The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
The feeling for a good human job anywhere, the admiration of the really admirable, the disesteem of what is cheap, trashy, and impermanent—this is what we call the critical sense, the sense for ideal values. It is the better part of what men know as wisdom.—William James.
Some attending the Jubilee Celebrations were present at the ceremonies connected with the opening of the College. They are the favoured few who are able to survey in the span of one memory the long journey from 1899 to 1949. As one who joined the pilgrimage in 1904, after the hectic days of the "battle of the sites" were over, I have no personal knowledge of the first difficult but glorious years. Fancy the audacity—or was it ignorance?—of our political leaders who were prepared to found a university college on an annual grant of £4,000, a considerable part of which had to be devoted to school scholarships!
But I have seen the College grow from small things to great, have known the foundation professors and the founder of the College, Sir Robert Stout, have been privileged to watch academic leaders and teachers who brought rare gifts to the College and spent themselves in its service, I have known on the field, in the social hall, and in the classroom generations of students who came not only to take what Victoria had to offer but to render that service without which the work of the university would be poor, stale and unprofitable.
To me therefore has been allotted the task of writing this foreword; I shall content myself by trying to answer two questions: What has the College done for the Community? What has the Community done for the College?
Even a cursory survey of the past five decades shows clearly enough that the College has made a very worthy contribution to the life of the people. Men and women of Victoria have occupied, and are occupying, positions of responsibility in all spheres of public life. In Parliament and in local body administration, on the Bench and at the Bar, in the pulpit and in the Church Assembly, in the educational life of the country (primary, secondary, university), in the Public Service, in the great Social Services (public and private), in peace and war, we find in posts of influence men and women who look to The Old Clay Patch with gratitude and affection. Nor must we overlook the labours of the common man or woman, those who by their conscientious and self-denying efforts carry on their shoulders the essential work of the community and bear forward the great traditions of the race.
We may obtain more specific replies to our first question if we consider with what success Victoria has performed the essential functions of a university. The first function of a university is to be the guardian of the truth, it is the custodian of the standards and ideals of the intellectual life of the community. It must try to ensure that what is proved true is conserved, that all that is based on error is exposed and eliminated. It cannot be claimed of any institution that it never failed on some occasion to attain this end, but the record of the College has been an enviable one. There has never been a traditional point of view that all were expected to take; there have always been dissenting groups which have, except on very rare occasions, been given full tolerance. At least twice in its brief history the College has been called upon to defend academic freedom, and, once, to resist the pressure of traditional methods. In face of these challenges, the College did not fail. It is not easy for an institution whose resources come mainly from the State to be really independent, but again, with very few exceptions, both the leaders of the State and the members of the College have not lacked sympathy and toleration.
The means by which a university inspires regard for truth are two: teaching and research. It is not to be expected that all the members of any university staff will be strong in both these aspects of its work. Happy is the institution whose collective staff is prepared in both parts. Every university must have those who are able to stimulate its students to distinguish between the true and the false and to follow the true whithersoever it may lead. Its main purpose must be to train its members to think clearly and honestly; it is not part of its duty to determine what they should think. "The full responsibility of a university is discharged only when its students are taught to be free-thinking, free-acting, independent persons and every movement calculated to indoctrinate youth with special social theories or with a special kind of political philosophy is subversive of the needs of a democratic society." In this regard the College record has been good. A College which has had on its staff men like the four foundation professors and von Zedlitz, Kirk, Salmond, Picken—to mention only some—is a College than can hold its head high.
It is a common story that in the early years academic tradition based on external examination, under-staffing, and lack of facilities, made research difficult. Yet Easterfield began with research technique, and the contributions of men like Salmond, Maclaurin, Sommerville, Laby, Cotton are those of which any university might be proud, and have developed in the College the spirit of research of which the strongest evidence is provided by the achievements of successive generations of students, a number of whom are now members of the staff engaged in fundamental investigations.
What has the community done for the College?page 13
If we treat the term "community" distributively, as the logicians say, and consider what individual members of the community have done for Victoria we shall find it has had, and still has, many good friends.
There must be strong vitality in an institution that can attract the voluntary administrative labours of such men as Sir Robert Stout, Sir Francis Bell, Sir Hubert Ostler, Clement Watson, Phineas Levi, and the many others who spared neither time nor effort in the management of an institution which, especially in the earlier years, was expected to do so much with so little. Among our good friends also are our benefactors, who, by their aid, have widened and deepened the life of the College. The magnificent gift of William Weir for the foundation of a men's hostel deserved a better fate at the hands of political leaders than a refusal to honour the pledge that a subsidy would be paid. This default has narrowed the possible achievements of Weir House and made its service as a home for students a much more difficult task. Scholarships, prizes, gifts to the Library, are all evidence of the generous sympathy the work of the College has aroused. This good feeling has not been confined to New Zealand as is shown by the very welcome support given to the Library, the Art Room and the Department of Music by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. But, in addition to those who have given us material assistance, there have been many good friends who supported the College authorities in difficult days when questions of principle were at stake. This support will long be gratefully remembered by a College which was strengthened and held constant in its purpose by the unselfish encouragement of many.
To all these groups succeeding generations of students will owe much and from these deeds will draw inspiration.
In the collective sense of the logician, community covers two groups: the State and the civic community. The records show that the Government has been increasingly prepared to provide the sinews of war, but, at the moment, its good will is limited by the lack of materials and labour, without which additional accommodation so urgently needed cannot be provided. The University can only hope that, when things return to normal, the State will provide the capital expenditure and annual grants that will enable Victoria to be as well provided with accommodation, staff and equipment as similar institutions in other parts of the British Commonwealth.
As far as the Corporation of the City of Wellington is concerned it can hardly be said that it has discovered the University. It is true that since 1915 there has been on the Council of Victoria College a representative of the City Council; and it is to be hoped that at the centenary of Victoria it will be the privilege of the historian to record the recognition and support given by the City Corporation to the University in its midst.
Perchance in a year of Jubilee we are too prone to cast our eyes backward. Man, however, sits on the saddle-back of time and looks before and after. It has been truly said "A nation that thinks in terms of tomorrow moves on; a nation that thinks in terms of yesterday perishes." The world of the future will belong to the men and women whose understanding of their world and their fellows is based on knowledge, and who have the courage and character to build upon it.
T. A. Hunter, Principal.