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Letter exposes threat to Heythrop

22 July 2016


Threatened: Heythop College

Threatened: Heythop College

STAFF at Heythrop College, threatened with closure, have expressed concern about a lack of support from the Roman Catholic hierarchy for a proposed partnership with the University of Roehampton.

A letter to The Tablet this month, signed by 42 members and published in full online by Dr Stephen Law, a lecturer at Heythrop, warns that a decision by the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Bishops’ Conference not to support the partnership “will effectively be a decision to terminate Heythrop College, bringing to an end a 400-year history, and creating an unbridgeable gap in the provision of Catholic Higher Education in Britain”.

It was announced last year that the College in its current form — as a constituent college of the University of London — would come to an end in 2018 (Letters, 17 July, 2015). The cost of regulatory requirements, rising student expectations, and government reforms were all cited, and the ability of the Society of Jesus to “bridge the gap between income and expenditure” was “limited”. The Society, which founded the college in 1614, has provided the property rent-free, and grants of several millions of pounds. Both the Governors and the Society have expressed a commitment to enabling the work of the College to continue, and in February it was confirmed that a “strategic partnership” with the University of Roehampton was under consideration.

A statement from Heythrop College this month said that the Society was unable to support any continuing negotiation with Roehampton, “as it believes it will be impossible to form a partnership which meets the requirements of all stakeholders.”

Concerns had arisen about “the future Catholicity of Heythrop, particularly its Bellarmine Institute, which has pontifical status, as Roehampton is a non-Catholic institution”, the Catholic Herald reported last week.

The letter published in The Tablet speaks of “creative and positive discussions” with Roehampton, concluding that a merger would be “financially viable and academically and pastorally fruitful in furthering the Jesuit intellectual apostolate in Britain”. The Society had sought the support of the Cardinal and Conference, and staff had hoped to receive support for the merger. The full version of the letter adds: “There are signs that this support may not be forthcoming.”

The President of the British Philosophical Association, Professor Robert Stern, has written to Cardinal Nichols in support of the merger.

“This matter is of concern not just to Christians and theologians, but to everyone who values the contribution that philosophy and theology make in the humanities. Heythrop is unique in managing to bring both subjects together successfully.”

This month, the Principal of Heythrop, Fr Michael Holman SJ, announced that he was stepping down, and the Chair of Governors announced that he was retiring.

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