Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 15, No. 7. May 1, 1952
Staff-Student Debate — Hopelessly Turgid
The first debate of the year was a disappointment In many ways and It cannot be said that the fault lay entirely on one tide. To begin with, a tort or hopeless turgidlty teemed to render every speaker completely Incapable of sticking to the point and presenting a coherent line, of argument.
Mr. O'Brien opened the case for the affirmative In a promising way, but he very soon broke down. He said quite a bit about mathematical reasoning, and stated that since you can prove (?) that 2 plus 2—4 (or was it 5 plus 2 = ??), and in particular, that the square on the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares on the other two sides of a right-angled triangle, then such a process of reasoning, properly applied to all problems which we, as representatives of the rising academic generation, are likely to encounter, would yield just as satisfactory an answer In every case. Just as one might have been justified In thinking that a satisfying wrangle would shortly be developing, the whole subject was dropped. The point, If point it was, was just abandoned. Not that the relevance of it was ever terribly noticeable. Mr. O'Brien seemed convinced that If the staff were to teach to us the dark inner secrets of this method of mathematical reasoning, then all would be well. Just why, it is difficult to say. The rest of the opening speech, though illumined by occasional flashes of hope, was far too disjointed to be convincing. We must, of course, make due allowance for Mr. O'Brien's recant Illness, but we can matte no excuses for the quality of the reel of the speeches.
The really amazing thing, however, particularly in view of the distinguished philosophy representation on the negative side, is that no one took Mr. O'Brien up on this question of mathematical reasoning. True, Mr. McCreary made a semi-serious threat to prove to us that, by the grace of Berkeley, the 7 people on the stage were really only one, or possibly not there at all. But no one thought of demolishing Mr. O'Brien's argument, irrelevant though it may have been, by point' ing out that mathematical proofs are confined to analytical propositions, within the mind, and cannot validly be applied to synthetic propositions concerning the outside world.
There was a definite lack of preparation evident in all the speeches. No one [unclear: desises] that the negative aide should team some room far answering the arguments of the affermative but that does not mean that a certain amount of [unclear: atf] should act be put intc the prepration of a framework. Reliance, should not as put wholly in wit, [unclear: flippency] and a diluted [unclear: sarcaste invactive] the cheaper sort [unclear: for although the students] were [unclear: confused wishe irralant and] un-[unclear: conm as aid at aleast give] an [unclear: impoension of simbavity and earnest-ness although Miss Stromes] made a real effort to [unclear: that seriosly] with the question, the staff were inclined to take the matter as settled, ir their favour, and talk down in a careless manner, rather as though they were patronising just another "adolescent bun-fight'—which it apparently was to some people. Be that as it may a debate should not be conducted in this atmosphere, and the fact that the majority decision was for the negative is no indication of the quality of the arguments put forward, or rather sneeringly hinted at, by the staff, rather is It a reflection of the confusion which characterised the speeches of the students.
"Plato" neglected to mention that the motion was "That the staff of this college is failing in its duty as university teachers," which motion was lost by 50 votes to 24.
One extremely important factor which has no small influence on the amount of respect accorded to our academic community, and thus indirectly to the students, was hinted at by several; on both sides, but was never quite brought out into the open, as it should certainly have been. This is the very great difference between the social organisation, past and present, of New Zealand, and that of Europe and Britain. Several times our University was compared, adversely with older institutions. But the reasons for our different, and lower, standing, for our lack of tradition, were never mentioned. Of course, there is our comparative youth; but it is doubtful whether a society such as ours would accord any high and trusting respect to the University in a thousand years. Democracy, which makes Churchill and the crossing-sweeper equal, does not encourage, the development of a hierarchy of learning. We have lost respect in this way, as much as in any other, and the point of view which regards the University degree as the road to a better job is as much the natural result of our society as the fault of the teaching staffs in our University—who, it may be useful to readers to know, were accused of not making any effort to gain the respect of the community. Sweeping comparisons between our University and those overseas cannot be made without a careful examination of social conditions.
Lastly, let us express a pious hope that the standard of the next debate will be considerably higher. It is fairly safe to predict that audiences will once more be small, if we cannot do better than that very poor, if mildly amusing, effort of last Friday. We haven't said whom we think was really right. It wouldn't be fair to do so on the evidence we heard. But this much we can say: no one is going to benefit as far as the respect of the community is concerned if another such debate is held with the same flippant and altogether to be deplored approach that was evident on both sides. The staff especially will not have risen in the estimation of such of the general public who attended this year's staff-student debate.