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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936


page 6


Dear Spike,

I am a very old student of Victoria University College, in fact, one of the "originals." I claim no merit or consideration on this ground and I mention it only because, with a complete set of "Spikes" and "Programmes," and an undimmed interest in Capping Carnivals, it gives me some excuse for addressing you on the Carnival Programmes of 1935 and 1936. I have possibly some additional excuse in the fact that I have been in the ranks of those who have fought for freedom of speech in the University.

Last year I read the programme with shame, this year I read it with indignation and nausea. Such an exhibition of dirty-mindedness should not have happened twice. Professor Rankine Brown thinks that I am rather exaggerating when I put "Cappicade" of this year on the moral and literary level of "latrine scribbling." My own view is that it is the innocence of Professor Brown rather than his detective instinct which accounts for his moderation. I examined the publication with considerable care and I disclaim innocence. "Cappicade" was simply dull and indecent. The doctrine of freedom of speech may be a good protection for dullness but it has no right to be used as a screen for indecency.

Students are now, I gather, taking a place on the College Council, so it is possibly not without reason that they should be asked to consider whether they cannot order their own affairs with a competence not displayed in recent Carnival arrangements. There is some consolation in the fact that the Professorial Board has done something to vindicate the honour of the College in regard to "Cappicade," but I venture to ask the students whether, in the future, it is wise to leave the initiative to a disciplinary body?

I would like to point out, first, the disadvantages of leaving the initiative to someone else. The first disadvantage is that it proclaims incompetence, weakness and stupidity. The fault, when there is one, belongs to the student body and it must either wait, like the naughty boy, for the schoolmaster and the big stick or seek and exercise power. The first course is, as I think, weak and stupid. The second has the merit, and the present case might provide an illustration, that honour would really be saved. After the Professorial Board has moved, the enemy at the gates is able to point to the need for powers and proctors. After the Student Body has moved, the enemy is put to flight.

The second disadvantage is a matter of some moment to the Students' Executive. Obviously there is only one effective way of preventing a repetition of "Cappicade." Someone must be hurt. External censorships seem to me, in general, very fallible and dangerous. They tend to be used more freely to prevent unorthodox opinion than indecent exhibitionism. What is really wanted is a little competence. The student body should see that no student publication is issued without some person or persons being held directly responsible. Anyone responsible for indecency should be sent down—at the instance of the Students' Association. There would be no indecency.

I said the matter was one of moment to the Students' Executive. If action is forced upon the Professorial Board it will be compelled to fix the responsibility. I see no way if the Professorial Board is to be called in, except to fix the responsibility upon the Executive. If the producers of such a publication as "Cappicade" can "get away with it" because they are ex-students, and so beyond discipline, there is incompetence somewhere. It ought not to happen twice. If a culprit is allowed to escape, an ineffective Executive should be made to produce the scapegoats—preferably the President, Vice-Presidents, and Secretary.

The third disadvantage is that, in the interests of University life in general, self-governance is more effective, more self-respecting, and more in line with educational theory than professorial control, just as self-control is better than external control. The matter is not merely one of "Cappicade" aberrations, it runs through the whole life of a University.

Two lines of defence for "Cappicade" have been urged. One is that it does not in fact represent the true life of the College, that it is the work of a few young men obsessed with sex and not possessed of social intelligence, of good manners or of good taste. That is no doubt the truth, in so far as one explanation can give the key to a complicated social phenomenon. It page 7 does not explain, of course, why the better-thinking majority did not follow the dictates of its olfactory nerves after the first offence.

The second argument is based upon the fact that the world is changing its attitude towards sex and it is not reasonable to expect that the more extravagant reactions from Victorian morals, possibly common enough at Edwardian cocktail parties and third-class cabarets, should altogether escape the University. No doubt the Universty will feel, and even be shaken by, all the profound movements of the times. It is probably true, however, that the Universities, even the meanest of them, have a nucleus, radiating outwards, of the best elements in the civilisation which surrounds them. Should one of them fall below the general level of its population it had much better cease until a new management can justify the hope that knowledge will be crowned by wisdom. When the official and public expression of a University reaches the brothel level a stocktaking is indicated. My suggestion is that the stocktaking should be the work not of the authorities but of the students; that, if the forces of decency are in the majority they should prove it by taking charge.

And the forces of decency have the whip hand. They held it even in the army in time of war as far as externals were concerned. The most dissolute was constrained by military law to conduct befitting an "officer and a gentleman." Though you could not, in fact, be prevented from acting like a dog you could be prevented from barking about it. "Authority" must always pay tribute to decency.

Yours sincerely,

F. A. De La Mare.

Hamilton, 20th July, 1936.