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Victoria University College an Essay towards a History

V — Revolt of the Professors

page 131

Revolt of the Professors

The university reform movement was by no means peculiar to Victoria College: there were reformers elsewhere. Yet in a special way it was typical of the college, for there it became organized; there, where discontent with the world has been endemic, it had a native home and fond nurture; there, where the academic consequences of John Richard Seddon were combined with the academic consequences of the University Act of 1874, revolt was natural; there, where the youth of the institution was matched by the youth of so many of its teachers, revolt was bound to be fiery. The young men took counsel together and raged furiously. They also, no doubt, enjoyed themselves hugely. It is a great thing to go forward with battle-cries to assail a System, to appeal to Principle, to assert Independence, to take hold of an Infamous Thing and shake it vigorously, even if it cannot be immediately crushed; and to argue with one's elders is very sweet. The young men of Victoria College got on well together as brothers in arms; they were backed up by their students; they seemed to have failed; and then, when the battle was lost, and the field to some of them was only a memory in a distant land, somehow it was won after all, and the problems were new, page 132 and pressing, and confusing, and another generation of young men was gazing with distaste at the University.

Here one may briefly restate the constitution of the University of New Zealand as it was in the first decade of our century; for unless one bears in mind the outlines of the system which seemed to the reformers so stultifying and which seemed to some other good men so satisfactory, it is difficult to understand either the positions of the teacher and student of Victoria College, or the passions that were aroused on both sides of the great controversy. The ‘University’, it has been already pointed out, was almost an abstraction. It was, as concretely as one may define it, an office, the function of which was to arrange the examination of candidates for degrees. This function was superintended by a Senate, which included in its number a small minority of working professors, but was otherwise ‘lay’—that is, although some or most of its members might have received a university education, they had no connection with university teaching or students expect the administrative one. But the function tended to greater and greater complexity, because examination involved the definition of courses, and the Senate, meeting normally only once a year, therefore determined a great deal of the essential life of the colleges, and perforce determined it often in a casual way. It might consult teachers in the colleges, but it did so irregularly and as an act of grace. It had no function of stimulating research, it had no funds to disburse to the colleges, though it did grant scholarships to students on the results of the examinations it conducted, Between meetings of the Senate, administration was carried on by the registrar, under the direction of the Chancellor—who thus occupied a position of considerable importance.

There was no organic connection between this ‘University’ and the colleges, which were simply ‘affiliated’ to it, tied externally by the statute of 1874. The governing bodies of the page 133 colleges had no connection with the governing body of the University. University teaching, university life, in any intelligible sense, existed only in the four colleges. Here, in the fundamental faculties of arts and science, and largely in law, professors and lecturers taught, or were supposed to teach, according to a syllabus imposed on them from outside—i.e., drawn up by the Senate—and their students were examined by examiners appointed from outside—i.e., by the Senate—and resident mainly in Great Britain. The teacher ignored the requirements of this system at his peril. If he did not ‘get his students through’ their examinations he would be unpopular, and whatever he knew about his subject, however painstaking his philosophy, nothing could alter that fundamental fact. The system, to put it in personal Victoria College terms, called for Garrow and not Richmond. There was no machinery by which meetings of teachers of the same subject could be arranged, apart from their own enterprise and at their own expense; and there was no machinery by which they could of right put the Senate in possession of the fruits of their experience, or make on it such demands as they deemed important. There was no machinery by which teachers from the four colleges, simply as teachers, might meet and help to determine policy; for ipso facto, as teachers, they were excluded from the determination of policy. Whatever advantages might come to the University through the growth of knowledge and widening of experience were supposed to come from ‘English examiners’, whose advice and reports were some how to exercise a continuous and fructifying influence on the whole field of university education. Under such conditions, a successful student was a student who passes his measured in examination marks. It was no importance whether a candidate was a ‘full-time’ or ‘part-time’ student, as long as he ‘got through’. (it was page 134 of no very great importance, indeed, whether he attended a college or not, as long as he ‘got through’—and students exempted from attendance ‘got through’. This might even be advantageous, as it was held to prove ‘character’.) The position of Victoria College itself was made all the worse, because it was, almost in the very terms of its foundation, created for part-time students, it was organized from the very beginning as a ‘night-school’. All this was natural enough, in view of the general New Zealand attitude to education, and of the history of university education in the colony. It was not unnatural, also, that the teachers, who had so little to do with the government of the University, should have no part in the government of the college. Where they not employees? What the students had been making of this situation we have seen. The handicaps imposed by inadequate financial resources need no further stressing; real enough, bitter enough at the time, there comes a point when they seem almost comic. But to the reformers of Victoria College they did not seem comic: theirs was a hard and baffling reality. As much as any student, though they did not contribute elevated verse to Spike, they wanted their college to be great—or at least to be of respectable intellectual pretensions.1


perhaps the Reformers, those young men, did not set out deliberately to annoy. Picken, said dear witty Kirt, always gave the impression that he thought he was a tactful man. But there were those whom this tact stimulated to loud anger. It page 135 was Picken, in a sense, who began it all, though, as we have seen, the students had canvassed the nature of university life, and exalted fellowship, and opposed ‘more cram’ from the college's earliest days. Nor can we forget Easterfield's attempts on the voyage out to convert the apostles to the ideal of independence, or the manifesto of his inaugural lecture. Easterfield had lived up to that manifesto. At his second lecture he found that his students had fallen off considerably in number, for there were those who did not fancy the arduous career he promised them. Was this the way, they asked, to ‘get through’? In the next few years he and his colleagues had their hands pretty full of work. It was their own fault: they were conscientious men. As the college grew the proportion of evening students by no means became less. ‘I may say’, testified Easterfield later, ‘that it has been no uncommon thing for my colleagues to teach these students up to 11 o'clock at night, and when I have left the college at half-past 11 I have left my colleagues still there.’ But it was Picken, coming new, looking freshly at the whole thing, who first registered his shock. In 1908 he gave the presidential address to the Debating Society, on University Ideals. They were not the ideals of the parliament that passed the Victoria College Act. The function of the university was firstly to rear men and women who would dare follow the truth if they knew it, and secondly to train in them the powers of thought by which they might arrive at knowledge of the truth they were to follow. University students should be standing aside for a few years from the hurry and bustle of the world; their central principle must be the broadening of the basis of culture. The ‘examination system’ was a tyrannical system, ‘it has had its day, and there is nothing but stagnation to be had under its domination now’. The address was brilliant, said the Debating Society. Others Said so too; it found its way into the public press; people began to talk.

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Then came Laby, who as an Australian knew better than Picken what he was coming to. Laby first delivered himself of his sentiments in Sydney, on the way out. When he had had a little experience of New Zealand he found that his sentiments had been too mild; and it was at this stage that, apparently feeling that he had delivered himself up to bondage for five years, he first approached the Council with his discontents and proposal for a more elastic contract. He agreed to remain; but staying on, he resolved to so something to the New Zealand university system to make it more tolerable to men like himself. Without Picken's candid brow, he had all Picken's candid though, all the logical ruthlessness of the Crusading scientist. He was quite prepared to turn his talents as a researcher on to the University of New Zealand. ‘He could see the defects of our system, and there was nothing to prevent him from saying so’, writes von Zedlitz, in his own characteristically too modest vein. ‘He spent hours almost daily in my study saying it. How could we, he asked, who knew better, sit still and draw salaries without telling the truth? Easily, I thought, having much to lose and being comfortable as I was. Not without bitterness I reflected that Laby had no ties in New Zealand and no intention of staying here for long. To come into the open, to denounce the bestowers of favours in the University and in the government, men with whom I was on good terms, to make enemies of many decent New Zealanders who [would] resent criticism of any New Zealand institution; the thought of all these things was abhorrent. In the end Laby's gadfly persistence and an irreducible Minimum of conscience won the day.’ It did not take much Stinging to set Hunter's blood on fire, and the rebellious cogitations of the three began to find utterance in print. Laby sent letters and articles to the New Zealand Times, contrasting what he regarded as the miserable facilities for higher education in New Zealand with those in Australia; he was page 137 seconded on general principles by von Zedlitz, and Hunter wrote a series of onslaughts on the system of external examination. It was not long before Picken found to his pleasure that he too could wield a lively controversial pen. By then trouble was certain.

It is not to be thought that these four invented rebellion. It Was not necessary to invent anything for Easterfield, or for Kirk; and a number of their other colleagues were with them. (The conversion of that cautious man Brown, who was a member of the University Senate, certainly took a long time and was never complete, and Mackenzie, even slower to move, nourished a feeling that they were bent on ‘Germanizing’ the University-an accusation which he elaborated in a pamphlet Signed ‘Festina Lente’) Indeed reform in a general way was In the air. In Britain and Australia, royal commissions had Reported, or were sitting, on a number of universities, and the Haldane Commission was engaged on the gigantic task of overhauling the University of London itself. In New Zealand there had been a number of proposals for the reform of courses of study; and most recently, in 1907, there had been the Memorandum of President David Starr Jordan, of the Leland Stanford Junior University, California. Jordan was visiting Australia and New Zealand, and on Stout's invitation he had Given his advice. His advice was definite and comprehensive. He did not like the New Zealand courses of study, and suggested instead the ‘majoring’ system of America. He did not like New Zealand college administration, and suggested the virtual transformation of the chairman of the professorial board into an American university president. He did not like the position of the New Zealand professor- ‘the professor as teacher has far too little initiative in Australasian Universities’. He did not like New Zealand degrees: ‘Degrees should not Be granted for extra-mural study, and in general not for attendence on might lectures or extension lectures. To do work page 138 really worthy of University recognition, the student should enter the University atmosphere.’ And he did not like English examination for New Zealand degrees. This, he argued, was injurious to the University. It converted education into cram; it degraded the professor to a coach; it checked all originality of thought and method; it did not mean a higher standard. A local faculty would be more eager to uphold standards than remote examiners whose interest and responsibility were far less; as university teaching was certainly adequate for examining. Finally the tendency in modern education was to ask not what degree a man had, or where he obtained it, but who was his teacher—and even in New Zealand there were men whose names as teachers counted abroad far more than the New Zealand degrees. All this was perhaps rather more than stout had bargained for. It might all have been said by more than one discontented spirit in New Zealand. But coming from so eminent an American it attracted more attention than any New Zealander could hope to gain; and for the Victoria College reformers it was a gift from heaven.

Much would depend on stout, because he could support, or fight, them on two fronts. Not only was he the Chancellor, but he was still exceedingly able, with a vast experience, and an ardour in what he thought good causes that nothing could ever damp. A decade on the bench as Chief Justice had not blotted out his skill as a politician, his eloquence as an advocate, his maddening capacity of seeming to see only one side of a question; nor had life done away with the mischievious streak in this endlessly benevolent man, which made him delight to tie up unwary academic persons in the deceits of standing orders—how often was there a flicker in the innocent eye, while the victim discovered that once more he had voted for stout instead of against him? It was not until Hunter, in page 139 the course of his own education, began to study this invaluable technique, that Stout began to lose points; and then, it must be said, he lost them like a connoisseur. Meanwhile there was the question: what would the Chancellor do? He had held the office for only five years—the System could hardly be held to have mastered him. He, who had appointed the first Royal Commission and had made the famous speech of 1886, could hardly be deemed uncritical. His American leanings were notorious and it was he who had asked President Jordan for advice. When he spoke to the Senate in 1908 he called it to careful consideration of the Memorandum. Certainly, examinations must be carried on, and the time must come when we must depend on ourselves and not seek examiners from outside of study promised improvement. ‘I am strongly of opinion that we may get more hints for University reform from America than from Europe. The social conditions of our country are more analogous to those of the countries of the new world than to those of the old, and what suits the American communities will suit us.’ The Senate appointed a recess committee to consider the whole matter, and with characteristic complacency, let it drop. Still, the cyhancellor's words on record, and when our young men began to organize they had high hopes of him. Perhaps, even, he would lead them?

Laby's harangues of von Zedlitz were bearing fruit. The college was in a state of unrest. The next step was due. At the general Education Conference of February 1910 good organization resulted in a recommendation to the Senate, to arrange that English examiners and local professors should collaborate in examination; and then, on 31 May, the first grand broadsides were fired. A public meeting was held in the Town Hall with the mayor in the chair and the Wellington members of parliament on the platform—together with an ally of great weight, thought of independent judgment, George page 140 Hogben, the Inspector-General of Schools, himself a member of the Senate. There were apologies from the Governor and the Prime Minister, and a letter from the Chancellor. There was a large audience of students and general public. Stout, it appears, was becoming a little suspicious. But he could hardly avoid the appearance of sympathy. He was not opposed, certainly, to that reasonable amount of reform which came gradually, which was suited to our circumstances, which realized that w e were a small people and must go cautiously, that in human affairs the ideal was ever in the distance. Then rose von Zedlitz, with urbane, sardonic, destructive and ingratiating eloquence. He and his colleagues, he proclaimed, were committing a fraud on the public if they continued to receive their salaries without asserting the need for reform, without calling attention to the ‘comic opera principles’ on which the Senate conducted its business. New Zealand was clinging tenaciously to the antiquated in organization and curricula; when he came to the country he did not expect much from the pompous statements of calendars, and he had not been disappointed; professors were doing their best, students were intelligent and active, and it was these who prevented him from being absolutely hopeless (great applause from students present). What were imposing examination results under such conditions, even sent out by ‘eminent gentlemen at Home’? He was followed by Easterfield, eloquent also on behalf of science and of students. The meeting resolved to set up a University Reform Association, which came into being a week later at another meeting, this time at Victoria College. The stage-management was superb: the president was A.L. Herdman, a Wellington member of parliament; the vice-presidents included leaders in the ecclesiastical, professional and administrative life of the city, with T. R. Fleming from the college Council and H. H. Ostler from the college graduates (both Ostler and Herdman were elected to the Council the following page 141 year); on the committee were Kirk, Laby, Picken, von Zedlitz and Gray the lecturer in education; untiring Hunter was the secretary, and Easterfield the treasurer. The army began to advance.

At this point Stout, his position still uncertain, gave some advice. It was at the college graduation ceremony, at end of June. Reform, he said, was a perennial subject in all universities, and therefore the mention of reform in New Zealand was not surprising. He presumed that Victoria College had kept in touch with university reform in Europe. Were the reformers agreed on what the aim of a university should be? Had our syllabus failed?–It was one, he thought, after much enquiry in England and Scotland, of which we had every reason to be proud. It might be made more logical, the ‘majoring’ system might be introduce; but out B.A.'s were just as well educated as ordinary B.A.'s of any university anywhere. The demand that professors should examine their own students was more serious; certainly the time must come when all examining would be done in New Zealand, but that did not mean that only professors should examine—and beyond this demand the reformers seemed to have discussed nothing. Here was a blatant accusation which gave those reformers pause. The shift from America was significant. Nevertheless they did not hesitate. They were studying, with a vengeance, what the aim of a university should be, and how that aim should be pursued. Reports of royal commissions, the standard books and newer writings, all were well thumbed. Jordan had given them an index to action. The objects of the University Reform Associations, as formulated, were to increase the efficiency of university education in New Zealand; to improve and co-ordinate the government of the University and the colleges and to obtain for the colleges an assured finance; to secure the abolition of external examination; and to improve the libraries and other equipment of the colleges. Sub-com- page 142 mittees studied the existing system in all its detail. A circular letter briefly describing it, with President Jordan's memorandum attached, was dispatched to one hundred and fifty Authorities on university work in Great Britain, America and Australia (including many examiners for the University of New Zealand) with the questions: Ought some new form of examination to be introduced, in which the opinion of teachers were taken into account?– and what general powers should be given to professors in the organization of the University and the colleges? Before the year was out Parliament was petitioned by ‘T. H. Laby, H. B. Kirk and eleven others’, all members of the college teaching staff, for a royal commission.

The Education committee of the House referred the petition to Hogben in his official capacity. Hogben was cautious. The notes which he supplied bore out the statements of the petition; yet as a recess committee of the Senate was to report on the reformation of the bachelors' degrees, with power to call a conference of professors, he suggested waiting till the results of these deliberations were available. Accordingly the petition was held up till September the following year. By that time everyone knew where he stood. In November the conference of professors had met and recommended a number of improvements in university courses, regretted the exclusion of the examination system by the Senate from its competence, and agreed that it should meet annually with unrestricted scope of discussion. In January 1911 the Senate had gathered for its annual meeting, and Stout had made clear decision. Like Moloc, sceptr'd King, he might have said, ‘My sentence is for open Warr’. The Reformers had sounded him; they thought they had him. What happened they could never quite make out, though in after years Hunter put the disaster down to the intervention of Macmillan Brown, once a professor at Canterbury who had profited largely from the System, conservative, obstinate, influential, and Stout's successor as Chancel- page 143 lor: he had ‘talked to’ Stout. Now, and henceforth, was Stout less than judicial, magnificent in misrepresentation, the advocate, the leader of a part; now were issues to be confused, and principle to become tortuous in debate, and points to be scored that made the Reformers' path a sort of dolorous way of exacerbation. There were upholders of reform on the Senate, a sad minority. They could but vote, and hope in the future. There was, declared the Chancellor, a ‘demand for investigation by some of the officers of one of our affiliated institutions’; they had inaugurated ‘a campaign of depreciation’; they wished to dominate all our university institutions. ‘I do not wish to make any charge against those professors who have been advocating what is called reform. I assume that they are actuated by the very highest motives… The young men and young women of New Zealand now… have greater opportunities than past students had, and if they do not succeed as past students succeeded, the fault does not lie in the students, nor in the buildings, nor in the poverty of the libraries and the laboratories. The reason must be sought elsewhere.’

‘The reason must be sought elsewhere’? Stout had his own method of depreciation. But the Senate agreed with the Chancellor; postponed for a year consideration of all the recommendations of the professors' meeting and referred all the points it had made to the individual professorial boards and courts of convocation. As obstruction this was masterly. The Reformers, however, were baffled only to fight better. They urged one another on. Women and children of course had to suffer. Laby, who was not married, and whose life was imperfectly controlled, thought nothing of ringing up his colleagues at two o'clock in the morning. The piles of ammunition grew. They had received sixty-five replies to their circular from the authorities abroad, some of whose opinions were extremely wounding to the University of New Zealand—sixty- page 144 three, indeed, united in condemnation; and these they now proceeded to print as an appendix to a little book entitled University Reform in New Zealand, edited by Hunter, Laby and von Zedlitz. This traversed university organization, the method of appointment to college staffs, finance, examinations; libraries, research, and plans for re-organization; and it unkindly carried as another appendix the demand for reform which Stout had made in that famous speech in 1886. It was dedicated to the Minister of Education. The production of this book had its difficulties, Men of more experience would not have appointed a triumvirate to edit; two of the three, Laby and von Zedlitz, rapidly fell out over the use of the English language, and Hunter had to mediate and agree with each alternately, Laby, who could not spell, thought von Zedlitz ignorant and pedantic; the soul of von Zedlitz withered within him at Laby's scientific jargon; they went to the printer's independently and altered each other's proofs. But somehow the book got done, and excellent summary of defects and needs, excellently documented, answerable only in terms of flat contradiction; and flat contradiction, against our young men, would have been unwise argument. University Reform in New Zealand was for general consumption; it was also designed to present the case to the Education Committee, as strongly as possible, in favour of the royal commission. The Students' Association was with the Reformers, as were the local graduates in their Graduates' Association and their Court of Convocation; the Council, during the hearing, while not expressing any final opinion on ‘the points raised’, registered its conviction that the need for a commission had been established.

From 1 September to 10 October 1911 the Education Committee took evidence, reporting a fortnight later. Von Zedlitz, Hunter, Laby, Kirk and Easterfield all appeared, not without allies, with Herdman, a lawyer, to marshal the case; on the opposite side were Stout and two others. In between was Mr page 145 Charles Wilson, now chairman of the Victoria College Council, who felt very strongly on the question of college finance– it was ‘horrible’, he said; the college was overspending its income at the rate of about £800 a year—and equally strongly on the Reformers, with some of whom he had a personal feud, and whose statements he found both lamentably inaccurate and in very questionable taste. (Mr Wilson's own taste can be called impeccable only with an effort). No one can read the evidence without being impressed by the combination of intellectual power and moral force which gave the Reformers' case its weight, whether they were discussing evening classes or research or the position of teachers in relation to courses of study or their own insecurity of tenure: without Stout made against them. For the Chancellor now had his own case made up, and when he found it wanting he could improvise; while with a sort of Olympian insolence he turned defence of principle into attack on personal character. Who were these sixty-three persons whom the Reformers had managed to collect to support their case, out of the thousands of authorities in the Empire? Why had the Reformers embarked on this campaign of depreciation and denunciation, instead of seriously pointing out to the Senate the reforms they thought the University should adopt? He was forced to ‘regret and reprobate the mode in which many of the members of the University Reform Association have attempted to enforce their views’. Of course Sir Robert did not object to honest criticism, of course he agreed with progress—but by slow evolution, not destruction; and here destruction was going on at the hands of men like Laby, who had no right to express opinions, as he had done, before he had had time to form them. All this, added to the accusations of bad taste, impertinence, and error, should perhaps have been more effective than it actually was. The Reformers' ranks remained unbroken; they themselves remained page 146 scrupulously polite. In the end the Education Committee was more impressed by the advice of Hogben than by that of anybody else. It agreed that a case had been made out for reform in the constitution of the University, and that the professors should have more part in the framing of curricula and the conduct of examinations. It saw evidence that the Senate was moving towards a scheme of gradual reform on the necessary lines; it recommended uniform college fees, adequate endowments and statutory grants, the strengthening of libraries, and an enquiry into the financial needs of each college, to be carried out by the Inspector-General. This was not very satisfactory to the Reformers, but it was something; and if the Senate was going to embark on reform, well, they would watch the Senate.

They continued to take counsel together. They met those senators of liberal leanings. When the Senate assembled in Wellington in January 1912 Picken went down as a spectator, ‘a Sub-Committee of the University Reform Association’, and contributed a running commentary on its proceedings to the newspapers, which though it made men laugh, did not tend to enlarge their admiration of the august body. Stout, in fact, might have called it destructive. As the graduates were to elect a member of the Senate in the following May, it was decided to put up Hunter. But there were gains at this Senate meeting. The Victoria Professorial Board, reporting on the matters referred to it by the Senate the previous year, had pressed for further general professorial conferences; and this recommendation, taken up by Mr James Allen, a moderate reformer from Otago, in a form suggested by Hogben to the Education Committee, was finally adopted. This Conference was given power to consider curricula and examinations. What else could be done? Pending the Conference and the Senate's consideration of its results no grand attack could be carried on. It would be better to aim at direct professorial representation page 147 on college councils, and to see that could be done about amendments to the Victoria College Act, to meet members of parliament, and to attempt propaganda meetings in other centres. The Professorial Board had already elected Herdman to the Council in 1911, and the graduates Ostler in the same year; the graduates put on C. B. Morison, another vice president of the Association in 1913.

The Council, too, was undergoing its education: the reform movement was a very educational process. It was no longer the council of 1899; the much-suffering Blair had long gone, and there were few of the original members left. Wilson was one of them. He did not like the rebels, and they did not like him. He believed in the subordination of employee to employer. Were not professors, to use Stout's word, ‘officers’ in the employ of the Council? On the whole, nevertheless, the governors of the college got on well with the staff, though when the use of the Council room was requested for meetings of the Professorial Board, they acceded only after first refusing. A certain derogation of dignity was feared, a certain blurring of the proper relations. But those relations no longer seemed so simple; some of these professors were becoming public personalities, and while they were never so impolite as students were, they had displayed an uncommon ability in arguing the point. Undoubtedly they had the interests of the college at heart; undoubtedly, also, their ideas had the support of great men. Lord Bryce spoke at the graduation ceremony in 1912, and while he was all courtesy, it was clear that he was on their side. Yet when the demand for direct representation on the Council was discussed by that body in September of the same year, the first reaction was to agree to a cunning motion by Stout that the chairman of the Council should be ex officio a member of the Professorial Board, and the chairman of the Professorial Board ex officio a member of the council. This was not at all what the professors wanted. The following page 148 month there seemed every chance of an awful breach. Picken had made a public speech which was far from tactful. This candid Reformer, following the truth wherever it might lead him, had found himself led into very hot water indeed. ‘The University Professor is a man whose value to the community should consist in his personality, his individuality of outlook, and his originality of thought, but such qualities would chiefly serve to make life a burden to the men whom we call “professors” in New Zealand (so that there is some consolation in the thought that the conditions have minimized the danger of men with these qualities being imported).… So far from the work being done for which the University existed, a great majority of the students left the college less sound in body and mind and soul than on the day they entered, except for the salutary influence of their personal contact with one another.’ The dreadful utterances were entered on the Council's minutes. Some councilors announced their determination to impose ‘disciplinary action’; some of Picken's colleagues, Hunter and von Zedlitz among them, announced that disciplinary action would be followed by their resignations. For a fortnight the atmosphere was tense. Stout proposed a committee to investigate such ‘grave reflections’ upon the work of the college. Luckily he was with the minority; the Council, on consideration, regretted the speech, but thought no good would come of pursuing the matter, further. Peace descended; and when in 1913 professorial representation was again considered, the Council rescinded its previous resolution and declared in favour of adding two professors to its number. Stout, supported by Wilson (whom Ostler had replaced as chairman) and one or two others, fought, amendment by amendment, to the last.


Meanwhile the general agitation had not stopped. In 1912 page 149 the party of Seddon had at last been painfully pushed from office, and Mr James Allen of the reforming wing on the Senate became Minister of Education. The Reformers went in deputation to him and Mr Massey, the new Prime Minister, to plead once again, and again ineffectually, for a royal commission. Hogben's report on the colleges appeared in October, in November the Professorial Conference met. Hogben did not satisfy the Reformers; he was forced to assume the continuance of the existing system, even if his recommendation implied a pretty severe condemnation of the way it had been worked. Certainly he wanted greatly increased expenditure, capital and recurring, and increases in staff; and for Victoria both increase of fees and an annual grant from the income of those Taranaki reserves which had been denied to it. But his recommended annual expenditure on libraries of £250 each, however revolutionary for other colleges, was less than Victoria College was spending already. The Conference was, however, very satisfactory, though only seven out of its thirty members came from Victoria. It had agreed on sweeping reform of the bachelors' degrees, with courses subject to the approval of the Professorial Boards; it had declared for abolition of external examination within five years. After four extremely busy days it left its permanent constitution for discussion the following year. It sent an agreed report to the Senate. Reformers were jubilant.

Alas! that Conference was quite too successful. Stout attacked it with a preposterous fury, the Senate rejected its resolutions. Final insult, it was abolished altogether. The Senate had its own reforms—very tentative ones; it would allow university teachers to suggest examiners, it would consult them on curricula; before deciding on ‘vital questions’ relating to the constitution or working of the University it would take the opinions of other bodies involved; it would even set up a committee to confer with these bodies on the page 150 expediency of a bill to reconstitute the University, on lines that would associate the colleges more directly with University government. (The Reformers knew well what happened to such committees.) Hunter, duly elected to the Senate, managed to get passed a motion providing for a recess committee in each centre to report on special schools and other matters best considered locally.2 He failed in another proposal: as Stout had been so severely critical of the Reformers' circular letter to overseas authorities, would not the Senate draw up a letter itself, descriptive of the examination system, and send it out to the Reformers' late correspondents with a request for their opinion? That sort of flippancy did not win the sympathy of his colleagues at all; the motion fell still-born, without a seconder.

Surely now, thought the Reformers, they would get their royal commission: had not the Senate, with the responsibility for reform thrown back on it, behaved with the extreme of irresponsibility? Not one, but six petitions this time descended on parliament, signed by there quarters of the professors in the country, let alone lecturers and graduates and other interested persons. They went to the Education Committee, which again took evidence, from July to September 1913. As before, the phalanx of Victoria men appeared, this time reinforced by Brown, the late convert, and Adamson, and by supporters from Canterbury and Otago. Hogben defended his report; Stout defended the University, though driven to agree that it was exceedingly disappointing in some respects. Tactics were now masterly. The Chancellor would insist on repeating his accusations that all that the professors really wanted was to rule, and that ‘the whole unrest’ had been created by a few ambitious men in Wellington. With full hearts the Re- page 151 formers conceded his good intentions; he honestly and sincerely, they would admit, desired to benefit the University, but he was ‘pitifully unable to realize’ that that was what they too were aiming at, and that the main question was one of means. Almost everybody by now, certainly, was in favour of some reform, which would embody somewhere in the university structure a properly constituted body of teachers. The Senate's system of committees and reports and endless reference back and forth promised nothing but delay. Yet the Education Committee still would not recommend the royal commission. Virtually, it treated itself as a royal commission. It recommended legislation to the government that would reconstitute the Senate from the college councils, and that would provide the professorial body that everyone wanted; and the main points of Hogben's report were accepted.

The Reformers had agreed that it there were to be no royal commission their Association should be dissolved. They had done all they could. But before they slew their child they issued a final pamphlet, critical of the Committee's procedure and its unsatisfactory report. It had professed to solve certain very difficult problems, it had ignored others, its financial recommendations were quite inadequate. When the Senate committee at last, in April 1914, produced a draft bill to amend the University Act, providing for a ‘Board of Studies’, the college, professors, council and graduates alike, still maintained the principle of a deeper reconstitution—the Court of Convocation even submitted its own scheme for a federal university. Before parliament could do anything the country was plunged into war, and it was a quite non-controversial bill that Allen submitted in the end, in November, to the legislature, and that passed practically without debate. The Senate objected to a draft clause for its own reconstitution, which the Minister at once expunged. The New Zealand University Amendment Act, 1914, created the Board of Studies page 152 and provided for ‘national research scholarships’; it made some minor alterations in the machinery of administration. Financially, it provided for grants to the University and to the colleges of a proportion of the ‘National Endowment’– for the colleges, about £1000 a year each, which would rise as land values rose. It increased the statutory grants, so that henceforth Victoria would get £9000–£3000 added to the original £4000 and the ‘specialization’ grant of £2000; and it made regular provision for subsidies on gifts. This act followed on another, passed in September, the Victoria College Amendment Act, 1914, which reconstituted the Council. The most important change was that which gave the Professorial Board the right to elect two of its own members, who were nevertheless to have no vote on salary questions. Members of the legislature had shown little interest, and their power to elect was abrogated. The three representatives of Education Boards and primary school-teachers, and the three appointed by the Governor-in-Council, were reduced to two each, while the Court of Convocation representation was increased to four. In an attempt to enlist the attention of the city—vain attempt—one representative was given to the City Council; while the demand, still strong, for democratic control—or rather for the representation of every conceivable interest, real or unreal, gave one to the governing bodies of secondary schools and one to teachers in secondary and day technical schools. It was an odd arrangement, however much it might be thought to tie the college into the fabric of general education, and it could hardly fail, at times, merely to bring together a rather cumbrous body without any corporate knowledge of, or (apart from professorial and graduate representatives) a great deal of individual sympathy for, the pattern of university life; but it may at least be said that in the succeeding years the college had, under the system, more luck than it might have had, and that a number of councillors gave disinterested and devoted page 153 service. To limit the Professorial Board somewhat, lecturers were henceforth excluded from it, except as the Council might decide. To add still a little to income, power was given to charge a fee for general tuition, the ‘college fee’. To meet the wishes of both students and Council, who were appalled at their chances of being confused with secondary schools, the college was henceforth to be known as Victoria University College.

Thus, certainly, there had been some advance. If victory was still far off, defeat was by no means total. Teachers were to have some part in the control of the college; teachers were to have some guaranteed part in the forming of university policy. A little had been done for libraries; a very little, but at least something, for research. The regular income of the college was rather less derisory than it had been. Huge problems remained—amongst them, for the college, that of day and evening classes, and of its relationship to the University; for the University, that of examinations and its own constitution. But though the Infamous Thing had not been crushed, it had been frightened; the System had been badly rocked, its base was a little insecure. In the next few years there were other matters that had to be thought about. Our Reformers had added a good deal to their own education. They had had it well rubbed home that, to quote the benevolent and formidable Chancellor, ‘the ideal is ever in the distance in human affairs’. They had had plenty of excitement, and the pleasure—no inconsiderable one—of saying what they thought about a number of things they objected to. Nevertheless this sort of campaign can be both exhausting and exasperating, and not everyone had Hunter's appetite for administrative detail and the tactics of committee work—the appetite that led him to his ten years' duel with Stout on the Senate. The work of the reformer, the reformer even of a university or a university college, makes demands that are not always easy for human page 154 beings to meet. Rebellion was no simple way out of any problem. Von Zedlitz, speaking with the full weight of his magnificent intelligence, his magnificent awareness of the issues, could state the case for all of them, whether or not they shared his personal background. The professor in New Zealand, he said, went under dangerous temptation, temptation encouraged rather than lessened by the examination system. Not a soul cared whether he spent his day in working or in sleep. ‘Consequently there is nothing in New Zealand but one's own conscience to keep one straight, and no tribunal but the invisible and imaginary tribunal of the opinions of the university teachers and workers outside New Zealand. It is with them I should like to stand well. You will understand that if I am satisfied that they would approve my course of action, I do not care in the least what anyone in New Zealand thinks of me. Besides, there are my old teachers, some of them left; there are the many old friends and acquaintances in Europe who are now making their mark in or out of universities; there are the leading statesmen and thinkers of the world—I may never see any of them, and they may never hear of me—still, it is in their judgment that I would like to stand well, even if it means incurring the displeasure of many influential New Zealanders.… We felt that if we kept silence we should disgrace ourselves in the opinion of the men whose opinion we value most, and we have avoided that stigma. We have nothing left to gain by the success of this agitation and much to lose. There is the danger of half-hearted reforms worse than the present. If we succeed completely we shall have a lot more work, worry, and responsibility, instead of the easy job of irresponsible criticism.’ It is sometimes good not to keep silence, and they did not keep silence.

1 The documentation of the University Reform movement can become Quite formidable. It is fairly exhnustively given in my University of New Zealand, pp. 712–4 and Chap. Vii. See especially Hunter, Lady, and von Zedlitz, University Reform in New Zealand (Welling, 1911), and the Following Appendices to the Journal of the House of Representatidves: 1911, 1–13A (Education Committee. Report…); 1912, E–7A (Report … by G. Hogben); and 1913, 1–13A (Report of the Education Committee…). Von Zedlitz, in The University and the Community (Wellington, 1946). pp. 288–90, casts some useful gleams.

2 His proposal to have an Executive Committee appointed in Wellington was taken as a personal attack on the Chancellor—until the University registrar was found to have carried out extensive depredations on the University funds.