The Cardinal, the writer and the philosopher: reflections on teaching at UWS.

Author:Sully, Brian
Position:University of Western Sydney - Australia - Essay

I Introduction

It is old wisdom that confession is good for the soul. It might have useful work to do by way of an introduction to this essay. There are four considerations that have prompted the writing of this essay. They are:

  1. A profound conviction of the essential worth of what I might call the UWS Project, (UWS being throughout an abbreviation of The University of Western Sydney);

  2. An equally strong conviction, based upon some 50 years of professional practice as a Solicitor, a Barrister and a Judge, that the Common Law is one of the masterworks of Western civilisation and that its preservation is essential to the maintenance of what any appropriately informed Australian would understand by any reference to a civilised society grounded firmly in the Rule of Law;

  3. The accumulated experiences deriving from eight years of teaching in the School of Law at the Campbelltown campus of UWS; and

  4. The perception that in the year in which UWS celebrates the 25th anniversary of its foundation, there ought to be, among the tumult of rejoicing and satisfaction at things achieved, space for at least one voice willing to suggest that there are things that are not, perhaps, what they ought to be.


UWS was formally established by the University of Western Sydney Act 1988 (NSW) ('1988 Act'). The Act received the Royal Assent on 15th December 1988 and came into formal operation on 1st January 1989. Section 7(1) of the 1988 Act defines as follows the functions of the new University:

(a) the provision of education facilities at university standard for persons attending it, having particular regard to the needs and aspirations of residents of the western districts of Sydney; and

(b) the dissemination and increase of knowledge, the undertaking and promotion of research and scholarship and contribution to the intellectual life of western Sydney; and

(c) the development of consultancy and entrepreneurial activities, including research and development initiatives, which will contribute to the development of western Sydney; and

(d) the conferring of diplomas and the degrees of Bachelor, Master and Doctor and the issuing of such certificates as the by-laws may prescribe.

Interestingly, the term 'western districts of Sydney' was not defined in the 1988 Act.

In 1997 the 1988 Act was repealed and replaced by the University of Western Sydney Act 1997 (NSW) ('1997 Act'). Section 8 of the 1997 Act redefined the object and functions of the refashioned University, but unlike the 1988 Act, it included a specific statement respecting the objectives of the refashioned body:

1) The object of the University is the promotion, within the limits of the University's resources, of scholarship, research, free inquiry, the interaction of research and teaching, and academic excellence.

2) The University has the following principal functions for the promotion of its object:

(a) the provision of facilities for education and research of university standard, having particular regard to the needs and aspirations of residents of Greater Western Sydney,

(b) the encouragement of the dissemination, advancement, development and application of knowledge informed by free inquiry,

(c) the provision of courses of study or instruction across a range of fields, and the carrying out of research, to meet the needs of the community, beginning in Greater Western Sydney,

(d) the participation in public discourse,

(e) the conferring of degrees, including those of Bachelor, Master and Doctor, and the awarding of diplomas, certificates and other awards,

(f) the provision of teaching and learning that engage with advanced knowledge and inquiry,

(g) the development of governance, procedural rules, admission policies, financial arrangements and quality assurance processes that are underpinned by the values and goals referred to in the functions set out in this subsection, and that are sufficient to ensure the integrity of the University's academic programs.

3) The University has other functions as follows:

(a) the University may exercise commercial functions comprising the commercial exploitation or development, for the University s benefit, of any facility, resource or property of the University or in which the University has a right or interest (including, for example, study, research, knowledge and intellectual property and the practical application of study, research, knowledge and intellectual property), whether alone or with others, with particular regard to the need to contribute to the development of Greater Western Sydney,

(b) the University may develop and provide cultural, sporting, professional, technical and vocational services to the community, with particular regard to the need to contribute to the social, economic and intellectual life of Greater Western Sydney [emphasis added],

(c) the University has such general and ancillary functions as may be necessary or convenient for enabling or assisting the University to promote the object and interests of the University, or as may complement or be incidental to the promotion of the object and interests of the University,

(d) the University has such other functions as are conferred or imposed on it by or under this or any other Act.

4) The functions of the University may be exercised within or outside the State, including outside Australia.

It is interesting that the expression 'Greater Western Sydney' is nowhere defined in the 1997 Act and it remains undefined in any of the subsequent amendments that have been passed from time to time to the original Act. The Minister having legislative sponsorship of the 1988 Act said, during the course of his Second Reading Speech:

I emphasize also that the university about to be created will be not only for western Sydney but also for the State and the Nation. Universities are institutions devoted to advancing the frontiers of knowledge. As well as teaching institutions, they are places of research and scholarship. A first-class university is not only of benefit to the locality in which it exists, it is an asset for all mankind. (1) How does that ambitious agenda stand 25 years later? In attempting an answer, I turn for help to each of the three persons to whom reference is made in this Essay's title.


The Cardinal is John Henry, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890). Cardinal Newman was, in his time, an outstanding and nationally recognised Oxford academic and cleric, first in the Church of England and later in the Catholic Church. For four years from 1854, and at the request of the Catholic Bishops of Ireland, he was the first Rector of the newly established Catholic University of Ireland, now known as University College, Dublin. In connection with that work in the field of tertiary education, he published in 1873 a book which has become an iconic work on the topic of University education. The title of the book is The Idea of a University. (2)

The core of the book is a series of lectures, which Cardinal Newman refers to as Discourses. In them, he canvasses in great detail his concepts of what University education ought to be about. His language is, of course, the language of his time and, of course, when citing passages from such a work it is necessary to attend to the spirit of what is being said rather than to sneer derisively at the idiom in which it has been said. Approached with that simple and common sense adjustment, certain of the ideals which are spelt out in The Idea of a University are, I contend, fully as relevant and important now as they were...

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