational ascendancy which clung so closely about their heels and marred the symmetry of their aspect, as well as the consistency of their arguments. Judged by their own words, and by their acts with regard to others, they should have welcomed his intervention; but in point of fact they strenuously repelled it, and now regard its consequences with dismay. They would deliver others, but will not be liberated themselves. And when they are made to feel that the mixed system, which they have been thrusting on their neighbours, may possibly be offered for their own enjoyment, they can only appeal to their former antagonists with mingled supplication and reproach. Lord Naas, in the subsequent debate on the state of Ireland, said he had been surprised "at the division which had taken place the other day on this subject. A motion on that occasion had been brought forward by the honourable member for Brighton, insinuating in the strongest and plainest terms the necessity for a system of mixed education in the University. An amendment was moved by the right honorable gentleman the member for Limerick, which, if it meant anything at all, meant that the system to be pursued in the college in future should be a denominational one. . . . He was. . . surprised to find that the amendment was subsequently withdrawn, and the advocates of denominational education in the Universities going into the lobby with those who were in favour of a directly opposite system."

This is a naive revelation of the ideas on which the policy we have indicated was founded. Its originators fancied that, having made the mixed system "safe," they could appeal to it, now and again, as a serviceable commonplace, and use it to divide the Catholic from the Protestant Liberals. By this means they hoped to be able to repel any attempt on the part of the Catholics to obtain equality in educational rights which they believed would be injurious to themselves, as endangering the ascendancy. That they had no unselfish love for the system of united education is plain, since the moment their immediate interest is not concerned in its advocacy they drop it, and resort again to their old arm of denominationalism. Their object next is to separate the Catholic from the Protestant Liberals; and they change weapons with a readiness which shows them to be burdened by no other principle but that of self-preservation.

The advocates of the Queen's University as it was will not be long in learning that they have wasted their money when they took to opposing the Supplemental Charter by raising technical points of law. There is no great improbability in supposing that an attempt will be made to settle the Education question in a way which it is hoped will indeed preserve Trinity College and the Dublin University intact, but will not much benefit either of their rivals. The Catholic University may be chartered: * the consequences, it is trusted, will be that ultimately the Dublin University, and Trinity College will be no losers. Let the Catholic University drain off the Catholic students from the Queen's Colleges to any considerable extent, and their doom is sealed. Of course, if the Catholic members of the House of Commons then allow them to remain, well and good; but if an agitation arises against them when they are thus weakened, one or two of the Southern Colleges can be sacrificed, and the remnant of their students drafted in to swell the undergraduate ranks of Trinity College. There would be no longer any reason to keep up a Queen's University in Dublin for granting degrees to students from Belfast.

The Queen's College there could be affiliated to one or other of the two Universities and thus a useless expenditure would be saved. The Catholic University would, on principle, be bound to decline such affiliation in the improbable event of its being sought; but the Dublin University need not do so. On the contrary, having opened its arms to the forlorn College, it would be then happily in that impregnable position in which some far-sighted admirers would fain see it to-day. Form an unsectarian college, they urge, and connect it with the University, and it will serve as a shield to protect Trinity College and its endowments. Without either difficulty or expense the same purpose would be served by the affiliation of such an "unsectarian" college as the Belfast Queen's College is; and thus the defenders of Dublin University would be ready for all opponents. Should a project be mooted which might disturb its privileges, they could as the occasion suited either repel it as an infidel attack upon the bulwark of a godly system of denominational education, or denounce it as a Jesuitical assault upon the last stronghold of a system of united and unsectarian education. Prepared for either fate, and retaining its privilege of serving as a gangway to office for aspiring lawyers, the University would not lack ready-witted and double-tongued defenders.

* The negotiations of the Conservatives with the Catholic Bishops which have since taken place, and the manner in which their offer of a charter and partial endowment was made, received, and withdrawn, are of too recent date to need comment.