The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939
No publication can presume to hold itself out as the opinion of the University, the view of a nation, etcetera. The most it can possibly do is to indicate the attitudes of a few. To say that "Spike" either in its editorial or conglomeration of articles is the opinion of Victoria University College is absurd and not according to fact, as it is to postulate that the institution is socialistic, nationalistic, a retreat for bachanalian revellers, or something else equally disturbing. Might I even have the temerity to disagree with those editors who, in the past, have ventured to express tendencies. A tendency could only be arrived at by a scientifically conducted investigation. The hypotheses previously stated appear to have been based not on these lines but on such isolations as result of debating society motions and expressions, of a particular ambit of confréres. That such tendencies can be accepted as accurate seems doubly doubtful, as the generalisations must be fallacious. So "Spike" is not opinion of the College. Any such expression would require a considerable volume—probably as large as any single book published.
On these grounds a discussion of the printed word might be of some moment. Its utlisation is fraught with dangers, for it may, lead people to assume a homogeneousness when a series of conflicts is the truth, or it may be a totally inadequate medium for communication. By this latter is meant what I put into print (as my thoughts) will be interpreted and conditioned by the beliefs that you hold. And hence a grouping of my words may convey to you something entirely different so what I intend. The mere definiteness of the printed word as opposed to the spoken (which can be explained and elaborated ad lib) is an immediate disadvantage. For to obviate this world require an almost impossible effort of contacting all readers. As Ezra Pound has said, |You make laws (written) and they become mere mare's nests for graft and discussion. The meaning is to be determined etc." Thus it would seem that the only writing that can acquire any true significance is that which is factual, i.e. such things are—and that is as far as one can go. This would imply that its content could only be the result of a scientifically conducted process. However even the reader of facts may already have acquired connected beliefs which may bias him in favour of those beliefs, and even influence him to reject facts in favour of beliefs. It would be possible to envisage an individual acquiring a belief in beliefs. Now what does this signify in a university? It is this. A major portion of the work at this institution is composed of a study of matter conveyed by printed words. This may be facts or beliefs. The vital thing is to distinguish the two, and that can only be accomplished by the application of the material to, or the observation of society or the particular phenomena in question. Failure to do this must lead to confusion and chaos. To look at society or phenomena dogmatically is to realise that it is in constant motion and that status quo is a belief. So much for typographical vagaries.
Continuing. Recently I perused an article by Mr. de la Mare on "New Zealand and the Ideal University." Firstly I must confess a certain suspicion of idealists. Their "ivory towerishness" is a convenient form of attempted escapism. Idealist de la Mare (in no derogatory sense) proceeds is a typical fashion. He would set aside "the University" in sylvan, rural surroundings, apart from the grime and muck of the city, "with certain experts free from vulgar prejudice and ambition, competent in scholarship and devoted to wisdom; men who seek truth without consideration of commercial profit." Admirable! Presumably the students are to also acquire these desirable attributes. But where is the nigger in the woodpile? Is it that Mr. de la Mare makes the fundamental mistake of assuming that the University can be divorced from social life? That the University can be a separate and complete organism is an ideal creation. He forgets that the University is in society as society is in the University—that one cannot be chopped from the other but each is intimately interwoven into the other. If the organisation of the community demands that the University shall do and provide certain things so the University will do and provide those things. As society is research, the seeking of truth, of knowledge, without consideration of commercial page 8 profit are Utopias. It is one thing to talk about Utopias, it is another to change society to realise them. Mr. de la Mare blames systems but omits to mention that men make the systems. And so he condemns those students who are unfortunate enough not to be able to devote full time to University education. On top of this he would exclude the latter from the little benefit he or she does derive from contact with cultural activities. Finally, Mr. de la Mare says, "The University is the one human institution where truth is followed for its own sale." Such a radical exclusion is surprising indeed! but the Ivory Tower is complete.
It is an historical fact that "the mission of the University of New Zealand has not been to facilitate the diffusion of that culture which its founders sincerely desired to see spread from one end of the colony to the other; but to provide cheap professional schools for the supply of duly certificated lawyers, doctors, bank clerks, dentists, and teachers. This mission, in itself, is not contemptible and to condemn it is a mark of unhistorical snobbery." (Tut tut, Mr. de la!) It seems that this will be the case for some considerable time to come for New Zealand politics have moved rightly or wrongly on a "roads and bridges" basis. The most that can be done at the present is to improve our existing institutions by such alterations as will enable them to give the greatest efficiency. "The country might, perhaps, be able, economically, to afford yearly £ 400,000 for University education but to expect it thus to quadruple its present expenditure would be to move in the regions of abstraction exalted but alone. Our country... does not think along these lines." That a large percentage of students attending lectures are part-timers is a fact. It is also true that to provide a University education by which these students could be maintained on a full time basis would require firstly, that the tuition be gratuitous and secondly, that the maintenance (board, text-books, etc.) be likewise, and lastly there must be a reasonable guarantee that adequate recognition will be given in occupational status at the conclusion. Failing these requisites, which would require monetary grants of considerable magnitude, the large percentage must continue to following "God and Mammon."
(Quotations from "The University of New Zealand " —an historical study J. C. Beaglehole.)page break