Championing the tutorial system

Newman’s working rule is ‘that the principal making of men must be by the Tutorial system’. In this way the professor, acting as a tutor, ‘on a smaller number at a time, and by the catechetical method, will be able to exert those personal influences, which are of the highest importance in the formation and tone of character among the set of students, as well as to provide that the student shall actually prepare the subject for himself, and not be a mere listener at a lecture’. (‘Report on the Organization of the Catholic University of Ireland’, October 1851)

In one of his Oxford University sermons Newman voiced one of the key ideas shared by the three Tractarian tutors at Oriel: that truth is preserved and communicated ‘not by books, not by argument, nor by temporal power, but by the personal influence of such men […] who are at once the teachers and patterns of it’. He spoke of ‘God’s noiseless work’, that is, of the effect of unconscious holiness on others (‘Personal influence, the means of propagating the truth’, sermon preached at the University Church, 1832). This sermon is considered by some scholars to mark the beginning of the Oxford Movement.

A. H. Clough of Oriel spoke convincingly of the deficiencies of the professorial system and the need of the tutorial, especially for the discipline of the student’s mind. Lectures lead to students catching the flame of intellectual ardour, he maintained, but the effects are transient; eager rather than steady studies result. ‘For chastening and correcting, for sobering and undeceiving, the undersoil cultivation which brings more than the mere spontaneous growth, some closer than Professorial contact is needed; needed by the clever, who go beyond, as much by the dull who fall behind.’ Benjamin Jowett of Balliol proposed that by a division of labour – Latin and Greek taught by the tutor, ethics and logic by the professor – they would end up ‘acting in connexion with each other’ (Royal Commission Oxford, 1852).

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