The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1908
The Spike or Victoria College Review
The Spike or Victoria College Review
The Editorial Committee invites contributions, either in prose or verse, on any subject of general interest. from students or officials connected with the College. All literary communications should be addressed to The Editor, Victoria College, Wellington.
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"I was just going to say, when I was interrupted, that one of the many ways of classifying minds is under the heads of arithmetical and algebraical intellects. All economical and practical wisdom is an extension or variation of the following arithmetical formula: 2+2=4. Every philosophical proposition has the more general character of the expression a+b=c.
I have an immense respect for a man of talents plus 'the mathematics'."
—The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table.
As his Presidential Address to the College Debating Society. Professor Picken recently delivered a speech on the subject of "University Ideals" which excited very great interest both amongst students and members of the outside public, and dealt so comprehensively with so many of the important questions and difficulties of the true College life that we regret we are unable to publish the address in full.
The Spike is so warmly in accord with the Professor's views (on some aspects of which it proposes to enlarge a little) that it is pleasantly surprised to find that he hits left it one or two opportunities of justifying its name and its existence as an impartial observer, constitutionally bound over as it is not to keep the peace with any man, much less a Professor.page 6
As a youthful student-body still on the highroad to maturity and anxious to avoid errors by the wayside, we feel a particular interest in the Professor's experience of older institutions. While he deplored the dangerous tendency of modern University life to give pride of place to the College society and to the College function rather than to College studies, it was reassuring to hear that he was keenly alive to the value of real social intercourse amongst students—intercourse of the kind that is really only possible in the student days before the busy world claims us and scatters us far and wide.
We are not instinctively charitable, and the Professor's sketch of the degenerate tendencies existing in the Home Universities was the more acceptable to us from the comfortable feeling that we, admittedly free as yet from serious blight of the same kind, were indirectly exalted at the expense of our English brothers. The Professor has evidently found time to dip into the study of human nature. Though to-morrow may find us as they are to-day, in the meantime we gaze complacently on their lowered status and glory exceedingly.
However, The Spike at least is far from feeling quite satisfied with the conditions prevailing in our own midst. At the present time, speaking from the general standpoint, we consider that "study" has become the dominating factor of our College life to such an extent that there is a distinct tendency to completely lose sight of the opportunities for social intercourse which College life affords. If it be necessary to run to one extreme or the other, possibly we are in better case than our fellows at Home, but we fail to see why it should be necessary.
It is an unfortunate fact of our New Zealand University life that, because of the practical absence of residential Colleges, and because so many of our students are students and wage-earners at the same time, ideal social intercourse of the kind extolled by Professor Picken—the long discussions with fellow-students over the dying embers—is practically impossible. We are too busy, alas, and have too many other interests claiming our attention to have any time to attempt the cultivation of our friends. But in the meantime are we waking the most of what opportunities we have? Assuredly not. Of the 400 students attending Victoria College how many have a part in the real life of the institution, or ever think of it 'save as the abode of lectures? Probably one half of that number know not the meaning of the term, "College society" in a practical sense though they may occasionally forsake their principles long page 7 enough to attend a College function; yet in the absence of better conditions these are the means by which is to be fostered the growth of that College atmosphere and of that social intercourse and friendliness which should form the background of University culture. We hope that the conditions will so change that our successors will, under happier circumstances, reach nearer to Professor Picken's ideal. In the meantime our University life is what we like to make it, and Professor Picken has at least pointed out the direction in which our future footsteps should lead us.
The pursuit of knowledge should unquestionably take first place in the student's programme if his term at the University is to realise the best results. On this point we are all agreed. But it need not do so to the exclusion of what should really be the remaining component parts of the complete College career. Yet this is what it is doing for too many of us to-day. With a few glaring exceptions our past experience goes to show that the prominent performers in the field and in the social hall may also be looked for with some degree of certainty amongst the academic successes of the year. Active participation in all departments of College life will make for the speediest production of the perfect type of student.
The reason for the prevailing state of affairs may be laid at many doors; "the struggle for existence" and "the commercial spirit of the age" are favourite alleged causes, while we have sometimes had misgivings as to the innate selfishness of a certain type of student. Whatever it may be, there is no controverting the statement that the majority of our students seek the world again without gleaning much from their Alma Mater save the book knowledge necessary to support their claim to be regarded as University bred, which they are not, and a University Degree which, as a guarantee of culture, partakes of the elusiveness of the red herring.
Now for the examination and degree system. Professor Picken, while admitting its value as a factor in the evolutionary process, considers that its day of usefulness is now past, and that the student of the future should be free to study as he pleases (with the advantage of advisory assistance in selecting a course) and that there should be no reward of his labour save that of knowledge attained and truth conserved. With this view we are unable to agree. We understand and appreciate what we believe to be the ideas prompting the Professor's view of the matter, but we are not sure that they apply to every day page 8 conditions. There must always be something to act as the hallmark of mental efficiency, and as such the degree is not to be regarded as a useless ostentation but simply as a credential of so many years' work faithfully performed.
Also, at the outset of the College career it is well to have a definite purpose in view, the non-achievement of which will argue a waste of opportunity. Effort is stimulated in the earlier years, while at the same time is taking place the development of a wider outlook on life which should ensure that the goal, when attained, is not considered an ultimate resting place. Viewed from this standpoint the existence of the degree is a direct inducement to study. Take an extreme case where the sole object of a College course is to obtain a degree for the sake of its commercial value. Had there been no degree there would probably have been no study. Yet even when obtained under such conditions as these the resulting increase of knowledge is a direct benefit to our national life, and the study habit once formed may continue to flourish as a cherished possession long after the base ideal which gave it birth has been swept away by the vigorous onrush of its increasing growth. At any rate if one of the gold-brood can pass four years at Victoria College and still cling to his illusions, it is not a high tribute to ourselves or our leaders. In a minor way, too, degrees and like distinctions have their uses as a means of comparison and as an aid to selection. Imagine for a moment that the lure of gold has proved too strong for one of the occupants of the Professorial Chairs of Victoria College. He departs and the position falls vacant. Two men in England (or possibly 200, if they are abreast of the times and have heard of us) apply for the honour of election to the post. How are their rival claims to be considered? To a great extent by the authentic records of their scholastic attainments gained in generous competition with their fellows.
The real danger of the present system, it seems to us, lies not in the existence of the degree, but in the conditions governing the attainment of that object. Here there seems room for much improvement. The average examination-paper for instance, is not the best test of a student's real knowledge of his subject, but tends to set a premium on "cram" and memory. The only man who is competent to judge a student's progress is the Professor under whom he has been sitting. There is much to he said in favour of the system in vogue in America, where degrees are granted solely on the reports and recommendations of the professors. Of course there is room page 9 for abuse when those gentlemen happen to fall short of the high moral standard generally associated with the fraternity, but we in New Zealand need have no fears on that score. In America also (we have it on the authority of Sir Robert Stout) post-graduate work is encouraged. In New Zealand there is a serious risk that the struggle to obtain a degree may be exalted in the student's mind to stand, not for the means, but for the end. One rung of the ladder has been surmounted, but the heights are still to climb. By the time the requisite amount of study to secure the degree has been accomplished it is to be hoped that the student will have some appreciation of the study-habit for its own sake, which, until he has had some experience of regular study, and been in close contact with men of learning and culture, he could not be expected to possess. It is the part of the Professors to instil this sentiment into the minds of their charges. The existence of the degree only to be gained by a course of general study ensures a foundation of general knowledge which may serve as the basis of continued steady culture. Professor Picken's idea that the student of the future should be a perfectly free agent in his choice of a University course seems to suggest that specialisation in one or more subjects might be indulged from the start of a College career. We think this would be extremely inadvisable. The majority of new students enter College straight from the secondary schools, in many cases ill-prepared, and are very callow individuals indeed. Until the student has gained some general culture, and is in a position to know what he is best fitted for, specialisation should not be unduly encouraged. This point is the more important from the fact that even when it does rest on a broad initial basis of general culture, specialisation is inclined to run to excess, and has so often furnished "the narrow-minded College don who is the world's commonest reproach to the Universities."
It is not for us to encourage conservatism in University affairs. That is not our function, and it can never be forgotton that we have a University Senate. But the fuller life preached by Professor Picken is providentially not dependent on Senates or degrees—its attainment rests with the men and women, professors and students of our Colleges who are willing to lend a little of their brain and sinew to the common cause—perhaps a little to a virtuous Spike, ever ready to champion the oppressed, and to drive a nail in the coffin of Unrighteousness.
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The recent inception of a series of football matches with Sydney University marks a distinct step forward in the history of the athletic life of the University of New Zealand, and the page 10 primary movers are to be heartily congratulated on the success of the initial venture. At one of the many functions tendered to the New Zealand team in Sydney, it was suggested that the idea of liner-University contests at present applied to football was capable of expansion, and that in the future athletic contests might be arranged between the several Australasian institutions somewhat on the lines of the present New Zealand Inter-University College Tournament. Though the difficulties at present confronting such a scheme, notably expense and time, are so great as to appear almost insurmountable, still the New Zealand Colleges are expanding very rapidly, and we think that the idea of instituting such contests should be expressed and allowed to mature. As gatherings of University men these tests would have a deeper significance than that of mere athletic meetings. Competitors would be as friends visiting friends of about the same age, not thrown upon promiscuous hospitality, and should be young enough to learn something from their wanderings.
Associated with the scheme are certain dangers which we cannot afford to overlook. Travelling teams carry the honour of their Universities in their hands, but the exercise of proper care in the selection of representatives, and a clear conception of the responsibilities involved should go far to obviate any risk of regrettable incidents on tour.
At the present time athletics is in grave danger of losing its status as a useful function of our social life and degenerating into a demoralising struggle for superiority on a cash basis. This will surely encourage the growth of the sentiment that all means are well, provided that the game is thereby won.
One duty of the University to the community is to combat all such tendencies, and the best practical method of dealing with this particular case is by actual demonstration of the real aims of sport in contests where individual interests are subordinate to those of pure sport; where there is no room for the "pot-hunter" and where the reward of merit is in the joy of successful strife alone.