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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 6. June 7, 1951

Present Discontent

Present Discontent

In analysing the causes of our present discontent Moberly sums the situation up by saying "the contrast between the need of the time and present academic inhibitions and disabilities creates a crisis in the university." We have seen what is the need of the time and we have seen generally that the modern university is failing to meet this need. We can now turn to some of the specific causes of our present discontent.

Probably the underlying cause is the maintenance of a false academic neutrality. Moberly claims that such an attitude results in a refusal to commitment on any deep level; in fundamental issues in religion and politics there is no facing up to a problem. Scholars find that they can devote more time to their subjects by ignoring these issues; consequently they often become stultified in their judgments, they lose their sense of values, their neutrality becomes mere acquiescence in the status quo. It is apparently thought that the living issues will only serve to confuse the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. For example, God is often ignored in the cause of neutrality and in this simple act of ignoring him is implied an indifference to any philosophy of life. For any philosophy has to acknowledge or deny God and it is far better to conclude that God does not exist and base subsequent action on that conclusion, than, as at present, to pretend the issue can be left out of scholastic enquiry. In pursuing knowledge we must apparently neglect moral and spiritual factors. "If you want a bomb the chemistry department will teach you how to make it, if you want a cathedral the department of architecture will teach you how to build it, if you want a healthy body the departments of physiology and medicine will teach you how to tend it. But when you ask whether and why you should want bombs or cathedrals or healthy bodies, the university, on this view, must be content to be dumb and impotent."

But even when some of the members of the university do conduct enquiries into fundamental issues, even when they intellectually comprehend the significance of their enquiry, when they see the issues clearly and can brilliantly expound them, all too often they go no further. Academic neutrality again interposes its form. Discussion becomes unrelated to any coherent set of values. Intellectually they understand the problem; in moral, spiritual or practical fields their ideas have no application so far as they are concerned. They soar to dizzy intellectual heights and glow with idealism but their stimulus and their aim is titillation of the mind. Their idealism is irresponsible.

The university does, of course, maintain some presuppositions in conducting its afairs. It assumes that some things are worth while when others are not; it assumes the best ways of becoming educated; it assumes the validity of its direction; it assumes a whole host of basic principles in the various subjects. But it has not conducted a critical investigation even into these presuppositions; there are prejudices to be uncovered and scrutinised, there are emotional factors to be revealed. This is not a plea that all the presuppositions of education which are coloured by emotion or personal environment should be discarded, but simply that by recognising these factors we may be able to get a clearer picture of the value of these presuppositions and re-inforce or discard them as we think fit.

Fragmentation is another primary cause of our discontent. The various aspects of university work are done in separate compartments. The mind of the student and lecturer is incurious. Often we know nothing of subjects other than our own. There is no standing back from studies to get a survey of the whole of life; we are so busy being specialists that we have no time to get our own studies into proper perspective. Obviously we can't give the attention to other subjects that we must give to our own, but we can appreciate the general philosophical tenets underlying other subjects. We too often have no communication with the students of other faculties. "Trivialities form the only meeting ground." There is too, a lack of integration in our approach to the problem of living. We don't see our life as a whole; we divide it into work and the rest. We think only part of our lives should be governed by moral principles. We ignore the fact that we are living whatever we are doing and we deprive ourselves of any sense of fulness of personality.