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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945

Council Student Relations — What Is and What Should Be

page 70

Council Student Relations

What Is and What Should Be

I Have been a member of the Council for ten years. During that time the relations of the Council and the Student Body have, in my opinion, been good. Since the students have had a student representative on the Council that student has always received a fair and considerate hearing, and proposals brought forward by him or sent on direct by the executive of the Students' Association have been discussed and voted on by the Council on their merit. The recent proposal to resite the College in an area where it would be in closer contact with the city itself and have the necessary room to expand all its activities was due, as far as I know, entirely to the initiative of the students. It was well received by the Council and a joint Committee was set up to go thoroughly into it.

But though all this can be said it is not saying a great deal when we reflect upon the times in which we are living. University Colleges should become one of the major institutions giving leadership to modem democracies. (One is often asked cynically "What is Democracy?" The reply made without cynicism is "It is the opposite to Fascism.")

To play its part in a Democracy a college should, within commonsense limits, have a maximum of self-government, and it should be broad based upon that Democracy. From both these standpoints the constitution of Victoria College is quite indefensible.

It has only one student representative and the rest of the representation consists of members not democratically chosen in any fundamental way. Does the Council thus constituted fail in any essential sense?

In my opinion, yes. Though we live in critical times, though a revolution in the outlook and basis of our society is under way, the College does not expand to it. If it did, its informed and impartial outlook as a learned institution would be at least ten-fold as much impressed upon our democratic community as a whole as is the case From the standpoint of the Democracy it serves and from which to a major extent it draws its financial support, the College is up a back street. Its function of furthering individual careers may be adequately performed, but this function in times like our own is not its main raison d'etre nor is it an entirely social one. Given many advantages by the community, the college should in an outstanding way be playing a leading role in the community's thinking.

Internally it should be characterised by a far greater degree of mutuality in its life and government. As regards the area it serves it should, so to speak, be begotten of the democratic spirit and aspirations of that area. If I'm right in this, and it goes without saying that I speak only for myself, the constitution of the College should be radically changed. How? Briefly in two respects: (1) All the forms of special representation should go by the board and be replaced by a council of, say, fifteen members elected on a parliamentary franchise. Graduates might, and probably would to a reasonable extent, be thus elected. This council as it alone was representative of the taxpayers would alone have the right to vote on motions. (2) There should also be consultative representation of the college page 71 teaching staff and of the students. In both cases the representation should be, increased from one to four. These representatives should have the right to propose motions and to discuss all matters, but not the right to vote.

I am well aware that these suggestions lay themselves open to criticism and that, if adopted, they would give rise to difficulties. A writer who invokes Democracy as the sole alternative to Fascism does not by any means allow himself to be carried away by an illusion of the saintliness of Democracy. It permits of a margin of human error quite as great as does the academician.

What is uppermost in the writer's mind, influenced as he is by the too often unfortunate experience of Universities in countries overseas, is the need for a University College to achieve a broad based security by knitting itself to the Democracy of which (in New Zealand, at any rate) it is the paid servant.

That the students should be an actively democratic section within the modern democracy the College as a whole seems to me to go without saying. At their age their main purpose in attending any Institution is to grow up mentally, morally and physically, and how they, are to do this without exercising initiative, gaining' confidence from their successes and taking the responsibility for their mistakes—I do not know. In conclusion, as bearing upon the last point, may I quote from Character Education "In a Democracy," by S.R. Slavson (page 189):—

"In educational work we must be prepared while leading also to follow the hand of those whom we are educating. In so doing we ourselves develop and grow. . .

"Freedom cannot be activated unless a feeling of mutuality and unity of purpose exists among the pupils, the staffs, and the board of directors." Freedom, as placed in this context, I personally take to be synonymous with Democracy.