ROLFE G. Nursing Inquiry 2012; 19: 98–106 [Epub ahead of print]
Cardinal John Henry Newman and ‘the ideal state and purpose of a university’: nurse education, research and practice development for the twenty-first century
Cardinal John Henry Newman’s book, The Idea of a University, first published in the mid nineteenth century, is often invoked as the epitome of the liberal Enlightenment University in discussions and debates about the role and purpose of nurse education. In this article I will examine Newman’s book in greater detail and with a more critical eye than is generally the case in the writing of nurse academics. In particular, I will focus on the claims that Newman was a champion of the Enlightenment University of the nineteenth century, that he promoted the idea of ‘disinterested’ universal knowledge for its own sake, that he was an early advocate of the pursuit of knowledge through scientific research, and the supposition that he would have welcomed the discipline of nursing into the University. In each case, I will suggest that these claims are based on an extremely selective reading of Newman’s work. I will conclude by employing the example of practice development to propose an alternative way for nursing to find its place in the modern University that does not involve a retreat into what I will argue is an outdated and nostalgic view of the aims and purpose of higher education.