Victoria University College an Essay towards a History
IX — The Forties
They were not all alive, of course. Students, and those who had been students, died, in most of the ways possible in modern war, and taken with the blind and brutal chance incident to war. It was not exactly the sort of war they had expected—except that, certainly, it was a war against Fascism—but it was sufficiently fatal, in the Western Desert or in Italy, at sea or in the air.1 They went without romantic illusions, whatever other illusions they may have had, and they came back without bitterness. They went also, it seems, without bitterness against those of their friends who had been convinced, as a result of all the discussion of the preceding years, that duty lay in refusal to serve, and who deliberately chose the difficult path that led to the ‘defaulters' camp. For that half-decade of discussion had this result, from which the college may derive some satisfaction, that a large number of its sons and daughters decided their choice of duty as reasonable persons, and served a principle that was compelling because it was thought out; served it, too, with a mutual regard that survived all the strains of the hardest of those years. In the college, at least, to the page 232 extent that is possible for man, had been bred up respect both for reason and for conscience.
One of the obvious results of the war was the fall in student numbers. In 1939 there were almost 1100 students; in 1942 there were 750, and an arts professor or lecturer, gazing out sometimes over his class, might be pardoned for thinking it contained, besides women, nothing but the halt and the blind. Science students, of course, were encouraged as war potential to complete their degrees. There were things that physicists and chemists could do beyond the competence of mere arts men; and indeed some of the work that college scientists did was invaluable. Meanwhile, in the worst days of the war, and as it slowly turned to the better, everybody was engaged in something besides lecturing or being lectured to. The parcels went away regularly to students serving overseas. Liberty Loans had their college campaigners, and the Students' Association both gave money to the patriotic fund and invested sums from its Building Fund in the loans. As members of the E.P.S., fire-watching professors and lecturers slept on the college premises, in spite of earthquakes and draughts and queer noises —how cold and draughty and noisy that building could be at two o'clock in the morning, and there were the giant rats described by Brookie; or explored the astonishing wilderness of the rafters and ceiling-boards beneath the roof where it might be their duty to combat incendiary bombs (Don't tread on the Library ceiling, Professor, or you'll go right through!’); or tried to follow the lectures of the accomplished First-Aid lady with the triangular bandages, whose accidents seemed never to come out of a war but always off the football field. Or drafted into the Home Guard, they climbed up hills and did their best with had-grenades and weapons of more intricate construction.2 They worked at government publicity page 233 or at industrial psychology, as part of the civilian war-effort.3 Students, men and women, spent the long vacations under man-power regulations in very varied activities, in hospitals, freezing works, dairy-factories, mines, wool-stores and on farms, gaining, as well as blisters, some immediate knowledge of the problems of economic organization and unionism to which they had hitherto been strangers, In Students'Association and clubs, more and more work fell on women students; indeed, but for them, there would have been little enough college life. They carried the responsiblities of leadership with an ability that hardly calls for wonder, or even general admiration; for such ability at our college has never been the exclusive possession of one sex.4 Beneath the college walls concrete air-raid shelters squatted, in solid inutility. Yet, with all this, teachers and Council alike, as well as students, pursued a course which can be called liberal: there was tolerance of the dissident conscience: the refugee, though technically an ‘enemy alien’ found that appointment to the staff was not impossible.
There was, naturally, within the college some scepticism, to begin with, over the objects and justice of the war—quite apart from the attitude of convinced pacifists. Honest and intelligent students tended to walk the streets wrestling in their minds for some clear indication of truth; or feeling, with a sense of fatality, that truth or none, in due course conscription would sweep them into the unintelligible struggle. There page 234 were those, like those outside all over the world, who while convinced that the foe was Fascism, were equally convinced that a war fought against Fascism without the U.S.S.R. was somehow just one more ‘imperialist war’—or at least a war that called for a particular measure of hesitation. Once Russia was in, they were released from this awful quandary, and the was became a moral touchstone. This, while to the majority of New Zealanders it seemed obviously and almost deliberately wrong-headed, was not, with students, very unnatural. The elements of the left wing, and even of a more philosophic liberalism, at college were complex. For a generation students had, like everyone else, been exposed to the arguments of the critics of western civilization. No one could deny that the critics had a strong case. For a generation archbishops and prime ministers and publicists in less exalted places had been proclaiming that another war could end all that was good in that civilization. What was bad in it was very well known. Yet, in September 1939, the cause of western civilization had become the cause of democracy, and it was for that dubious identification that young men and women were invited to die. Critical and disillusioned, immediate inheritors of the loss of faith that had been the fruit of the thirties, how could they suddenly turn their backs on the convictions that remained to them and practice an illogicality of bloodshed? They were in a mood to suspect all propaganda. But at lease propaganda of ‘anti-fascism’ had been more logical than most; at least Russia, because it was not western civilization in decay, seemed a star to steer by, even if a red star; to fight in a war with Russia as the ally was, after all, something different, it was not To be fighting, blinded and inveigled, for the old values of imperialism. Somehow in that service one could feel free. Somehow, with new, or at least re-interpreted, moral values, one could believe in a war. Somehow one could feel sure of a page 235 solution, could feel in the midst of confusion that the intellect had not been betrayed.
Indeed those students who struggled towards this conclusion were not unique in the world, or in New Zealand. They were like uncounted thousands of other puzzled people, wrestling with the burden of contemporaneity. It is not surprising that while students fought some of those who were not yet caught up found their duty in preaching an uncompromising gospel. For some years an energetic Left Wing ran Salient, and the pages of that journal could always be depended on to give, amid a good deal of sound sense, a dialectical explanation of something or other. ‘Ivory tower are no longer practicable for us’, it was proclaimed, rather superfluously. Salient, on the score of expense, in 1940 had to abandon print for stencilled typescript; and the editors, witnessed the fate of the suppressed Christchurch journal, Tomorrow, had a lively fear that their own paper might follow it. They had already been called subversive. They therefore interviewed the Prime Minister in person, and managed to retire with reassurance though not without warning. Students in the mass, certainly, took unkindly to any restriction on free speech. The Debating Society, under the extraordinarily wide shadow of the New Zealand security regulations, thought it unwise to discuss any large political issue at all, and in 1940 went through one of its worst periods. But when at the beginning of 1940 a Peace Society was started, and was refused affiliation by the Executive (obviously because of the persons of the founders), a special general meeting held that free speech had been violated, and insisted on affiliation. The aim of the society, asserted its founders, was not to oppose the war nor to uphold any particular political viewpoint, but to ensure to students the rights of free and impartial discussion. A worldly-wise Principal suggested a change of name to avoid public charges of propaganda, and the V.U.C. Society for the Discussion of Peace, War and Civil Liberties page 236 was born, with liberal professors roped in as vice-presidents: and forthwith died. It was certainly hardly needed, even by the Left Wing; but the general insistence that it should be allowed to exist indicated that the free mind was not dead. In the following year the free mind went on to a public offensive. Students were becoming rather tired of the attacks made upon them. Both their Executive and a general meeting of their Association adopted a manifesto. As a manifesto it suffered from a too elaborated irony. ‘A spectre is haunting New Zealand—the spectre of the University Red. He is unpatriotic and addicted to foreign philosophies; his attitude to political and social problems is irresponsible and immature; he is defeatist and unwilling to defend his country against aggression.’ But it did point out that on a number of occasions students in New Zealand as well as abroad had displayed a power of accurate judgment which had not characterized the ‘patriotic but misguided citizens’ their critics.
‘Unless we are prepared to speak the truth as we see it even at the risk of losing what popularity we possess among such people we shall betray the cause for which over three hundred of our fellow students are fighting in the Middle East, Not only would our cowardice in this matter play its part in destroying the democracy they are defending but it would certainly fail to assist in the war effort. In this connection it is interesting to compare the cruel and futile campaign for the persecution of pacifists that has been discussion on this subject that has been continued at V.U.C. throughout the war. The result has been that pacifism has declined in the face not of persecution but of arguments of a superior logical force.…’
‘Therefore we, the students of Victoria University College, deplore the slanders which have from time to time been brought against us, and pledge ourselves to maintain those page 237 principles of freedom for which British, Soviet, and allied youth are giving their lives.’
What effect, if any, this had one the patriotic but misguided citizens it is difficult to say; but mixed with the news from Egypt and the Desert, of death and wounds and of reunions in Cairo, came at least one complaint from an indignant collegian that it was nothing but communist propaganda. Indeed students might be united in defence of free speech, but like most bodies in a liberal state they were riven by their own peculiarities. The Executive in 1941, said Salient, had had a most difficult time with ‘odd unauthorized “committees” of students’; if Fascism invaded Victoria, the college would fall apart; the ‘general disintegration in student activity in the last few years’ had aroused the Executive to take steps ‘to co-ordinate V.U.C., into a social unity’ by means of a Social Committee. It would combine its duty of upholding student liberties to the utmost with the extending of its co-operation to all members of the Staff; before long there were large programmes for the reform of university teaching—and not merely in arts and science, for Salient was ‘proud to feature a scheme for the reform of legal education’. ‘Curricula investigation’ was a favourite pursuit of the war years, with its off-shoot in the demand for mildly-soviet ‘faculty committees’. ‘Pull down those Ivory Towers’ demanded Salient again (those unhappy towers); away with apathy; We Can Be No Longer Neutral, said Salient, in another rather tardy glimpse of the obvious; we must have a Second Front, said Salient. ‘Has V.U.C. come up to the requirements of a war-time University this year?’ asked Salient in 1942. ‘We feel obliged to answer in the negative.’ Salient was nothing if not censorious, as it co-ordinated the world with the college; Salient was nothing but a Red Rag, responsible to on one, the answering charge was hurled. ‘Blues and Pinks Vanish in Polychromatic Dialectic’, ran the headline reporting a debate on the possible benefits of co-operation be- page 238 tween the Labour and Communist parties; and perhaps that polychromatic dialectic was as typical of the college as was anything else. The Executive continued with its thorny task of co-ordination.5 In 1943 came the beginning of ‘working days’ for International Student Service, for the provision of text-books and clothing and food for students released from the pressure of tyranny overseas—the revival of work carried on in the wake of war twenty years before.
The two causes, however, which (apart from the international one) loomed largest in these years were first that of curricula investigation and faculty committees, on which a large and intimidating report was prepared, and secondly that of physical education and medical examination of students. This latter was stimulated by overseas experience, and under the fostering care of a group of science students grew into a demand for compulsory medical advised to the college. (There were indeed enthusiasts from the psychology department who saw wide signs of mental maladjustment among their fellows.) A voluntary scheme of examination was arranged in 1944, but it had to be carried out during other, more traditional examinations, and no more than a third of the students took part. A permanent scheme could not be instituted without money, and as the enthusiasts departed, the popular demand waned.page 239
Students, of course, have always been concerned about their culture, and never more so than during a war. There was, too the common culture; ardent and worried souls, in that grotesque world, gazed back anywhere in time to an ideal Victoria College, in violent contrast with, and a compulsive model for, their own college with its fissiparous, tangential, centrifugal life. It was nothing to do with ivory towers, or even, really, the fight against Fascism; they were in another period of desperate social unease, with circumstance playing hard against them. They were subject, like the rest of the country, whether in Obvious or in more subtle ways, to the effects of the American invasion. That affected individuals, and the repercussions went on, faintlier heard perhaps than the great noise from Russia, but disturbing all the same the outlines, the filaments, of older social relations. Flies on the wheel, students did not even have the consolation of the usual thoughtful fly, for this wheel did not seem to be getting anywhere. It wobbled, hesitated, plunged, but never went straight forward. How difficult it was, then, for flies to feel a sense of corporate unity, to make one harmonious and universal buzz, not to retire sometimes into an indignant, wounded, or deliberately care-spurning individualism; or not to upbraid, with an exacerbated morality, the anti-social behaviour of their fellows. For after all, they were not flies, the metaphor breaks down; they had an acute sense, very many of them, of the demands of the good life— what else did the university exist for but to emphasize the values of the good life?—and the good life seemed very much imperilled. Man is a social animal; very well then, lets us do something to keep him so; let us adopt a forward cultural and social policy, let us have militant progressive action—as certain earnest persons would keep on saying.page 240
But looking back, one cannot be too greatly cast down by the record. There was life, though it might have odd facets. Certainly clubs existed by fits and starts, but when one died, something else took its place. A high standard in sport was difficult to attain, and the pundits, talking sadly of youth and inexperience, could only hope for better days. Nevertheless, a Soccer Club was founded in 1944, and tramping and the Harrier Club flourished. Debating recovered from the slump of 1940, and degenerated, and recovered again; drama, temporarily eclipsed by E.P.S. and black-outs (ah, those brown paper-obliterated or blue-painted windows!), revived; the Phoenix Club, with the energies of its more political members canalized into Salient, faltered, resumed life in 1942, and then died; a Hostorical Society had a life of only two years. The extravaganza for 1941 was declared subversive, and a hurried substitute had to be prepared; then there was a lapse till 1942 In partly, it seems, a defence against ‘left tendencies’, a Catholic Students' Guild was formed as a society affiliated to the Students' Association, though it had its headquarters not at Victoria but at St Patrick's College, Well, it might argue, the Left Wing did a good deal of talking at Unity centre, and Cuba Street was almost as far from college as Cambridge Terrace was Nevertheless there were certain groups of students for whom their studies meant a more intense and common life, in history and philosophy, and in some of the sciences. For them, sitting on the floor in a crowded room, with professor or lecturer in unbuttoned mood and fair game, late discussions over coffee made their own departments the core of the college existence; in such gatherings, too, the younger staff were able to return to something very like the relations with students that had prevailed forty years earlier. Then, when the Teachers' Training College suffered from earthquake in 1942, its staff and students were given hospital- page 241 ity by Victoria, and that, in a general way, was good and strengtherning for both institutions.
The particular not-strictly academic activity that flourished in those war years was music. The Carnegie gift was invaluable. There was a Gramaphone Society, there was a Music Makers' Club, there was a Music Club, there was even for a year or two an orchestra. The César Franck Symphony had almost its antipodean apotheosis. There were esoteric gentlemen who would ‘debunk’ Beethoven; there were the devotees who defined and exalted ‘hot jazz’; there was once an extremely learned article in Spike which fixed on the great figures of the contemporary world—Disney, Ellington, Chaplin: ‘In the cul-de-sac which is modern culture, these three are the men of the time’. Yet when Marie Vandewart played her cello, Beethoven and Brahms and Himdemith proved also to be men of our time; and with such activity increasing, it was borne in upon men that there were tracts of aesthetic experience to which the college had officially so far paid little heed. A chair of music was demanded.
Culture on paper remained Salient and Spike, and Salient shone in film-reviews. Verse, in the war years, was going through a lean period; it tended, when written, to be social verse; Spike was the home of verse. Salient was apt to fall back upon snippets of Walt Whitman and D. H. Lawrence, or on improper limericks, and in criticism to follow the best available overseas models, assaulting A. E. Housman after Auden, and enlarging on Rilke as the glow of that name rose into the Europeon heaven. But normally, as a critic in 1944 complained, the paper's aesthetic criteria were too simple; ‘if the picture or book describes heroism in the physical fight against Fascists it is good; otherwise useless.’ But Spike was more complex, more philosophical, Spike treated the dialectic on a grander scale, was more elaborate in its obituary notices of culture, was very often harder to understand. Like Salient, page 242 it trod a difficult path, even though only once a year; and it was in that queer year 1940 that it was withdrawn and certain paragraphs blocked out at the behest of the Executive. They were paragraphs in which the editor informed the world that Spike was not the free expression of university opinion: considerable concession had been make to forces at work in the community detrimental to free speech: ‘to these forces we yield now, but not without condemnation, and not without knowledge that this affront will be remembered in future time.’ Brave words; and not, after all, so very subversive. In 1941 the magazine was, the editors thought, predominantly factual—from no personal predilection of theirs, but because of the general nature of the contributions; and that was, they thought, highly significant of the present-day students' attitude to the world. In 1943 the editor was worried, rather than admonitory or calmly acceptant: ‘Surely the upsurge of student progressive writing the world over cannot have passed New Zealand by’ (he seemed to have got plenty of progresssive writing, as it was understood in those days, into his number of Spike). In 1944 there was more confidence: ‘So I hold my thesis’, it was written, ‘that the battlefield had influenced Victoria College, both from the written sources, papers and magazines, as from the unwritten force that seems to open our spirits for the reception of a sense of space, which was unknown to most of the pre-war grocer world.’ This was a rather intimidating Spike.
One must remember, gratefully, the V.U.C.S.C.C.R.N.Z., that burst on the college in 1943. Culture, felt its originator, was at a low ebb; Salient had deteriorated and was full of crudely presented overseas propaganda;6 when one saw ‘the page 243 horrible little demagogues who foam on our debating platforms and the solemn writers of incredibly bombastic and meaningless editorials posing as champions of culture,’ one did not wonder that the attitude of many students towards culture was unfavourable. Why not, then, follow the example of the ‘S.C.R.,’ which so painstakingly spread the gospel of the Soviet culture? Why not a Victoria University College society for Closer Cultural Relations with New Zealand? Both the Executive and Salient were a trifle nervous. Did a shade of the satire quiver on the college air? Would the Society perhaps reconsider it name? The name! Better the name without the society that the society without the name. The conception was too brilliant; the society vanished.
The war rushed to its close: the veterans of Alamein and Cassino and the Arctic convoy began to pack the corridors before lecture-hours, amiably negligent of signs which forbade smoking, but curiously respectful towards professors and lectures (so it seemed to some of those elders) who were in- page 244 nocent of the desperate experience of the foreign battle, and had a feeling that the tokens of respect should move the other way. From the nadir of 1942, student numbers had at once begun to rise, and even before the war ended, in 1945, with those ‘on rehab’ coming to join the young people carried in by a new astonishing wave of belief in university education, there were almost 1500 attending lectures. The administrative task began to have its margin of alarm; for after all, the college buildings, put up by men who were professedly looking to the future, were designed to accommodate a maximum of about eight hundred. But that first increase, it might almost be said, was a moderate one; 1946 brought an additional 700, and by 1948 the college population verged on 2500—two and a half times more that it had been ten years before. ‘Rehab men’ received special coaching; lectures were repeated; jealous eyes dwelt on large class-rooms, and the very change of foetid air became a problem. For a year or two it was necessary to limit the number of science students for sheer lack of laboratory space.7 The era of army huts had arrived. No one could complain; there were few universities in the Commonwealth that had not their fringe or suburb of army hut in this new age of learning, and happy the university that could obtain, with whatever pains, the teachers to meet its needs. On civilized standards, the college had never had a reasonable quota of staff to students—it came nearest that in the year of its founding; vainly, vainly had it attempted to catch up, always losing ground, and making do only because of the peculiarities of the university system of New Zealand, based firmly, before ever our college came into existence, on the page 245 nineteenth century exaltation of lectures. The Reformers had worried about staffing; new reformers worried about staffing; the students' committees on curricula of the 1940's worried about staffing; and the more adequate a teaching staff was, the greater were the problems of paying for it and housing it. The problem, after this second World War, of finding teachers was in itself formidable; not merely was the shortage world-wide, and the college in competition with Oxford and Cambridge and London, but—hitherto unheard-of thing—the universities of Britain began seriously to look towards New Zealand, that old, odd, abode of savagery on the rim of empire, when filling their chairs. Liverpool founded a chair of psychology, and put Victoria's Hearnshaw in it; polite enquiries came to other men: was the time approaching, the question could almost be asked, when Wellington, which the four Missionaries had, as it were, colonized fifty years before, would send back apostles to teach St Andrews and Edimburgh and Cambridge?
After the war all departments were strengthened, and the list of staff began to look imposing—until one considered the masses of students and the complexities of teaching with which it had to cope. Mackenzie used to teach philosophy as well as English, Brown classics and French, Easterfield chemistry and Physics—fantastic! Senior lecturers and junior lecturers and demonstrators were added, where there had been four there were seventy, there were more in view; and still the college would be understaffed. Fifty years after its foundation it was larger by far in numbers than were some ancient and famous universities at the time of its foundation. Meanwhile there had been continued change in the professoriate. Adamson, unchanged in accent from the day he arrived, never the head of the School of Law he had once envisaged, as much a linguistic problem as ever for the freshman in law, struggling in vain against sickness, retired and died in 1939. To his chair came page 246 McGechan from Sydney, learned, accurate, and intelligible; and though an Australian might have been deemed by Stout ipso facto incapable of Roman law, at least his name shared in the great inheritance. At the end of 1944 Kirk, with dimming eyes and rather frail, but with sprit unimpaired, still the master of repartee and the bestower of an exquisite and unforced courtesy, with his accumulation of experience, and his humility in the face of scholarship and the needs of the harassed race of men-Kirk laid down his burden. In the jubilee year of the college none would have been more eagerly looked for than he, but he died in 1948. His chair was divided; Richardson, lecturer in zoology, took that subject, and in 1947 another Gordon, from Tasmania, came to botany. Kirk's retirement left only Brown of the early professors, and Brown seemed indestructible, a sort of Ulysses who might one day be expected to put out beyond the sunset and the baths of all the western stars; a sort of Nestor, rather, for Brown's forte had always been sage advice rather than cunning struggle with adventure. Knocked over by a motor-car (and so far Ulysses) he was back at college next day with only sticking-plaster to denote the battle; but age in the end told, not even Brown was indestructible; he saw out the war and resigned; and somehow, with the departure of that old man, the college suddenly seemed old. There was no one left who was there at the beginning. Brown was Knighted, but survived to enjoy that honour and his numismatic hobby only till 1947. Then, it may be that he touched the Happy Isles.6 The new professor of classics was from Aberdeen (via Durham, it is true), Murray, of scholarship profound.page 247
That year 1946 saw also a successor to Gould, in Colin Bailey, a student of his own. It was sad to lose Gould, with his generosity, his impatience of cant, his homespun magnanimity. Then Lipson went to America, to be succeeded by Parker. A department of music, though without a chair, was started in 1946 under Fredrick Page; and geography, geology's step-child, was given more adequate staffing. The teaching of music, as we have seen, was something the college had long needed, without the need being quite realized; and apart from formal teaching, with the standards involved, there came now also, through serious and able performance, a widening and deepening of emotional awareness that went far beyond the confines of the music department proper. Before long, the college was able to rejoice in a Steinway grand.
In two other ways maturity was advancing. After long discussion and government negotiation it had been agreed that all the New-Zealand university colleges should have full-time principals; and indeed the time was long overdue. The post-war administrative task was great, and ahead of Victoria, for the time when building was possible expansion. A head, even a permanent head, of the academic body who had also duties as a permanent head, of the academic body who had also duties as a teacher would, it was clear from experience since 1938, be inadequate for the task; and the uniquely-equipped Hunter relinquished his chair on being appointed to the new position, from the beginning of 1948. He was succeeded in the chair by Ernest Beaglehole, whose learning in psychology was both varied and fructified by a large amount of administration in this advancing maturity of the college. It had not been a matter to which the founders had devoted much attention; to get professors to lecture, students to listen to them, had been the end of their ambition; Brown and Mackenzie, not Easterfield and Laby, were the sort of people they were prepared page 248 to meet. Research was a work of supererogation; and truly, research over large expanses of Knowledge, even far beyond New Zealand, had fifty years ago hardly been invented. In New Zealand research in the natural sciences had gone on largely as a non-academic activity; with all the wealth of the ethnographic harvest waiting to be gathered, the workers in that field were the amateurs, the missionary, the farmer, the surveyor, in social relations, there was the crusader or the politician, but not the scientist. But from the 1920's academic talk was more and more in terms of research, as the twin sister of teaching; more and more it became the habit to ask applicants for university positions what books they had written, what original experimenting they had done; one began to doubt what chance some revered and substantial figures in New Zealand university life would have if they were young and applying for their jobs again, under this new dispensation, and one trembled, There was even, it was felt, some scope for research without teaching, or where only a mirror degree of teaching need be asked for. Of this order was the research fellowship in social relations in industry endowed for five years by Mr Henry Valder, a business man of Hamilton, in 1940. Under its terms Anthony Hare produced an interesting series of annual reports, as well as that final monumental volume, which gathered together so much material invaluable both to the student and to the man of affairs whose increasing task it was to grapple with those relations. Hare's recommendations in some respects had an immediate effect.9 Discussion within the page 249 University of the needs of study in their fields of human relations under contemporary conditions led to the decision to found at Victoria a school of Social Work, which might both enquire and train, and in which the first steps should be taken in 1949, as the college began its second fifty years. Then in 1948 the government made provision for a permanent research fellowship, which was to be held in the first instance for work in eighteenth century Pacific history, the age of Cook and Banks. Truly, with this new emphasis on administration and research, it was evident that the college was beginning to assume a coherence in its devotion to learning that it had not had before.
It is interesting, at this point development, the end as it were of the natal and adolescent period of the college's history, to contemplate the growing expenditure on its activities. To hark back to the Seddonian four thousand pounds and the exiguous fees from that handful of students in 1899 is almost to think of a child's pocket money, its spending determined not so much by parents as by a whole General Assembly of censorious and forbidding uncles. Now, the college was about to dispose of something over £ 100,000 of which £ 77,000 came from the government and £ 29,000 from fees; and it was seeking from the new University Grants Committee an annual grant of £ 37,000 more. It had begun by paying four professors £700 per annum each, and had quibbled over the salaries was £88,000. But such figures, though they would have seemed to John Richard Seddon, or the Hon. J. McKenize, astronomical, were after all illusory, they were not the figures of a voluptuous existence, they were to be considered in terms of a depreciated pound; the college still, when the income and expenditure of other university institu- page 250 tions were viewed, might consider that its destiny had been one of plain living and high-reasonably high, as high as ordinary mortals may attain to-thinking.
1945 is, in this decade, the cardinal year. It was then, as we have seen, that numbers took their sudden surge upwards, and that planning became necessary on the grand scale-planning of staff, planning of buildings planning of acquisition of new land for building, planning of general administration. Among students also there was a resurgence of general activity that gave pleasure to those who had struggled for the corporate life in the unpropitious years. The new struggle with numbers was hard (the Freshers Dance that year drew seven hundred celebrants); but the Easter Tournament, after a three years gap, was received at Wellington; a Winter Tournament was started for sports ranging from hockey to ski-ing; the Free Discussions Club was re-born for a brief period, until it was overwhelmed by a spate of other intellectual assemblies; Weir House reported that its Culture Grew Apace with its regular Sunday evening discussions; the extravaganza, Peter in Blunderland, went on tour to Palmerston North in aid of patriotic funds, and took that supposedly staid provincial centre by storm;Salient was good, well-edited and produced, and at the opening of a period when it was continually being overset and appearing in larger issues. The individual was recovering himself; we are at the outset of a period also in which poets appeared in large numbers, writing once more as persons with particular emotions-though, to be sure a good deal of the verse of these late forties maintained a surface which the readers of the first edition of the Old Clay Patch would find baffling.page 251
Indicate to memory, and she'll lead the way
Past potent present in this present place
To the intermingled dregs and sweets
Of our parallel past.
The poets were practicing a new discipline.
There were disappointments of course, All through the war the two ‘objectives’ had been maintained of the medical scheme and faculty committees. But the one, to be a success, needed money and compulsion, and now the Council, appealed to, could but reply that it had no authority under the Act to spend money on a medical scheme. The other failed against the conviction of the staff that it had enough committees to attend already, and that there was no obstacle in the way of students who had suggestions to make, or home-truths to utter, to their teachers. The medical scheme was dropped, but not the other for some time yet. When Salient produced a Ten Point Programme for the new Executive of 1946 it put faculty committees first; then came the demands for cheaper textbooks, more class-room accommodation, better board and lodging for students, the prosecution of the Student's Union building scheme, ‘increased student control of student activities’, improvements to the Library, a student sports council enlargement of the activities of the New Zealand University Student's Association, and students' common rooms. With most of these desirable ideals there could be no quarrel-how gladly would Council and Board have realized overnight buildings, hostels, a library twice the size, if conjuring could have done it. The Executive could but agree about the desirability, and sit down to appoint its committees: building, gymnasium (at least the Board relinquished all control of that), cafeteria, publication, overseas parcels, a committee to fight new university examination fees that were held to be unjust, tournament delegates, record officers-the organization of student activities, with all this and thirty clubs in addition, really page 252 was itself becoming a problem in human relations. A Problem? -it was a complex of problems, and not for the first or the last time was the Executive, in this year, the centre of enormous and resounding controversy. It was not controversy that calls for detailed analysis, but it calls for recognition as a sign of life, as much as crowded debates, or that summer tour to the universities of Canada and the United States arranged by the Biological Society, or the proposal to issue an Auckland edition of Salient (the students of Auckland had had their paper suppressed). Meanwhile, life received fresh encouragement from the announcement by the Minister of Education of a government subsidy of two pounds to one, up to £ 40,000, on all funds raised for the Student's Union. There were work-days still for Student Relief; there was a college branch of the R.S.A to help in student rehabilitation; there was the formation of a Socialist Club.
With 1947 came a further proliferation of clubs-clubs that in some sort met the needs to which faculty committees had been the fancied answer, and could meet them rather better, in bringing together students of the same subject but of different grades, in discussion less formal than of the classroom. The Biology Society had been enterprising, and now proceeded to publish its own journal, Tuatara. A new and very active Literary Society began to flourish, on Blake and the Elizabethan drama and New Zealand poets, and produced a stenciled ‘Broadsheet’—and who could forget, even if he could not comprehend, the later First and Second Placards of the Armadillan Absolutists? A Political Science Society plunged into Whitehead and Wittgenstein and the Pragmatists; a Historical Society ranged unrestrainedly over theory and fact. The Student Christian Movement had bestowed upon it, by church bodies and other backers outside the college, a chaplain page 253 whose influence was wider than a purely religious one. Indeed the S.C.M. in the mid-forties was occupying a quite important position in student thought. Just as, twenty years before, the Free Discussions Club had had a central importance in such thought, with its lively fringe of staggeringly unorthodox Christians (how some of them became Presbyterian ministers is still a thing of amazement), so now the S.C.M.existed strongly, with a fairly large fringe of semi-Christian, semi-philosophical persons-somewhat like, perhaps, the benevolently-inclined, not altogether convinced, but interested spectators in the cities of Magna Graecia of the activities of the Early Church. Whether this was a temporary, merely personal, phenomenon and could long survive the formation of so many avowedly ‘intellectual’ societies, time would show. The impulse of the one Free Discussions Club, certainly, had broken down in a multiplicity of gatherings for the free discussion. No doubt the struggle for the student's soul would continue as before.
On a plane less elevated, the Students' Association gave itself a new constitution.10 But the mundane excitement that year was all about the Socialist Club. The Socialist Club felt that the students should be up and doing. Where now was the great anti-fascist militance of the war years? Victoria must not become self-centred, isolationist, it must act. Democracy, the club held, is not just a privilege, but a responsibility, and with that responsibility on its shoulders, proceeded to act. It arranged a procession, two hundred strong, which marched the streets with banners, calling on the Dutch to leave Indonesia. The procession did not have a permit from the City Council, policeman maintained that traffic was obstructed, and names were taken. In the Magistrate's Court, subsequently, counsel for the students charged, recently himself president of the Student's Association, not merely secured an acquittal page 254 for his clients, but overturned the Council's by-law as ultra vires. An attempt by the Right Wing of the Student's Association to have the Club disaffiliated was rebuffed, and it went on to participate in a New Zealand Student Labour Federation. Then, early in 1948, came the incident of the ‘Gottwald telegram’, which threw the whole Association into noise and turmoil. Starting as a motion at an Executive meeting,11 flippantly but unfortunately proposed, and passed without serious intention, to congratulate M. Gottwald on the triumph of Czecho-Slovakian democracy (no telegram was in fact ever sent), it led to a staggering campaign of unrestrained and irrational denunciation of the ‘red virus’ and the ‘vile faction’, to a special general meeting of uproar and highly-charged emotion, and to the dismissal of the Executive and the block election of a new one ad interim, pending the annual general meeting soon to take place. Never was the sore-tried Gym more sorely tried. But that was not the end of controversy in 1949-somehow the year saw four Executives in office, and four general meetings. This internal strife, wrote Salient philosophically, was a healthy sign. A large number of students was taking an interest in the Association; and such an interest must produce an awareness of the problems and conflicts of the real world outside the University. Then the Socialist; Club took to the streets again, this time against conscription; there was scandal and denunciation in the newspapers, and the alacrity with which a number of other college clubs hastened publicity to dissociate themselves from the offenders was, perhaps, not healthy. The spectacle of a self-righteous Victoria College was an unusual one.
But as usual, Spike appeared. How odd, how extreme, how preposterously varied is life! The tumult has died. From the page 255 heightened passions of general meetings and the thunderbolts of denunciation we move to this deliberately calm, detached region of the mind. Detached?-but no, it is life still. From the earliest Spike to the latest we have this contrast, this transition, this minor, but very thorough, manifestation of a polite Comedy. In 1945 (again that year of significance) the Executive went back on earlier opinion, never very stable, and wanted to make Spike largely a record of college activities; there was too much literature in it, argued the administrators, it lost too much money. But by 1948 the literacy ascetics had won. There is nothing jolly in this latest Spike, the air is thin, the wind that blows is bleak. The editors do not like club notes and official photographs, they include them as a reluctant concession to the mob. Most of what has gone before, they feel, is bad, a poverty-stricken tradition has been all-powerful. ‘What is real … has often been buried under the great dust-heap of muddle-headedness and unseemly aping of overseas fashions in prose and verse.’ In literature, the college had fallen victim to T. S. Eliot and disillusion, to literature, so in philosophy and the philosophy of politics. ‘And if the student's opinion is lamentable in Spike (it self the result of careful selection from the best available minds), how much more so does it appear in the unguarded pages of Salient. But let a minute irritation, an unforeseen particle of sand enter the oyster-like calm of our student's mind, and with what ungoverned and unreasoning folly does he kick out right and left in his blind confusion. And Salient like the faithful mirror that it is, reflects it all.’ This was lofty reproof. Nor would Spike, though it would furnish a sort of reader's guide to its poets, do a disservice to the national culture by asking men of sensibility, as in the past, to act as judges in a literacy competition. Its poetry is serious, its approach to E. M. Forster and Cardinal Newman is serious, its approach to jazz has the page 256 profound sobriety of the disinterested scholar. Thus with a rapt seriousness is one led to gaze at the portrait of the young goddess on the sandhill,12 which won the photographic prize. Life, one is led to reflect, seriously, is not only the struggle between Left and Right, not only Executives and societies and committees, not only courses of study, or the engagement of professors, or the acquisition and expenditure of government grants: life, at the end of fifty years, is Spike, life is a young goddess in a white bathing suit, standing on a sandhill.
1 Students and ex-students of the college (including matriculated external students) who were killed numbered 290.
3 The foundation of the Industrial Psychology Division of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was due to a suggestion from Dr A. E. C. Hare, research Fellow in Social Relations in Industry. See his first Annual Report, Labour in New Zealand, 1942, p. 13. The Branch was carried on under the exceedingly able direction of Leslie Hearnshaw, then lecturer in psychology.
4 It is worthy of remark, nevertheless, that there have been only two women presidents of the Students' Association—Olive Sheppard (1926). And Patricia Higgin (1941); and that these were not elected to the office, but being vice-presidents, were appointed by the Executive on the untimely departure of the elected presidents.
5 The reader who now tackles the files of war-time Salients in the mass may register one justifiable complaint—against jargon. Outraged correspondents of the paper burst into eloquent complaint every now and again; but one may well wonder what members of the Council thought was meant by calling them ‘intellectual Bourbons’ when they held Capping in 1942 in the big physics lecture-room instead of the Town Hall, At the same time, the use of jargon by unauthorized persons was a source of grievance to the Wellington Provincial Executive of the Communist Party, which wrote to Salient (18 September 1941) protesting that a certain student ‘purporting to speak as a Communist’. Never had any connection with the Communist Party nor with its views.
6 One who was a student in the war years and whose memories are vivid has been good enough to comment on this passage, and on others bearing on the radical strain at the college, as follows: ‘Then the “Left Wing” itself. The clenched fist it presented in Salient and on the debating platform splayed out into many groping fingers behind closed doors. (The Salient room door for instance.) The mystics and the Koeslerites and the Burnharmists did not burgeon suddenly in 46–47 but rather had been questioning though acquiescent within the Left Wing during 42–45. The “crudely presented overseas propaganda” should not be dismissed with a sneer-even though gentle. [The sneer of course is not that of the present author.] It seems to me that Victoria has always reacted very quickly to “overseas” influences, not to go back past the Spanish war. It is also true to say that an amazing variety of people participated in the crudely presented propaganda which reached Salient and was published-people as subtle as Mauriac and as action-spurning as J. P. Sartre, in France for example, joined with Communists like Aragon in making some of the painful statements which at the time even many of the Left Wing shrunk from. I think there was a feeling among many of shame at their distance and detachment from the “centre of events” which they attributed (apart from physical space) to a lack of imagination. Here there was a good deal of acceptance against their better judgment.’
7 Three hundred chemistry students, for example, had to be crammed somehow into a space which had not been enlarged since there were forty. All first year lectures were repeated. Preliminary plans were of course prepared for a new building, for Chemistry, Geology and Geography: but preliminary plans did not get one very far in the 1940's.
6 When he retired, his colleagues naturally wished to make him some gift, and it was thought fitting to ask him to choose. Please not books, on any account, said Brown; but if some cigars could be obtained.… The running down of a box of highly tolerable cigars and a new pipe for Brown in 1945 was one of the major achievements of the war years in New Zealand.
9 This volume, Industrial Relations in New Zealand (1948) was sold out quite rapidly, an indication of the increasing interest among New Zealanders in the facts of our social life, as well as of the utility of disinterested enquiry into such facts that a university should be able to provide, but which could be provided in this case only through the generosity of a private citizen. When it is considered that the year 1946 saw also the publication of Professor Wood's This New Zealand and, under the college imprint, of the volume of essays entitled The University and the Community, it will be seen that members of the college were doing something to honour their social obligations in a public manner.
10 10It enfranchised ‘freshers’ a matter debated for years.
11 11Perhaps one should go back earlier, to the cable which the Debating Society decided to send to Prague University, condoling on the death of Jan Masaryk, and could only be sent through the Executive.
12 12Esoterically entitled ‘Cheesecake’.