Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History
[five] — The whole ramshackle machine
The whole ramshackle
THE COLLEGE'S FIFTIETH jubilee is an arbitrary place to pause in its story – although it offered, irresistibly, an occasion for celebrating and recording it so far. There were, nevertheless, several significant moments in the years around 1949: the half-century is not an entirely fictitious narrative device. There was the retirement of Tommy Hunter, ‘the very essence of’ Victoria, in 1951, and his replacement by a man of quite different temper.1 In 1949 the college acquired 13 more acres, twice its original site. Its occupation of this enlarged estate was, however, to be a prolonged and sometimes controversial process. The first year of Victoria's second half-century was also the first year of operation of the new quinquennial system of university funding, negotiated by the grants committee established by the university Senate in 1948. This new regime brought a more adequate level of government funding (albeit, in the eyes of the universities, never enough), and a new order of planning, both economic and academic. It was one step as well in the slow process, already under way, of devolution, which culminated in the colleges acquiring the status of universities, firstly in name (in 1957) and then in fact (in 1962).
For its second principal, and in due course first ‘vice-chancellor’, Victoria appointed one of its own: James Williams, professor of English and New Zealand law for 26 years, save for a brief absence (in 1942–46) as Challis professor of law at the University of Sydney. (Williams also had a particular family connection with Victoria: his father-in-law was Hubert Ostler, a Council member and one of the founding editors of Spike.) As a teacher, he had impressed as a tutor rather than a lecturer; as a scholar, as the author of a standard work on the statute of frauds and a revised edition of Salmond's Torts. As principal, Williams was to earn a mixed reputation as an efficient, hard-working but tough-minded administrator. The citation for his honorary degree bestowed after he retired at the end of 1967 mentioned his ‘earthy cooperativeness among academics and laymen alike’, and page 101 his being ‘always in the thick of the fray’.2 His was not the amiable personality of Hunter. He did, however, share his predecessor's passion for rugby.
The college had also recently acquired a new registrar. In 1949 George Robison was succeeded by L.O. Desborough, a Victoria commerce graduate and registrar at Auckland University College for the last 11 years, who was to stay at Victoria for 24. At some point a personal and irrevocable enmity developed between Williams and Desborough, prompting Williams to move his office to another floor of the administration building. That its vice-chancellor and registrar did not speak was only one of the peculiarities of Victoria's administrative arrangements. Williams was to enjoy a much closer relationship with his assistant principal, war hero and energetic manager of the university's postwar building programme, George Culliford. Some things, however, did not change. Duncan Stout, the college's longest-serving Council member – ‘almost an embodiment of our tradition,’ a later chancellor observed – was still there.3 With the exception of a period of war service, he remained chairman of the Council of the university his father had founded from 1939 until 1966.
The 1933 Students' Association executive included a future registrar, L.O. Desborough (back left), founding editor of Salient A.H. (Bonk) Scotney (front, second from right), and a future councillor and chief justice, Richard Wild (back, second from right). VUWSA
The much longer-held assumption that the colleges were indeed the true universities was recognised two years later in legislation which made them such in name. A formality this may have been, but at Victoria it was a matter of some debate. In 1955 the Professorial Board had voted, on a recommendation from the Committee of the Principal and Deans, that the college should be renamed the University of Wellington. The Council was divided, and a poll of students and the Court of Convocation was taken. The result was a compromise: the Victoria University of Wellington. It was not an entirely happy one, as evidenced by the occasional use of ‘the University of Wellington’ in its publications over the following few years and the persistent efforts of one councillor in particular (Owen Conibear) to have Victoria officially removed, and by the periodic revival of the debate in later times.6 Williams declared himself to be neutral, but lamented that ‘college songs will never be the same’ (it being harder to find a rhyme with ‘w’ than with ‘c’).7 The Victoria University of Wellington Amendment Act, passed in October page 103 1957, also renamed the chairman of the Council the chancellor, his deputy the pro-chancellor, and the academic head of the university the vice-chancellor – although in practice Williams used the title ‘vice-chancellor and principal’.
The most pressing of the multitude of problems which the universities represented to the committee were salaries and buildings. Both the number of academic staff leaving for positions overseas and the difficulty of attracting overseas academics here had been worrying since the late 1940s, and the situation was getting worse. It was ‘scarcely possible to exaggerate the gravity of the problem’, Victoria reported, noting a conspicuous falling off in both the number and quality of applicants for positions in 1958: ‘for all practical purposes overseas interest in our positions has been virtually non-existent during this year’. It calculated the rate of ‘wastage’ – the loss of staff through resignation, retirement and death – as 63.5% over the past five years. Of Victoria's first-class honours graduates between 1950 and 1957, only 11 had gone to positions in New Zealand universities while 17 were overseas and 32 had gone into the government service (only five as school teachers). As a career choice for their own graduates, clearly New Zealand universities were neither internationally nor nationally competitive.10
The committee agreed, and recommended increased grants for staffing and salaries, improved bursary and scholarship provision (to overcome the pernicious habit of part-time study, on which it fully concurred with Reichel and Tate), more money for research and libraries, and an accelerated building programme. On the subject of autonomy, as J.C. Beaglehole observed, ‘there was nothing for this committee to do but to agree with everybody else’.11 The University of New Zealand was duly dissolved on 1 January 1962, and the same day four independent universities came into being (along with two university colleges of agriculture), each under its own act of Parliament. The reform of ‘the whole ramshackle machine’12 of university government did not entirely dispose of a central infrastructure, however: a Universities Entrance Board, a permanent Curriculum Committee, and a new University Grants Committee (an unnecessary encumbrance, in Williams' view) were created.13 Beaglehole, who had thoroughly damned the University of New Zealand system in his 1937 history of it, and again in his jubilee history of Victoria in 1949, farewelled ‘our too-aged academic relative … superfluous, useless’ without regret.14
The growth that characterised the 1959s through to the late '60s was both real and imagined. This was, one could say, a bullish period in the university's history. The immediate postwar surge in student numbers had peaked in 1948, and nationally did not pick up until 1957, but then did so sharply. Victoria's roll had fallen from approaching 2500 to just over 2000 by 1952, then began to rise, at first slowly, then with gathering speed. It increased by 1000 in the first half of the 1960s and reached nearly 5500 by the end of the decade. Full-time students increased disproportionately, outnumbering part-time students for the first time in 1962. By 1968, two-thirds of Victoria's students were studying fulltime, where only a quarter had been in 1949. With this came the final ascendancy of day page 105 teaching. The decisive moment was the introduction of a new arts timetable in 1961 that allowed full-time students to take all of the classes for their degree in daytime hours. (Encouraging and meeting the needs of full-time students was one motivation; another was the growing problem of scheduling large classes when there were only two lecture theatres that held more than 200 students, and three hours – 9–10am and 4–6pm – available.) The pugnacious councillor Conibear was incensed when the student newspaper Salient referred to Victoria by its historic epithet as a ‘glorified nightschool’.
The number of academic staff more than quadrupled over this period: there were 78 in 1948, approaching 400 by the early 1970s. It was perhaps a sign of the growing size of the academic community that the Lecturers' Association proposed in 1964 that a file of staff photographs be kept in the Staff Common Room. There were 20 departments in 1950; 30 in 1970. More spectacularly, the range of courses taught doubled in the 1960s, partly because of the universities' newly acquired autonomy, partly because of the expansion and diversification of the business of knowledge: ‘Themes that are virtually entirely new in our generation (such as computer science) must now be included in any adequate programme of university education.’15 University Grants Committee strategies to encourage advanced study contributed to a ‘spectacular increase’ nationally in numbers of postgraduate students – who were 10% of Victoria's roll by the beginning of the 1970s.16 There was growth of more material kinds too. Victoria fared well (at first) in the national university building programme instituted in the 1950s. Its annual income grew from just under £100,000 in 1948 to £1.3 million in 1966, the year before the change to decimal currency, devaluation and the onset of significant inflation rendered such comparisons more complicated and the economic climate for the universities less secure.
In staffing, comparability with British provincial universities was aimed for. On this basis a target staff:student ratio of 1:14 in arts and general faculties was set in 1949 for the first quinquennium. Improvement was slower than desired. At Victoria the ratio was a disappointing 1:19 in 1959, but improved to an admirable 1:13.5 by the mid–1960s (before beginning to worsen again). For salaries, parity with Australian universities was sought. A general academic salary scale for all the colleges had been introduced in 1945. The first grants committee could secure only a niggardly improvement in 1949 but a 30% increase in 1951, and a new salary scale was the first recommendation of the Hughes Parry report to be implemented in April 1960. The recruitment crisis persisted through the 1960s nevertheless. Professors combined refresher leave with talent scouting. New Zealand's disadvantage was not only in salaries, as Ian Gordon reported to Williams: ‘The young Englishmen (or rather their wives) don't want to leave England, & all my good graduates of the last 10 years are very comfortably placed in either Oxford or Cambridge & don't want to leave either. All they talk about is food & drink & the next trip to Europe – I believe it is that rather than staff/student ratios that makes recruiting difficult’; while at Edinburgh, ‘They have a quite marvellous staff club right in the middle of the university area, full lunch & dinner page 106 menus, fifteen different types of whisky in the bar, billiards, snooker, squash … I gather that Edinburgh finds this is the easiest way to keep staff.’17 ‘The University's difficulties in filling positions are well enough known not to require setting out in this submission,’ Victoria reported frankly to the grants committee in 1968.18 It also warned, as it had in its submission to the Hughes Parry committee 10 years earlier, about the danger of succumbing to the temptation to recruit substandard staff. (Inevitably, some mistakes were made. Gordon's own department, for example, acquired an irredeemably racist and misogynist lecturer from South Africa, who expelled women wearing trousers from his classes; to general relief he stayed only 18 months.) Even the cost and effectiveness of advertising for staff was a concern in this expansionist period.
A consistent theme of Victoria's quinquennial submissions until the end of the 1960s was an old refrain: its lack of special schools. It must, in the vice-chancellor's words, develop ‘from what has sometimes been called an overgrown liberal arts college into a true university with an appropriate range of general, professional and postgraduate studies’.20 Victoria suffered from ‘a case of arrested development’. British universities of comparable size had no fewer than three professional schools in addition to commerce and law. That Victoria had none, save for its tiny departments of public administration and social science, made it an ‘academic oddity’.21 On the basis of this model of normal university development, and the importance of integrating pure and applied scholarship – a subject on which Williams had been strongly impressed during a Carnegie-funded trip to North America in 1954 – Victoria believed it had a prior claim to any new professional developments in the university system. Williams' particular ambitions, in this postwar technological age, were in the fields of applied science and technology: engineering, architecture, veterinary science, medicine, nuclear science. This was a strikingly different idea of the university from that held by Hunter and Beaglehole at the end of the 1940s. Hunter had observed, in response to a university memorandum on new chairs in 1949, that there was ‘too much emphasis on the physical sciences, especially in their applied aspects’ (Victoria's bids were for chairs in music, philosophy, geography and Asiatic studies); Beaglehole in his preface to the jubilee history believed that it was the duty of the college now to cultivate the arts.22
The postwar reconfiguration of the university system also involved the establishment of two new university institutions, at Palmerston North and Hamilton, both of which developments were attended by controversy. The former particularly involved Victoria. It also raised an historic bone of contention, the exempted student. At the end of the 1940s still nearly a fifth of Victoria's students were studying externally, more than at any other college. The tide of academic opinion was firmly against this invidious practice both on pedagogical grounds and because of the burden it placed on university staff. It had been condemned by two royal commissions. In 1948 the Academic Board succeeded in having a statute passed which would limit external study to stage-one arts and science courses, sparking protest from the teaching profession (whose members made up the majority of external students) and a decade of debate. Four years later it adopted a report by Victoria's Professorial Board against extramural study.
By now, however, pressure was growing from teacher organisations and the Department of Education for expanded provision of university-level education page 108 for teachers and teacher trainees, of which there was a national shortage, and resentment was growing at the universities' begrudging attitude towards them. This demand was the major but not sole factor in the events leading to the establishment of a new university – Massey – at Palmerston North. Among other factors was the proposed development of a veterinary school at Massey Agricultural College, which would require that college to expand its teaching programme beyond vocational agricultural training to include pure science. There were local political considerations. Palmerston North was not the only North Island provincial centre harbouring ambitions for a university in the 1960s. Its member of Parliament was Labour's minister of education in 1957–60, and his electorate was a marginal one; the member for Manawatu was National's from 1960 to 1964. With frightening projections being made of future university rolls, new provincial colleges were planned as ‘safety valves’ to relieve overcrowded Auckland and Victoria of a substantial amount of junior and non-specialised work.
In the mid–1950s Victoria, although reluctant at first, had acceded to the Department of Education's request that it provide teaching at Palmerston North in stage-one English, education and history. A teachers' college was opened in Palmerston North in 1956, and Victoria given resources to enable staff of those departments to be employed or to visit there regularly. That same year the Academic Board, on a motion of its two Victoria members, opposed a proposal that Massey enter into a liaison with the new teachers' college to develop pure science courses. A degree of suspicion on Victoria's part to the perceived ambitions of Massey is an underlying thread in this story. So is the continued opposition of academics, including most of Victoria's staff, to extramural study. When Victoria was asked at the end of 1956 to extend its service at Palmerston North to include geography, the Professorial Board suggested that the Council instead consider establishing a branch of Victoria there on an internal basis: ‘There was, however, some concern at this proposal among the academic staff outside of the Professorial Board’ and it was deferred for further consideration.23
The Academic Board maintained its philosophical opposition to extramural study, but by the late 1950s had come to accept its expediency. Under outside pressure the Senate appointed a committee, all of whose members were favourably disposed towards it: the vice-chancellor of the university, the director of education, Victoria's principal, and the professor of English, Ian Gordon. Gordon had been impressed by the distance education he had observed during wartime service in the Pacific and in postwar Japan, and his department was one of those most closely involved with external students. He himself travelled to Palmerston North regularly to teach the students there. The other was Education, whose professor, C.L. Bailey, had also become a key academic supporter of Victoria's Palmerston North work. Williams was, perhaps, open to opportunities to extend the work of his adolescent university, the only one without a professional school. This committee produced two reports, in 1957 and 1958, recommending, in brief, that a branch of Victoria be established at Palmerston North to teach a limited range of stage-one subjects internally and take national responsibility for extramural students. The Academic page 109 Board endorsed the concentration of extramural work in one centre as the best solution to a necessary evil; the Senate agreed to entrust the responsibility to Victoria (at either Wellington or Palmerston North); and the establishment of a Victoria branch at Palmerston North was publicly announced in March 1959. The city fathers made available a 30-acre site at Hokowhitu, on the city side of the Manawatu River from the agricultural college. An offer from Massey to host the new college on its own more extensive and developed grounds was declined.
Palmerston North University College, known locally as ‘the Twig’ and around Victoria as ‘PNUC’ (and referred to by a member of its own staff as ‘a fragment of a glorified night-school plus a correspondence college, the whole a monument to the ambition of Victoria’),24 opened in March 1960 with 189 students (three full time) and 562 extramural enrolments in an unfinished, prefabricated building. Victoria had found the University Grants Committee's decision not to provide a grant for long-term development of the grounds ‘very peculiar’.25 There were 10 lecturers (in English, education, history, geography and mathematics) forming a sub-faculty of Victoria's faculty of arts. The founding principal was George Culliford. He was to play a brief role in Palmerston North, staying there only a year, but a much larger one at Victoria. An English graduate of the college, his academic career had been interrupted by a more illustrious wartime one for which he was twice decorated – with the Distinguished Service Order and the Virtuti Militari of Poland, the latter for piloting an unarmed Dakota into German-occupied Poland in 1944 to retrieve parts and plans of Germany's secret V2 rocket that had been captured by the Polish underground. After postgraduate study in London he had joined the English Department at Victoria in 1950, and since 1956 been part-time assistant and ‘administrative troubleshooter’ to the principal, to which position he returned from Palmerston North in 1961. His ‘colourful Service phrases’ and similar operational approach – ‘hitting the target and leaving the opposition to pick up the pieces’ – were something of a shock to the small staff of the new college.26 Reg Tye, one of the foundation staff of PNUC, would later describe its early years as ‘a combination of “A Bridge Too Far”, Kafka's “Trial” and Fred Carno's Circus’.27
Through 1960 and 1961 formal and private negotiations continued between the grants committee, Victoria and Massey over the future, preferably orderly development of university education in Manawatu. Victoria had argued for the desirability of the Hokowhitu site for the branch on the grounds of its cultural value (a university should be located in the city) and its proximity to the teachers' college. But there were other concerns behind its (or at least Williams' and Culliford's) continued opposition to the amalgamation plan: a suspicion of expansionist ambitions on the part of Massey (‘a special school and no more’), a concern that ‘the concentration of advanced pure science in this district must remain in the hands of Victoria’, and a desire to protect its protégé from the designs of an assumed rival. Palmerston North University College was described by Culliford as ‘a preparatory institution … more or less along the lines of a State College in the United States’, which would not be anything more for ‘many years’; while Massey, Williams told the chairman of the grants committee, was ‘not competent to cope with the Manawatu’.30
The matter was settled in just the way the Hughes Parry report had envisaged, if more expeditiously. Palmerston North University College and Massey Agricultural College were merged to form the Massey University College of Manawatu in 1962, as a constituent college of Victoria, to become independent with the passing of the Massey University of Manawatu Act of 1964. It was located on the Massey side of the river. A farewell dinner for the Palmerston North staff page 111 in December 1962 was reportedly ‘a night of maudlin bonhomie’, at which Williams appeared ‘deeply upset’ at the outcome.31 So Victoria was relieved, sooner than anyone had anticipated, of its controversial provincial offshoot, having effected its transformation ‘from a rough paddock to an efficient, going concern’.32 Massey grew, too, more quickly and robustly than anticipated, and later developed expansionist tendencies that Victoria would justifiably regard as a threat.
The rebirth of the colleges as universities evidently prompted some thinking about identity, in more obvious forms than academic specialisation or territorial control. Inspired perhaps by the debate over the renaming of the institution, Victoria initiated the novel practice (in New Zealand universities) of naming its buildings after professors. The initial suggestion came from Ernest Beaglehole in 1958, in anticipation of the completion of a new science building, the first new university building since before the war. The Council referred the choice of names to its house and finance committee, although the Professorial Board was also to be consulted. The choice of Hunter for the original arts building may seem obvious, but the committee's first and unanimous decision was to name this building after Sir Robert Stout. (In view of the building's structural frailty it was perhaps as well that it did not.) The selection of Hunter instead entailed renaming Hunter Field – formerly Te Aro Park and now the new training ground for the university rugby club – as (just as appropriately) the Boyd Wilson Field. The administration building was named the Robert Stout building; the biology block Kirk; the brand new chemistry block was to be Easterfield.
The newly named university also embarked on a public relations programme. In October 1957 the first issue of The Middle District appeared, a 16-page ‘review of university affairs’ edited by Culliford (whose responsibilities as assistant to the principal included information). The genesis of The Middle District was in fact Williams' 1954 tour of America, where he found that one of the most important functions of university administration was the cultivation of public opinion (and raising of funds). By contrast, he told the Council on his return, ‘I think it may fairly be said that in the matter of public understanding and support Victoria University College has fared just about in proportion to the effort which it has put into explaining itself to the public.’33 In fact, a survey conducted by psychology students in 1953 found a ‘strongly favourable attitude toward the university’, a ‘markedly liberal view’ of its functions – ‘the most commonly agreed upon function is that of bestowing a generally widened outlook on life’ – and that most people thought the universities were insufficiently funded.34 A Public Relations Standing Committee was formed nevertheless, and it considered a recommendation from the principal for a publication on the theme of ‘service to the community’ to appear two or three times a year, and an internal monthly newsletter. Enthusiasm appears to have soon waned, however. There were only two issues of The Middle District, and a monthly newsletter was not inaugurated – as the University Gazette – until 1963.page 112
Foundation Day disappeared from the university calendar after 1959. The Foundation Day lecture appears to have been only a fleeting experiment in the 1940s. In 1963 a new annual celebrity lecture series was inaugurated with a highly successful visit by the British art historian Herbert Read, and named the Chancellor's Visiting Lectureships as a compliment to Sir Duncan.35 The Chancellor's Lectures in 1964 (the first so called) were given by Sir Basil Spence, renowned then as the architect of Coventry Cathedral (only later as the creator of Wellington's Beehive). Over the years, the Chancellor's Lectures played a part in maintaining the university's profile in the city: on occasion, they captured a moment of real popular interest and debate. The visit of R.D. Laing in 1973 was one such occasion, as was that of the Czech president Vaclav Havel in the 1990s. It was also, perhaps, in consciousness of the university's new status that the Council in 1964 formed a permanent Ceremonial Committee. It decided that there should be a university mace; then on reflection it was felt that a gavel would suffice: the Wellington City Council presented one in 1965 ‘as a recognition by the City of the part played by the University in the development of Wellington’.36
The Gazette launched in June 1963, a modest, multilithed newsletter prepared by the vice-chancellor's office, was primarily for internal consumption, containing news of staff movements and summaries of Council and Professorial Board business. Not until September 1968 was a designated information officer appointed – 25 years after the suggestion had first been made on the Council. Within months, the humble Gazette had been superseded, briefly, by the Reporter, a more ambitious, newsy, larger-format university review modelled on the Oxford University gazette. It did not find favour, and after one issue a wider-ranging and twice-monthly Gazette returned. It continued until the arrival of a new information officer in 1974 and a new publicity regime. From 1974 a version of the university's annual report to Parliament was produced for popular consumption as the Vice-Chancellor's Report, and from this time too dates the still familiar weekly Staff Circular and the first incarnation of the pronunciation-challenging News VUW.
VUW was a more complex organism than VUC, as well as a more difficult one to say. When George Robison retired at the end of 1948 after 33 years as registrar he remarked on the growth of the college office in that time, from just himself and one assistant in 1916 to a staff of 12. Fifteen years later, by 1963, the administrative staff of the university numbered 86; its total non-academic staff, including the staff of the library, technicians and laboratory assistants, nearly 150. This figure had doubled in just the past three years. Unionisation was one by-product of this development. An Association of Technical Staff was founded in 1965, and in 1969 the VUW Staff Association which represented, in 1970, 148 out of 340 eligible non-academic staff.
this was so: the ratio of administrative staff to students at Victoria was 1:70; at the universities of Sydney and Melbourne it was around 1:30.37 Still, Victoria was a comparatively small and simple enterprise then. It was suggested in 1955 that a detailed administrative handbook should be produced each year for heads of departments, but it was then decided that this was unnecessary. By this year 22 staff worked in the administration building, the mansard roof of which had been converted from a caretaker's flat to offices in 1951. The central administrative establishment consisted of the registrar's office, the vice-chancellor and, from 1956, his part-time assistant (Culliford).
By 1960 attention was being focused on the administrative implications for the university of the coming new order of rampant growth and independence.38 A committee appointed to look at the administration of the arts faculty decided to broaden its brief to include the whole administrative structure. Its recommendations included recognition that ‘a Vice-Chancellor should not be his own records clerk’, and that he was ‘the academic head and chief executive officer of the University’.39 The deans too needed more secretarial support in their faculties to allow them to concentrate on policy matters through the Committee of the vice-chancellor and Deans, which Williams regarded as ‘partly of the nature of the vice-chancellor's academic cabinet’.40 Its role had expanded considerably beyond the routine business of sabbatical applications and scholarship awards that had largely occupied it a decade before. A new grade of middle-management positions below that of assistant registrar was needed to create a career path in university administration – ‘such as to attract young men’, in the vice-chancellor's words.41 In fact, Victoria's first assistant registrar, so promoted when Hunter had reorganised page 114 the growing office in 1945, was Sheila Ogilvie, who had begun her 40-year career in the college office in 1919, belying the opinion of one of her colleagues (and evidently Williams) that the university needed ‘a cadre of trained male staff, from which we may expect pro rata, much more value than female employees, and also much more continuity of service’.42
A staff handbook was also recommended, and ‘suitable office machinery’ such as ‘a well-designed punched card system’ for student records. Over the next few years these innovations were effected (although not quickly enough, the Lecturers' Association complained).43 Data processing machines were purchased, to ‘produce with great rapidity and accuracy, combinations and permutations of basic elements of information recorded on cards and fed into the machine’ (it was the dawn of the computer age).44 A faculty clerk was appointed to assist the deans of arts and science, and two more in 1964, and various secretaries. The registrar's office was enlarged with more assistant registrars (eventually seven). And a vice-chancellor's office was built up – creating what Williams' successor, and the University Grants Committee, would describe as an ‘unusual’, ‘top-heavy’ central administrative structure.45 Culliford returned from Palmerston North to become a full-time assistant to Williams on a professorial salary, retaining a seat on the Professorial Board (which he had held since 1956), with special responsibility for the university's building programme. He and Williams enjoyed a close relationship (too close, in the eyes of some): they shared a similar attitude towards strong leadership, and a passion for rugby (and gin).
Ian Campbell, who had succeeded Williams as professor of English and New Zealand law in 1951 (and had been, longer ago, the editor of the censored 1933 issue of Spike), was appointed in 1962 to a new, part-time position of deputy vice-chancellor. It soon became a full-time one, as Campbell found the combination of academic and administrative responsibility untenable – and that, given the choice, he would rather administer than teach: the ‘literature of a learned discipline cannot be read while one is studying the records of candidates competing for scholarships or attending a meeting of the Executive Committee of Council’. In so advising Williams, he discoursed on the perennial issue of academic versus lay control. Despite some risk that ‘authority in academic matters will gradually slip from the academic body’, to continue with a system of part-time professor-administrators would, he believed, be ‘doctrinaire, unrealistic and ill-advised’.46 But in 1964 another, part-time position of assistant vice-chancellor was created, to which the professor of chemistry, Stanley Slater, was appointed. Culliford's title was changed from assistant to the vice-chancellor to assistant principal ‘to recognise the importance of the work he is doing’.47
In 1966 the venerable chancellor Duncan Stout, in his eighties and growing increasingly deaf, was eased out of office. (He retired from the Council two years later, and retains the record for longevity.) He was succeeded by the pro-chancellor, Patrick Lynch, a pathologist and expert in forensic medicine, for a two-year term. The uncontested elevation of the deputy remained the pattern for the election of Victoria's chancellor. Lynch was succeeded by R.S.V. Simpson, a lawyer with Bell Gully (a legal firm with a long and close connection with the university) who had been the first student representative on the Council in 1938; he in turn, in 1975, was succeeded by the difficult and dominating Kevin O'Brien. O'Brien, a commerce and political science graduate of the 1940s, looms considerably larger over Victoria's postwar history than 10 years as chancellor suggests. He brought a record of personal commitment to the university to rival the Stouts' – had been president of the Students' Association for a record three years, a student representative on the Council, and an elected member since 1959 – along with a mastery of meeting strategy and a ‘zest for the cut and thrust of debate’.50
Retiring chancellor Kevin O'Brien sits for his portrait (by Garth Tapper), 1984
Taylor's managerial style was in marked contrast to his predecessor's. The Professorial Board when farewelling him in 1982 appreciated his ‘cordial and egalitarian style of chairmanship’. The registrar (Dasent), with whom he worked closely and well, reflected on a style that was ‘anything but orthodox’ and to some ‘inscrutable’. A natural sociability, charm, and a democratic approach to decision-making (which some would construe as weakness) co-existed with an ‘almost paradoxical reluctance to move about in University departments and meeting places (like the Staff Club)’.52
The superstitious might have seen it as an omen that the formal function to welcome the new vice-chancellor was scheduled for the day of the storm which sank the ferry Wahine at the entrance to Wellington harbour. This is too dramatic. It is true, however, that Taylor arrived at the dawn of more difficult times for the university, a time of difficulties not (always) of its own making. Ripples from the international student unrest of the late 1960s had reached New Zealand. In the 1970s controversy over its plans to demolish the Hunter building did greater damage to Victoria's public image. For half of his vice-chancellorship the Council page 117 was led by a chancellor – O'Brien – who by his own admission could be ‘extremely short; quite violent and vulgar in comment’, and who took a more active part in the university's affairs than was customary at Victoria, and perhaps in New Zealand universities generally.53 O'Brien was a strong believer in the role of the lay members of the Council (as opposed to the academics), entrenching what some have seen as a distinctive feature of Victoria's Council.
Above all, these were difficult economic times. Williams had reigned through a period of growth. The theme of the next two decades was restraint. The neglect of the university accounts had been only a minor crisis. As the country entered its first postwar economic downturn the new minister of finance, Robert Muldoon, commented threateningly in his 1967 budget address on the upsurge in university rolls in recent years and the disproportionate amount of taxpayer money being spent on them. He returned to this theme two years later. ‘On occasion,’ the new vice-chancellor observed, perhaps with conscious understatement, a year after his arrival, ‘I have been disheartened by the noises I've picked up on the grapevine to the effect that – put most bluntly – the attitude in Government is that universities are an expensive luxury which a small country like New Zealand can ill afford.’54 The universities' response was an increased emphasis on the relevance of their business to the national interest, and a certain amount of self-scrutiny – expressed, for example, in a three-day national universities' conference initiated and hosted by Victoria in October 1969. This was an era of national conferencing: of the National Development Conference held at Victoria in 1969; an educational planning conference in 1972; a national universities' conference in 1974, at which the deteriorating relationship with the government and a corresponding emphasis on the importance of public relations were major themes. Taylor himself was of the opinion that the universities were too inclined to be defensive in the face of public criticism of their costs, the behaviour of their students and their relevance, or lack of it, from ‘those who visualised the university as a sort of service station to the community’.55
The oil-shocked, inflation-racked economy of the 1970s brought to an end the interlude of relative financial largesse ushered in by postwar prosperity and the Hughes Parry report. In 1976 a new National government dramatically cut scholarship and research grants. Additional funding given in 1978 to offset the effects of inflation was followed by further expenditure cuts at the end of that year. From the late 1970s university funding became increasingly political, and the Treasury began to assert itself. Universities did not escape the state sector-wide 3% cuts imposed at the end of 1981.
The impact of a cooler economic climate was exacerbated by, and contributed to, the unpredictability of student enrolments. In 1965 the University Grants Committee after several boom years was anticipating intensifying growth over the next five, in line with overseas trends – and still underestimated the rolls in 1969 for all the universities except Waikato and Victoria. At Victoria the slowing down of the '60s boom towards the end of the decade was thought to be due in part to the unexpectedly precocious development of the infant Massey. In fact page 118 both Victoria and Otago had (according to Culliford's calculations) attracted a diminishing share of national enrolments in the mid–1960s, while Auckland's and Canterbury's had increased.56 Then in 1971 there was a ‘sudden, unexpected rise’ of 650, twice that of the previous year, causing ‘great anxiety’ (it may have been caused in turn partly by the imposition of restrictions by Auckland). ‘The university appears to have entered into an unforeseen and unprecedented period of growth which could mean a total of as many as 8000 students by 1974,’ Culliford reported. In the next two years there was an ‘unexpected’ decrease. ‘We are not clear about the causes of recent movements,’ the quinquennial submission remarked frankly that year. There was a ‘dramatic’ and again unexpected increase in 1976.57 Thereafter Victoria's roll fluctuated around 7000 until the early 1980s. It passed 8000 in 1986, and in the second half of the '80s increased by just over 40% in five years.
Uncertain funding and unpredictable enrolments, and perhaps too the influence of a new vice-chancellor, prompted a new approach to academic planning. The 1968 quinquennial submission talked of ‘organic growth’ rather than ‘a sudden and massive investment in a particular subject’ as the best means to achieve ‘distinction’. Quality rather than quantity was the theme, although there remained the perennial concern to ‘correct this gross deficiency in the spectrum of disciplines we offer’.58 An Academic Development Committee was established in 1972, consisting of the vice-chancellor, three professors and the registrar, their terms of reference ‘to produce a broad realistic policy statement on the academic development of the University as it moves towards and achieves a roll of 10,000 students’. In their first major report, in 1975, they advised of ‘the desirability of deliberately and explicitly adopting a conception of Victoria as a smaller institution – say of 7,000–8,000 students – and of adjusting our planning accordingly’. Academic development ‘must be considered in a situation where, at worst, each new venture must be financed by discontinuing an existing one or, at best, the additional funds available for new developments are slim’.59 By 1977 new courses were being introduced ‘only with great caution’. The University Grants Committee was now adjusting its own planning to ‘The Steady State’.60 Vice-chancellors were advised that a more rational, orderly development of the university system was desired.
Although the steady state proved illusory as regards student numbers, it was efficiently achieved in terms of staff. The postwar recruitment crisis eased in the 1970s: although the university was still not competitive in all fields, an increased interest in vacancies was ‘pleasing’. Victoria's academic staff increased by about a third in the first half of the 1970s, but by only 15% in the 10 years after that. By the mid–1970s redeployment processes were being established in view of uncertain student numbers and the funding climate. Since 1973, all academic positions falling vacant were systematically reviewed with the aim of disestablishing or downgrading them where possible; this was extended to some non-academic positions in 1978. By the end of 1981 the equivalent of 51 lectureships had been redeployed (‘with remarkably little dissatisfaction and an absence of rancour,’ the vice-chancellor remarked).61 The Academic Development Committee's 1975 report had also recommended early retirement provision (which was not, in fact, to be introduced page 119 until 1986), and more rigorous use of the three-year probationary period. Some ‘very unpalatable alterations to the leave scheme’ were also under consideration.62 However, a controversial proposal from the deans' committee to limit the tenure (to three years) of 10% of academic positions of lecturer grade and higher was abandoned in the face of staff opposition. (In the course of this debate it came as a surprise to everyone that some 20, or 5%, were already temporary positions or appointments.)63
Taylor had been quick to turn a reforming eye on Victoria's ‘rather unusual’ administration, from which he hoped – in vain – to fashion ‘something “new”’.64 He went to North America and the United Kingdom in the summer of 1969–70 to study the problems of university administration and to assess the possibility of engaging consultants to solve them. This was disappointing, as were discussions on his return with local management consultancy firms. It proved cheaper and more effective to hire an overseas expert, A.J. Dale, director of the North Eastern Universities' Operations and Management Unit in York. Dale spent five and a half weeks at Victoria in September–October 1971. As was his brief, he concentrated on the registry, and financial planning and control. The central thrust of his report was his advice to strengthen the registry, and in so doing largely dismantle the vice-chancellor's overgrown department: to restructure Victoria on the more conventional model of university administration based on the two key figures of the vice-chancellor and the registrar. In place of a full-time deputy and part-time assistant vice-chancellor he recommended there be one part-time position held by a professor. The assistant principal should lose all responsibilities not directly related to the building programme, and his position eventually be disestablished. Other recommendations included the establishment of the Academic Development Committee, so that forward planning could occur ‘not as some intermittent confection of current good ideas but as the logical expression of continuing deliberation on ultimate objectives’; a permanent Administration Review Committee (advice that was not taken); and the development of a personnel policy, as the university was ‘a significant employer of labour’ and needed one ‘just as much as any industrial or commercial undertaking’.65
The vice-chancellor did not entirely agree: not, for example, with Dale's opinion that universities ought to be run by professional administrators and not academics and therefore the vice-chancellor's deputies should be retrenched. (He also thought Dale's recommendation of devolving budgetary control to faculties, although appealing, was premature.)66 He had, however, come to agree that ‘the well established Vice-Chancellor/Registrar axis is the only viable structure’, and that the role of the registrar should be enhanced – to the extent of his greater involvement in policy matters.67 When Desborough retired early in 1972, the offices of registrar and bursar were combined with the appointment of the former bursar, Dasent, as his successor. This came as something of a surprise to Dasent. He had retreated to a readership in the Chemistry Department a year before with no page 120 intention of returning to administration, having found working in the vice-chancellor's department increasingly frustrating, with its six full-time administrators ‘chasing each other's tails’ around the first floor of the Robert Stout building.68 He was asked to return because it was proving difficult to fill a position which had not carried the status of a registrar at other universities.
The disestablishment of the vice-chancellor's department that Dale recommended was gradually effected, nevertheless, by a process of attrition. When the assistant vice-chancellor, Slater, retired at the end of 1974 he was not replaced, and when Campbell retired from the deputy vice-chancellorship the following year he was replaced by a professor (J.D. Gould, of economic history) in a part-time position, retitled the pro-vice-chancellor.69 Culliford was not replaced when he retired at the end of 1977. Soon, though, this slimmed-down machine was under strain, as managing the university became increasingly challenging (not least because of the ‘sharp deterioration’ in its finances), and the new pro-vice-chancellor decided to return full time to his books. At the risk of returning to bad old ways, two more positions were created. By the end of the 1970s, the vice-chancellor was supported by a deputy vice-chancellor (J.W. Tomlinson, professor of physical chemistry), a pro-vice-chancellor (Dasent) and an academic pro-vice-chancellor (Stuart Johnston, professor of English). W.E. Harvey, also from the Chemistry Department, was appointed registrar in Dasent's place. Chemists, it appears, have a particular penchant for university administration.
Another surprise appointment to many, Axford was an expatriate and brilliant scientist. Born in Dannevirke, a graduate of the University of Canterbury, he had been professor of astronomy at Cornell, professor of physics at University College, San Diego, and was now director of the Max Planck Institute for aeronomy in Katlenburg-Lindau in Germany. He had an asteroid named after him, and was to be knighted in 1996. He contracted to stay at Victoria for seven years, and left after three. It was believed by some that he had taken the job in the interests of his family rather than the university. He brought nevertheless an energetic, innovative approach to a number of areas, including, most visibly, the physical appearance of the campus (not an easy assignment at Victoria), academic structures and public relations. A revamped, illustrated annual report, the Victoria University Review, replaced Taylor's Vice-Chancellor's Report.
It is not surprising that staff were sensitive to talk of efficiency drives in the early 1980s. Victoria has perennially complained of being the poorest of New Zealand's universities. In 1978 News VUW reported that it enjoyed the lowest income per student, lowest library grant per student, and lowest expenditure per student on buildings and site maintenance.71 Victoria's quinquennial submission in 1978, observing that this university received the smallest grant per student overall, reminded the University Grants Committee of the ‘Wellington effect’, a long-observed phenomenon whose causes included the capital's high cost of living, occupational shortages and thus difficulty in recruiting staff in some fields, and Wellington's notoriously tight inner-city property market, and resulting staff recruitment and student accommodation problems. (There was also, in this sense, an ‘Auckland effect’. But then, Auckland did not share another disadvantage of residence in Wellington: some political sensitivity, on the part of both the government and the grants committee, about the amount of attention and resources being devoted to the capital city.) True, Victoria lacked high-cost professional schools like medicine and engineering, but in a modern university humanities and social science departments increasingly required more than blackboards and chalk.
The library was one of the conspicuous casualties of tougher economic times, which again was not only Victoria's story; but it had long since ceased to be comfortably the largest university library in the country, as it had still been in the 1930s. In 1945 Victoria's was the third largest – or the second smallest, it would be more appropriate to say – in numbers of volumes; by the end of the 1950s it was the tiniest of the four (they were all by international standards ‘tiny’).72 One result of this was longer opening hours, along with the development of more intensive page 122 reader services (such as closed reserve). ‘Gathering gloom’ – the librarian's words73 – is not the only plot in the library's postwar story, but it is hard not to see it as the dominant one. Devaluation, inflation and a reduction in its grant had by 1970 left the library facing ‘severe financial trauma’, reported John Sage (who had succeeded Harold Miller in 1966).74 Library grants were briefly increased in 1973 in the wake of a sobering report commissioned by the Vice-chancellors' Committee, before the oil shocks came. Inflation hit particularly in the area of periodicals, an important and expensive part of academic libraries: Victoria along with others began culling its journal subscriptions in the mid–1970s. Reductions in library hours brought protests from the Students' Association.
Other factors besides the economy were also putting the library under pressure: expansion of the fields of study in the university, and an explosion in the amount of written and printed material to buy; changes in assessment and teaching styles in the 1970s (students writing essays and assignments as well as swotting for exams); an increase in postgraduate and research work, particularly in the social sciences and arts. Students used the library more, and used it more consistently through the year. Between 1966 and 1970 when the university roll increased by 21%, book and periodical loans increased by 110%; a 5% growth in student numbers between 1979 and 1983 was matched by a 27% rise in circulation. To those who argued that a country the size of New Zealand didn't need, or could not afford, for every one of its universities to aim for a library of international, graduate standard, Sage was blunt: ‘A nation that can afford colour TV or turn over $49 million in a year betting on horses can afford a financially modest degree of support for its academic libraries.’75
The 1978 quinquennial submission also noted for the first time a ‘substantial’ contribution to the university's income from external sources, principally in the form of research funding and grants towards new chairs in the faculties of commerce and science. (Private benefaction remained negligible.) But although this was an observable trend, income from sources other than the government grant and student fees remained small. It had amounted to 6.4% of the college's income in 1945 but dropped to less than half a per cent in the 1950s – the result not of a sudden decline in civic generosity but of the sudden increase in the state's. By 1978 ‘other’ sources contributed 4.6% of Victoria's total income; by 1985, 5.9%. Systematic fundraising from the private sector has never been a feature of the New Zealand university system. Back in 1950 a Council committee had been established on the recommendation of the Professorial Board to investigate ‘ways and means of raising additional funds from sources other than Government grants’, but it appears not to have been productive.76 Suggestions made by chemistry professor James Duncan in 1968 that Victoria establish an alumni association, a graduate research foundation, a ‘Unisearch’ or public relations agency to solicit private research funding and ‘establish an aura about V.U.W. which attracts graduate students and external finance’, and pursue other ‘self-help activities of a primarily business character’ such as erecting parking buildings or motels on university land, were somewhat ahead of their time.77page 123
It seems, however, that Victoria's financial woes were partly of its own making. The University Grants Committee looked askance at the number of non-academic positions that were paid on the academic salary scale, and at the amount Victoria appeared to be spending on student welfare services compared with the other universities. In 1983, in the course of heading off a Treasury threat to set numerical quotas for grades of academic staff, it noticed that Victoria had rather a lot of professors (especially science professors). To be precise it had 28 too many. Of Victoria's academic staff, 14.8% occupied chairs, compared with a national average of 12%, a situation the grants committee feared it would find embarrassing in its negotiations with the Treasury. The number of EFTS (equivalent full-time students) per professor was 80 while the average for the other universities was 122 (or, if one excluded the professional schools, 137). Put another way, Victoria's academic salary bill represented 24% of its expenditure, compared with the norm of 18%– 19%. Something had to be done. A five-year moratorium was imposed on the creation of personal chairs and a plan adopted to downgrade or disestablish about 20 professorships over the next five years. The academic establishment accepted these measures ‘with regret’.78 Departments would have the opportunity to argue for the retention of any chairs identified as expendable. The first chairs targeted (in November that year) were in law, philosophy and religious studies. Naturally these departments protested. The exercise had, however, at least part of the desired effect: Victoria had 10 fewer chairs in 1989 than in 1983.79
On their way to an historic meeting of the Professorial Board: vice-chancellor Danny Taylor and Candy McGrath, women's vice-president of the Students' Association and the first student representative to attend a Professorial Board meeting. Evening Post
Inevitably, formal student participation had implications for the role of sub-professorial staff in university government. An additional representative of the teaching staff (as opposed to just the professors) was also added to the Council in 1969 (one having been appointed in 1947). This was one impetus behind a controversial review of the role of professors as heads of departments instigated in 1971. The major one, however, was the advent in the 1960s of multiple professorships: either when a second chair was created in a sub-discipline (as, firstly, in theoretical and inorganic chemistry, applied mathematics, English language, and theoretical physics) or simply when another professorship was established (in law in 1963, economic history in 1964, psychology in 1965). Uncertainty over where the second professor stood in the departmental hierarchy had caused ‘considerable unhappiness’ in some departments, but Williams had not been amenable to the idea of rotating heads. ‘Few in any walk of life enjoy such independence, security and freedom of action as a professor who is Head of his Department at this University,’ commented one.83
The Council in 1970 confirmed the policy that had been adopted in 1964: that the senior professor in terms of date of appointment would be the administrative head of the department unless otherwise approved by the deans committee (which could also recommend the removal of a professor from the position when ‘necessary in the interests of the University’).84 At the same time an ad hoc committee of the Professorial Board began canvassing departmental views on possible alternatives. It was a delicate and in some cases divisive issue. The committee found a widespread consensus against the automatic right of succession in order of seniority that was part of professors' conditions of appointment, and considerable support (‘sometimes with marked enthusiasm’) for administration by departmental committees.85 Opinions differed over who should be eligible for the top job and who should be eligible to choose them. Professor Munz of History, for one, ‘strongly opposes election of Heads or Chairman by members of the staff of the Department’. Professor Bailey of Education thought page 125 the proposals for control by committee ‘smack too much of American thinking’.86 Most departments appeared happy for all permanent staff from senior lecturers and above to be eligible to take charge. After two years of discussion, a new system was adopted. Heads of department became chairs, who were elected for a three-year term by and from a policy group consisting of the professors and one or two members of the staff above lecturer grade. Consultation with all members of staff on matters of academic policy and administration was expected.
A parallel development was the emergence of non-professorial deans; and the growing impact of non-professorial staff in the work of the Professorial Board and its increasing array of standing and ad hoc committees (some of which were forums of considerable power, such as the leave committee, the research committee and the accommodation advisory committee). History's Tim Beaglehole (son of J.C.) and Wilf Malcolm of Mathematics (in time an associate professor and a professor respectively) were two who made a notable contribution – and later in the loftier realms of the central administrative machine.
A slower reform, but an area in which Victoria took a lead, was in the position of women in the university. Victoria was the first university in New Zealand by 10 years to establish an organisation of women staff, in 1975 (as well as the first to introduce women's studies, the same year). This coincided, of course, with the flowering of ‘women's lib’, as well as reflecting changes in the institution itself, in the number and the makeup of its members. Germaine Greer visited New Zealand, and Victoria, in March 1972, and the first national women's liberation conference was held at the university in April. In its wake, and in response to an approach from students, Ngaire Adcock (senior lecturer in psychology) took three proposals to the faculties of arts and languages and literature: for the appointment of a dean of women, and of women to appointment committees, and the introduction of women's studies. At a meeting called by linguistics lecturer Janet Holmes and history lecturer Phillida Bunkle, most (certainly not all) of the university's women staff supported the cause. There were some 40 of them among the full-time academic staff, but they were unevenly distributed across faculties: none in law, four in science and two in commerce: they made up around 3% of these faculties; 22% of arts, languages and literature. There were three women professors out of 66.
The proposal for a dean of women was rejected, but the Professorial Board convened a committee on the status of women members of the academic staff, on whose recommendation the Association of Women Academics was founded. This was a somewhat different affair from the Women Associates of Victoria University College that had been formed in the early 1940s – a social committee of staff wives and women students whose main activity was acting as hostesses at college functions. Its aims were to protect and promote the interests of women staff, and to undertake research relating to university women, and support and encourage their academic work. In the 1980s it tackled the more specific issues of sexist language and sexual harassment. Correcting the gender imbalance of the university staff, though, was a larger project than changing its culture. By 1990, nearly 30% page 126 of Victoria's academic staff, but only 8% of its professors, were women.
The early 1970s saw as well a number of major academic reforms: this was an age of reform. The unit degree was replaced by the credit degree in 1972, to allow greater flexibility and the diversification of courses of study.87 Mid-year examinations followed in 1973, prompting much discussion about the layout of the academic year. In-term assessment was introduced – a reform hard fought for and soon regretted by the students. The foreign language requirement for the arts degree was removed. A University Teaching and Research Centre was established in 1973 (with a five-year grant from the McKenzie Foundation), as academics as well as their students began to look harder at how as well as what they were teaching. Interdisciplinary experiments were in fashion. Like internal assessment, mind you, flexibility and diversity had its downside: it would not be too many years before concern was being raised about the proliferation of tiny courses and the coherence of the arts degree.
introduced in 1970, and membership opened to all non-academic staff in 1982. There may not have been 15 different types of whisky, but Victoria's Staff Club, its president stated in 1979, was possibly ‘unique among universities for the fluency with which it is possible for scientists and non-scientists to engage in mutual discourse; for a technician, an administrator, a junior lecturer, or a Ph.D. candidate to take part in casual interactions with people who are older, senior, or from very diverse disciplines…. Indeed, the club is the only genuinely integratory body that is continuously and informally operational across the whole range of university staff.’88 Its physical location in a chronically overcrowded campus became, however, a cause of some dispute.