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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939

Professor Sir Thomas Hunter

page 22

Professor Sir Thomas Hunter

When the Birthday Honours list revealed that the patent of Knight Bachelor was conferred on the Principal of Victoria College, one left that the distinction was distributed in several directions. In addition to the well merited honour to Professor Hunter himself, It was a recognition of the College and of the services of education to the community. Indeed, it is not too much to say that His Majesty's advisers did themselves honour in their choice.

Sir Thomas's association with Victoria College has been a long one. He came here in 1904, as a young man of 27, from the teaching staff of the Waitaki Boys' High School to fill the post of Lecturer in Mental Science and Economics. He was appointed a Professor in 1907 and to the chair of Philosophy two years later. From the beginning he was a force to be reckoned with. His teaching exerted great influence on his students—so great that critics appeared from time to time who deplored this or that tendency in it. These detractors, who could usually be identified as persons who had never set foot within the precincts of the College, invariably overlooked the vital face that Hunter's method of instruction did not tent in one direction or another. It was merely to impart to impart information, without twist or bias, and leave the faces to work like yeast in the leaven of the student mind. He believed in and observed the axiom of C.P. Scott of the "Manchester Guardian": "Comment is free, are sacred." Let us hope that the Philistines will now have the grace to be silent for ever.

Few of the graduates who listen with pride and awe to the familiar Capping formula, "I, Thomas Alexander Hunter, Vice-Chancellor..." realise how much the present standard of New Zealand degrees is due to the efforts of the unassuming man before them. The movement for University reform, which began in earnest in 1910, has led by Victoria College. Writing of the movement in his "History of the University of New Zealand, "Dr. J. C. Beaglehole says: The spearhead (and for a period the spear itself) was found in debate of Hunter, the analytic power of Laby and Picken, the courage and selflessness and certain." Time and its vicissitudes have removed from the arena of active combat all these reformers except Sir Thomas Hunter, who is still in the vanguard as he was thirty years ago. When the University Reform Association was formed in 1910, following shortly upon a public meeting in the Concert Chamber of the Wellington Town Hall, he was appointed the first secretary; and he was one of the editors of a persuasive and influential pamphlet on the subject published a year later, under the title of "University Reform in New Zealand" There was much opposition to the proposals of the reformers and the continuous struggle for improvement would have wearied a less dauntless fighter. But both in the Senate, of which he has been a member since 1912, and outside it, Sir Thomas has steadily and persistently carried forward the cause which he espoused so long ago.

No small part of Sir Thomas Hunter's success in accomplishing has been due to superior diplomacy. He wastes no time in tilting at impregnable windmills. He recognises that a temporary retreat is sometimes the best strategy; he knows when it is wiser to accept an adjournment and hope for a better day. His proposals are never found to conflict with the standing orders. Yet even more important is the face that when he makes a statement to the senate or the College Council, there is such complete confidence in his judgment and candour that further investigation seems unnecessary. To his genius for administration the reorganisation of this College since he became Principal will bear sufficient testimony. In earlier years he was prominent in Rugby and tennis councils, and was responsible for bringing the Davis Cup contest to New Zealand for the first time.

page 23

It is related of Sir Thomas that as a footballer he never failed to tackle, no matter what the odds were. He has shown the same pluck in the larger game of life; and it is surely a matter of great satisfaction to University men and women everywhere that valour in the intellectual field now has its recognition and its reward, as much as Physical gallantry on land or sea.