Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970
the role of the university..
the role of the university...
The university is a very old feature of western society. In Athens in the 4th century B.C. there grew out of the introduction of compulsory military training the institution sometimes called the University of Athens. The 'Museum' at Alexandria was founded in the 3rd century B.C. There are thought to have been at one time 14,000 students at this ancient centre of learning. The geometer, Euclid, worked there, and Eratosthenes, the astronomer. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Greek traditions of learning were carried on at Byzantium where a state-subsidized university was founded in 425 A.D. The Moslems, as they over-ran the Middle East during the Dark Ages, spread their learning as well as their faith. About 970 A.D. they founded a university at Cairo, the University of Al Azhar, which still flourishes.
In Western Europe, from the 9th to the I2th century, places of learning sprang up in various towns in Italy and France. These were the universitates magistrorum et scholarium,' the whole bodies or guilds of masters and scholars, whose purpose was the study of theology, philosophy, civil and canon law, and medicine. They were the forerunners of modern universities as we know them, and by the end of the 12th century two of them, Bologna and Paris, could properly be called universities. The universities of Oxford and Cambridge began somewhat later than those of Italy and France. Oxford was founded in the latter part of the 12th century and Cambridge some 30 years later—Cambridge, I recently read, by some students and teachers who did not like the way Oxford shopkeepers were taking them for a price ride.
At Bologna the students controlled (heir own affairs. At Paris the government of the university was in the hands of its teaching members. Present-day universities thus have an administrative structure that is descended directly from the early Paris system. (A university teacher of modem times must naturally ask what relation the demise of Bologna and the survival of Paris until the present day bear to the form of government that evolved in each.)
This is the text of a speech delivered by Professor A.L. Titchener at an Association of University Teachers Seminar in Auckland last month. Professor Titchener is Professor of Chemical and Material Engineering at Auckland University.
Following Professor Titchener's address is a commentary by Victoria University Pro-Chancellor Kevin O'Brien.
The great growth in the number of universities and in the scope of their teaching has been, of course, during the 19th and 20th centuries. Of particular importance in the last century was the admission of the experimental sciences and the engineering technologies into the teaching curricula. These disciplines, applied to human affairs, have had a profound effect on the nature and quality of human life; and this in turn has put the universities, as the generators of new science and new technology, under political and social pressures formerly unknown to them. For this reason alone the role of the modern university cannot be the same as the rote of the university of the past.
Education &: empire
The educational tradition of 19th century Britain was Aristotclean, Lockcan, liberal. Education was desired to be and essentially was non-vocational, non-practical, non-utilitarian. One has the impression—and I don't think it is false—that in Britain the whole structure of government and empire rested on this liberal educational base. Whitehall, the colonial civil service, parliament itself, were recruited from the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. (Indeed, until comparatively recently these two universities had a special allotment of seats in the British lower house.) Since the British Empire was notably successful, at least as viewed by the 19th century observer, the, inference was that the kind of education given to those running it was the best kind of education for men of affairs. This tradition, which has been so firm a part of British university thinking, and which spilled out also into the universities of its colonies and dominions, has, over the last 30 years or so, taken some pretty severe punishment. A question to be asked—and answered—is whether the concept of a liberal education, Locke's mens sarin in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body, has relevance for us today.
One source of the punishment received by the liberal tradition of university education has been the social, economic and political impact of science and technology. Admitted into the shelter of the universities, the practitioners of science and technology rather rapidly developed the new ways of thinking about the experimenting with the universe and its contents. In the 200 years from Boyle to Kelvin science developed from a fascinating hobby for well-to-do amateurs into a lifetime career for professionals. And in so doing it grew into the most powerful body of knowledge ever available to man-powerful in the sense that it could and did set going great changes in civilization. Abundant cheap steel from the application of chemistry, abundant electricity from the application of Faraday's discoveries in electro-magnetic induction are but two mid-19th century examples of its products. New developments came with increasing frequency. The automobile appeared just before the turn of the century, then radio, and flight soon after. To the educated adult of late Victorian and Edwardian times the prospect must have been purely dazzling. Britain in particular had enjoyed a long period of relative stability and peace. Certainly there was some poverty. Bur there was also great wealth, and the prospect of yet greater wealth to tome. The scientific humanist of the turn of the century was filled with a confident belief in the potential of science and technology (or engineering, as he would have called it) for good. This 19th century optimism-epitomized perhaps in H.G. Wells-could for see these remarkable new servants being used with ever-increasing power to solve the material and social ills of mankind.
Sixty Years of Shattered Dreams
The next 60 years were to shatter most of these dreams. Such hopes of benevolent humanists as survived the sodden, boggy hells of Flanders were racked almost beyond restoration in the economic disasters of the Great Depression. The First World War revealed technology's enormous power to destroy, and the twenties and thirties its impotence to re-shape and re-make a botched civilization.
It seems that western man could not or would not read the lessons of those 25 years, those testimonies of bis ineptitude. Throughout the forties, fifties and sixties he has been engaged in a repeat performance with devices more terrifying and results more impersonally brutal than ever before. The troubles of man are seen not to reside in his technological dexterity but in his emotional and political infantilism. If Bertrand Russell was right in believing that "people do not care so much for their own survival—or indeed that of the human race-as for the extermination of their enemies", we are indeed in terrible straits; for science and technology have given us weapons—nuclear, chemical, biological—that make extermination now completely practical.
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
Of course, not everything has fallen apart, and not all was loss in the disastrous years 1914-45. Science, for example, gained a growing political respectability. Politicians and others in places of power came to appreciate science for what it could do for them. Science, which once ran on a shoestring and was proud of it, has now come to command budgets of millions—not only, of course, for warlike aims. Since science has useful ends, and the primal fount of all science is the universities, the universities have come into positions of unprecedented wealth and power.
Repression of the Liberal View
And in so doing they have come under pressure from the users of scientists to steer their work into channels directly useful to them. It is a small extension of thinking to call for all university teaching to concentrate on training people for the jobs that the country needs or seems to need doing. Thus the advance of the vocational, practical, utilitarian view of the university's role. Thus the retreat of the liberal non-vocational view.
A second important factor that has put liberal education into retreat has been the development of what may be called progressive education. Progressive education has a history almost as long as that of science. I am not an expert in educational theories, and the theories woven into the fabric of progressive education are numerous and complex. I hope I do not misrepresent them by saying that, in essence, they may be described as a methodology—a way of educating people. Primarily associated with the teaching of the very young, progressive education tries to find incentives for learning, and generally connects the process of learning with the manual activities of the child. Historically its development has been deeply although not exclusively associated with the teaching of backward or culturally deprived groups. Many famous names are associated with the movement-Pestalozzi, Montessori and Dewey to name but three. Progressive education is opposed to the almost purely linguistic culture of the traditional liberal education. Interestingly enough, its proponents saw in science, in the methods used by science to acquire and test knowledge, a pattern by which all knowledge could be acquired and tested. The child was to learn from his environment by a series of inductions much as a scientist learns from his experiments. Understanding and knowledge were to be tested against the practicalities of life. A strong component in progressive education is recognition of the creativity of the individual, and much emphasis is placed on fostering this creativity. In its more extreme manifestations this has led to what one writer has called "the romantic belief in the child".
Whatever faults there may be in progressive education, it has provided valuable, indeed one might say invaluable, techniques for educating the vast numbers of children, variously-motivated, and emerging from widely varying backgrounds, who have to be handled under systems of universal education. Its techniques have been rather extensively exploited in kindergartens and primary schools, much less so in secondary schools, and hardly at all in universities.
Not with standing the failure of progressive education to invade the university teaching process directly, it is having some effects on what goes on in the university. For one thing those exposed to it at other stages of their education have become aware that learning can be relevant to day-by-day activities. For another, a person who has experienced the joy of being taught by a fascinating teacher at school is likely to be less than satisfied with pedestrian lectures delivered' by a "platform-constipated, note-bound academic". Ever since Freud made parents fearful of inflicting who knows what damage to the psyche of a sharply reproved child, it has been a principle of western parenthood to abdicate authority over offspring as soon as it is possible to do so. The concept of authority thus has little meaning for young people today. And so student dissatisfaction with a course or a lecturer nowadays finds ready expression.
One of the likely criticisms is that the curriculum is irrelevant to the hearer's interests or objectives. This is indeed a common source of dissatisfaction. And this brings us in approximately where we started.
The traditional liberal educationist has an implicit belief in knowledge for its own sake. He seeks it not as a tool for use, but as something important in its own right, having its own concepts, laws and forms, and making its own demands. The scholar must bow to the dictates of the subject. According to this view, a subject is not and cannot be at the mercy of personal or public fancy, serving now this, now that temporary indulgence. That was certainly the 19th century view of the university's function—a dedication to the content of a subject and to the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Is this still to be the role of the university? Ought education to be liberal, humane and non-vocational, as it has been, or ought it to be something different?
To what extent should relevance determine university curricula? Does the university have a part to play, in political affairs? Is it an instrument of social justice? These and related questions must trouble the thoughts of anyone who takes his association with a university at all seriously. I freely confess that I cannot give confident answers to many of these questions. But turning one's back on them will not make them go away. In the remainder of my talk I shall try to set out some ideas about the function of the university. I want to emphasize that these views are personal. It is not to be supposed that they will be shared by all academics, who, if notable for nothing else, are notable for their inability to agree, especially on matters pertaining to the institutions employing them.
The first question that I wish to ask—and to try to answer—seems to me to be the key to understanding the universities. It is this: Do universities have an educational function that is in any sense unique? Is there anything that marks universities off as different from other educational institutions? I am aware that such a question seems to carry with it snobbish overtones—an implication of superiority. But by 'different', however, I do not mean better, or, for that matter, worse. I mean different. This question can, I think, be most easily answered by first answering another question: By what criterion can one judge the relative excellence of different universities? To this there is one simple reply: a university is judged by the quality of its scholars. To me, no other answer is conceivable, and no other standard of judgement possible.
Without Scholars Nothing
Most people, either inside or outside the university will agree that the scholar who works in a university has three chief duties. They are first to his branch of learning, second to his pupils, and third to society outside. I have placed these duties in that order because I believe that to be their order of importance. Most of the public criticisms of the universities arise not because the critics outside the universities believe in objectives different from these, but because they hold to a different order of importance—often in fact the reverse order. But any other order than mine seems to me to make nonsense. The scholar must know his subject. It is bad if he is a poor teacher, and distressing if he is a social disgrace. But neither is fatal if he is a first-rate scholar. Unsound scholarships by contrast, is not to be tolerated.
A university, then, is or ought to be a community of scholars. Without scholars there can be no university. The first obligation of a scholar is to his branch of learning-to keep abreast of it, to integrate new knowledge and ideas with old, and if possible to contribute new knowledge or ideas to it. And these obligations take precedence over all others. This is the unique function of the university, the function that sets it apart from all other educational institutions. By how well it fulfills this function will it, in the end, be judged. In pursuing these obligations the scholar must have absolute freedom to explore whatever scholarly paths page 13 beckon him; and to record, publish and disseminate whatever new finding his explorations lead him to. This is not teaching and it it not always research, but it is a prerequisite of both. This is the ingredient that is omitted from almost all public discussion and lay thinking about the university.
To state that the special role of the university lies in the devotion of its scholars to their branches of learning is to state too little. It leaves untouched the other two duties that I set the university scholar—his duty to his students and his duty to society outside. I want to take up the second of these since it is the one that has caused me greatest public hubbub.
Irrelevant to Country's Needs
The government of the day is not providing $X million a year for university staff to follow their own scholastic whims. And the rather steady flow of letters to the editors of the daily newspapers make it quite dear that ordinary members of the public are at one with their government in considering the universities to be publicly accountable. Employers of university graduates are vocal too, from time to time, sometimes about the unsuitability of graduates for the jobs for which they are supposed to be trained, sometimes about the unavailability of graduates in fields important in New Zealand. There has been a good deal of criticism lately of the irrelevance of some university studies to the needs of the country. A related undertone of comment, not usually heard publicly, is that the universities in their teaching actually predispose their students against employment in business and industry—and, one might also add, in school-teaching, which some university teachers seem to regard as a lowly occupation.
University research programmes
In the past the universities have been, if not insensitive, at least unresponsive to criticism of this kind. In certain respects the universities cannot be held wholly to blame. In this country a generation or so ago they were financed on a pitiful scale, mere cinderellas. They were consistently denied the opportunity to take on their unique role, the pursuit of knowledge. Research was not to be a function of the universities in New Zealand, but was to be done by Government. Those fields in which research began in the New Zealand universities simply reflect what happened to be the interests of determined individuals who saw research as a necessary activity, and found their own ways of initiating it. Today the scale of university funding is such that research is ho longer a virtual impossibility to all but a few dedicated fanatics, but can proceed continuously and effectively over a wide front on modest if not generous budgets.
Government departments with active research programmes complain now that the fields of research in New Zealand universities are not those of importance to New Zealand. Twenty and thirty years ago they could have seen to it that this did not happen, for by appropriate encouragement and funding-and the funding need only have been small—they could have got university departments to embark on research in fields of national importance. We are now in the situation that there are areas of university research within which the direction ought to be changed.
But even now the major government research organisations are grudging in committing resources to bring about changes which they themselves wish to see. The scheme of doctoral fellowships recently introduced under the administrative control of the National Research Advisory Council met steady, and at times strong, opposition from certain government departments on the Council before it was finally adopted. Yet, for a tiny sum, these scholarships provide an opportunity for government research divisions to influence profoundly the directions of university research. Once a university staff member has become involved in a new research field and finds research in it stimulating and productive he is not likely to abandon it. A change of direction then has every chance of being permanent.
There is not much point in raking over the past if one cannot learn from it. There can be hardly any doubt that government departments have been antipathetic to university research in the past The signs of the conflict have not yet all gone. But the universities, which now have large research commitments, in manpower, in capital equipment, and in running costs, must recognize that they now commit consequential sins. Only a minority of the research fields active in the universities are chosen with any kind of eye for the national interest They still reflect the personal enthusiasms of individual university staff. There is not much real coordination of effort, whether between university and industry or government. Or between one university and another, or between one department and another within a single university. Research equipment grows incresingly sophisticated and increasingly expensive. Not to attempt coordination is a waste of scarce cash. It also wastes scarce research talent. One of the standing complaints of all research workers in New Zealand, whether inside or outside the university, is that of Isolation. But if New Zealand research workers were to make a serious effort to coordinate their work, and to operate in related instead of unconnected fields, dialogues could take place frequently and profitably within the confines of the New Zealand coastline. The pace of research could only be quickened. I sometimes suspect that a reason for not doing this is that it would remove the excuse for the overseas study leave that is now so well entrenched a rite m both the universities and the government scientific services. Both kinds of institution are more inclined to give leave of absence for overseas study than to promote exchange or interchange within the country.
I have dealt in some detail with a specific aspect of the university's unresponsiveness to national needs—namely in research. Prodded by such influential public figures as the present Minister of Finance, the universities have recently become much more sensitive to the need for orienting their activities in nationally important directions. But it is not enough just to think about it. Is is important to act.
Action can be slow and reluctant, giving way gradually under insistent pressures from outside. Seen to be unwilling, it is unlikely to win friends. Or it can be initiated willingly within the universities, who can seek out the advice and suggestions of those groups interested in their output. It is clear to me that this is the kind of action needed. Of course, if the universities do not believe a change of direction is desirable, they had better come out into the open and say so, flatly and unequivocally.
The utilitarian view
When changes are urged on the universities, those urging them invariably intend that the universities should be more directly useful to the community. Within the universities there have been and still are those who abhor utility, as if what is utilitarian cannot be scholarly. That is to take much too narrow a view of utility. John Stuart Mill may not have been entirely right when he said, "I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions", but he was not entirely wrong either, given his qualification that "it must be utility in its largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of a man as a progressive being". The present enormous investment by the state in the universities reflects the view that the universities have a utility, not perhaps recognized 40 years ago; and the universities have a duty to respond to that view. There is nothing incompatible between the primary objective of the university as I have defined it earlier—namely the pursuit of knowledge-and the notion of utility, especially if taken in the broad sense of Mill.
Educating to Meet Demands
Two difficulties that a university must face when considering what useful functions it should undertake are, first, the difficulty of knowing or discovering what utilities should best be pursued and, second, the difficulty of responding flexibly to changes in these as changes are called for. The demands of governments, employers, lobbying groups and their spokesmen are often clamorous, often also changeable, sometimes ill-informed. The university has to be able to determine the real merits of the demands put to it. Most group requests contain at least an element of self-promotion. Few groups are entirely devoid of the taint of status-seeking. Almost all tend to call for an education for all the group that is strictly needed only for a select fraction.
Another problem in educating to meet demands is that needs may change quite sharply. Two or three years ago it was possible to ask (and, if my memory serves me correctly, a Minister of the Crown did publicly ask) the universities why they were producing so many more geologists than the country could possibly employ. At that time the reply could be little more than an embarrassed silence. At this present moment, however, the demand for geologists exceeds the graduation rate.
The pressures on the university come, of course, from various sources. Employers may want one thing, students another. The university is not merely a factory for producing units of manpower trained to do directly useful tasks. It is in institution of higher learning, and not a few students come to it simply for that reason-to study a subject for its own interest. In a well-to-do society the right to such an education ought surely to be as automatic for those who can benefit from it as the right to vaccination or to an old-age pension. Yet this is not universally agreed and only ten days ago a writer to the Auckland Star was denying it on the grounds that a university education was of benefit only to the student who took it and not to the community at large.
Despite the sometimes conflicting requirements of employer and student, despite the difficulty of establishing real needs, and despite the periodic violent fluctuations in demand for graduates in specific fields, the universities must take account of the national requirements for trained people. If they default in this, they cannot expect, and, in my view, do not deserve the massive support the state has recently accorded them. Up to now serious attempts at establishing real needs for university graduates have generally been made only after prompting by the University Grants Committee. I wish I could say that I thought the answers given by the universities have invariably been the result of dispassionate study. I believe university groups as a whole have been slow to come to grips with the questions of what sorts of graduate they should be producing and how many of each. The answers cannot be exact, of course, but even rough answers would be better than none. Many university academics, however, are more interested in preserving and extending the established pattern of their own discipline than investigating new patterns that might be more generally valuable to the community.
Frequent Dialogue Brings Action
Certain groups within the university do respond to expressed needs. These comprise the professional schools—medicine, law, architecture, engineering, dentistry, and so on. If I dwell a little on engineering here, it is only because I know it better than the others, not because I think it displays any exceptional virtues. The engineering faculties of both universities include representatives of the New Zealand Institution of Engineers. The Auckland faculty also includes representatives from industry, and Canterbury may well have a similar arrangement. The Education Committee of the Council of the Institution of Engineers includes a representative from each school of engineering. The dialogue between the profession and the teaching institutions is thus fairly frequent. The schools of engineering are also in continual touch with employers of engineering graduates, partly because of the vacation employment experience that undergraduates have to acquire, partly because most of the recruiting of new graduates is done by the employer making direct contact with the engineering schools. Both schools make use of practising engineers to give occasional lectures. Similar practices hold in other professional schools, although there will be differences in detail. Thus as the requirements of a profession alter, the teaching pattern can respond. Indeed the schools of engineering take some pride in the fact that they give a lead as often as they follow, and doubtless this will also be true in other professional schools. This is not to say that all is perfect in the teaching curricula of the schools of engineering. Complaints are heard from time to time. But the virtue of the situation is that there is a real exchange of views. The complaints are heard; and action generally follows.
Response to reform needs
It is to me striking that in the years over which I have been associated with this university, there have been major revisions of the degree statutes in all of the faculties with professional affiliations—law, architecture, engineering and commerce, whereas the B.A. remains hardly altered, and the B.Sc. only recently by a partial and rather messy development of an honours stream in some subjects.
It could be argued that the ability of the professional schools to introduce reforms is a function of their small size as much as of their responsiveness to the demands of the professions. It may be so, for at Auckland both the fine arts and music faculties have also introduced major changes. The two factors are not unrelated., however. The arts faculty is large because it spans such a broad range of subjects. It is the same breadth of interest that makes its teaching objectives so diffuse. Its members have a commitment to no employer, no group of employers, no particular profession. The largest single employer of arts graduates is, I suppose, the Education Department, but no special service is offered in the form of a degree structure tailored to suit intending teachers. Indeed this university recently declined to develop such a degree.
It is not hard to think of areas in which there is need for well qualified persons with a specific training at the level at which the university operates, but which it does not currently serve. Many of these cut across the traditional subject boundaries, that is are interdisciplinary in nature. Local-body and government administrators, social workers of various kinds, persons to work in industrial relations and personnel management are but a few examples besides teachers. The universities could produce such people, but are making, so far as I know, little attempt to do so. The holder of a general B.A. is not trained for such jobs. He or she may have the right talents, but hardly any of the formal subject matter of his or her B.A. will be of the slightest direct use. Moreover, further study for an M.A. is altogether too specialized, and is quite the wrong way to go. The hoary old chestnut that the BA produces a trained mind will not do for an answer. The employer rightly asks, "Trained for what?" According to my reading there is not much solid scientifically respectable evidence to support the contention that a training in one field fits a person to perform well in another.
Members of arts departments seem to have such a strong discipline fixation that they are unsympathetic to the notion of a vocationally oriented degree, even though it be arts-dominated. Vocation seems to be a disreputable word. The University of Auckland has over 3100 arts students. When those heading for teaching are subtracted there is still left a goodly total. What are they going to do on graduation? "What docs it matter?" you may say in answer. "They have a good general education." They night, however, have been given both a good education and a specific training in a field of immediate use. The women amongst them might not then have had to go straight to a secretarial college in order to learn enough to cam enough to support life.
If I am critical of the arts degree, let it not be thought that I am delighted with the sciences. In science there is an almost equal discipline fixation. Added to it is the belief, religious in intensity, that science is dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the universe. With the latter I agree. Who am I to argue with Karl Popper: "All science is cosmology, the problem of understanding the world, ourselves, and our knowledge as part of it."
But this, of course, is not the popular view of science. The popular view confuses science with technology. A flight to the moon is hailed as an achievement of science whereas it is nothing of the kind. And it has to be accepted that most science graduates will not be helping unravel the secrets of the universe. Indeed most are not capable of it If they are not teaching, they will be working in industry. They will be employed as applied scientists—technologists. But how many science departments in the country offer any courses in the industrial application! of their subject? I can name some, but not many. How many, for that matter, combine their courses with teacher-training courses to suit the many page 14 science graduates needed in secondary schools and technical institutes?
I would not advocate that the universities should enter into teaching vocationally oriented arts and science degrees if I thought that doing this would endanger the primary commitment of the universities to scholarship. I have already said, and I want to repeat it, that utility and scholarly endeavour are not incompatible. They never have been. The first western universities were vocational in character. I wish I could say with my hand on my heart and looking the Minister of Finance straight in the eye that our universities were fulfilling their role of serving the community to the uttermost limit consistent with their pursuit of knowledge. Frankly, I think a sizeable section of the university is wasting the taxpayers' money. Too much of the time of too many of its staff is devoted to formal studies that, while worthwhile in themselves, are not intrinsically more worthwhile than other studies of more use to the community. I would like to see the universities introduce a range of degree structures solidly grounded in arts and science but with clear vocational ends. I think the need is overdue, and I think large numbers of students as well as employers would welcome such a change. Doing this would, moreover, combine the activities of arts and science departments with those of the professional schools. This, in itself, would produce an uncountable gain in communication across boundaries that are by tradition seldom crossed.
Laughter in the Corridors of Power
Professor W.H. Oliver in a thoughtful and appealing paper presented to the Conference of this Association held in May 1968 put the thesis that the real value of studies in the humanities had to be seen in terms of the style it introduced into life, including political and public life. That simply won't do. Can't you hear the ringing laughter in the corridors of power?
Scholar's duty to students
I have spent a good deal of time discussing the third of the university scholar's duties, namely to society outside: I have dwelt, moreover, almost wholly on ways in which the university can serve society directly, in particular by providing a greater range of vocationally oriented courses. I have hardly touched on the second of my university scholar's duties, that to his students. It is, of course, a vital duty. The day when students sal wide-eyed at the feet of their Gamaliel is long gone, but the university teacher wants still to do more than impart a sound grasp of his subject to each learner: he still wants to kindle the living spark of enthusiasm. At least I imagine he docs. Not many of us succeed too well in either of these objectives, but not, I think, for want of trying. Unfortunately, the teachers, on average, are no belter as teachers than are the students as students.
At the end of the last lecture of the last week of last term I was approached by a group of three or four students who, very politely, asked me whether I could please slow down my lecturing pace. They said they had discussed this together, and with others, before coming to see me. They were all agreed that they couldn't lake down the diagrams that I drew on the blackboard and also listen to all that 1 was saying after I had drawn them. It's a little distressing, of course, lo be told after nearly 20 years of lecturing that one is still going too fast, still only an average lecturer, but they were earnest and serious, and anxious to learn and one had to accept that they meant what they said. I agreed that I would slow down a bit. But I asked them whether, since we were being candid with each other, they would mind telling me if they had had this trouble in the last lecture. Oh yes, they had. Had they, I asked, and would they please give me a straight answer, had they read the set re ailing before they came to the class. Well, no they hadn't. What, none of you. Well, no, not really. Perhaps it wasn't quite fair of me lo point out that over half of the material of mat lecture, as of all those preceding it, was in the set reading in the set text, and that most of the diagrams were there too. As usual, the students turned out to be as well-intentioned as the lecturer—and about as short of perfect in performance.
Students more vocal
But it is good to have the students becoming more vocal and less passive about the quality of the courses and their presentation. I have little sympathy for notions of student government (let's remember the fate of Bologna) but I do most strongly believe that it is important to get student reactions fed back to the letturing staff and not less important that staff respond constructively.
Students have, of course, various motives for coming to university. They may see the university as a purveyor of meal tickets, as the first remove from the blight of parental control, as a marriage bureau, as a fun-house for a few years, as a place for a better education, as a mere postponement of the difficult derision of "What shall I do?" It is probably a fair guess that most come to it as a stepping stone to a job. But for many in arts and science the vision of "job' is ill-resolved, fuzzy, lacking in focus. The university probably does not help much in sharpening up the picture. Indeed it may simply blur it further. In this respect we do the student poor service. I may have given the impression earlier that I am totally opposed to the general B.A. This I am not. But I cannot think that all of those enrolled in arts, and they amount to one third of the student population at Auckland, are best served by such a programme of study. Most would, I think, welcome some clearer vocational goals and a range of courses leading to them. It may be that the general B.A. should be taken by many. It may also be that the kind of vocational studies I have advocated are best done as post-bachelors' diplomas. But I myself, however, incline to the view that the vocational teaching should not be postponed as long as that. I think it would best appear in the second year of study, after the first 'filtration' year has been passed. I would make similar comments in respect of the B.Sc. The growing stream of B.Sc's crossing to engineering indicates that the students themselves feel a lack in their science degree when they view it as a preparation for industrial employment. Courses in applied aspects of the main physical sciences could fill valuable gaps in the science curricula.
As a final comment on the university's duty to its students I should like to point out what is often forgotten in public criticism of the universities, namely that the university scholar in fulfilling his duly to his students is at the same time serving society outside. These students of his will enter the community, and in doing so, will make their contribution to it throughout their lives.
To conclude this somewhat discursive talk I should like to touch on two of the questions that I posed earlier. The first of these was "Does the university have a port to play in political affairs?" and the second was "Is the university an instrument of social justice?"
University's political role
I do not believe ihe university as a corporate body has any direct part to play in political affairs. Its part surely lies in teaching its students to understand the arts and artifices of politics, and in offering ethical and moral commentary on them; and then leaving each student lo the conclusions of his own intelligence and conscience. Individual members of the university, staff and student alike, can and at limes will play significant political roles. But the diversity alone of the views to be found within a university make corporate action impossible. It is not conceivable to me that the university as a body corporate con adopt an official stance on, to take today's issue, rugby football with South Africa.
I feel much the same about the university as an instrument of social justice. It can be effective by teaching what social justice is or may be, by sending out into the community graduates who understand what liberty and social justice mean, and what are the ways of preserving and extending them. On the whole the university does little about this in formal and organized ways. My youthful experience was that ideas of this kind developed largely by discussion with one's fellow students—often in the late hours of the night or the small hours of morning. I imagine it is much the same today. My chief regret about engineering students is that they don't seem to do much of this, perhaps because their time is so heavily taken up with courscwork. As a result their views are usually sedately conservative on all subjects except, engineering. I extend my regrets also to the other professions, which seem equally sedate and conservative—presumably for the same reason.
Cowardice in the Milner Affair
Sometimes the university can speak out collectively on matters of social justice, and it must do so when it is itself involved in such on, issue. The Godfrey 'spy case' of some years ago was one in which this university did take a firm Stand. There are some who think it has not shone so well more recently. It behaved, I shall always believe, with cowardice in the Milner affair a couple of years back-albeit with rather inconspicuous cowardice. A month or so ago it declined to make a public stand in support of complaints about police behaviour in the Agnew affair, although few within the university who have seen the evidence seem inclined to deny its ' truth.
Internally, universities talk a great deal about freedom. But they do not often come out Strongly for it in public, especially if it means taking an unpopular stand. Thomas Jefferson, writing the constitution of the University of Virginia, pictured a body of scholars dedicated to the criticism of a society that would resist every change that endangered its comforts. These scholars, he believed, "would unmask usurpation, and monopolies of honours, wealth and power". But universities have rarely been centres of political dissent, and in New Zealand almost never. Besides. Mr Gail is watching us. And Mr Gair has said the money can be cut off.