Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 2 March 15, 1939
The university is a place where innovations are uncommon. The accepted approach remains the same from year to year; change and experiment are never sought after.
When it was learnt that an introductory course of lectures was being planned for new students, everyone opened their eyes and hoped for the best. Here at last was a scheme which was making an attempt to give students a coordinated and intelligible view of the world they lived in.
The need for such a scheme has been flagrantly obvious for years. All the vices of specialisation find in the university a select breeding ground. The student absorbs fact after fact, memorises whatever his professors assure him will help him "to get through, becomes clever with the cleverness of an examination passer, and never really understanding what it all means.
In the world of today, specialised knowledge is an absolute necessity. Society must have its experts and technicians. But what it needs far more urgently are men and women who understand the relations between one branch of knowledge and another. Men and women who can make some attempt to see human society in its totality. At present the specialist is concerned solely with his own narrow preoccupation. Often he glories in it He performs his task with scrupulous and inhuman efficiency, never stopping to ask to what end it is leading.
If there is one place where there should be a corrective to this tendency it is the university.
The present course of introductory lectures is an attempt to meet this situation. That such an attempt has been made is praiseworthy and we are grateful for it. But our appreciation must not blind us to the very evident inadequacy of the present list of subjects.
It is almost unbelievable, for instance, that four lectures in a course of thirteen should be devoted to medieval times, when there are so many immensely more relevant and important topics to be discussed. The three lectures, Victoria, University College, the Library and its Uses, and Student Activities are clearly essential, but to many, the rest of the subjects were disappointing. It is to be hoped that in the future something more satisfying than a resume of secondary school history will be provided. Here are a few topics, suggested at random, which to me at least seem far more worthy of attention than many of those included in this year's list.
- The Art of Thinking—an introduction to scientific method.
- The History of Science—how science has influenced the human mind.
- Man and His Universe—a consideration of the findings of modem physics, astronomy, etc.
- Evolution—and the making of man.
- Anthropology—patterns of culture.
- Biology and Life—the possibilities of human evolution.
- Psychology and Everyday Life.
- Economics Today—what is money? etc.
- The Idea of Democracy—what it is and how it arose.
- New Zealand.
- Modern Literature—a guide to what is best in current prose and verse.
- The Arts—some preliminary ideas on painting, music, dancing, architecture, etc.
What a course of Introductory Lectures should do is to rouse an active interest in whatever it touches and to provide students with a guide to further independent study. To this end simple reading lists could be compiled for each subject, and copies distributed. And why should science students be exempted? Surely the welfare of their minds is worth worrying about too.
The present set of lectures is a beginning. Let us hope they will be widened in their scope and application until every university student will have a trustworthy and comprehensive knowledge of all the important intellectual, scientific and cultural achievements of our civilisation.