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Victoria University of Wellington 1899 ~ 1999 A History

Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven

1 L.R. Richardson, ‘Biology in New Zealand’, The University and the Community, Wellington, 1946, p.245.

2 Richardson, ‘Science at Victoria’, Spike, 1954, pp.8, 11. His figures were 184 (Victoria graduates) out of a total of 560. A similar statistic was cited in Victoria's submission to the Hughes Parry committee: 192 out of 576 MSc graduates in the period 1940–54 were Victoria's (Submissions to Committee on New Zealand Universities, 1959, p.101).

3 C. Watson-Munro, Peacetime Applications of Atomic Energy (inaugural address), Wellington, 1951, pp.7, 9.

4 Science faculty submission to the Watts review of New Zealand universities, 1987, CFU 107: box 49G.

5 Gazette, 20 Feb 1970 (R.W. Hay, chemistry, sabbatical report to the Professorial Board); quinquennial submission, 1970–75 (June 1968), Council minutes, p.396ff.

6 In New Zealand universities as a whole the proportion of students continuing on to a PhD was 35.6% in 1975, 20.6% in 1986 (R. Watts, New Zealand's Universities: partners in national development, Wellington, 1987, p.27). Victoria's 1973 quinquennial submission noted a marked increase in postgraduate enrolments in the non-science faculties over the past quinquennium, while the numbers in science had remained steady. Still, the science departments contributed over half (77 out of 142) of the PhD enrolments that year (with only a sixth of the total university roll).

7 R.L.W. Averill, Physiology – the study of function (inaugural address), Wellington, 1971, p.16.

8 S. Slater, Applied scientific research in Victoria University College – a plan for development, Oct. 1955, VC file 1095: box 2A, R95/24.

9 Annual report for 1962, AJHR, 1963, E–3, p.16. The spate of national development conferences in the 1960s– 70s was also a context for these developments.

10 R.J. Ferrier, From Mysteries to Dilemmas (inaugural address), Wellington, 1971, p.3.

11 A.G. Mackie, Applied Mathematics Yesterday and Today (inaugural address), Wellington, 1964, p.4.

12 The Type B degree was introduced partly in response to a shortage of science teachers in schools. Some saw it as lowering standards. Controversially, it gave some recognition to geography and psychology as ‘sciences’.

13 Preliminary report of the science faculty development committee, Mar. 1969, science faculty (SF) 6: box 20B. These principles were again reaffirmed by the faculty's new, New Developments sub-committee in 1972.

14 Quinquennial submission, 1975–80 (Aug. 1973), Council minutes, 1973, p.1061.

15 University Gazette, July/Aug. 1968. In the 1948–62 period chemistry and physics took over half of the University of New Zealand's research fund grants, and these two disciplines were still leading (ahead of engineering) in the 1980s. The system was biased towards the physical sciences – that is, for the purchase of expensive pieces of equipment and funding for specific, short-term projects – both in practice and in intent.

16 First report of the New Developments sub-committee, Sept. 1972, SF 8: box 20B.

17 Kirk proposed to the college Council in 1903 that it seek government approval to use the island off Island Bay – Tapu-te-ranga – as a Biological Observing Station. When no government grant was forthcoming, he was given permission to raise public funds. Although this initiative was stillborn, he did not give up his plan. Another proposal was before the Council in June 1924 for a Marine Laboratory and Observing Station at Island Bay, for which he hoped to raise £2500 by public subscription, and a modest start was made: there was £14 in the Marine Laboratory Account in October 1924. In 1948 the college's submission on new developments for the grants committee listed as requirements of its Geology, Botany and Zoology departments: ‘field laboratories, including a marine station’, two motor vehicles, ‘one fitted out as a mobile laboratory’, and a launch.

18 Some students complained of victimisation, or of being directed against their will in the subject of their research. Concerns also arose about the suitability and safety of the boats Richardson purchased, adapted and insisted (to the dismay of the department's technician) on maintaining himself. His inventions were notorious (a squid trap that never worked, for example).

19 Richardson, The practice of synthesised instruction, 17 June 1964, VC file 76: box 9E, P29.

20 ‘Court of inquiry’ is not too strong a description. The formal legal nature of the proceedings appears to have been owed to the deputy vice-chancellor, Ian Campbell. The committee, consisting of the vice-chancellor, the chancellor and pro-chancellor, the deputy vice-chancellor, and the dean of science, were seated behind name-plates. The Zoology staff and students appeared one at a time. Richardson was present throughout and given the right of reply. Williams had decided to proceed despite the university solicitor's advice that such a procedure ‘was not the kind of quasi-judicial inquiry which attracts the rules of natural justice’. ‘Nevertheless,’ Williams advised, ‘the sub-committee will no doubt feel without being over formal, natural justice and fair play should be observed’ (memo, 13 Dec. 1963). After page 397 sitting for three and a half days (17–20 December 1963), the committee concluded that the Zoology Department was in ‘a state of unrest and disaffection as between the Head of the Department and all or nearly all of the other members of that department so serious in its nature as to be destructive of the work of the department as a functional unit of the University’. In his defence Richardson denied the numerous accusations made, although he admitted to being cautious in delegating authority. He was outraged that his staff had already discussed their concerns with Williams and Culliford, but that this had been kept secret from him until his summons before the committee. He felt that he had been maliciously victimised and that the department had worked itself into a state of ‘collusive hysteria’. Report of committee on the Zoology Department, 10 Dec. 1963, VC file 76; memo, 13 Dec. 1964, Departmental inquiry (zoology), papers relating to, VUW archives, L 8/2, J.C. Beaglehole Room; Notes on administrative problems, 1963–64, Richardson papers, box 2, J.C. Beaglehole Room.

21 Indeed, Salmon anticipated precisely this in a memo on the future of the department written shortly after Richardson's departure: a department with several professors, administered by a co-ordinating committee with an elected, rotating chairman.

22 Fell had studied Latin and Greek, Gaelic and European languages, as well as science, at Victoria; later Etruscan and hieroglyphics; and founded the Epigraphic Society in America. His theory concerning the influence of Libyan explorers on Polynesian languages was highly controversial.

23 Professorial Board minutes, 8 Oct. 1964, p.523.

24 J.F. McCahon (principal radiation officer), Radioactive contamination in physics department, Victoria University of Wellington, 8 July 1963, VC file 2052: box 6E, R98/6. Radium Laboratory staff made several visits in March 1963 and again in July.

25 W.E. Harvey to the vice-chancellor, 20 Apr. 1988, VC file 2052.

26 New Zealand Herald, 3 July 1963. A lengthy report appeared in the Evening Post of 3 July, and smaller stories in other major dailies. It was not until 1988 that the incident was ‘uncovered’, and widely reported in the national media. Further checks were made of the building to allay the concerns of staff (and in view, too, of its imminent reconstruction), and the national laboratory confirmed that no evidence of any further contamination had been found since 1963.

27 The nature of Humphrey's work was noted in an article in the New Zealand Medical Journal in which his illness was described as a case study of the progress of leukaemia (J.L. Adams, ‘Acute subleukæmic leukæmia in adults and its management’, New Zealand Medical Journal, Vol.62, No.373 (Sept. 1963), pp.417–21). However, the National Radiation Laboratory reported that the post-mortem did not show him to have had unusually high levels of radium in his body.

28 Sunday Star, 10 Apr. 1988, p.A–13, p.3.

29 Evening Post, 2 Mar. 1956. He later became professor of physics at the University of Sydney.

30 News VUW, 10 Oct. 1980.

31 From Birmingham, but after having been appointed to the Victoria position, Walker had attended the Geneva conference on the peaceful uses of atomic energy in 1955.

32 J. Williams, Report on development of nuclear science in New Zealand, 19 July 1956, VC file 13: box 9B, P17.

33 There would be ‘no possible public hazard’ in siting the institute in an inner-city, residential area, but it was recognised that it might be expedient to put the reactor elsewhere. (Williams, Nuclear Science. Submissions to committee of inquiry, 27 Jan. 1958, VC file 13.)

34 Ibid.

35 The position was offered to a Victoria graduate who was, however, better qualified in geophysical nuclear physics than in nuclear physics itself; but he turned it down.

36 Gazette, 14 Dec. 1971. This was not, in fact, the first interdisciplinary construct in the university.

37 News VUW, 17 Dec. 1982. Clark also founded the Ivory Club, an investment club for university staff.

38 Antarctic Research Centre, report to the Professorial Board, 1983, Professorial Board minutes, 1983, p.1287; T. Hatherton, ‘The birth of VUWAE’, Tuatara, Vol.15, Part 3 (Dec. 1967), p.100.

39 Report of VUWAE, 1960–61, Council minutes, 1961, p.475. On the other hand, one early veteran, Ralph Wheeler of the Geography Department, later described the first expeditions as ‘very British’: ‘We even took gold pans, thinking we might be able to pan for gold. But the rivers were all frozen.’ (Evening Post, 14 Dec. 1987.)

40 M. Povey, superintendent, DSIR Antarctic Division, to Clark, 5 Jan. 1960, VC file 1411: box 2F, P7.

41 Clark was incensed at greater control over the grants being given to the DSIR Antarctic Division. Wellman's first expedition to measure lake temperatures in 1962– 63 had not received a UGC grant: the Russians provided transport, and equipment was borrowed from the Americans.

42 VUWAE 1969–70, immediate report, Feb. 1970, VC file 1426: box 2F, P7; Evening Post, 19 Jan. 1971. Askin went on to the Polar Research Institute in Ohio.

43 A.J.W. Taylor, ‘The selection of people for work in polar regions: New Zealand and the Antarctic’, New Zealand Antarctic Record, Vol.6, No.2 (1985), p.27.

44 Taylor to Clark, 8 June 1970, VC file 1426. The professor's threat that if he couldn't keep Barrett in this way the university would have to dispense with its Antarctic research altogether was by all accounts a typical Clark tactic.

45 P. Webb, Immediate report of VUWAE 1968/69, VC file 1426.

46 The Geology Department's were more modest establishments: a three-bedroom house at Onekaka in Golden Bay, leased from the government in 1956 (and used as well by Botany and the government Geological page 398 Survey), and old shearers' quarters at Kekerengu in Marlborough. Prior to 1963, botanical field parties to Tongariro had rented accommodation on the top floor of the Chateau.

47 Environmental studies was being considered by the Professorial Board's Interdisciplinary Activities Committee in the early 1970s, and an Environmental Studies Centre was in the university's 1978 quinquennial submission. Richardson had recruited a lecturer with a special interest in ecology, R.W. Balham, in 1959, but (so Balham complained in 1963) had not allowed him to teach in this field. Salmon's determined efforts did not find support.

48 Edwin Slack started with an overly ambitious scheme for an Institute of Fisheries with bases also at Nelson (in association with the Cawthron Institute) and Marlborough (at an old whaling station). In the late 1960s and 1970s a national fishing industry was a subject of political attention. The development of applied fisheries research at university level was supported by the National Development Conference in 1969, and Victoria had a proposal before the government by mid– 1970 for an Institute of Marine Resources (requesting $185,000). By 1974 this had evolved into a proposal for an Aquatic Research Centre. A committee of the Professorial Board, appointed in 1978, developed plans for a School of Fisheries and a degree in fishing science, but scaled down its sights to a one-year programme within the Diploma of Applied Science when this met with a ‘muted’ response from the UGC.

49 Initially built for a biological survey of pilchards in Tasman Bay, the Tirohia was finally retired in 1996 (a year after the death of its master of 30 years, Bill McQueen), and replaced by a smaller, more mobile vessel.

50 The US Atomic Energy Commission distributed surplus research money from its scientific investigation of the biological effects of the atomic testing on Bikini Atoll.

51 Evening Post, 16 Feb. 1977.

52 Wodzicki emigrated to New Zealand in 1941 as consul-general of the Polish government in London, and founded the DSIR's animal ecology division. He received an honorary doctorate from Victoria in 1980.

53 The first tuatara breeding colony outside New Zealand was established in 1990 with 10 tuatara sent from Victoria to the Berlin zoo.

54 Evening Post, 12/13 Sept. 1989.

55 Report of the vice-chancellor, Aug. 1962, Council minutes, 1962, p.52. Born Truszkowski, during the Second World War Truscoe had played a key role in the Polish resistance; working with British special operations in Italy, he had controlled agents' missions into Poland, including the mission to obtain the German V1 and V2 rocket parts in which George Culliford made his name. (Obituary, Evening Post, 2 Nov. 1988.)

56 Research in the department has also included facial eczema in sheep, deteriorative processes in frozen meat, and nutrition – the speciality of F.B. Shorland, former director of the fats division of the DSIR and long-serving honorary lecturer, internationally known for his work on the production of edible wool protein.

57 J.T. Salmon, Biology Today and Tomorrow (inaugural address), Wellington, 1966, p.19.

58 J.B.J. Wells, Report to the Faculty of Science on the establishment of a School of Biological Sciences, 8 Oct. 1987, CFU 107: box 49G.

59 Slater, Applied scientific research in Victoria University College. He had in mind small, ‘quasi-academic’ research units with just two or three highly qualified staff, adding: ‘It is impossible for me to avoid the conclusion that the securing of a Director and research staff of the calibre I envisage would be possible only by payment of salaries on the most generous scale.’

60 The Mossbauer effect, observed in the absorption of gamma rays by atomic nuclei, had been discovered in 1958 and had applications in chemistry, geology, metallurgy, biology and medicine.

61 For a full account of this saga see R. Galbreath, DSIR: making science work for New Zealand, Wellington, 1998, chapter seven.

62 News VUW, 19 Feb. 1996.

63 By comparison there have been five Victoria fellows in the geological sciences; the biological sciences claim four, from the Richardson era; and physics four, all from more recent years.

64 Duncan, Policy-making in the faculty, 8 Aug. 1968, SF 6: box 20B. In the wider science field, he also led the inauguration in the 1960s of school science fairs: the first national science fair was held at Victoria in 1977.

65 The pure mathematicians in particular reacted defensively to the criticism that they spent too much time on tutorials and that research was suffering because of the heavy teaching loads: they were happy with that. Ironically, perhaps, the high proportion of its own graduates among the department's staff earned the congratulations of the reviewers. Famous in this department's history is the applied mathematics honours class of 1970, which produced two fellows of the Royal Society as well as two members of the Victoria staff (Rob Goldblatt and Megan Clark).

66 News VUW, 11 July 1995.

67 Robin Williams of the Applied Mathematics Division was the other key player. For all that this has been one the university's more successful DSIR collaborations, it had less impact on Victoria mathematics than some (like Williams) had hoped for, perhaps because there was no formalised teaching and research role. The relationship ended with the disestablishment of the DSIR in 1992. (Williams, to digress just a little, had been one of the handful of New Zealand scientists that former Victoria professor Ernest Marsden – by virtue of his connection with Rutherford and Rutherford's students – contrived to send to America to work on the Manhattan Project after the war; another was Charles Watson-Munro, who worked on the British– Canadian nuclear project in Montreal. His varied career, which encompassed periods as vice-chancellor of the Australian National University and the head of the State page 399 Services Commission, also includes the vice-chancellorship of the University of Otago during its famous mixed-flatting controversy.)

68 This was, according to Gould (The University Grants Committee 1961–1986, Wellington, 1988, p.132), in the context of its EEC negotiations. It had already been decided that a single, powerful mainframe to serve all the universities was beyond the country's resources. And the future was to be in networked personal computers rather than centralised mainframes anyway.

69 Annual report for 1966, AJHR, 1967, E–3, p.29.