Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 1. March 13, 1958
1921 and all that . . — The Bad Old Days
1921 and all that . .
The Bad Old Days
So we're a University now—it's actually happened. When I joined the staff in 1921, we hardly thought as far ahead as that. I was labelled "assistant and demonstrator" and the idea of having full time men, who were not professors, was quite revolutionary. Usually the professor carried on either with a little part-time assistance from local school-masters, or with a woman assistant, who was desperately underpaid. He lectured in the evening and crammed up to fifteen lectures a week in the hours from four till eight. No wonder they called it a night school. But night school or not, £300 a year was attractive in 1921. I think I helped to break the beastly tradition by organizing morning lab, classes for the few full time students we had. Even so I had to take two 7-10 evening labs, a Friday evening 7-8 tutorial and a Saturday morning lab class. Like all the rest of them, I learned to play golf. If you didn't do something like that you were even more stupid than usual by 10 p.m. Why, the general run of students expected to find you in your study every evening of the week!—I wasn't having that one.
The library wing was building then, and the physics wing was promised in the near future. Meanwhile physics and chemistry were in the chemistry wing, workshop and all. Biology was up above us (where music is today), and geology had a whole room in the Arts building. As for apparatus, there were several burettes and a few test-tubes and all that. Don't forget the assay furnaces, housed where the Honours chemistry is now, and even then a relic of the gold mining era in Wellington, which never came. I used to be allowed to do a little consultation work. I remember a case of Australian wine, full of vinegar (which I duly certified), but if you neutralised it and distilled it, the distillate was quite different.
Professor A. D. Munro is the associate professor of chemistry. Over the years he has taken an interest in student affairs and welfare, and has not confined this to his faculty.
The Senior Common room and the two adjacent rooms were the library—presided over by that stern disciplinarian, the Rev. Horace Ward, skull cap and all. If you whispered, if you passed a note, if you even winked, a voice would say, "Read rule three", and you might well be out in the corridor in thirty seconds after that.
Of course all exams were' external—sat in November, sent to England, results in February (if you were lucky). That made the College year nice and short for the staff and after the long winter of discontent they aestivated till the following March. Terms were hard to get; a real ordeal of three hour papers in October. We couldn't afford to let the English examiners see what our illiterates were like. Of course the papers were easier then than now. They have to be under an external examiner system. After all, these chaps couldn't set the type of paper we use today. They had no idea of how the teaching was done and they had to be lenient. The first year of a new examiner was a chance affair. After that the staff got idea of what would be set and passed them on to the students. It was just as well to pass in those days, and in at least two subjects, for one subject just didn't count. We had a chap who got 90 per cent, in Chemistry and failed in Maths and Physics. He had to do Chemistry I all over again. And one chap taking, say, subjects A and B, passed in A or B alternate years and never got a degree. I think he's given up this last few years, but he passed in about 15 subjects and missed his degree.
A Student Union Building
As for student life—they were all hard up; for that matter, so were we, and so was the whole community. Each and all of us were much harder up than we are today. I count the cost of living as 40 per cent, of today's, but wage rates were much less than 40 per cent, of today's rewards. Tennis balls at 4/6 a pair were a lot of money those days, and 2d, up in the Kelburn car, by concession, was more than 3d. today. The old "gym" was much the same then as now and was considered inadequate for 600 students. Funds were already being collected fora new one, which seemed just round the corner. The Stud. Ass. was involved in a solemn controversy in the wearing of gowns. They wore them at Canterbury and the vote just missed here. Perhaps the heating system was even worse in those days.
Of course, to your eyes, every-thing would seem incredibly primitive. But then, Wellington still had a pioneering look with clouds of dust on Thorndon Quay, as one struggled against a northerly to the old Thorndon station. Yet the place was much more personal in tone— everybody knew everybody. Even if we didn't have a principal (let alone a Vice-Chancellor), we had a Chairman of the Board elected for two years and carrying on the work of his chair with a miserable extra £100 for special assistance.
If you were a student you had to look out for Brookie in the corridors. He would soon put you to rights if you made a noise when lectures had begun. The Brook dynasty of caretakers lasted for two generations, and Brookie the younger had practised to perfection a snap of the fingers which could be heard a hundred yards away.
That's what we were and you know what we are. I don't want to go back to the old days and take a 9-10 Saturday lecture and a 10-12.30 Saturday lab, class. You cannot do the proper University work in odd times, with tired students and tired staff. I want the epithet "night school" never to be applied to the University of Wellington, even if it was true for Victoria in the year 1921.
—A. D. Monro.