The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, 1939
The University, Its Publications and the World
The University, Its Publications and the World
Although circulation figures, at any rate at Victoria and Auckland, show that New Zealand students do not particularly want to read our present student publications, this year has seen the birth of another, this time the work of the N.Z.U. Press Bureau. The probability of "Rostrum's" competing with the annual publications of the Colleges is fully recognised by its producers: indeed, both the Editor and Mr. Kennedy, chairman of the Press Bureau, suggest that "Rostrum" should displace these rivals "which have become," says Mr. Kennedy, "the last retreat and expression of university parochialism."
In inveighing against "parochialism" these gentlemen are assured of the sympathy of those connected with V.U.C. journalism; for was not that the most damning of the charges levelled against the old "Smad" (vide "Spike" 1937), and is not the chief plank in the policy of "Salient" "to link the University more closely to the realities of the world"?
Now, none will deny that what is ordinarily meant by parochialism, the preoccupation with petty local concerns to the exclusion of national and general topics, is a most pernicious evil, in the University no less than elsewhere. But has not the reaction against this evil, like all reactions, gone too far? Judging from "Salient" and "Rostrum," I would say that our aim has become to get as far away as possible from the University and to essay nothing less than the problems of the world. We fear not at all the rivalry of the commercial press. "It is obvious," wrote Mr. O. A. E. Hughan in the 1937 "Spike," "that the student mind, with its superior opportunities, should be able to analyse current happenings more intelligently than out regimented and venal press." But is it so obvious? What are these "superior opportunities of the student mind?' The student is not venal, I will grant; but, apart from that, I consider he is rather less than more qualified than his fellow citizens to analyse current happenings. The Chair of Political Science recently established at V.U.C. may do something to remove the political ignorance of those who take advantage of it; but others will continue in their abysmal ignorance of the fundamentals of politics, sociology, economics and thinking generally. The part-time student, who so greatly preponderates among us, has no time to study more than his own side of any question; and if he reads at all deeply even into that, it can only be at the sacrifice of his university work. He is then not a typical student at all. It is difficult for him to avoid the charge of being at the University only to bask in the admiration of the younger students or to make converts to his own point of view.
The superior opportunities of most students to analyse current happenings thus seem to me to be non-existent. However, there are questions which they are qualified to deal with, questions which are now almost entirely neglected, but which vitally affect our very existence as students. I mean matters such as university reform, student social and intellectual life, and the relationships between the sciences and the arts, and between the University and the world. We have become used to seeing these relegated to the background in "Salient," but it will be a great pity if 'Rostrum" also fails to give them their due. Certainly there were two articles on them in the first edition, a fine survey of the whole position of the New Zealand University Colleges by Mr. F. A. de la Mare, and a thoughtful and suggestive article on our libraries; but the rest of the space was devoted to articles on the various imperfections, real and alleged, of our "capitalist" society.
I recognise that these articles may have been the best sent in, and I am far from agreeing with the recommendation of the correspondent who urged "That articles which are controversial, e.g. in praise of the Government, anti-war, anti-Chamberlain, distinctly Leftist, or radical, be cut down to a minimum page 36 in this first issue." However, I am glad there were no anti-Chamberlain articles. The clause in the Press Bureau circular "preferably under a New Zealand sun," is a wise one. It is in its articles on the international situation, particularly when they appear as editorials, that I consider "Salient" trespasses furthest outside the scope of a University paper. When every student has access to European and American reviews, digests and periodicals giving every point of view on international affairs, what need is there to supplement them with second-and third-hand matter in "Salient"? Of course, the students' attitude in time of war is a subject entirely appropriate to either "Salient" or "Rostrum," but discussion of it should be based on fundamental principles and accredited facts, not on individual interpretation of the entirely inadequate evidence available here. To my mind the only right way for us to treat foreign affairs is through reviews of books and periodicals, in which at least an attempt at impartiality should be made.
But to return to "Rostrum" Far too many articles are purely critical. This defect is recognised by the Editor, who says "The preponderantly critical attitude is forced upon us as much by social abuses as by our own immaturity. Limitations of space, too, forbid constructive suggestions except in a limited field." I doubt if the excuses are valid, particularly the last. Far too much space is taken up in a mere enumeration of the already well-known evils of advertising, the press and the cinema, while the remedies and their efficacy are supposed to be taken for granted, or we are told dogmatically that "International Socialism is the only remedy" Would it not be infinitely more valuable to take the obvious evils for granted, and to devote the bulk of the article to showing how some new system (e.g. some particular form of Socialism or of Christian state) would eliminate present evils without bringing greater ones in its train? Better still, why not suggest what the University can do about the matter? I am sure, for example, that science and law students could collaborate in mitigating the evils of advertising, if only a lead were given. Constructive discussion might well lead to Honours students taking some aspect of the problem as a subject for their theses.
But even as purely critical articles many of those published seem to me to be almost worthless. The chief fault is a total incapacity to discriminate. The condemnations are much too sweeping. Every force that is opposed to complete Socialism is denounced as a capitalist vested interest, as Fascist, as reactionary. The press, the theatres, the Church (not the Churches, mark you), all come under the general condemnation. A few extreme instances of abuses, however unrepresentative, and a few emotionally charged labels are sufficient to damn a whole class of institutions. I could cite many instances to show that Mr. Meek's "Technique of Reaction" is even more the "Technique of Revolution" I noted particularly the way in which the argument from the person to the group, or an equally fallacious modification of it, was used to condemn the Christian Churches. Some Christians and some sects are obviously hypocritical and corrupt; so therefore are all. What is the use of inveighing against the propaganda of our opponents if we unscrupulously and inexcusably use the same methods ourselves?
And one last unfavourable comment. Might I ask what justification can be found for the publication of "Dance, Puppy, Dance"? Would not the author of the quotation which precedes it be one of the first to condemn such deliberate wallowing in indecency?
For all my destructive comments, however, I would not say that "Rostrum" has not a legitimate place in University journalism. Better than any other publication, it can serve two most important functions those of showing each College what the others are thinking (if contributions are sufficiently representative), and of showing the general public what the Universities are thinking, and what they are doing. It should not try to oust the College annuals, as it would only cramp the legitimate individual development of the Colleges, which are really independent entities. The University of New Zealand can never have any real existence except as an examining body.
Somewhat out of place as a postscript to this article, I should like to express my admiration of the truly artistic lay-out of the new periodical. It is doubly satisfying in that it is the work of the Caxton Press, which came into existence with the st intention of fostering original literary effort in this country. If "Rostrum" is any indication, it is more than justifying itself.
—W. S. Mitchell.