Newman did not believe in smothering the young in rules or in mapping out their day with detailed timetables, as he meant to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions and to learn from their mistakes.
He feared that the rectorship and vice-rectorship of his university might easily fall into the hands of narrow-minded men, ‘who have little other idea of a University than a place for imposing fines (“not above one pound”) on those who are slow at lecture and for sending out students into the Town two and two’, as if they were seminarians.
His blueprint for how to deal with students was laid down while he was rector of the Catholic University:
‘It is assuredly a most delicate and difficult matter to manage youths, and those lay youths, in that most dangerous and least docile time of life, when they are no longer boys, but not yet men, and claim to be entrusted with the freedom which is the right of men, yet punished with the lenience which is the privilege of boys. In proposing rules on this subject, I shall begin with laying down, first, as a guiding principle, what I believe to be the truth, that the young for the most part cannot be driven, but, on the other hand, are open to persuasion and to the influence of kindness and personal attachment; and that, in consequence, they are to be kept straight by indirect contrivances rather than by authoritative enactments and naked prohibitions. And a second consideration of great importance is, that these youths will certainly be their own masters before many years have passed, as they were certainly schoolboys not many months ago.’
‘A University residence, then, is in fact a period of training interposed between boyhood and manhood, and one of its special offices is to introduce and to launch the young man into the world, who has hitherto been confined within the school and the play-ground. If this be so, then is it entrusted with an office as momentous as it is special; for nothing is more perilous to the soul than the sudden transition from restraint to liberty. Under any circumstances it is a serious problem how to prepare the young mind against the temptations of life; but, if experience is to be our guide, boys who are kept jealously at home or under severe schoolmasters, till the very moment when they are called to take part in the business of the world, are the very persons about whom we have most cause to entertain misgivings. They are sent out into the midst of giant temptations and perils, with the arms, or rather with the unarmed helplessness, of children, with knowledge neither of self nor of the strength of evil, with no trial of the combat or practice in sustaining it; and, in spite of their good feelings, they too commonly fail in proportion to their inexperience. Even if they have innocence, which is perhaps the case, still they have not principle, without which innocence is hardly virtue. We could not do worse than to continue the discipline of school and college into the University, and to let the great world, which is to follow upon it, be the first stage on which the young are set at liberty to follow their own bent. So proceeding, we should be abdicating a function, and letting slip the opportunities, of our peculiar position.’
‘It is our duty and our privilege to be allowed to hold back the weak and ignorant a while from an inevitable trial;–to conduct them to the arms of a kind mother, an Alma Mater, who inspires affection while she whispers truth; who enlists imagination, taste, and ambition on the side of duty; who seeks to impress hearts with noble and heavenly maxims at the age when they are most susceptible, and to win and subdue them when they are most impetuous and self-willed; who warns them while she indulges them, and sympathizes with them while she remonstrates with them; who superintends the use of the liberty which she gives them, and teaches them to turn to account the failures which she has not at all risks prevented; and who, in a word, would cease to be a mother, if her eye were stern and her voice peremptory. If all this be so, it is plain that a certain tenderness, or even indulgence on the one hand, and an anxious, vigilant, importunate attention on the other, are the characteristics of that discipline which is peculiar to a University. And it is the necessity of the exercise of this elastic Rule, as in a good sense of the term it may be called, which is the great difficulty of its governors.’
‘It is easy enough to lay down the law and to justify it, to make your rule and keep it; but it is quite a science, I may say, to maintain a persevering, gentle oversight, to use a minute discretion, to adapt your treatment to the particular case, to go just as far as you safely may with each mind, and no further, and to do all this with no selfish ends, with no sacrifice of sincerity and frankness, and with no suspicion of partiality.’ (Newman’s ‘Scheme of Rules and Regulations’, 1856)