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

Sir Walter Moberly's . . . — "The Crisis in the University" — An Intelligent and Profound Analysis Of the Modern University

page 4

Sir Walter Moberly's . . .

"The Crisis in the University"

An Intelligent and Profound Analysis Of the Modern University

Free Society is today in the process of disintegration. When this book was written two years ago, the author said: "Our situation is due to the inter-action of wills, each pursuing its own limited purpose and finally producing a total state of things in which the individual feels himself powerless because of the colossal scale of the influences which actually govern his life." Pandit Nehru expressed it: "Men are so often the object of events rather than the subject of action." The scientific, technological and economic advance, combined with the new technique of power over human beings, has produced a situation in which our present understanding of values and beliefs is inadequate for the task of restoring human dignity and mastering the results of our knowledge. We seem to be arriving at a position in which we can have no say in determining our environment. At present we are still in a state of chaos: our beliefs are in flux and we are undecided as to direction.

Moberly's book is an attempt to show the relevance of what happens in the university to this state of chaos in society. He believes that the economic and political set-up in the world today is only the result of the beliefs and motives of men. It is how and what man thinks that determines finally what his political and economic environment will be. The obvious task, then, of the modern university is to examine radically these beliefs and motives in the new perspective and try to impart direction and coherence to the values which emerge unscathed from the enquiry. This does not mean a leisurely modification of our ideal, always about a hundred years behind our technical progress: it means an immediate and urgent desire to probe to the very basis of our thought and culture and to produce "binding convictions" which can resolve confusion into a sense of direction. Obviously the modern university falls far short of its task. There is rarely any attempt to explain or justify existence. The student is usually left unaware that there are abstract problems to be faced in living. Values are left to "emerge. Often we have the feeling that the student is a machine, that technique is the master. The modern university is too often an adjunct of a utilitarian society, training scientists, civil servants, lawyers and teachers, never leading in thought. We should expect a university to be creative in the freedom of enquiry which it so jealously preserves. We should expect an attempt to form a coherent philosophy of living, not simply an ignoring of the question.

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.

For Christians

This book is written from the Christian standpoint, and is therefore able to give its first advice to Christians. They have a tremendous responsibility in the university in holding a faith which applies to the whole of life. Moberly sees their function in acting as a "creative minority"; that is not withdrawing into themselves as a clique, nor yet trying to exert any influence by underhand methods of administration as a pressure group; but rather by living their faith in every aspect of their student life, thereby demonstrating that they at least have something to offer to the fundamental purpose of the university. They must be Christians within the university as anywhere. The peculiar type of schizophrenic Christianity which cannot carry its devotional aims into constructive practice but divorces student life from the faith plainly can't offer much to alleviate the needs of the university. Moberly realises that his solution may involve a compromise of Christian ideals, in that Christians will be forced to support sub-Christian proposals which are the best offering in their context. It would be wrong of them to expect the sub-Christian university to act on Christian ideals; they must, while trying to maintain the purity of their faith, in the interests of an honest university fight for ideas which are less than Christian.

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.

(Continued on page 5.)

page 5

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."

Lectures Overrated

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.

Taking Stock

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.

Bryan Walker,

P. Gardiner Scott.