Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 6. June 7, 1951
Aim and Basis
Aim and Basis
Moberly now proceeds to describe the aim and basis of the university capable of taking up the challenge of the world.
First, the university must be to honestly tackle the problems of politics and religion and to commit themselves thereon. Deep convictions must be explored and stated. The lecturer should not withhold his views on ultimate questions, but should forward them, and should be free to forward them. The purpose in doing this should be to open up for the student an awareness of the existence of and the importance of having, a coherent philosophy of living. "Fundamental questions must be asked and examined radically. How shall a man live? To what sort of world have we to adjust ourselves?" No student should be able to go through a university without having been confronted with these questions. Moreover he should be perfectly free to solve them as he wishes; protecting him from influence though dangerous and unsettling is no solution. Nor can the religious issue be avoided; every philosophy of life is either religious or secular. Every student therefore, should have been confronted with the challenge of Christianity to respond to it as he will.
Secondly, there must be a re-opening of communications at a deeper level. We cannot expect a university to be the protagonist of a set philosophy; that would involve restrictions not compatible with free thought, and, probably, intellectual dishonesty. Thus it is difficult to find basic common values on which communication can proceed. The best plan is to be able and to be prepared to advance a point of view in concepts which are common to ail parties. It is hopeless for, say, a Christian to talk to a pagan in traditional theological and devotional terms. There must be a genuine attempt, first, to understand our own 'instinctive convictions" and secondly, to approach an understanding of philosophies remote from our own with sympathy and patience. Nor is the problem of communications confined to different faculties and sections of them; it applies equally to the rift between staff and students which exists in our universities.
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We can now consider the more practical suggestions for a responsible university. It would be quite out of line with the suggestions already made to consider that studies can either aim at the exclusive ideal of liberal education or merely at occupational training.
In general the student should be able to choose for himself what he will study, and there should be no attempt to mould him to a pattern. The more subtle ways of moulding a student by the importance attached to examinations and to research need modification. Research should be considered in the light of previous remarks on academic neutrality and fragmentation. For example, where ability in research is the standard for academic appointments, as, say, in the case of careful editing of texts, we are liable to be landed with a man who can appreciate little of the implied values in literature. Examinations are connected with two evils: "intellectual insincerity and an idolatrous cult of success." The kind of cynicism that springs from discovery that exams nearly always test what the student has committed to memory rather than what he has thought is disastrous to Moberly's conception of education. It is only by recognising a set of values as predominant over all his activity that a student can subordinate exams to their proper place as a minor element in his education. Closely allied to the examination system is the overloading of curricula. The student all the time finds the demands of his study overwhelming him and is encouraged to skimp his work; there is no time to stand back, no time to think, no time to follow up an independent line of thought. Consequently the standard of original work is seriously lowered. There is certainly no time for the enquiry into values and beliefs which we hold to be fundamental to the purpose of the university. Moberly here quotes Berdyaev speaking of the tempo of modern life: "it exacts from man a continual activity, which once in operation imposes conditions of spiritual inner passivity."
Obviously the present reliance placed on lectures must go. Lectures as conceived in a modern university suffer from all the faults of mass production and of insistence on "accurate memorising rather than wide rending and original thought." The student in a lecture has no time for thought; he is usually only concerned to write everything down, assuming that in them he will find the bulk of his material. In place of the present lecture system Moberly envisages much fewer lectures, well-prepared and delivered, designed only to light up the more general aspects of the subject. Courses of lectures by great teachers also will, he thinks, be a tremendous stimulus. The tutorial system must be improved upon and enlarged. The real value of a tutor is not strictly as a coach, but rather as a source of inspiration capable of producing an effervescence in the student's mind. "Real life is meeting." If real life is meeting, the corporate life of the university will play an important part in exciting intellectual interest. At present only a small minority takes any real part in corporate life. The majority meet only on a trivilian plane; they experience no "epoch making change or mental enlargement" on entering a typical university. The solution here is obviously to make strenuous attempts to build up some corporate life within the university, or to build hostels.
Hostels are not automatically a panacea. Often their intellectual and cultural value is nil. They can be "devoid of any cultural influence, their tone boorish and philistine, hostile to sensitiveness and originality. In their daily life there is much dull routine varied by horse play. Undeniably, the whole atmosphere of these halls militates against a full student life and the development of personality." This is a real danger. But a good hostel can provide just the opportunities of meeting which we so much need; it can be a place which in its communion and fellowship encourages the birth and discovery of ideas, "diffusing a distinctive atmosphere which is morally and intellectually stimulating.' Moberly draws attention to the importance of a good warden. It is essential that the warden shall himself "care passionately for the things of the mind" and be able to encourage and participate in the intellectual life. He should be able to act as a friend, and if possible, an inspiration to students. Probably the wardenship is best as mainly full time with some slight academic duties. Such a hostel, providing it is careful not to defeat its ends; provided, that is, that it does not allow itself to become separated from the community or from reality, is a desirable adjunct to the university.
Summing up, Moberly makes five heads: (1) "All inhibitions of discussion of the burning questions of the day must be removed." (2) "If such confrontation is to be genuine, communications must be restored between isolated mental worlds." (3) "There is a limit to neutrality." (4) The vaguely adumbrated common values beneath our differences must be explored and grasped. (5) Christians must play the parts of a "creative minority."
This article does not pretend to be a full or fair precis of Moberly's book. The aim has been to extract those points that are most general and those which can be most readily appreciated in Victoria University College. There are in the books a wealth of other topics not mentioned here, including more specifically Christian attitudes.
P. Gardiner Scott.