University Reform - Two Papers
JOHN RICHARD MAGRATH, M.A.
SENIOR FELLOW, TUTOR AND BURSAR OF
QUEEN'S COLLEGE, OXFORD.
Oxford and London
JAMES PARKER AND CO.
THE two Essays now committed to print were written for, and read before, a small Society of persons interested in University and College administration. The former is twelve months old, the latter was read last night. It has been thought that the remarks contained in them have a bearing on the discussions Lord Salisbury's Bill is likely to excite. A busy life has given me little leisure to polish my sentences. I hope they will be taken as the utterances, however rugged, of convictions on matters which seem to me of supreme importance. The first of the two papers was written in anticipation of a Joint Commission to deal with the two Universities; the second with the light afforded by Lord Salisbury's speech in Parliament on Thursday, February 24.
Queen's College, Oxford,
Feb. 29, 1876.
THE Prime Minister has declared that no Government that is not prepared to deal with University Reform can stand for a session. The " Times" has indicated vaguely and tentatively, as is its wont, some of the directions that University Reform may profitably take. The Cambridge folk have been convoked to discuss some questions of University Reform, on which their discussions were thought likely to be helpful to the powers that be. It is rumoured that a small but influential meeting has sent word to the Chancellor of the University, that (Heaven save the mark!) the Liberals of Oxford desire the present Government to issue an executive Commission to reform the University; and rumour adds, that the Chancellor has checked the vigour of the knot who are so suddenly inclined to commit the future of the University to the care of those whom all their political life has been spent in opposing. So it may be considered that University Reform is a tolerably pressing question, as it is one which, in its various branches, this Society has always delighted to consider.
As we shall see further on, it is a tolerably wide question. If our discussions to-night are to be fruitful, we must limit their scope. A few aspects may be sufficient for our discussion of the subject. I propose to limit ourselves tonight to considering what is best for the immediate future.
It is hardly necessary for me to say that I do not regard the present condition of the University as approaching perfection. A few matters of great importance and wide-reaching influence, which will need some consideration shortly, may be here mentioned, to shew that what I recommend as at once desirable does not blind me to what must soon be considered.
I am of opinion that the colleges might be made much more efficient as educational institutions, and might encourage to a much greater extent than they do, both directly and indirectly, learning of all kinds. I am of opinion that it is desirable, to avoid future complications, that separate and distinct provision should be made for the maintenance of religious worship and teaching within the colleges; that better security should be taken to secure the property of the colleges from waste or improvident management, and that facilities should be afforded for making grants from the college revenues for University purposes, either special or general. It seems to me quite necessary that the problem of the abolition of celibate restrictions should be faced, with a view to the provision, if possible, of other means for securing the advantages which the colleges and the University have undoubtedly derived from these restrictions. I am of opinion that legal provision should be made to enable persons to leave to the University or colleges for a specified time, (say a hundred years,) sectarian endowments, the sectarian restrictions to be reconsidered at the end of the specified time; and I am of opinion that opportunity should be given to try, by temporary arrangements, how in individual colleges varying systems would work. But even if I could secure that all these objects would be settled by a Parliamentary or Royal Commission in the way in which I should approve, I should much prefer that a Commission should not issue for the next twenty years at least.
This is the point to which I desire to direct your attention in the first place, and I hope to end with the suggestion of an alternative, based upon the grounds on which I demur to the Commission.
There are two main sources of argument on which the proposal for present legislative interference with the University rests, the supposed inadequacy or perniciousness of the results of the 1854 Commission, and the flood of light supposed to have been thrown upon University matters by the report of the recent—let us call it the 1871—Commission. Of course, a lot of floating discontent gathers round any proposal for reform. The Catilinarians of every community hope that something will fall to their lot, if a sufficient chaos is produced but the vague aspirations of the generally unsatisfied can hardly be speculatively dealt with, and at all events we may neglect them if we can satisfy the leaders under whose banners they fight. There may perhaps be some who still think that one more Commission, like the third wave, will land us on a shore of rest, and hating our continued state of reforming dissipation are ready to throw in their lot with, anybody who will promise a final scheme. It is these I would particularly address. My main position is, that no immediate reform from within or without can now be final.
Let me begin, then, with those who are dissatisfied with the results attained by the Commission of 1854. I need not stop here to compare the condition of Oxford when Sir William Hamilton wrote about it with its present condition. I need not say that there is probably nowhere in the British Empire three quarters of a million of yearly revenue so well spent as the joint revenues of the two Universities. For present purposes, I wish to draw attention to the fact, that the great change of 1854 has as yet only half exhausted its reforming energy. In six colleges in Oxford the Fellows elected under the new ordinances are still in a minority, three of them very rich, and very important, not only on this account, but as likely, in their new character, to be very different from what they were. Till New College, Magdalen, and St. John's have a majority of Fellows elected under the ordinance, and Christ Church is freer from the ecclesiastical influences which have been supposed to be so potent within its walls, the work of the Commission of 1854 can hardly be said to be in a condition in which it would be fair to pass judgment on it.
In estimating, also, what Oxford is as compared with what we should wish it to be, we must further consider that it is nearly four years since the Privy Council began refusing to sanction any alterations in college statutes; and four years ago more than one college, since emancipated, was still in the condition in which the six above referred to are now.
It takes some time, too, for practically a new governing body to feel its power, and to exercise it. Unless the seniority have been unusually repressive, the juniors, as they become a majority, probably wisely hesitate to upset hastily arrangements with whose history and bearing they are probably imperfectly acquainted, and this delays perhaps necessary reforming work. A premature effort to put the Fellows elected under the ordinance on the same footing, as regards allowances, with the older Fellows was put down by the votes of the juniors in one college with which I am acquainted, at the first college meeting at which the juniors were in a majority; and the settlement of that day has been accepted to the present.
The power, too, belonging to financial knowledge is sure to remain with the seniors after the voting power has been lost to them. In money matters we trust to the experience of age and habituation, when we are ready to trust our own judgment on questions of general policy. In colleges, as well as in the University, the non possumus of those who are supposed to be acquainted with the finances of the Corporation has often postponed or defeated important administrative reforms. There are still thirteen colleges in which the college property is administered by Fellows trained in all the old traditions.
My first position then is, that we do not yet know what Oxford will be when the work of 1854 has had its full effect. The improvement the last twenty years have seen take place here affords, it seems to me, a just ground for believing that, if the same influences are allowed to work unchecked, the Oxford of 1895 will be as much better than we are as we boast to be better than our fathers.
Postponement of a large measure of alteration seems to me also to be likely to be beneficial, on the grounds of what I described before as the other source of arguments in favour of an immediate measure of extensive reform.
The returns obtained for us by the University Commission of 1871 are supposed to have put in our hands the information necessary for us in inaugurating such a measure. That such a supposition should exist is to me most portentous. That a careful study of the information therein contained should induce anybody to believe that the time is ripe for framing a final scheme for disposing of the revenues therein described is to me incredible. Those who believe that that time is come must have been deluded by the erroneous and misleading inferences of the first volume of the three the Commission has issued; inferences which have been repudiated by nearly all those who have the best capacity for judging of them, and which, after all that has been written, anybody at all acquainted with college property can easily test for himself.
Even within the limits of that thin blue volume, however, there is quite sufficient to guide a careful reader to the conclusion, how little the information so copiously supplied in the later volumes affords which can be taken as a basis for a comprehensive measure of financial distribution.
The colleges that have availed themselves to the full of the powers given under the University Estates Acts of 1858 and 1860, have done a good deal to free their estates from the control of their tenants, and to develope their revenues; but this has been done by laying mortgages on the estates, from which they will not be free by the end of the century.
The colleges that have proceeded more leisurely in the process chalked out for them by these Acts, though not borrowers to this extent, have entered upon financial proceedings which cannot be arrested without great detriment to the property and which will last out the century. Some colleges, Brasenose especially, have not thought the facilities granted by the Acts great enough, and the emancipation and development of their property has yet to be begun. Arrangements which are to last even for half a century, to say nothing of permanent arrangements, cannot be based upon calculations resting upon data so fleeting and uncertain as the statements of revenue and expenditure of corporations which are going through such financial processes as these.
The estimates of probable improvement in the value of the college property given by the Commissioners are thoroughly valueless, possess, perhaps, the least value of any part of their singularly unequal reports. The conditions upon which they are dependent have not even been ascertained by the Commissioners to be in operation in the colleges to which the estimates apply.
But all this is probably more interesting to a Bursar than to anybody else. I pass on to considerations of more general interest. Let me only claim to have shewn some grounds why the recent Blue Books should not be supposed to afford an argument in favour of an executive Commission at once.
The third point on which I should like to insist has an especial interest for those whom the Master of Balliol once described as waiting to have done with constitution-making and to set to work. The condition of the educational problem in England seems to me clearly to indicate that any present settlement of the University can only be temporary. The great fabric of national education will, we cannot doubt it, one day be reared from the foundations to the sky, and the Universities should form the crown of the majestic edifice. But the foundations are hardly yet laid; till primary education is compulsory, all over the country, can hardly be said to have begun to be laid. Only step by step, layer by layer, can the work go on; what we shall want on the first storey, we know not till we be come thither. Apart from the religious difficulty and other crotchets, the question as to the possibility of a so-called scientific education, co-ordinate with, and alternative to, the literary education which is still the secondary education of the civilised world, has yet to be settled. It is no good preparing an elaborate roof, till we know how many chimneys the house will want. Whatever we may do now, we may be sure that if the Universities exist in anything like their present relation to education in days to come, they will be moulded to supply the crowning glory of what generations of educational reformers have been desiring to see. Apart from any other reasons against determining permanently to other objects what seems now to be able to be spared from educational purposes here in Oxford, it should never be forgotten that the passing of fit persons from the lower-grade schools to the higher, and so on to the University, has always formed a part of every complete theory of national education; that this will require, whenever it is systematically carried out, considerable sums of money, and that no even approximate estimate can at present be formed of the amount of those sums.
It is on these three grounds that I am prepared to rest a negative answer to the question, Is it desirable that a Parliamentary or Royal Commission should shortly issue, to re-distribute the funds of the Universities, and the colleges therein? These grounds present themselves to my mind as so strong, that I should be prepared even to accept the status quo as preferable to anything like final action by such a Commission. The beneficent work of the Commission of 1854 would have its full realization, the colleges would be able to develope and emancipate their resources, and, above all, the State would advance steadily to the conception and realisation of a completely organized system of national education. In twenty years we should be in all respects in a better position for undertaking the work which a few impatient doctrinaires are hurrying on prematurely.
But I do not think that the alternative lies between nothing and an executive Commission. I believe that with proper facilities granted, and under proper restrictions imposed, the University and colleges could be all the while going on with the more wholesome, if less dramatic, work of gradual self-reformation. It is true that self-reformation of colleges has become unpopular, both within the University and without. The essays in that direction of some colleges have prejudiced the subject; I think the qualities that characterized these essays may however be discovered, and sufficient precautions be taken that the errors which have amused or scandalized the community may not be repeated.
First of all, they were practically secret; nobody knew what was going to be done till the reform burst upon the world as fait accompli.
Then they were partial and unsystematic; they would have been called provincial, if the reforms had been municipal, sprung too much from, and preserving too strongly the impress of, a special set of circumstances.
Then they were crotchety; in some cases reflected the views of a single individual, forced by strength of character and power of pertinacity upon an unwilling college.
They thus bore all the marks of uncertainty and haste, the worst defects of regulations having a legislative character and force.
Praiseworthy experiments many of them were, but they have lost the praise they deserved from the stigma attaching to their blemishes; and they have done, I hope, not irreparable mischief. No plan for self-reform of colleges has a chance of being listened to which does not provide effective checks against the repetition of similar blunders.
The remedy I propose, is to transfer to a permanent body, whose proceedings shall be public, the functions, so far at all events as alteration of the statutes is concerned, now shared indefinitely between the Visitors of colleges and the Privy Council.
Statesmen will be able to suggest the best form in which this may be done, but I have understood that there would be no constitutional difficulty in the way of a permanent Committee of the Privy Council. As Chairman of the Committee, I would have placed a great lawyer, Lord Selborne, or Sir Alexander Cockburn, for instance, to be appointed for life. The Chancellors of the two Universities would also form permanent members, and these distinguished persons might be assisted by two persons specially appointed for their acquaintance with University Finance.
They should have at present no power of originating reforms.
Every alteration proposed to be made in an ordinance should be published, at least two months beforehand, in the Oxford University "Gazette," and in the Cambridge "Reporter," and a locus standi for opposing on any grounds of public policy any alteration should be given pretty freely to persons by their office or position likely to feel a reasonable interest in the well-being of the University.
The preamble of the Act framing this Visitatorial Body might rehearse directions which it was thought desirable for reform to take, and this might form a nucleus round which a common law for the guidance of the Body would gather itself as the basis of their decisions.
I believe that an appeal to a Court so constituted would be welcomed by all the colleges in their turn, as they warmed to the work of reformation. The process would be gentle, gradual, deliberate, and, I believe, under the healthy influence of an instructed public opinion, almost unmixedly beneficial.
The initiation would be, at all events, in the hands of persons thoroughly conversant with what they were doing. The worst that could happen would be a slowness on the part of the colleges to avail themselves of the power of reformation, a worst it seems to me far better than the hasty, one-sided, uninstructed revolution, which, it is to be feared, an executive Commission at the present moment would inaugurate.
I SUPPOSE I may take it for granted that the interest which Lord Salisbury's speech of last Thursday has excited is a sufficient reason for postponing the consideration of the Professoriate, which was to have been the subject of this paper, to the new Reform Bill now hanging over the University. I have tried, and had hoped to get a copy of the Bill by this time; but though I understand one or two persons in Oxford have seen the Draft, the Bill does not yet seem to have been issued.
The shortness of the time that has elapsed since the speech was made, and the need it has of being supplemented by the provisions of the Bill, must be my excuse, if in anything I misrepresent the tendency of the proposed legislation, or approve or criticise anything which may not form a part of the legislation.
Perhaps it will be most convenient to take the subjects which call for remark in the order in which they occur in the speech. My own views on the question of University Reform have been laid so recently before the Society, that I need not violate your patience by advancing a substitute for Lord Salisbury's proposals.
After a prelude about the Commission of 1854, Unattached Students, Private Halls, and the cheapness with which the University and College property is managed, we are given the γένεσις of the Bill. It was with great reluctance that the work was undertaken, nothing but an absolute necessity would have induced Her Majesty's Government to undertake it; but when they came to look at certain figures, and the deductions that lay in those figures, they felt that it would be idle to think that Parliament could abstain from interfering, or that the Government could conscientiously recommend Parliament to do so.
The figures in question, hostile figures, as he calls them, but hostile he candidly avows because the view taken of them is superficial, are supposed to have a bearing on the clause to which reference had been made earlier in Lord Salisbury's speech, and which occurs towards the end of the Duke of Cleveland's Commission's report.
There is one point (that report runs) brought prominently out in the result of this enquiry, the great disparity between the property and income of the several colleges and the numbers of the members. When that number is small, the expense of the staff and establishment is necessarily large in proportion. We do not however consider that it lies within the scope of the commission entrusted to us to enter further upon this subject.
What the Commissioners meant by the number of its members does not clearly appear. It is possible that they meant Undergraduate members (as Lord Salisbury seems to think), but perhaps the Professors who are endowed from college revenues, the students who frequent the libraries, the researchers whose studies may be forwarded by grants from these revenues, the University which may be helped from the same source, may have something to say as to the determination of the utility of the colleges by the number of Undergraduates they attract to themselves.
Whatever they meant, Lord Salisbury had this justification for his deduction, that on page 200 of the first volume of the Report, on which a synopsis of Property, Income and Expenditure is set forth, is included the number of Undergraduates paying tuition fees.
Perhaps never did any warning so soon receive its justification, as that put out by a number of the Bursars of different colleges, soon after the Commissioners' Report appeared, as to the danger of drawing any inference from the figures published by the Commissioners. Perhaps never were inferences so erroneous drawn from misunderstood figures as those drawn by our noble Chancellor from this misleading synopsis.
According to his own account he has added the gross external and the gross internal income of the colleges together, thrown in the tuition fund (already in some cases partly accounted for under one or other of the former heads,) deducted money borrowed and money received on behalf of the University, and divided the difference by the number of Undergraduates paying tuition fees, and thence estimated the comparative cost at which education is provided in the several colleges.
The results, of course, are sufficiently amusing. He only gives those which would not startle people outside. He would have passed the bounds of credibility if he had informed us that the same arithmetical principles would have made the educational cost of each of the Bible Clerks all All Souls amount to more than £4,500 a-year.
With such figures before us, we may well echo his assertion, it would be impossible to avoid dealing with the question.
I need not, I suppose, here further expose the folly of any inference based on these addition, subtraction, and division sums, nor point out in how very different an order the colleges would appear, if the sums really devoted by each from divisible income to the cheapening of education were credited to them. My only objects in saying so much about it as I have said are to warn those who may be in danger of being led into the same quicksands that have embogged the Chancellor, and to shew how slight was the provocation which seems to have brought upon us this impending Commission.
I expect, however, that the hostile figures are but a pretext, that the real origin of the Bill lies in the general distaste for sinecure Fellowships, the rash undertaking of the Prime Minister last Session, and the satisfaction a Conservative Minister must always feel in being approached as he was last year by the self-chosen representatives of Oxford Liberalism.
But to pass from the origin of the Bill to its nature, as defined in the statement under review.
The first place is given to what are called Idle Fellowships. These idle fellowships are elsewhere defined as fellowships not filled by any person occupying an educational office. These are said to be between 220 and 230. This is probably near the mark, if we exclude those held by Bursars, who, though not strictly educational persons, may yet be regarded as necessary. If all fellowships be excluded held by resident college officers, the number will be reduced to about 200. Strangely enough, these fellowships are described as moneys we have got in hand. If past experience is a guide for the future, it would point to the fact that "idle fellowships" are those of which, on the average, the tenure is longest, and that we must look forward at least twenty years before any considerable number of them will be moneys in hand.
It is to be observed also, that some of the holders of these "idle fellowships" are prosecuting educational work (even University work, some of them) elsewhere, and if cheapening University education here is to be the be-all and end-all of college endowments, cheapening school and University education elsewhere cannot be a very flagrant abuse of a small portion. The £55,000 represented as in hand from this source will be further diminished, if it is true, as the Chancellor said in his reply, that the Government would never approve tying down the Commissioners to be appointed to allowing of the existence of no fellowships but such as were associated with University work.
The Chancellor then proceeded to enquire what are the objects to which it is desirable the £55,000 a-year should be applied. There is no luxury equal to that of appropriating in the indefinite future hypothetical revenues to desirable purposes; nor is there any objection to the objects to which the Chancellor thinks it desirable such money as arises from the suppression of idle fellowships should be appropriated.
A New Library, (or a large grant to the Bodleian,) New Schools, New Museums, New Lecture Rooms, Increased Remuneration to Professors, (so that they may devote themselves without distraction to the business of their Chairs), Fair Pensions for those who have become superannuated, are all objects which have been before the eyes of all Oxford for years past. The colleges will have no difficulty in finding suitable objects for their superfluities, as soon as they are relieved from the necessity of filling-up the number of fellowships insisted upon by the ordinances framed by the Commissioners of 1854. Doubtless they will be glad to apply such funds as may be available for the maintenance and benefit of persons of known ability and learning, who may be engaged in study or research.
The difficulties in the way of the New Commissioners, and of the colleges who may be anxious to reform themselves, will be considerable. Vested interests will weigh upon both at every turn; the difficulty of anticipating the future results of legislation, together with the desire to make this legislation final, will hand down to those who have to administer the system the Commissioners are to inaugurate the same difficulties which beset our course at present.
The plan shadowed out by Lord Salisbury seems to me to be vitiated by the radical defect of all attempts to reform on a large scale, and once for all, institutions whose business is mainly administrative. It is extremely hard to anticipate the results of such legislation, and few legislators will take any pains to anticipate these results, even so far as may be possible.
This was the defect which has doomed us to the almost intolerable burden of the present Examination Statutes. The adjustments necessary to make the old system work were denounced as tinkerings, and when it became necessary to separate Law and Modern History, opportunity was seized by the Constitution-mongers to introduce a comprehensive and final scheme for the Examinations. Comprehensive indeed it was, in that it upset everything. Final it was not, because it could not be.
Such, if I may venture to predict, will be the case with this new reform. It will throw the University and the colleges into a ferment for the next three or four years, dissipate useful energy, and afford amusement to the enemies of the University. By the time we have each of us got some kind of constitution, we shall be so weary of reform that abuses, such as must grow up under any system left to work itself, will grow up unchecked and uncared for. Those who will then try to amend what needs amending will be denounced again as tinkerers, and by the year 1900 the University will be ready for a new body of Commissioners.
What the interests of education here and in England require is not a pulling down and building up again every quarter of a century, but such a permanent union with the central administration, as, while securing us freedom to develope in our own way, enables us, not once in twenty-five years, but as often as occasion requires, to change a detail, to add an improvement, to remove a disability or abuse.
The impotence of the present proposal even to remedy our present inconveniences appears from the notable omissions of Lord Salisbury's speech. From one point of view it is doubtless matter of thankfulness that the religious question does not crop up in his speech at all. In the "Times" report even the name of religion does not occur. In the "Standard," which reports the speech in the first person, it only occurs towards the close, in conjunction with learning and education, to turn a rhetorical phrase. Yet the Bill cannot pass through the Commons without a fight about clerical restrictions; or if, by misfortune, it should, each college must gird itself for the battle within its own walls. This is clearly a matter of Imperial policy. On this the Government ought to have made up its mind. This ought not to be left to Commissioners, or colleges jointly with Commissioners, to determine.
Another principle which, if the foundations of the present order of things are to be examined, needs solution is that of celibacy. It will probably present itself to different people as a question of different degrees of urgency; but surely no settlement of University questions can have any chance of being permanent which does not face this problem. Face it, and the remnant that remains even of Lord Salisbury's £55,000 a—year will go but a little way towards such a pension fund as the maintenance of the efficiency of the colleges and the University will require. This again is a question which, if dealt with at all, should be dealt with broadly and universally, not thrown to be haggled about between Commissioners and Delegates of colleges, complicated as it will then be by personal interest and personal predilection, settled, perhaps for good, on temporary grounds, unacknowledged even if unconcealed.
While then there is great ground to be thankful that the drastic measures which some of our friends anticipated have not, so far as we know, entered into the University Bill; while the colleges seem secure of independence and safe from mutual spoliation, the defects to which I have drawn attention seem to me to render the present outlook only hopeful so far as it does not menace injury. That permanent good can result in any large measure from schemes which will be drawn up in the mode suggested by Lord Salisbury's speech seems to me not to be expected. That as little harm as possible may result is all that can be hoped for.
The colleges have not yet fully entered into the inheritance bequeathed them by the last Commission. The financial condition of some of them is where it was last century. Many of them are in debt up to the neck for loans contracted to improve their revenues in the future. Hardly any college will enter into the rack-rent value of all its property this century. The present moment is one for gradual and cautious improvement, not for promulgating new and permanent constitutions. Let Parliament deal with clerical restrictions and with celibacy; let the powers now enjoyed by the Visitors of the colleges be entrusted to a permanent board, consisting of a great jurist, a great educationalist, and a great financier; and let the colleges, as yet only partially regenerated by the reforms of 1854, be given full powers to amend themselves at their leisure and as suits their several conditions, and there will be no need of a University Bill either in this session or in this century.
W HILE these pages are passing through the Press, a copy of the "University of Oxford Bill" is put into my hands. Its details do not affect the principles contended for in the preceding pages; but I observe with some dismay that the process of constitution-making and the consequent ferment is to be extended over more than seven years. It is probably by an oversight that in Clause 14 the Commissioners are not desired to have regard to the interests of education, as well as to those of religion, learning, and research; inasmuch as, further on, the interests of instruction at all events are abundantly cared for.
Several of the details are likely to be fought over,—some seem to be mutually inconsistent. The Bill does not supply the omissions before noted as observable in Lord Salisbury's speech; and though it strengthens, in some respects, the feeling of thankfulness that its operation is not to be more drastic, I do not expect a more careful study of it in the future will diminish the force of the objections I have urged to the principles it embodies.
J. R. M.
March 2, 1876.