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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970

Titchner: "Please somebody tell him..."

Titchner: "Please somebody tell him..."

In writing this commentary on Professor Titchener's address to the A.U.T. seminar in Auckland on 21 May, I find that I do not have the time, givan the short notice, nor I am sure does Salent have the space, to expand in depth my own views on the functions of modern universities nor on the question of far more importance to us, universities in New Zealand today. Some of these views will become obvious from what I write but I would hope that readers appreciate that I may appear not to give appropriate emphasis to important questions.

I first became aware of what Titchener had said from the televised excerpt from his address. The following day I read carefully all the available newspaper reports, including that in the New Zealand Herald—a copy of which I bought specially. This led me to move a resolution, which the Chancellor seconded, at the following Monday's meeting of Council. The original text was 'That this Council inform Professor Titchener of the University of Auckland that, however accurate his reported statements of 21 May about causes of alleged waste in universities may be in respect of some situation in his own university in which he as a senior academic has presumably been in a position of influence for some years, it considers him not competent to speak on these questions about the university system in New Zealand as a whole and furthermore that it repudiates those utterances as far as this university is concerned".

On the suggestion of one member of Council, who thought the words from "however" to "years" might be interpreted as a personal attack, I agreed to their deletion. During the discussion, which resulted in the carrying by Council of an amended resolution to issue public statement published in fact in Wellington papers on 27 May, another member of Council who had been present for Professor Titchener's address read parts of it to Council. I of course cannot speak for other members of Council, but my own reaction at that point, shared I am sure by others, was to be even more appalled than I had been previously. Now that I have, by courtesy of the Editor of Salient, been able to read the text of the whole address I can only say that I feel one of my remarks at Council to have been a gross understatement. This remark was to the effect that one of the things most irrelevent to the facts of New Zealand universities today was Professor Titchener and his statements. This of course is not to deny that he may be a very good Professor of Engineering. I don't know and I would not be presumptuous enough to judge him in that context. I would accept the judgment of knowledgeable experts. This raises the central point of my disagreement with him. He is not, except possibly for the University of Auckland, a knowledgeable expert in the subject he chose to discuss, universities in New Zealand and that can be demonstrated from an examination of his own text. Indeed such an examination shows that his knowledge of university development in Europe, in the United Kingdom in the 19th century and in New Zealand since 1869 and right up to the present day is woefully deficient.

Before I go any further I should say that there are some generalisations and qualifications in the text with which hardly anyone would disagree. Moreover, as we pointed out at Council, there are certain passages which Professor Titchener must have known, because of their emotive content, would be seized on by what today are euphemistically described as the "news media".

The text treats us to a perpetuation of the 19th century 'Oxbridge' myth and its alleged influence on New Zealand universities. In his third paragraph however, Professor Titchener must have some people somewhere really rotating on their axes. It must be interesting to all those students who through the centuries have attended Bologna to read that the Professor has decried the demise of their university at some date in the past. Apparently this "demise" had something to do with a form of student government adopted in the early Middle Ages. But how able was Napoleon ere he saw Elba? Apparently his efforts with the University of Paris were as nothing. It has survived because in the twelfth century it was governed by its teaching members, according to Titchener. Furthermore he would have us believe that "present-day universities have an administrative structure that is descended directly from the early Paris system". I can only hope that, for the sake of all our futures, the structures designed by Professor Titchener's students are more substantial than the arguments in his first three paragraphs.

Let me now state some things which I believe to be true about the present university situation in New Zealand. 'Oxbridge' had some but a very small effect in New Zealand. Other influences, and more important ones, were the Scottish system, the other British universities and developments in the Unites Slates together with a tincture of the applied science of a united Germany. This leads me to the next point that the New Zealand system has always been a blend of the "education for the whole man" system with the vocational training system. I think that for the forseeable future it will continue to be such a blend and I am also of the opinion that, given our circumstances, it is a sound blend, it is intellectually justifiable and it meets the needs of our society. That is not to say that it meets the needs of some small critical sector in the community, but rather that it serves the needs as best it sees them and that it is very conscious of the fact that comparatively large sums of public money are being spent to maintain and develop the system.

This brings me to the central issue, namely that Professor Titchener claims that universities waste public money. Apparently "scholastic whims" dictate research projects. Perhaps they do in Auckland. Perhaps there has been the occasional case he has encountered during his recent membership of what has been described to me as that "Mickey Mouse setup"—the National Research Advisory Council. If he has, let him say so. If not, let him stop branding dedicated researchers as wasters. In any case, if a university has a pressing need for a lecturer in French to help train B A. students who are going to teach in the schools, what research project relevant to New Zealand would Professor Titchener prescribe? Perhaps he would recommend instead of the appointee's interest in say the Provencal troubadours, that he try to find out what sea shanties the sailors under Marion do Fresne's command sang.

But, pause, there are other dramatic revelations to follow. There should be more in the way of vocational options available in B.A. subjects. Apparently the learned Professor has never heard of universities in New Zealand where such options are available. Here he takes an Auckland experience and applies it to the whole country. "Perhaps he should be told gently that it is possible to provide, and such has been provided, a B.A. structure that provides legitimately for both the person seeking a good general edducation end also for the person seeking "vocationally oriented tertiary education". He tells us that he inclines "to the view that the vocational teaching should not be postponed as long as that," i.e. post-bachelors diplomas. Perhaps a runner should start now with a message impaled on a pointed stick to tell the barbarians north of the Waikato River that tha Victoria B.C.A. degree enables people to take a range of subjects and course options which ensures that they can select the combination best suited to them. In the "interdepartmental studies" option people can offer appropriate unity from the B.A. or B.Sc. degree prescriptions.

However Professor Titchener also assures us that "there is a need for well qualified persons with a specific training at the level at which the university operates, but which it does not currently serve". Indeed he gives examples. They are as follows (with my comments following and those comments apply just to Victoria and not to what may be being done elsewhere in New Zealand)

Local body and Government administration

Please somebody tell him the D.P.A. course was instituted in Victoria in 1939 and you don't have to have a first degree to be enrolled.

Social workers of various kinds

Please somebody tell him that there has been a Diploma of Social Science course at Victoria for over twenty years and again you don't have to have a first degree to be enrolled.

Industrial relations and personnel management

Please somebody tell him that this area has been covered at Victoria for most of the last decade by courses offered in the Department of Economics and by a variety of courses, including some arduous certificate courses, in the Department of University Extension. While he is being told this he might also be informed that negotiations lasting over eighteen months have resulted in an Industrial Relations Research Centre complete with an advisory committee which includes in its membership the Presidents of major trade organisations, i.e. F.O.L., Employers, Manufacturers.

Let Professor Titchener tell us what has been done in the field of careers advice for those students who want such advice. If it has been neglected by New Zealand universities, let him tell US how.

I have now covered the areas in which we are accused of wasting public money, apart from an allegation of research information not being exchanged and coordinated. This was a common charge in the scientific disciplines twenty years or so ago. Such information as I was able to obtain from inquiry, which I made well before the Titchener address, indicates that in general there is no longer any substance to this view.

I could go on and on. I don't think it's worth it. Before I conclude let me make it quite plain that our New Zealand system safeguards the right of students who have qualified to take the courses which they want to. It must continue to do so. I am sure the Council of this University will ensure this, as will equally the academic staff within the vicinity of staffing and finance. Indeed, although my own first degree was in a faculty regarded as "vocational", it was not taken for a vocational purpose and was of no vocational value to me.

The kindest thing to do about Professor Titchener's address is to forget it ever happened.