[by JOHN O'KEEFFE LIKE any lusty new enter. prise, Newman College, the Catholic teacher training college which stands in 14 acres of Birminghi'm's green belt, at Bartley Green, is anxious to put itself on the ma. Alpthough the college prospectus, printed on the premises, outlines the courses of studies available and declares its overall intention of providing its students with "professional training in an outward-looking Christian environment" it makes no mention of the feature which
immediately strikes the visitor.
Admittedly, it is normally only in the glossy brochures of the travel trade where the word "atmosphere" is one of the harder-worked cliches in drumming up custom. Of their nature college brochures are more low-key.
Architecturally, Newman College, open for just over a year, is highly functional, packing a lot into a small space; but the best that can be said for it and its setting is that they are pleasant, not beautiful.
In a three-hour tour I made recently the most lasting impression I got was of the personal, informal atmosphere which pervaded the whole establishment — in the academic and administrative offices, the corridors, the canteen, the students' union and even the huge kitchen which will eventually cater for more than 700.
Its formal claim to fame is that it is the first mixed Catholic college of education to be directed by a layman and is in effect under lay control.
At the original blueprint stage the teaching order of the Holy Child nuns was to run the college, but eventually it became co-educational and layrun.
Sponsored by the Catholic Education Council for England and Wales, Newman College offers infant, junior and secondary teaching courses, each over three years.
The Birmingham University degree course of Bachelor of Education can he studied over four years. There are also special arrangements for twoyear courses for those over 25.
The standard of the students' final qualification depends upon continuous assessment over the whole of his or her course. All students take courses in theory and practice of education.
The college admits nonCatholics as students or staff, although the staff are expected to sympathise broadly with the philosophy of Christian education. All Catholic students must take the professional course in Divinity which is geared to studying methods of presentation of religion to pupils at different ages and backgrounds.
Principal and subsidiary courses in 14 subjects complete the syllabus. To date only one language, French, can be studied. There are now 400 students at the college and an academic staff of close on 50.
Over and beyond the modern aspects of language laboratory, the new insights of educational psychology, modern catechetics and £14 million worth of modernity, is an act of faith in the young on the part of the not so young.
in the conscious efforts of the administrative a n d academic staff to remember as many names and faces as possible; in the consultation between the principal, Mr. Simon Quintan, and the student body on a day-to-day basis, and in the non-regimental approach to religion, the dignity of the young student as a responsible, eventually discriminating ind iv idu a 1
appears to permeate the college life.
The attitude to religion of the head of the Divinity Department, Fr. Arthur McCrystall, and the college chaplain, Fr. Eamon Clarke, underline this most eloquently of all. Teaching the faith with more rote than reason and a rigid check on who was and who wasn't at Mass are anathema, and seen as time-wasting.
There are a dozen crucifixes placed around the college, sufficiently ubiquitous to make the point of what the college is ultimately about but not in such a way as to give the occupants the sort of visual bludgeoning w h i c h is sometimes thought to provide an automatic Christian atmosphere.
Fr. Meexystall, a softspoken Ulsterman, explained how the purely notional approach to religion, such as teaching the Incarnation as little more than an historical fact, is out. The approach now is to relate the personal significance of this to the varying stages of psychological awareness of the child so that he realises why it is important to him individually.
Fr. Clarke, a young Dubliner who served with the Catholic Missionary Society before becoming chaplain at the college, sees his job, a full-time one, as availability.
Although he lives in a house away from the main body of the college, so that any student with a personal problem can visit him without attracting general attention, he spends a lot of time just being with the students in the union lounges or the canteen.
Apart from problems common to any large number of people living in community about the only ones that loom slightly larger than most are the inhibitions that a number of the girls have acquired from the efforts of nuns to inculcate purity by fear and detailed regulations.
"Such stuff as only to kiss for half as long as a Hail Mary is out," says Fr. Clarke. "I wish your paper would do something to knock that kind of thing on the head."
Both he and Fr. McCrystall welcome students who want a "no-holds-barred" discussion about religious problems. Questions, arguments and coffee have been known to go on until the small hours at the chaplain's residence. One marathon lasted until seven in the morning.
There are. of course, problems with faith; but if they insist, students are free to reject religion. "Even if they don't want it we think they should at least study religion," said Fr. Clarke, "for religion, whether they believe it or not, is part of human experience."
Even the architecture emphasises community. There are 300 study bedrooms and the landings and doors are so schemed as to encourage the meeting of individual students. Inevitably some have to lodge outside the college but they have to take their main meals there so as to counteract bedsitter loneliness.
Hours for students of the opposite sex to entertain one another have been worked out between the academic and student body. The men are only too happy to be greatly outnumbered by the girls, but this raises problems at college dances, exacerbated by the hard core of "bar-huggers" who prefer patronising the facilities installed gratis by a local brewery chain.
Quite a large sprinkling of the students have worked at other things before going in for teaching. Ted Broodall, presdient of the students' union, for instance, was in local government as a committee clerk —a skill he has put to use in college business. Student representation on the governing body is now being negotiated.
As the college gets bigger all realise that the personal atmosphere is going to be eroded. The main problem for the college is actually getting known
among school-leavers in the way that such institutions as Strawberry Hill and Hopwood Hall are known.
One invaluable ingredient in this campaign is seen as sport. Soccer has a start over rugby, but the latter can count on the good offices of Col. Reidy, administrative officer and a keen rugby man, to beat the drum for Newman.
On the actual effectiveness of the ideas being practised at Bartley Green only time will show whether there are after all hidden weaknesses in the college approach. There is certainly no evidence that the
students are abusing their freedom.
Newman College may not conform to John Henry Newman's "idea of a university" but its Christian liberalism would surely havo been close to his heart. The sight of the middle-aged and the young working together to try to prevent youth being wasted on the young is encouraging.
As we drove back to Birmingham's New Street Station I thought that for the bulk of the students at Newman College, now was a great tine to be young.