Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9 (December 1, 1937.)

The University of — New Zealand Something Of Its History — What Of The Future?

page 18

The University of
New Zealand Something Of Its History
What Of The Future?

They work to pass, not to know; and outraged Science takes her revenge. They do pass and they don't know.—Thomas Huxley (“Science and Education.”)

A man who is earnest, encouraging and kind may be called educated. Earnest with friends and encouraging; kind towards his brethren.—Confucius.

For there example teacheth, company comforteth, emulation quickeneth, glory raiseth; so as, an in such places, the force of custom is his exaltation.—Francis Bacon.

Victoria University College, Wellington. (From an etching by M. Matthews).

Victoria University College, Wellington.
(From an etching by M. Matthews).

I Suppose that, one of these days, the proper importance will be attached to the arrival on our shores of a coterie of internationally known educationalists in the month of July, 1937. They came from England, Finland, Canada, Austria and Scotland, and all were the owners of world names. Among them all, Dr. Boyd, with his .gift of Scottish humour of a delicious dryness and a power of direct, clear speech, appealed to New Zealand imaginations most. I have talked to a score of school-teachers and others interested in educational problems and found them all lyrical in their praise of this Caledonian sage, and heartily appreciative of his dictum that our system could do “with a little more Scotch in it.” Perhaps this is due to that English humorist's definition of us on his visit that we were “partly improved Scotsmen.” I am afraid, however, that we do not share in that characteristic of the Scottish which derives from their many strong infusions of French and other European cultures.

It is a characteristic not usually stressed in the description of the Scottish race; it is the combination of intellectual vivacity and alertness. It is definitely assisted towards charm and volatility by the, educational system of the land of Burns and Boyd.

I own a university degree, and so far can trace no harmful results, from it; indeed, I prize as the principal gift of my academic career, a healthy, feeling of rebellion against authority in gown or uniform or wherever I see it invested with solemnity, or buttressed by officialdom.

The art of education, as with all other manifestations of the human spirit, is in a perpetual state of change, but, as with all arts, we find ourselves returning to the discoveries of older civilisations. It is fair to say of our times, that the real revolution in educational thinking and method is not more than two decades old. The hearty radicalism of twenty years ago is the conservatism of to-day.

The history of our University of New Zealand is highly illuminating, fascinating, and it has the tormenting qualities of any epic of manners and mind. It alternately depresses and inspires, bores and excites.

Our pioneer leaders were men of high dreams. They had a vision, and this article is a brief attempt to see what became of it.

Be reminded that the permanent discovery in the reading of history is that the radical mind, no matter of what past generation, retains in retrospect its freshness of outlook, and its inevitable rightness. In those early days of the making of New Zealand, in the clash of debate, of provincial warfares, in the wordy heat of discussion which burned with local jealousies and personal prejudices, you will find flashing jewels of wisdom, which still shine as truth for our times. You will find eloquent warnings, since amply justified, and prophecies, now wholly fulfilled. There were “giants in those days,” great men, and great New Zealanders. They were not possessed by the dreadful obsession that truth is static; they foresaw that the only mind of value was the open mind and the only teacher of lasting influence was he who was free of egotism.

The latest statement of that profound truth is in a gem of condensation by Dr. J. C. Beaglehole.

“It should be added that a university, simply stated, is an association of teachers and students, with this characteristic, that the teachers do not cease to be students.”

Listen to an ancient voice putting the eternal basis of university in picturesque imagery.

Hippocrates said: “Our natural disposition is, as it were, the soil; the tenets of the teacher are, as it were, the seed; instruction in youth is like the planting of the seed in the ground at the proper season; the place where the instruction is communicated is like the atmosphere which imparts food to vegetables; diligent study is like the cultivation of the fields; and it is Time page 19 which imparts strength to all things and brings them to maturity.”

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Auckland University College.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Auckland University College.

That was written nearly 2,500 years ago, and I make no apology for quoting from that old Greek. The collection of cow cockles, sheep herders, and traders who inhabited the land of Greece, devised a new thing, and started a new habit; they did their own thinking and so made our civilisation possible.

Let us take a saunter down the corridors of New Zealand history and take a peep under the arches of the years that span the story of the New Zealand University.

There is a faintly comic flavour about the fact that more than one of our text books of civic history does not mention the University. The narrative has to be drawn from a trio of works directly relating to the colleges, chapters in more general works, and masses of official papers, newspaper articles and whatnot.

The Hon. C. C. Bowen.

The Hon. C. C. Bowen.

However, an illustrious work has emerged which performs the task, and there is at last a history of the New Zealand University. J. C. Beagle-hole's book is an art object of such distinction and brilliance, written with such virility and originality, that I rank it along with “Tutira” as one of the books that, maybe, wilt cause New Zealand to be remembered in the world of literature.

The colonisation of New Zealand was under a lucky star whose rays were seldom interrupted. Perhaps the beam that had the most important effect was the time setting in which the trek of adventurous Britons took place.

At the very time when the settlement of New Zealand was proceeding apace, England was alight from end to end with the controversy on University Reform. Teaching has become almost extinct at Oxford and Cambridge, suffering from “organised torpor.”

In a few short years the resolute radicalism of the despised Victorian era, exploded mine after mine under these age-old fortresses; religious barriers were largely abolished; Cambridge instituted a Natural Science Tripos; provincial universities sprang into being, and in 1867 provision was made in the University of London for women students. Later, women entered the sacred precincts of Oxford and Cambridge.

In Canterbury, in. particular, not only many of the leaders but many of the pastorialists were university men. Rolleston (whose, brother was an Oxford Professor), Bowen, Joshua Williams, and Gidley were Cambridge men. Stafford was from Dublin University, Studholme from Oxford. It was a notable fact that the most liberal of the universities, Cambridge, had the most representatives. There was no question of the sincerity of their idealism. The speeches of Tancred, Rolleston, and Bowen ring with lofty thought, and Fitzgerald's leaders in the Christchurch “Press” have few peers to-day.

There had been nothing in history like the material success of the Canterbury Settlement. Many a man got £5 per acre for wheat alone from land that had cost him £2 for the freehold. The railway through the Port Hills had made Lyttelton an important export centre, and among others, Samuel Butler had gone back to England with a fortune made in a few short years.

Back in 1862, the “Chariot of Fame” had taken a first shipment of 15,000 ounces of gold direct from Dunedin to London. Otago was booming in the real old-fashioned sense, and its Stock Exchange was respected all over the world for its ruthless sagacity.

It seemed to the group of leaders in both provinces that the old saying, “the shelf before the book, the wall before the painting,” could now be fulfilled. The settlers of Otago with their distinctive Scottish traits were men of forthright action. They wasted little time. There were two main schools of thought in the colony; one favoured a single University for the whole of New Zealand, conferring its own degrees; the other foresaw some sort of federalism with teaching colleges arising in each centre. There was a third which was held by many scholarly thinkers; they thought that New Zealand could not provide a university in any real sense, and instanced the failure of Sydney to do so; they proposed a system of scholarships enabling New Zealanders to go to English universities. “It is better to remain a healthy branch than to become a stunted tree.” There was more in this than mere toryism, and we should be sparing of ridicule.

Led by the inextinguishable Superintendent, James Macandrew, a provincial Ordinance was passed in June,
The Hon. Henry John Tancred, M.L.C.

The Hon. Henry John Tancred, M.L.C.

page 20 1869, and Otago felt that it had secured the initial advantage. It must be remembered that in both Otago and Canterbury there was a general feeling of complacency. It was unlikely that the ragged cohorts of the North Island would ever compete with the prosperous and enlightened folk of the South Island provinces, and there seemed no possible likelihood of Otago being displaced from cultural and commercial leadership. Wellington had a population of about one-third of Otago, and the four hundred odd miles between the capital and Auckland was a mass of dense forest whose occasional clearings were occupied by warlike and unmannerly natives. Otago's determination was to own the University for the whole colony. Positions were advertised for professorial chairs in Australia and elsewhere, and the advertisement particulars show that full value was expected for the salaries offered.

Considering all the factors in operation, it reflects credit on the men of those days that the University of New Zealand was founded in the form which was eventually settled.

Otago sank its provincial outlook and gave up its initial advantages of positional progress, Canterbury, which had gone a long way on the road to the establishment of institutions with fine buildings, actually was the centre of the national, as opposed to the provincial view. Tancred and Rolleston fought the good fight, and when Vogel succeeded in the abolition of the provincial governments, the way was clear.

It took enormous courage, and entailed a high quality of mental resilience to give victory to the men who advocated that the University should be a central examining body, to which could be affiliated teaching colleges as they were established.

It must be remembered that the liberalism of those days had its limitations. Industrialism in England was at its peak; the workman was expected to be obedient and industrious for twelve hours a day, and to get joy from the glimpse through drive gates of his employer's superb mansion and formal gardens. New Zealand was an outpost of nineteenth century capitalism. The age was not one of all cruelty. Nelson had its Mechanics' Institute on English lines, Chambers Miscellany came here in all its glory, and thousands of well-meaning wealthy folk in the Old Land smiled at the dangers, so soon to be in evidence, that the portly squire foresaw in. educating the working man. England even had an entirely respectable republican party, and Huxley and Tyndall were fighting in the rough and tumble struggle to free scientific research from doctrinal obstruction.

The Hon. W. Rolleston.

The Hon. W. Rolleston.

(Rly. Publicity photo.) Canterbury University College.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Canterbury University College.

In New Zealand Vogel had openly stated the inherent right of every man not to a living but to his “share of the good things of life.” Atkinson was a convinced socialist, with every avenue of experiment, blocked by a terrible financial crisis when he came to power.

It seemed to the progressive spirits of the time that the examination system would act as an engine of democratic educational progress. “In the sight of the examiner, all men stood, equal.” Here was a method of abolishing the power of dons to limit passes to candidates of their own class or who were to their own personal liking.

But, in those far-off days, there were men who feared the final results of examinations as the final test of a man's education. I quoted Huxley above, and he had a strange bedfellow in Newman.

Let us see the results in New Zealand. It can be at once claimed that the apparent achievement of the University of New Zealand is most imposing. There are four University Colleges, all of them owning buildings of beauty and imposing size. Otago and Canterbury already wear an air of dignity and the grace of antiquity adorns their ivied waifs and spreading lawns. We have more B.A.'s to the thousand than any other land on earth.

But it is no more than the truth to say that. many of those forecasts of future disillusionment, made in the 'seventies, have been fulfilled.

The long-fought-for Commission of 1925 gives us little cause for self-congratulation. I can only briefly quote from its findings: “The proportion of page 21 university students to the population was the highest in the world … but this was a symptom of weakness rather than strength. It may mean, and in our opinion, does mean, that the University in New Zealand is working at a lower level and with inferior ideals … it offers unrivalled facilities for gaining university degrees, but …. it is less successful in providing university education.”

(S. P. Andrew, photo.) The Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Stout, a great benefactor to the University of New Zealand.

(S. P. Andrew, photo.)
The Rt. Hon. Sir Robert Stout, a great benefactor to the University of New Zealand.

It is perhaps true that a university education to-day is widely regarded mostly as a means of “getting on”—an appalling doctrine.

The recommendations of the Commission, neatly diluted, were more or less incorporated In an Amending Act in 1926. A couple of years later appeared a financial report by Messrs. Bell and Barrow, two officers of the Education Department. The most startling items of this document to me are the contrasting figures of the aid given by various Governments to University education. The amounts per student are as follows:

Great Britain £54, New South Wales £32, Wales (where conditions are most similar to ours) £84, and … New Zealand £19. The discussion in Parliament in the session of 1928 on the New Zealand University Amendment Bill is most interesting. The new idea of making the institution dependant on annual grants was slipping in quietly, and I want you to read what the Hon. (then Mr.) Peter Fraser said at the time, and compare it with the extract from the Hon, C. C. Bowen, many years before. I give these as a proof of my previous statement of the consistency and rightness in retrospect of the radical mind. Both are in terms of the English of Pym and Hampden…

Mr. Fraser said: … “I submit that the introduction of this principle of placing our highest educational authorities directly under annual appropriation of Parliament is not an advisable one … If there is one thing we should endeavour to secure, it is that the men occupying high positions in the educational world as professors of the various sciences and branches of learning should feel that, at all times and under all circumstances, they are at liberty to express the opinions which they consider to be correct.”

And now C. C. Bowen: “A University ought to be able to do its work independently and fearlessly without having the rod of Government interference hanging over its head …. Independent universities had before defended liberty of thought against popular prejudice and domineering governments.”

There is no space to use the rest of these succinct statements as to the dangers of interference with academic freedom. I can remember well a Minister of Education saying: “I think ethnology is the study of the skulls of Maoris and Morions,” and it would be a startling position if he were able to deny salary supplies to a professor who had a different view of ethnology, or any subject for that matter.

In this country, our very heritage should enable our university institutions to lead the world in freedom. We are out of the pioneer stage of “make do.” We should surely be conscious that economy in education expenditure is a deliberate squandering of our human capital.

Otago university. (From an etching by M. Matthews).

Otago university. (From an etching by M. Matthews).

The founders of this “new Britain” had a vision of a people who shared together every cultural advantage possessed by the ruling classes of the land they left. The University was to he an important ingredient factor in the fashioning of a race of independent thinkers, with intellectual as well as physical enterprise. Perhaps their hopes have not altogether been falsified, but I doubt if, without more devotion, more practical aid to our men of ideas, we can accompany our present march to material prosperity by forming our university into the ideal presented in the following quotation from J. C. Beaglehole:

“As a court of justice should be no respecter of persons, so the university should be no respecter of ideas; as we do not seek to intimidate the majesty of the law, so we should recoil with equal repugnance from the intimidation of the intellect. For the intellect is by nature critical, and only in the free functioning of intelligence is there hope for the university or for the world. But this freedom is also beautiful and desirable in itself. That is the open secret which the university, in its nature, exists perpetually to rediscover.”

What can we in New Zealand do to give these golden words a real meaning?