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THE UNIVERSITY COMMISSION.
THE Dublin University Commissioners have at length brought their labours to a close. After two years expended in investigating facts, and receiving suggestions from all those whose intimate connexion with the University rendered their evidence or their opinion valuable, they have given the result to the public in a volume, rivalling in bulk either of those which have emanated from the sister universities; and as few institutions have had more reason to complain of ignorant or wilful misrepresentation, all lovers of our Irish University will hail the appearance of this Report as a bright and important era in her history. Ignorance will now be no longer excusable. Wilful misrepresentation can now be easily refuted. How far the University of Dublin has fulfilled or neglected her important trust, whether science and literature have prospered or decayed within her walls whether and how far she has exerted herself to render her education commensurate to the wants of the age; upon all these questions, the public may now satisfy themselves. Whatever be her merits or demerits, they are at least no secret.
We need hardly remind our readers that the duty imposed upon the Commission, and which the elaborate document before us is intended to fulfil, was two-fold-namely, in the first place, to give a faithful report of the existing state of the University of Dublin and secondly to suggest such alterations as might seem to them necessary or beneficial. With regard to the relative importance of these two duties, there can be, we suppose, but one opinion. The recommendations of the Commissioners are undoubtedly entitled to great weight, as opinions coming from men of known ability, who have devoted much time and thought to the question before them, uninfluenced by any other motive than a desire for the welfare of the institution and of the country. They are the opinions of men celebrated in their various pursuits, raised by their position above all petty jealousy, and
bringing to their allotted task habits of severe and accurate thought, formed during a long course of scientific or professional life. Still they are but opinions the opinions, too, of men not possessing now any peculiar or exclusive sources of information. They are avowedly based upon those very facts which the Report lays open to the whole world. If they are obnoxious to criticism, the materials for criticism lie close at hand; for the Commissioners have done for the public what parents often refuse to do for an inquisitive child they have made their readers as wise as themselves.
But whatever may be thought of the wisdom of the suggestions contained in the Report, there can be no doubt as to the extreme importance of the facts which are there laid open to the public. The Commissioners have brought together in their Report, a mass of evidence as to the theory and practice of education in the University of Dublin, which leaves nothing to be desired. Every branch of the varied system provided to meet the varied wants of the nineteenth century, has been subjected to a severe and careful scrutiny. Every official connected with its working has been required to give a full account of the manner in which he has discharged his trust; and it is but justice to the fellows and professors to say that no concealment of any kind appears to have been practised or attempted. Their replies to the several queries put to them are made with the full and open candour of men who feel that they have nothing to fear from publicity that their deeds" give them no reason to hate the light." But on this point we shall allow the Commissioners to speak for themselves :
"Our proceedings in carrying your Majesty's commission into execution, have been greatly facilitated by the spirit in which our communications have been received by the different officers of the college; and by the promptness and courtesy with which they have replied to our inquiries. Their answers, too, contain very full information on each subject of investigation, and the sug
gestions which we have received from them afforded us great assistance, in forming our opinions on the important subjects to which they relate."-Report, p. 2.
This testimony borne to the fairness and candour with which the evidence of the several fellows and professors has been given,is highly honourable to them, and as such will be read with pleasure by all those who are interested in the reputation of the University of Dublin. But it has a wider and more important bearing: namely, upon the amount of weight to be given to the evidence itself a grave question, if this evidence be destined to form the basis of subsequent legislation. The elements for such legislation are now fully before the public; and whatever difficulties (and they are no light ones) attend the task, it will, at least, be unembarrassed by unwilling or contradictory witnesses.
We have said that the facts relative to the University of Dublin which the Commissioners have brought together form the most important part of the Report before us; but for these facts we must refer our readers to the Report itself, as it would be impossible, within the limits of an article like the present, to give even the most meager summary of them. We purpose, therefore, after quoting the opinion of the Commissioners, as to the general state of the University, to direct our readers' attention to some of the more important changes which, in their Report, they recommend for the adoption of Government.
When the Commission for Inquiring into the State of the University of Dublin was originally named, and before they had as yet entered upon the duties of their office, we ventured to predict that, "if the investigation were carried on, as we hoped and believed it would, in a spirit neither bigoted nor restless, the University of Dublin would come from the ordeal with an increased capacity for usefulness, and certainly with an undiminished reputation."(vol. xxxvii. p. 656.) The second of these predictions (it would be premature to say anything of the first) has been more than realised. Nothing can be more flattering to the University than the Report before us. With one or two exceptions, to which we shall presently allude, it is conceived in terms of very great praise.
Thus, in the general summary with which the Report concludes, the Commissioners say
"We find that numerous improvements of an important character have been, from time to time, introduced by the authorities of the College, and that the general state of the University is satisfactory. There is great activity and efficiency in the different departments, and the spirit of improvement has been especially shown in the changes which have been introduced in the course of education, to adapt it to the requirements of the age."-Report, p. 92.
Besides this general commendation, many of the particular improvements introduced by the College authorities are highly approved of by the Commissioners. Thus, of the Engineering School they say :
"The foundation and development of the School of Civil Engineering is highly creditable to the authorities of the College; and their efforts to improve the education of engineers, should, we think be encouraged in the way suggested by Dr. Apjohn, by due weight being given to the diploma in the selection of engineers for departments of the public service."-Report, p. 42.
Again, of the Professorships of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, they say:
"The arrangement adopted by the Board with respect to this Professorship (that of Mathematics) and that of Natural Philosophy, requiring them to be held by junior fellows without tutorships, seems to have been successful in promoting a very high cultivation of the branches of science to which the professorships relate."-Report, p. 49.
The most important, we may say, indeed, the only part of the system of Trinity College with which the Comnissioners profess themselves to be dissatisfied, is the mode of distributing the income which the junior fellows derive from tuition. Our readers are probably aware that the sum paid by each student under the head of tuition, is thrown into a common fund, which is subsequently divided among the entire body of tutors, according to fixed proportions, regulated entirely by seniority, and that the sum received by each individual tutor does not in any way depend upon the number of pupils which he may happen to hold. To this arrangement, which is familiarly known
by the name of the Tutorial System, the Commissioners object, that it tends to damp individual exertion-affording an amount of encouragement to indolence which some, at least, among the tutors will certainly avail themselves of. If a man knows that his own income depends upon his own exertions, he has a strong and obvious inducement to increased care and activity. But if he finds that, instead of reaping the entire fruit of such increased labour, he would only receive a very small part of it, and that whether he be indolent or active, his income will be nearly the same, he has no such inducement, and will probably be disposed to do as little as he can. If his exertions increase the number of students, he receives only one-nineteenth of the benefit; if his negligence diminishes them, he suffers but one-nineteenth of the mischief. In a word, the tutorial system is downright Socialism, which the Commissioners, as good political economists, are bound to discourage.
That these objections have very considerable weight, it would be absurd to deny; they are, indeed, so obvious, that it is impossible to give the question a moment's consideration without perceiving them. It is quite true that the tutorial system renders the income of each tutor to a great extent independent of his own labour; and by so doing, removes a strong stimulus to individual exertion. This is a serious objection. But we need hardly, we suppose, remind the accomplished logician who is at the head of the present Commission, that there is such a fallacy as the "fallacy of objections," and that before we proceed to remove a system against which such defects can be urged, we ought to be very sure that the system which we propose to substitute, is not liable to objections quite as weighty. And we ought to be doubly cautious if we know beforehand, from the nature of the case, that the objects which it is proposed to attain are, to a certain extent inconsistent with each other; and that, therefore, it is impossible to devise any system which shall be even theoretically perfect. A judicious legislator would, in such a case, be very unwilling to destroy an arrangement which has in the main worked well, knowing, as he does, that he can but replace it by another, which must be imperfect, and
which is, besides, untried. consider how far these principles are applicable to the case before us.
If we desire to give efficacy to a system of education, or to any other system which is to be carried on by human instruments, we must endeavour to secure two great requisites, namely in the first place, such a division of labour as will give to each workman the task for which he is best fitted; and secondly, such an inducement to individual exertion, as will cause him to use his best efforts in the performance of his allotted task. When the nature of the case allows both these principles to be carried out to their fullest extent, the task of legislation is comparatively an easy one. And in
such a case, it would be a valid objection to any existing or proposed system, that either principle had not been carried out as far as it might have been. But it may sometimes happen, that in the case for which we have to legislate, these principles are to some extent antagonistic. Dealing with facts as we find them, we may be unable to make the reward of each workman proportioned to his individual exertions without so far giving up the division of labour as to render the system inoperative. And in such a case, it would be a hopeless task to devise any system against which strong, nay, unanswerable objections might not be urged.
Now, this antagonism between the principle of competition and that of division of labour, will exist in every case in which it is necessary to execute several different tasks with a li mited number of hands. For it is essential, as every one knows, to the development of the principle of competition, that there should be a number of men able and willing to undertake the same task. We speak of competition between two carpenters or two physicians; but it would be absurd to talk of the competition between a carpenter and a blacksmith, or between a doctor and an attorney. Now, if we have a variety of different works to be done, and but a small number of men to do them, it is quite plain that we cannot devote several men to the same work without also requiring each man to execute a number of different works, and thus sacrificing the principle of division of labour. If we were desired to frame rules for a colony of a dozen
individuals, it would be " open to us," to use the parliamentary phrase, "to adopt one of two courses." We might either defend the principle of competition, by requiring each of our colonists to learn a dozen different trades, and to work successively as a mason, a carpenter, a blacksmith, &c.; or we might devote each individual to a single trade, thus giving him, in his own line, a practical monopoly. The choice between these alternatives is hardly doubtful. But we dwell too long upon a point so obvious.
Now it is not one whit more absurd to think that one man could practise successfully all the trades and professions required by a young colony, than to expect a single tutor to give efficient instruction in the several departments of the vast and varied system, to which we in the nineteenth century give the name of university education. To suppose it possible that the same man could give efficient lectures each day in classics, metaphysics, ethics, mathematics, natural philosophy, chemistry, &c., lectures too which should be useful to the highest class of students, without being unintelligible to the lowest, is a simple absurdity. No man ever did or could perform such a task. Indeed the Commissioners themselves admit this. Thus in their Report (pp. 15, 16) they say:
"We cannot recommend a return to the old system. It is impossible for a tutor to give adequate instruction to his pupils in all the subjects for which lectures are now provided. If he had pupils studying all these subjects, it might, as the junior fellows state, impose upon him the necessity of lecturing for upwards of twelve hours daily. If further improvements were introduced into the undergraduate course, the difficulty would be increased. In short, division of labour in lecturing seems to be essential to all progress in developing a complete system of education."
At the same time they think that
"The present tutorial system errs on the other side, and takes away every inducement to a fellow to discharge the duties of a tutor in a manner satisfactory to the pupil or his parents Under it the emoluments and position of a junior fellow are altogether independent of his diligence, learning, or other qualifications. The indolent and the active are reduced to the same level, and it is stated that parents complain that the interest which
the tutor formerly felt in his pupils' welfare has been lessened. For these reasons-although we believe the general quality of the instruction given to the students by the pub. lic lectures has been considerably improvedwe cannot advise your Majesty to establish the present tutorial system by royal statute."
The objection here urged is, aз we have said before, obvious. Let us see how the Commissioners propose to remedy it. They recommend (pp. 16, 17): :
"That the fees payable to tutors should be divided into four parts; that one fourth should be payable to each tutor by his own pupils, and that the tutors should be prohibited from making any regulations as to this portion of the fee. That the other threefourths should be thrown into a common fund, to be distributed according to some system to be settled by the board and visitors, for the endowment of professorships, lectureships, and examinerships, to which the junior fellows should alone be eligible."
In fact, if we understand them rightly, the Commissioners recommend that the task of education shall no longer be entrusted to the tutors as such, but to a number of professors and lecturers, and that the duty of the tutor shall be limited to transacting the college business of his pupils, writing to their parents, and in general "taking an interest in their welfare." Now, with respect to the professorial part of this arrangement, it is manifestly open to the very same objections which the Commissioners have urged against the present tutorial system. So far as emolument is concerned, the professor who is paid out of a common fund has no greater inducement to exertion than the tutor.
The indolent tutor under the present system would be an indolent professor under the proposed system-discharging his duty with enough of formal correctness to escape official censure, and doing no more. In the means of compelling the lecturer to do his duty, were that possible, the tutorial committee, who have the power of imposing fines, which, in a great many cases, would amount to confiscation, are quite equal to the college officer. In moral influence, the only agent which is in the present case really effective, they are immeasurably superior. They are elected by the tutors themselves, not imposed by any external power; they are men
distinguished by the zeal and efficiency with which they discharge their own duties, and having, therefore, a fair right to demand similar exertions from others. Lastly-and this is a consideration of no small weight-they are in general men who are themselves losers by the present division of the tutorial income. The negligent professor, who disregards the admonition of his college superior, will perhaps feel a twinge for his rebellion against constituted authority; but the negligent tutor who disregards the committee, knows that he is setting at nought the reasonable commands of men to whom he owes the bread that he eats that, by his indolence, he is doing what he can to bring poverty upon those who are willing to share with him the fruits of their industry. A feeling more galling to any honourable mind it is impossible to conceive. With regard, therefore, to the professorial part of the Commissioners' plan, we can only regard it as a spoiled edition of the present tutorial system. As for the mode in which they propose to allocate the remaining fourth of the tutorial income, it is sufficient to say that it would bring back, in an aggravated form, all the disreputable practices so much complained of under the former system.* We say, in an aggravated form; for it must be remembered that the first part of the arrangement, by which it is proposed to confide the task of education, not to tutors, but to professors, deprives the junior fellow of the most honourable means of distinguishing himself as a tutor, and therefore makes it the more necessary for him to have recourse to the other and less honourable agencies alluded to.
The advantages of the tutorial system as a system of education are so obvious, that its opponents are obliged to have recourse to lamentations over the decay of a certain friendly feeling between tutor and pupil, which they assert to have existed formerly in much greater strength than at present, fostered, as they say, by the dependence
of the tutor on his pupils for his income. This feeling, so produced, the Provost states to have been "profitable for reproof and for correction" (“Suggestions," p. 291); and he appears to think that it has declined under the present arrangement. When a competent witness makes an assertion as to a matter of fact, it is difficult to contradict him; but if it be so, we must confess that our metaphysics are completely at fault. That a man who depends upon another for his support should, by that very dependence, be disposed to act the part of the fearless friend described by the Provost-watchful to detect faults, and courageous to reprove them, ready to exhort his pupil to unpalatable duty, not anxious
to screen him from deserved censure does appear so much at variance with the ordinary principles of human nature, that we find it exceedingly difficult to believe it, even upon the Provost's authority. If it was so, we can only regard the tutor of his time as one of those rare ethical curiosities whose return can hardly be expected, and in legislation should certainly not be reckoned on. That this dependence of the tutor on his pupil would induce the former to exert himself to acquire popularity we fully believe, and with our reader's permission we shall quote from the evidence before us a passage which we think to be a fair description of the manner in which this anxiety would operate:
"The most effective way to gain popularity with a large, and not the most deserving portion of one's pupils is, never to caution them at Term examinations, or refuse them credit for the Term lectures; to intercede openly for them when in danger of incurring the censure of other examiners or lecturers; and if unsuccessful in such efforts on their behalf, to condemn unsparingly the act of the offending examiner or lecturer. It is plain that such conduct would greatly lower the character of the examinations and lectures; and it is also plain that the inducements to it would be much greater under the proposed plan than they are now. Si
The evidence of the Provost, who is not friendly to the present system, may be quoted as bearing on this point: "The number of pupils under a tutor very often depended upon the extent of his connexions-upon his habits of life, as leading him more into society-the extent of his acquaintance with schoolmasters throughout the country; and, in times of political excitement, his conspicuousness and forwardness in taking a part in political movements. These influential causes being irrespective of a fellow's merits as a tutor, made the distribution of pupils often very unsuitable."-Suggestions, p. 290.