Modernization and reaction: Postwar evolutions and the critique of higher learning in English-speaking Canada, 1945-1970
Philip A Massolin
In 25 years after 1945, higher education in English-speaking Canada completed an evolution that had been decades in the making.’ In this process of academic modernization, universities went from being isolated, elitist colleges with liberal
arts faculties at their centres to modern research facilities, reliant on government funding and responsive to the expansionist mood of the 1950s and 1960s. By the late 1960s, higher learning became firmly enmeshed in the public ambit. The practical, utilitarian orientation of universities reflected a world that was preoccupied with expansion, technological advancement and material well-being. In such a world, the humanities and liberal arts – once pre-eminent foci of the academy lost that pre-eminence.
The purpose of this analysis is to study the postwar evolution of the university in English-speaking Canada. A basic objective is to show how the academy of the prewar period evolved after 1945 into the full-service “multiversity” of the late 1960s and beyond. This evolution is studied from the perspectives of the postwar critics of higher education, such as Harold Innis, Donald Creighton, George Grant, Vincent Massey, Hilda Neatby and Northrop Frye, among others. The critics’ views are important because, while most Canadians were either oblivious to the effects of the modern university or considered the advent of the modern academy a great boon, the critics were those intellectuals who perceived modernization as a blight not only on the university but also on cultural development at large. Indeed, they showed how academic modernization helped alter fundamental values and outlooks and how this perceived “crisis of values” afflicted modem society and irrevocably transformed the value structure and social functioning of higher learning. The critics were keen observers of these modernizing trends when most Canadians, both within and outside the intellectual community, accepted without question profound changes in philosophical outlooks, and cultural structures to their society. Whether right or wrong in their views, the critics made vital contributions to a debate on the nature (both ideal and real) of the academy during a crucial phase in the evolution of higher education. This analysis will focus on their timely critique of academic modernization, and in so doing will attempt to chronicle the history of modem higher education in the postwar era.
Before 1939, the modernization of Canadian universities had been an evolution, beginning around the turn of the century and building momentum throughout the interwar period. The Second World War provided an additional impetus to changes that were already well under way. The war accentuated existing trends away from the traditional liberal arts orientation of higher learning towards a greater pragmatism. The applied sciences and practical disciplines flourished while the humanities and other studies deemed non-essential to the war effort seemed to languish. Once social critics and purveyors of cultural values, by war’s end the universities were renowned for their contributions to a technologically intensive war effort. They had responded to the unprecedented need for technical expertise and practical know-how and had achieved, in consequence, an unparalleled utilitarian focus.
For those preoccupied with the future of higher learning in Canada the crucial question was whether wartime developments in higher education were an aberration or a dangerous intensification of an existing trend. Even by the latter stages of the war, the answer to the query remained unclear. But discerning the aims of higher learning was critical to understanding the direction of the university. The National Conference of Canadian Universities (NCCU) report on “postwar problems, 112 for instance, claimed that after the war “universities will have an unprecedented opportunity to render an essential service to the nation” (NCCU 7). Certain problems had to be solved, however, before Canadian universities could “play their full part in the postwar world” (NCCU 7). The report discussed immediate practical problems, such as returning veterans, finance, equipment and physical difficulties, then recommended that Canadian universities examine the role of the liberal arts within the university. In appendix five of the report, R.C. Wallace urged that universities make an effort to reintegrate humane studies within the modem university (R.C. Wallace 54-57). They must move away from their tendency to emphasize practical over humanistic learning; instead they should integrate “these two fields of knowledge into a unified whole” (R.C. Wallace 57). The reassertion of humane learning, Wallace suggested, was key to the postwar development of Canadian universities. In his contribution to the report, Harold Innis agreed with Wallace that the war contributed to the decline of the humanities and the social sciences (R.C. Wallace 58-59). Like Wallace, he argued that the serious imbalance between the two main branches of knowledge weakened the university’s service to society. Unlike his fellow committee member, however, Innis urged that the primacy of the humanities and social sciences over the professions and the practical sciences be acknowledged. Reconstruction, he concluded, would be futile without this critical first step (Innis, “Problem” 59). Echoing Wallace and Innis, W.R. Taylor, Principal of University College, summed up the postwar challenge of the Canadian university: “The university of today is in a state of confusion… To effect some measure of reform there must be born in each university a resolve to examine itself and to order itself in its several faculties in accordance with the demands of a common purpose. Practically this would mean … that all specialized, vocational, and professional training would be projected on a broad base of cultural subjects” (Taylor 62). Taylor’s message was clear: to fulfill its educative role and to provide service to postwar Canadians, the university must curtail specialized training and place technical knowledge under the governance of humane studies.
Scholars’ preoccupations about the postwar development of the Canadian university were justified. After 1945, the ongoing development of the utilitarian university remained a focal issue. The public and the media also queried the direction of the postwar university. In 1944, Saturday Night asked, “Will Canada’s Universities Meet [the] Needs of the Post-war?” The magazine responded to its own query the following year by stating, “Learning as an end in itself [is] no longer valid in a nation which needs the minds of its youth for leadership in the rough new world to come” (McKillop 557). Two years later, a national Gallup poll revealed the degree to which Canadians believed universities ought to maintain their utilitarian emphasis. Of those canvassed, 60% indicated that education should focus on “practical subjects” (Axelrod 22). In addition, newspaper editorials and magazine articles implored universities to focus on the training of financiers and business leaders (Axelrod 22). They made no reference to the import of contemplation or humane values to postwar development.
Enrolment figures in the professional faculties also illustrate the increasing popularity of practical education. Of all professional programs, only theology and agriculture did not experience growth in the 1940s and 1950s. Undergraduate enrolments in medicine in Canadian universities increased by 50% (to 4,244), while dentistry (to 1,055), household science (to 1,598) and veterinary medicine (to 466) all doubled. Student registrations in nursing (to nearly 1,700), pharmacy (to nearly 1,500) and occupational and physical therapy (to 476) tripled. Engineering enrolments experienced the greatest overall increase: enrolments tripled to nearly 15,000 by 1960 (Harris 528). Enrolments in other professional faculties such as architecture, law, library science, education and social work also increased greatly. Graduate enrolments likewise experienced large growth. Full-time registration in graduate studies more than tripled, to 6,518, by 1960 (Harris 528). Overall enrolments in the arts and sciences also tended to grow, but numbers of undergraduates in these fields declined compared to student registrations in professional programs (Harris 468; McKillop 548). The dominant status of the arts and pure sciences continued to be eroded in the postwar era, and the long-term professionalization of Canadian universities continued unabated.
The creation of Carleton College symbolized the rise of the “professional” university. Responding to a perceived need for English language college instruction, a group headed by Hugh Kennleyside, a civil servant, and Henry Marshall Tory, applied for and received charter status under the province of Ontario’s Companies Act (McKillop 559-560). Carleton was the first institution to be chartered under the Companies Act; this in itself symbolized new attitudes towards institutions of higher learning. And it was the first university not to have liberal arts departments at its centre. Carleton focused on journalism, and on public and business administration. English, philosophy, history and the classics were not core disciplines. “Adult” or “continuing” education, which had been in existence for decades but not prominent in Canada until 1945 (Corbett 64-80), was also important to the new college’s educative mandate (McKillop 560). Carleton College was a new type of educational institution that provided an example for universities in the coming decades.
In addition to the professionalization and secularization of higher learning, government funding of the postwar university became an important issue after 1945. First, very few Canadian universities stood outside the ambit of provincial governments. The few universities that did – mostly denominational institutions such as McMaster – secularized and therefore became eligible for state funding.’ What is more, government funds became increasingly important to those universities already reliant on the public purse. Because of vastly increasing enrolments during the demobilization period, Canadian universities required additional funds. Fortunately, provincial governments, aided by buoyant revenues, recognized the dire need for money and made an effort to deal with the burgeoning funding malaise.
The experience of Ontario best illustrates how provincial governments contributed to university finances. Acknowledging the importance of universities to the war effort and to achieving material prosperity after the war, Premier George Drew’s government vowed to free universities “from the burden of their debts that were hampering their efforts.” The funds would allow the schools to cope with increased costs of research and the exigencies of a multitude of new registrants (Axelrod 80).4 In March 1944, Drew’s government resolved to distribute grants totaling $1,316,000 to the three eligible universities – $816,000 to Toronto and $460,000 each to Queen’s and Western (Axelrod 80). These grants would be annual. There were other funding initiatives, including special grants provided for an Institute of Child Study at the University of Toronto and Ontario medical schools. No longer strictly denominational, McMaster University was eligible for, and received, government financing, while the newly incorporated Carleton University (1952) also received grants. Carrying out their earlier commitment to assist scientific research in agriculture, forestry and mining throughout the province, the government also funded institutes of trade and vocational education, including the newly established Ryerson Institute of Technology (1948). Unlike his predecessor Mitchell Hepburn, Drew understood the fundamental linkages between material development and adequately funded universities. Indeed, his efforts to increase public financing of Ontario’s institutions reflected an age in which the merits of universities were adjudged according to their practical contributions to society (Axelrod 80).
Concern over university funding became more important as the new decade approached. Government financing often only partially defrayed rising costs associated with increased enrolments. Many universities had to finance increasingly costly capital expenditures in the absence of government aid. While some of them were able to gain private funding, the majority of institutions made economies in other areas such as professors’ salaries to try to compensate for the shortfall (McKillop 559). Such efforts were only partly successful in freeing up the funds necessary to cope with postwar expansion, however. The universities needed much more money to deal with the postwar boom. More than ever before, university authorities made their way to provincial capitals with hands outstretched to secure additional grants. The ongoing quest for funds had reached a critical stage in the history of the Canadian university.
Interested observers became concerned over how funds were distributed to post-secondary institutions. Provincial governments were predisposed to funding practical disciplines more than the arts and humanities. Academic councils devoted to the applied sciences and practical studies also tended to be better funded. The development of the National Research Council (NRC) illustrated the funding bias. During the war, the staff and budget of the council sharply increased. By 1943, the council’s budget was five times that of 1939 (Harris 564). This wartime expansion continued in the postwar age. Because there was relative prosperity after the war, and because the war demonstrated the merits of funding applied sciences, the federal government was able and willing to continue to provide the NRC with stable funding. Large-scale funding meant, in turn, that the NRC could continue to contribute large sums to the universities – institutions that continued in peacetime to train scientific personnel and undertake most of the country’s fundamental and applied research. Indeed, the NRC granted almost $1,000,000 to universities and colleges in 1947-48 compared to $200,000 a decade earlier (Harris 565). It also introduced postdoctoral fellowships (1945) and provided “consolidated grants” to establish research groups and institutes. In the 1950s budgets and NRC grants to universities continued their ascent. In 1960- 61 grants-in-aid to Canadian universities increased almost tenfold, to $9.5 million (Harris 565). Under E.W.R. Steacie, president of the NRC from 1952 to 1962, the bonds between the council and Canadian post-secondary institutions continued to strengthen. Faculties of applied science and research secured increasingly high levels of funding from government councils such as the NRC and, by the late 1940s and early 1950s, from private agencies. Increases in postwar funding showed the esteem Canadians held for the utilitarian university.
If funding is how the relative merits of departments and faculties were judged, then the humanities and social sciences stacked up poorly indeed compared to the practical disciplines. The NRC provided grants-in-aid in the millions of dollars annually in the 1950s. But the Canadian Social Science Research Council (CSSRC) received only $ 718,850 from its inception in 1940 until the creation of the Canada Council in 1957 (Harris 567). American philanthropic organizations provided the bulk of CSSRC grants. The Humanities Research Council (HRC) also fared poorly compared to the NRC. Total revenues from its establishment, in 1943, until 1957, the year before the inception of the Canada Council, were $356,423 (Harris 571). The HRC relied heavily on the Rockefeller and Carnegie organizations for contributions (Harris 571).5 Canadians seemed to have little money for the development of the liberal arts.
The consequences of inadequate funding were manifold. In practical terms, Canadian universities lacked sufficient money to aid all aspects of scholarly research – everything from travel to photostat expenses. They also harboured inadequate libraries and archival facilities. In 1947 Watson Kirkconnell lamented that “only ten academic libraries of 124 in Canada report [100,000] books,” a minimum standard established in 1922. Only four or five Canadian libraries today, he added, “measure up to minimum American standards of twenty-five years ago” (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 206). To remedy the situation the federal government needed “to take immediate practical steps towards the ultimate establishment of a National Library” (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 207). A national research facility and bibliographic centre were essential, Kirkconnell concluded, to make available extensive research resources to Canadian scholars (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 207).
More important than library resources were scholars’ salaries. Scholarly remuneration at Canadian universities was well below the pay of academics at other western universities. J.B. Brebner, a Canadian who was working in the United States, complained that scholars’ salaries at Canada’s “elite institutions” – McGill and Toronto – “were at least 20% below those of Boston, Chicago, New York” and comparable British institutions (Brebner, Scholarship 45). The salary issue impelled many of the brightest Canadian scholars to go south or to Britain. The leading universities had to take action, Brebner concluded in his 1945 report on the state of Canadian scholarship, to remedy this grave situation (Brebner, Scholarship 45). Watson Kirkconnell concurred with Brebner’s assessment. He argued that “one of the most crying needs is for the general upward revision of salaries” (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 205). Kirkconnell characterized the “scale of academic salaries in Canada” as “calamitous” and warned that if universities did not soon augment salaries, many promising young scholars would be diverted to the better paying colleges of the United States (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 206). Looking back on the immediate postwar period, B.S. Keirstead and S.D. Clark concluded that, “because academic salaries were low, many of the best men have gone to the US or to government or business. Canadian universities as a result … are tending to attract second-rate men with inadequate training” (1).
Other problems, less visible, but just as pressing, flowed from the funding issue. For the critics of the modern university the most important of these was academic liberty. Critics pointed out that university administrators focused far too much effort and time on securing funds for their impoverished departments, faculties or universities and as a result neglected their fundamental duties as scholars. University presidents, for example, involved in the past with academic issues, were now consumed with “raising money and giving speeches” (Brebner, Scholarship 34). Brebner, to take one critic, advised presidents to ensure their institutions keep focused on their main objective: scholarship. Instead of fund-raising, speechifying and administrating, the president’s role was to “forward and to express the intrinsic function of the university” (Brebner, Scholarship 34-35). President G.E. Hall of Western proffered an even broader admonition of university administrators. “[P]residents, deans and other officials in our universities,” he declared in 1949, “have had to forsake education to become executive supersalesmen, leaders of delegations and beggars, so that universities [could] even remain in existence” (Axelrod 81). Innis also decried the “business and political exploitation of universities,” which, he complained, appeared to be up for sale to the highest bidder (Innis, “Modern Crisis” 75). The infiltration of the pecuniary factor into academics would have dire results. “To buy universities is to destroy them,” Innis concluded, “and with them the civilization for which they stand” (75).
The increasingly intense competition for government grants and private funding threatened the character and integrity of scholarly activity. Brebner argued that to flourish, scholarship must be free from outside influences. Talents, abilities and the social usefulness of the scholars, he averred in a section of writing tellingly entitled “Endowed and Free,” should not be wasted on “applied scholarship” – scholarship commissioned by government or private industry. Above all, Brebner wanted to ensure that scholars did not submit themselves to the “compromises, adjustments, and expediencies which are necessary in business, politics, and the professions.” The association with these extra-academic groups would surely “impair the very capacity for unprejudiced scholarship” that made scholars so valuable and so rare (Brebner, Scholarship 73). Keirstead and Clark also waded into the debate. With promises of large grants and ample salaries, research institutes seduced scholars away from their work to engage in “factual research” that was of “slight theoretical interest” (Keirstead and Clark 15, 166). Much money and time, resources that would be better spent on “creative scholarship,” were wasted. “Only a real passion for scholarship,” Keirstead and Clark concluded, could protect scholars from the corrupting forces of money and notoriety (15). Only by focussing on unbiased academic inquiry, in other words, could scholarship remain pure and the university fulfill its fundamental purpose. In characteristically aphoristic style, Innis summarized the academy’s struggle for scholarly autonomy: “the university is essentially an ivory tower in which courage can be mustered to attack any concept which threatens to become a monopoly” (Political Economy xvii).
Certainly, the critics of higher learning considered freedom from outside influences critical to the ongoing viability of universities. The struggle for scholarly liberty remained as intense after 1945 as it had been during the war. But tainted scholarship and the undue emphasis on the funding game were only part of critics’ concerns. A wider crisis of academic freedom became a growing preoccupation of critics. By the mid-1940s scholars began to realize the enduring quality of academic change. The wartime assault on the humanities was not an anomaly, the temporary consequence of the war. Nor would universities necessarily revert to a prior stage of development once peace was restored. Scholars recognized that the university had become an embattled institution and would continue to be held hostage by the society around it. As Innis claimed in 1944, higher education was “besieged on all hands by villains” (“Plea for University” 299), a “small and dwindling island surrounded by the flood of totalitarianism” (Innis, “The University in Modern Crisis” 73). The academy was fighting for its existence in the modern world. In the chaotic environment of the late 1940s and early 1950s the free existence of the academy in Canadian society seemed to be threatened.
The enslavement of the academy had wide implications. The most significant of these was the decline of the academy’s “true” historic function as the central spiritual and cultural institution of society. The critics of academic modernization coalesced as a group first in their assessment of the mytho-historic role of the university. They acknowledged the contemporary decay of academic traditions and attempted to find remedies for this grievous development. The demise of university traditions such as academic freedom, philosophic contemplation and the growth of the utilitarian university signaled more than an evolution of higher learning. In the broadest sense, the decay of these traditions mirrored a profound change in Canadian society, the decline of its traditions of democracy and freedom, and an altered sense of cultural and moral values. Ultimately, the decay of the university implied, as Innis had suggested earlier, the decline of western civilization.
The critics claimed that an idealized conception of higher learning, the university’s function was to preserve knowledge and serve as a purveyor of culture. To use Matthew Arnold’s phrase, the university was to preserve the best that has been thought and said throughout the ages (M.M. Wallace A139, 4). In the words of Vincent Massey, its primary function was to care for and preserve “the entire inheritance of our civilization,” to maintain “the memory and evidence of… accumulated cultural achievements, in the arts, and letters, in science, in philosophy and in religion” (“Modern University” 83). James S. Thomson claimed in 1945, that universities “belong to an international world of culture and knowledge. They are heirs of all ages, and claim the universal attainments of man’s mind as their birthright” (“Canadian Universities” 264). Donald Creighton agreed. Higher learning had a conservative, Burkean function. One of its main purposes was to conserve the past, to record society’s cultural inheritance, to discuss and interpret achievements “in ways which are significant for new generations.” The emphasis of higher learning “is necessarily in conservation rather than innovation; it is [the academy’s] business to guard against the nihilism of rootless and disinherited marauders, [while preserving] the great traditions of a culture and the great traditions of a state” (Creighton, “Canada in the World” D77, 8).
Universities also had proactive functions. The first and perhaps most difficult to define was the academy’s role as purveyor of moral virtue. Historically a humanistic institution imbued with Christian ideals, the academy was well poised to influence moral standards. And it was poised to aid a population whose faith in humanity had wavered and to assist a society in which confusion about spiritual values was rife. Critics of the modem university emphasized the role of academics to inculcate humane and other quasi-religious and cultural values to bolster flagging faith in humanity. There was a need “for the reacceptance of what may be described as an academic faith,” James Thomson declared in 1945 (“Canadian Universities” 262). The last war destroyed faith in the human spirit through such perversities as the mass destruction of humanity, the predominance of fascist ideologies and systematic racial extermination. The university, Thomson argued, could restore faith in humanity. One of its greatest responsibilities was to teach Canadians that there was something to live for in a callous era “when mankind has … been brought face to face with evil horror, ugliness and perversity” (Thompson, “Canadian Universities” 26263). Watson Kirkconnell and A.S.P. Woodhouse also looked to the academy for help (10). The “ethical aspect” of a liberal education was essential in the 1940s, they averred, if Canadians hoped to attain maturity and “apprehend moral values while confronting unflinchingly the terror and cruelty of [their] contemporary world” (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 11). The “will to good” that was inherent in a liberal education must to be evoked to counteract the evils of the current age. “The replacement of ignorance and brutality by knowledge, insight, taste and moral purpose” was a crucial task for scholars; academics performed a critical moralizing function for a society that was in dire need of guidance (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 11).
Closely related to this moralizing capacity was the university’s function as social critic. Academics had an obligation, critics of academic modernization contended, to assess social change and understand how society evolved. Academics were not aloof scholars whose work had little meaning to the society around them. Instead, they were obliged to observe and make sense of their surroundings. In their work, they judged societal change and provided insight into correct courses of action for the future. They acted as social philosophers who became responsible for giving meaning to the social process and communicating that meaning to the public at large.
At no time was this role more important than in the mid-1940s. In an era of material, cultural and spiritual reconstruction, critics of the university put a heavy burden on the frail shoulders of academics. In a social climate increasingly inimical to “humane knowledge,” they looked to the university for remedies. Writing near war’s end Innis implored the university “to play its major role in the rehabilitation of civilization,” which he said had collapsed. Universities offered a “platform on which [academics] may be able to discuss the problems of civilization” (Innis, “Modem Crisis” 73). Richard M. Saunders, editor of a series of lectures on higher education, shared Innis’s sense of foreboding and his notion that educators were leaders in the effort to reconstruct society. “The basic aim of education,” Saunders wrote in 1946, “has always been to convey to each succeeding generation a clear conception of the meaning of life, and of its part in it.” Educational leaders, “the guides and guardians of our youth [should] discover afresh the meaning and purpose of our life” (Saunders xi). Modern society had been set adrift in a sea of chaos, and only with the aid of thoughtful scholars could it regain “intimate touch with sources of spiritual capital” (Saunders x). In 1947, in a convocation address, University of Toronto Chancellor Vincent Massey warned, “Our humane Christian tradition is now imperiled as it has not been for 1,500 years; imperiled not so much by physical forces … as by opposing philosophies, pagan, materialistic, tyrannical, ruthless. Should [these forces] prevail, human freedom would be extinguished and what we know as Western civilization would disappear” (Address to the Convocating Class at the University of Toronto 8). He added, “Our universities stand both as the exponent and guardians of our ancient way of life. They bear the very seeds of freedom. We look to them for guidance in this confused and troubled age” (Massey, Address to the Convocating Class at the University of Toronto 8-9).
How would scholars provide remedies for society? How could they contribute to society without leaving the cloistered surroundings of the academy? The response lay in the manner in which scholars approached scholarship, on whether they adhered to the “philosophical approach” to scholarship and culture.
In 1949 George P. Grant surveyed the development of philosophy in Englishspeaking universities for the Commission on the Developments of Arts, Letters, and Sciences – the Massey Commission. In a special study called “Philosophy,” Grant highlighted the importance of maintaining philosophy at the forefront of the academic enquiry (2-3). As society’s “centres of philosophy” (Grant 2), universities facilitated rational and epistemological enquiry into human existence and provided insight into society’s traditions and future directions. The duty of humanist scholars was to study philosophy, understand its messages and pass them on to society. “Such indeed must always be the role of significant philosophy – to affect the spirits of the intellectually gifted and through them to filter down into society as a whole” (Grant 19).
Grant chose University of Toronto classicist C.N. Cochrane as an example of the “gifted individual.” For Cochrane, the philosophical approach was central. His scholarly insights provided information on current cultural problems. To read Cochrane’s Christianity and Classical Culture (1940), Grant wrote, “is to understand that the history of the ancient world has been illustrated for him in the predicaments of his own society, and that he uses the example of the ancient world to throw his light towards the solution of modern predicaments. Clearly, what he says about Greece and Rome has been wrought in the furnace of what he has seen in his own civilization” (Grant 19). Innis concurred:
The significance of the volume for social scientists is in its philosophical approach. In classical civilization reason asserted its supremacy and in doing so betrayed its insecure position with disastrous results…. The sweep of the Platonic state in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and the spread of science has been followed by the horrors of the Platonic state. The social scientist is asked to check his course and to indicate his role in western civilization. His answer must stand the test of the philosophic approach of Cochrane. (Innis, “Cochrane” 96) For Grant and Innis Christianity and Classical Culture was an example of the correct application of scholarship, and Cochrane displayed the central importance of the scholar as social philosopher in his role to enlighten and to give meaning to the social process.
Academic critics also emphasized the merits of historical inquiry as an aid to understanding the social order. Historical inquiry enabled scholars to see the present in light of the past and thus to gain a wider understanding of contemporary socio-cultural tendencies. Historical perspective emancipated academics from the restrictions of contemporary viewpoints.
Innis, an economic historian, extolled the virtues of the historical approach to scholarship. The study of historical “empires” (socio-cultural organizations), he argued, compelled scholars “to recognize the bias of the period in which [they] write…” (Innis A Plea for Time 1). Couching his thoughts in the terminology of his later scholarship, Innis urged that scholars be “continually alert to the implications” of the media bias to contemporaneous and past societies. For through the examination of the impact of the media bias on past civilizations, academics might be enabled to see more clearly the effects of contemporary socio-cultural limitations (Innis The Bias of Communication 33, 34). Hilda Neatby, another historian, agreed. Through the study of the past, historians were able to compare past realities to the current moral conditions and convey their understanding to those outside the academy. Ultimately, they could provide the insight to enable modern humanity to overcome historical follies (Neatby, “Special Study” A139, 167). Vincent Massey also expounded upon the fundamental importance of history to understanding current socio-cultural difficulties. Borrowing from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Massey declared, “`What’s Past is Prologue.’ This I believe is true at any given moment in history. It is most of all true in times of crisis. We are always moved by our own past. We act most surely and most effectively when we are not slavishly, but consciously and intelligently aware of this fundamental fact” (Massey, “Modem University” 87). Historian W.L. Morton contended that scholars used history not only to “reinforce tradition” but also to open “new paths of thought.” The historian’s work, Morton argued, cannot but contribute to “the development of the thought of its time, spring from it, pushing it forward, and turning it into new channels” (quoted in McKillop, Contexts 104). Historical inquiry had a significant instrumentalist purpose: it had become a tool through which academics interpreted Canada’s place in the modern world.
Humanistic learning contributed to the critique of mid-century society. The humanities – philosophy, history, the classics, literary studies – presented an ideal to which modems could ascribe. For many critics, the humanities were an essential counterweight to the increasingly inhuman modern world. Humanistic education could counteract the perversities of war. It could aid in neutralizing the insidious and pernicious tendencies towards materialism, consumerism and a general preoccupation with the present and the secular. Allowed to flourish, the humanities would expose the inadequacies of mid-century culture in Canada, thereby facilitating the development of the good society.
In response to a perceived “crisis of values” stemming from the decline of humanistic learning, the advent of technical instruction and the shocking events of the war, critics turned to the humanities for guidance. The assertion of “humane” values was all-important. An article in the Queen’s Quarterly declared that there had been a “universal breakdown of values” and that it was incumbent upon humanists to “rebuild these shattered values,” to rediscover “the values implicit in the humanities” (Pacey 357). Another piece argued that the humanities had a place “answering the practical problems of life and living” (MacKenzie 10). They provided standards of conduct and powers of discrimination to enable the achievement of “a synthesis of desirable goals and objects” (MacKenzie 11). They promoted the “contemplation of beauty – beauty of conduct, beauty of form, beauty of sound and line and colour [and] above all beauty of soul” (Pacey 354). Humanists showed how the power of beauty and conduct, intrinsic to humane learning, were the hallmarks of the civilized personality and a means by which to confront the terror and inhumanity of the modern world (Kirkconnell and Woodhouse 11). The rediscovery and reassertion of humane values had become crucial; in building character and in civilizing the imagination, the humanities facilitated humankind’s capacity to understand itself and the world.
There was a more practical, utilitarian function for humane knowledge. The humanities provided an alternative to the secular and materialist value system of the postwar age. Humane knowledge functioned to counterbalance technical, scientific and material values that had come to pervade modem society. In a piece entitled “The Conflict of Values in Education,” James S. Thomson, president of the National Conference of Canadian Universities, warned of the dangerous pre-eminence of scientific and technical values in the postwar world. Thomson criticized the prevailing intellectual milieu, in which the modern mind had become divided between scientific and humane values and “science and the scientific method” assumed a central place (“Address” 43). He decried the fact that “education should be concerned with things useful” and that humane knowledge was considered to be of no practical value (Thomson, “Address” 45). The humanities, he said, were pragmatic: they could “pronounce on values” and facilitate judgements on the human condition.6 The analysis of social interactions was never more important than during an age of confusion, and since values were “the very stuff of civilization” their importance to society was difficult to dispute. “Any society must give practical expression to its values in its system of education,” Thomson concluded, “for education is nothing other than the self-perpetuation of any culture” (Thomson, “Address” 45). In the 1947 NCCU presidential address, N.A.M. MacKenzie assessed the pragmatic merits of humane and scientific knowledge. The humanities, like the sciences and the technical disciplines, had a tremendous contribution to make to postwar society. “If man is to be a happy balanced and fully developed individual living in peace and security with his fellow men, he must find an important place in his scheme of things for … the humanities” (10). Material aspects of life had been taken care of, and considerable advances had been made in physical and medical science (MacKenzie 9). The humanities must be stressed so as not to compromise the role of education to train the minds of young and old and “so that they can understand and know themselves, and their society” (11). In 1948, University of Toronto Chancellor Vincent Massey said that universities had “a very ancient and very vital function to perform in the field of the humanities. Technological and scientific progress [did not make] this function obsolete: it … made it more necessary … No one passing through a university should fail to come under the influence of the humanities, because [through] liberal education…, the student is enabled to acquire a true sense of values, to understand something about the relation of man to society, to distinguish between the real things in life and the fakes, to put first things first, and to sharpen his mental curiosity” (Massey, “Address Before the Graduate Organization Kingston and District” 10-14). A life influenced solely by technological and material values was truly an impoverished existence.
Transmitters of humane learning and values, Canadian universities had become responsible for the spread of Canadian civilization. In a society that was preoccupied with material and technological advancement, they were, in the words of the Massey Commission Report, “nurseries of a truly Canadian civilization and culture” (Canada, Report 143). In the early 1950s, the Massey commissioners noted that universities remained islets of civilization awash in a growing sea of materialism. Higher education enabled Canadian society “to strive for a common good, including not only material but intellectual and moral elements [without which] the complete conception of the common good is lost, and Canada, as such, [would become] a materialistic society” (Canada, Report 563).7
While academic critics lamented the decline of university traditions, they put forth an idealized conception of higher learning in which the university had a vital, ameliorating role to play in society. The modem university had become responsible for material betterment, but the humanistic academy served society in a much more important way. Critics countered notions of the modern, utilitarian university with their practical, socially relevant conception of higher learning. In emphasizing the practicalities of humane learning, the critics endowed the idealized “true” academy with a renewed sense of social purpose.
We must now place the notion of the true academy into historical context to understand how critics’ analyses developed in relation to surrounding historical conditions. There were three main developments that influenced the postwar critique of academic modernization. The first of these was the perception of cultural crisis.
“Crisis,” “chaos” and “upheaval” are overworked terms. They were frequently used to describe the socio-cultural climate of the 1940s. In 1941, historian Arthur Lower announced that the old order was in its death throes and that a new order was taking shape (quoted in Heick 106). Lower was referring to the disappearance of an Anglo-Canadian civilization and its replacement with a new socio-cultural order. The sense of imminent change increased at the end of the war and immediately after. In late 1945, J.S. Thomson claimed that the war promoted an “international revolution” marked by ever-increasing change and violence. It was “a firstrate crisis in the development of civilization,” and he warned that it would not disappear with armed victory (Thomson, “Canadian Universities 260). Inspired by Oswald Spengler8 and Arnold Toynbee, Harold Innis became consumed with understanding the rise and fall of civilizations. He argued that by the mid-twentieth century the culture of the west, which had developed over thousands of years, was in its final stages of decay. To Innis, cultural decline implied the emphasis of “spatial” qualities – a preoccupation with the present, the technological and the secular over time-biased values – an appreciation of the moral, the cultural and the historical. The entrenchment of spatial values involved “a continuous, systematic, [and] ruthless destruction of the elements of permanence essential to cultural activity. The emphasis on change [was the] only permanent character of the decaying west (Strategy 14).
Some instances of cultural crisis were more fabrication than reality. Supporters of the Massey Commission highlighted the precarious status of culture to get governments involved in promoting cultural activities. As historian Paul Litt has argued, cultural pressure groups wanted to create an air of crisis “to spur the government into action” (170). “Lowbrow culture,” such as hockey and mass media entertainment, flourished in the postwar climate, while “high culture” – Canadian publishing and the Canadian university – faltered.
Historical realities were at the base of concern about cultural collapse. The Holocaust was perhaps the starkest manifestation of the brutality of warfare, the inhumanity of mid-century society, the expression of general cultural decay. Canadians were shocked at the extent of the campaign of racial extermination carried on by the Nazis. Memories of the Holocaust were so powerful that they completely discredited theories of racial inequality as a subject of serious intellectual inquiry. Transmitted by educators and parents, the story of the Holocaust would make racism abhorrent to future generations of Canadians (Owram 167).9
By the late 1940s, “thermonuclear holocaust” had also become a grim reality for postwar Canadians. The threat of nuclear warfare showed that the callous disregard for human life readily apparent in the war had not ceased with the cessation of hostilities. For many observers humanity’s inhumanity continued unabated after 1945. The prospect of mass destruction made real the perilous state of western civilization. The sense of impending doom implied by weapons of mass destruction signaled great uncertainty for the future. For J.A. Corry, the concept of nuclear war represented “the crumbling of old verities and certainties” (54). It was, as Hilda Neatby claimed, an “age without standards” (So Little 3). There was widespread hopelessness, a general sense of despondency that cultural rehabilitation had become impossible. Innis verbalized this sense of despondency: “The middle ages burned its heretics and the modern age threatens them with atom bombs” (“Industrialism” 208). There was little hope for the scholar – or for civilization. The problem of the university had truly become the problem of modern society (MacKenzie 12).
Many Canadians looked past the broader implications of civilizational decline. Though aware of surrounding political, military and social developments, they focused on more prosaic concerns. Young Canadians married, started new families and procured the material goods necessary for a stable home life while government officials became increasingly preoccupied with the material development of their country. The period after 1945 can be characterized as one in which Canadians sought the security and stability that they had lacked throughout the war and the Depression years. At the individual and the national level, material prosperity was a key to the search for stability.
Canada underwent a period of tremendous economic expansion after 1945. Rapid and sustained economic development quickly assuaged fears that the economy would again slide into depression. Less money spent on military supplies was offset by huge projects – the construction of the trans-Canada highway, the development of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the creation of the trans-Canada pipeline. By the late 1940s, a resource boom contributed to the strong economy. There was expanded production of pulp and paper, lumber, asbestos, gypsum, aluminum and oil and gas. Stimulated by the Korean War, exports of Canadian resource goods reached new levels and greatly contributed to economic prosperity through the 1950s and 1960s (Norrie and Owram 411). Consumer spending assisted the postwar boom. There was considerable demand for consumer items that had been rationed or scarce during the war. Full employment and forced saving programs such as war bonds meant that Canadians had savings available. They used their extra money to buy automobiles, houses, refrigerators and other consumer items that were not readily available before 1945. There was a powerful demand “for everything one can eat, wear, read, repair, drink, ride, and rest in” (Owram 17).
A shift in demographics known popularly as the “baby boom” did much to reinforce existing consumer trends. As Doug Owram has shown, new families became preoccupied with the concept of home and the development of family life as a means of achieving the stability they had lacked throughout the war. Canadians married and had children at unprecedented rates. They also bought houses. For their new houses, situated in sprawling suburbs, they purchased household items. Municipalities constructed new roads, sewers and other facilities. Private firms built malls and other amenities to serve the new subdivisions. Car ownership increased because private transportation was necessary in the isolated suburbs. The economic value of the phenomenon of suburbia is difficult to overestimate (Owram, Chapter 3).
Critics uniformly rebuked the growing materialism of the postwar age. A common complaint was that Canadians were so preoccupied with material betterment that they ignored the spiritual and philosophical concerns of their nation. Hilda Neatby remarked: “At no time in western history has any nation totally ignored the importance of national recognition of, and support for, non-material values.” George Grant claimed that Canada remained, as it always had been, a pioneer nation concerned with materialism and material ends. The dynamic young country did not understand the “tragedy and complexity of maturity” and was “basically unphilosophical.” Canada’s preoccupation with the material implied a “distrust of philosophy as taking men’s minds away from the obvious practical things that need to be done” (5). Vincent Massey said that the neglect of the humanities was “a symptom of an age lured by science into the delights of materialism.” The pursuit of new houses, larger and more luxurious cars and more hours in front of the television set was demonstrative of the wrong-headed priorities of the Canadian people (Massey, “Useful” 2). Canada was prospering in a material sense; spiritually it was becoming increasingly impoverished.
Canadians were also concerned with political values. For many Canadians, “democracy” became a watch word. It connoted fair and just government and differentiated the political cultures of the west from those of totalitarian states, especially the growing Soviet bloc. It was associated with freedom, the rule of law, justice and good citizenship, as well as non-political virtues, including Christian values and the ideals of western culture. But democracy was not to be taken for granted. The Second World War certainly proved the superiority and ultimate desirability of the democratic system. The emerging Cold War showed that western democracy was still under attack. As External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent noted in a 1947 speech, Canadians realized that “a threat to the liberty of western Europe, where [their] own political ideas were nurtured, was a threat to [their] own way of life” (Bothwell, Drummond and English 89). Canadians reviled communism. It was the postwar manifestation of twentieth-century totalitarianism and it represented a profound menace to Canada’s democratic existence.
Canadians on the whole were not fervent cold warriors. But they denounced as evil the communist system and lauded the merits of democracy. Canadian scholars became embroiled in the ideological debate. Articles about democracy appeared in learned journals, books and other academic writings. The work of Queen’s political scientist J.A. Corry was significant. The first edition of Democratic Government and Politics (1946) was designed to provide an introduction for Canadian college and university students to the subject of democratic government. Corry’s work, declared a reviewer, met an urgent need of the times (R.S. Longley Dalhousie Review 120). In explaining democracy, Corry made it much easier for Canadians to appreciate and defend democracy. If the advocates of democracy had one or two more tracts like Corry’s it would be much easier to defend the democratic faith.
The word “democracy” was used as a synonym for good and just government. It was juxtaposed with other ideologies, especially Soviet communism, to display their defects. But the term was not always used in a positive sense. Social critics10 stressed democracy’s negative connotations; they equated it with consumerism, materialism and perhaps most significantly, the emergence of a pervasive and uniform “mass” culture. The Massey Commission was highly critical of “democratic” culture, and members of the commission despised mass culture because they believed it was inspired by crass commercialism rather than a communal or critical spirit. And democratic culture was to be scorned because it implied a degradation of standards. In appealing to the greatest quantity of people, it sacrificed the intellectual improvement fostered by high culture and broke the linkages Canadian society had with its cultural heritage. Hockey Night in Canada, Gunsmoke, Leave It to Beaver and other manifestations of “lowbrow culture” dulled one’s sensibilities to the merits of high culture. The Massey commissioners thought democratic culture was a pernicious influence in postwar society. It was “monolithic and menacing; it stultified and then manipulated a gullible public” (Litt 85).
The postwar period was tumultuous for the modern university. Educational critics highlighted the inadequacies of modem higher learning while proffering a notion of the ideal university, an alternative, they hoped, to academic modernization. In spite of their efforts, Canadian universities continued to modernize. As Canadians moved farther away from the crisis atmosphere of the 1940s, their voices, although never fully muted, became increasingly difficult to hear amid the clamour of the modernizing and democratizing academies.
The mid-1950s was a time of relative quietude for the modern Canadian university and its critics. There were still those who depicted apocalyptic scenarios for the university and modem society at large.11 But informed critics of higher learning turned their attention to more prosaic concerns.12 The 1956 meeting of the NCCU exemplified the shift away from the crisis – the NCCU examined university problems in practical terms: money, numbers and government and private funding. Conference delegates were aware of the effects of technical education and the anticipated increases in enrolments. But they were more willing to accept rather than overturn the process of academic modernization. The NCCU conference proffered a new breed of university critics whose willingness to accept the modern university showed how far the process of academic modernization had progressed.
The “crisis of numbers,” as it became known, was the main theme of the 1956 meeting of the NCCU, which had been proclaimed “Canada’s Crisis in Higher Education.”13 The NCCU’s executive committee called the conference to examine the implications of a NCCU symposium held the year earlier on the topic of university expansion. At the symposium, Edward Sheffield, Dominion Statistician, announced alarming enrolment figures to his audience. University enrolments, he claimed, were likely to double by the mid-1960s. The 64,200 university students enrolled in 1953-54 would likely increase to more than 130,000 registrants 10 years later (McKillop 565). Claude Bissell, President of Carleton University, cited statistics comparable to those proffered by the federal bureaucrat.14
But the predictions proved inaccurate: they were far too conservative. Increased educational expectations, unprecedented numbers of young Canadians, and economic prosperity all combined to augment the numbers of students who would enroll in Canadian universities in the coming decade and beyond. Sheffield had to revise his enrolment estimates upward four times in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1964-65 178,200 students were registered in Canadian universities, nearly a 10% increase over the predictions of Sheffield, Bissell and others (McKillop 566). Enrolments increased so dramatically that the numbers of universities in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, increased three-fold in the 1960s. The young Canadians who filled lecture halls in the 1960s considered higher learning not a privilege but a birthright. The day of the “democratic university” in Canada had dawned at last.
While Canada’s crisis in higher education certainly had as its chief underlying theme the issue of growing enrolments, the NCCU committee that discussed the crisis did not merely want to expound on statistical and demographic problems. Rather, committee members viewed the enrolment issue as a “vivid background for the analysis of fundamental educational issues” (Bissell v). They identified two main problems that faced modern universities. First, they addressed the wide question of the “future of the educational structure, and the extent to which [Canadians] might expect radical alterations in the traditional make-up of [their] universities” (Bissell, “Canada’s Crisis” vi). Higher education was becoming democratized, and Canadian universities were in a final stage of transition from liberal arts centres into modern research institutions. It was the implicit mandate of the conference and delegates to expound upon this change and what it meant for the future of higher learning in Canada (Bissell, “Canada’s Crisis” 244-46).
In a paper entitled “Educational Structure: The English-Canadian Universities,” Sydney Smith, President of the University of Toronto, endeavoured to elaborate on the transition and the adaptation of the traditional academy to the modern world. Smith noted that by the mid-1950s, universities consisted of a central faculty for arts and sciences along with one or more professional divisions (8). They had retained much of their historic character, in spite of the development of an industrial-technological society and the ravages of two world wars. But Smith argued that change was imminent. Society had become inimical to the traditional university. “In the electronic age, when hundreds of traditional skills and attitudes are becoming obsolescent, [many people say] the era of the export has arrived and that of the scholar has gone; that a mechanized economy has no understanding of, or patience with, the ivory tower; and that frustration and defeat are in store for us if we oppose or attempt to modify the trend of the times” (11).
Smith was less than sanguine about the persistence of traditional scholarship. But he believed an accommodation could be reached between the university and its modem environment. By asserting the intrinsic value of a liberal arts education, scholars could present an alternative to modem instruction, which was preoccupied with science and technology. There was potential, Smith reasoned, for instrumentalist and liberal arts learning alike. Scholars, university officials and Canadians would decide whether or not the humane knowledge could continue its historic function (Smith 8-12).
The second theme of the conference was scientific and technological education. E.W.R. Steacie, president of the National Research Council, did not value humanistic learning above other types of knowledge. Instead he set out to show the inherent compatibility of the pure sciences as academic disciplines. He differentiated pure from applied sciences. Applied science was concerned with “development for practical purposes and the use of scientific information.” It was instrumental knowledge, “merely adjunct to technology” (Steacie, “Responsibility” 41). In contrast, pure science was akin to humane knowledge because it was concerned with the “purpose of advancing knowledge for its own sake,” and like the liberal arts, with the advancement of truth (Steacie, “Responsibility” 41). There was nothing intrinsically flawed with scientific knowledge. Only when outside interests interfered with the pursuit of scientific learning were the pure sciences compromised. The sciences could rightly be included within the pantheon of scholarly pursuits (Steacie, “Responsibility” 43).
Technical education could also be humanized and could become reconcilable with the modern conception of the academy. John Ely Burchard demonstrated the compatibility of the two branches of knowledge. When combined, he said, they strengthened each other to develop insightful, well-rounded humanists and scientists. Scientists played a crucial role in the Cold War arms race, Burchard explained, and Canada needed to develop scientists and technologists with humanist consciences. He claimed scientists’ concern for the welfare of the human state was in danger of being lost. Humane and scientific knowledge existed in a complementary relationship for Burchard. Neither the humanities nor the sciences alone could protect humankind against naivete and wrongheaded thinking. “Combined, they may sometime fail; but the man who has experienced both will have a better chance [at approaching truth]. I had rather bet the security of the world on a substantial number of this kind of men than on a horde of skilled and obedient technicians” (Burchard 57).
But by the late 1950s most Canadians preferred the “obedient technician” to the well-rounded intellectual. The modern university emerged, fully fledged, not long after the 1956 NCCU conference. It was marked as much by the rise of technical learning and the concomitant demise of the academic traditions of the academy as by the decline of all but a very few fervent critics of academic modernization.15 Even those moderate critics who dominated the conference were largely muted by the time the NCCU convened its next major conference.16, Their endeavours to conserve university traditions through the integration of humane values into modern academic structures largely failed, as the new structures began to achieve the primacy once enjoyed by the liberal arts. The appeal for a reaffirmation of university traditions and a sundering of the burgeoning “multiversity” seemed like empty rhetoric to university authorities and to Canadians. By the early 1960s, the words of the critics had become irrelevant to a society that had little regard for the traditional function of the academy.
The technological impetus created by the Cold War arms race figured prominently in the emergence of the modern Canadian university. By the late 1950s, the second stage of the Cold War had arrived. Participants vied to become the world’s most prosperous nation and to develop the world’s most sophisticated weapons systems. Engineers and technologists were critical to the achievement of these goals, and higher education was again mobilized, as it had been in the 1940s, to win the new war. Governments feared that unless universities revised the timetable for production of technologists the Cold War would surely be lost. Many Canadians felt that North Americans had lost their intellectual and technological advantage over the Soviet Union. The Russian launch of Sputnik in October 1957 amplified the inadequacies of North American educational systems and showed the superiorities of Russian technical education. University officials felt pressured to produce more engineers, scientists and technologists to catch up to the technologically superior Russians.17 Shortly after the Sputnik launch, the Ontario minister of education told the presidents of his province’s universities “to reassure those of the public who are anxious about present conditions that everything is being done and will be done to strengthen and support the service rendered by the Ontario Universities” (Axelrod 25). University reports issued throughout the late 1950s invariably discussed the desperate need for advanced research in science and technology (Owram 179). As the NCCUC president declared in 1961, no one denied the need for the very best professors and equipment in the pure and applied science laboratories of the country’s universities (Legare vi). Nor did governments deny the universities the support required to bolster the training of scientists and technologists. In the Royal Commission on Canada’s Economic Prospects (the Gordon Commission, 1958), the Canadian government affirmed its commitment to establish a “more elaborate provision for research” so that Canada might accelerate its “rate of technical advance” and “maintain [its] position in relation to other countries” (Harris 587-88). Government support for fundamental scientific research was as logical as it was unequivocal. In the aftermath of Sputnik, the modem university was responsible once again for the survival of the nation.
In addition to providing the crack front-line troops to be deployed in the Cold War, universities also proved essential in furnishing society with the highly educated workforce central to an advanced industrial economy. Scientific and technical training was significant to the economic well-being of the nation. As the Gordon Commission noted in 1958, “the pace of growth and development depends largely on the ability to use the fruits of scientific reserve, technological improvements, and advanced mechanization…. The abilities of scientists, engineers, administrators, and skilled people of all kinds are being called increasingly into play” (Bissell, Canada’s Crisis 49). Economic theorists considered modem universities focal points of economic growth. Citing Peter Drucker’s Landmarks of Tomorrow, Claude Bissell showed how education was not an overhead cost, as conventional economic argument considered it, but rather a capital investment (Bissell, “Problems” 6). The development of educated people was, in Drucker’s words, “the most meaningful index of the wealth-producing capacity of a country” (Bissell, “Problems” 6). In The Affluent Society, J.K. Galbraith came to the same conclusions. Galbraith argued that the universities were poised to produce a “new class” that was to have the knowledge and technical resources to strive towards economic prosperity and “peaceful survival itself” (Bissell, “Problems” 6). Since education was the “operative factor in expanding [this] class,” Galbraith concluded, “investment in education, assessed qualitatively as well as quantitatively, becomes very close to being the basic index of social progress” (Bissell, “Problems” 6). There was a tremendous expansion in administrative, finance and public-sector positions in the late 1950s and 1960s. Canadian society required teachers, lawyers, doctors and bankers along with engineers. The university was called upon to satisfy the demands (Owram 179180). Ontario minister of education William Davis put into perspective society’s reliance on the modern university. “Today as never before in our history,” Davis declared in 1963, “our very survival, our future development and prosperity as a nation depends on the proper education of our youth” (Axelrod 28).
Universities were regarded as centres of social and economic advancement. In assisting Canada to become a “noble and puissant nation,” society and the universities emphasized the utilitarian aspect of higher education (Bissell, “Problems” 10). The culture of utility achieved precedence in the 1960s. The universities convinced communities of their importance to the nation, and an increasingly heavy reliance on provincial largesse helped place the universities squarely within the public domain. Increasing capital expenditures and the continuing explosion in enrolments meant that universities again had to look to government for hand-outs. By the mid-1960s, governments – especially provincial governments – covered the lion’s share of university costs. Despite the protestations of scholars about infringements on academic autonomy, provincial governments were reticent “to sit passively on the sidelines and let each institution follow its own autonomously conceived fancies” (Hodgetts xi). They took an active interest in the systems of higher learning they funded, systems increasingly considered by voting publics as integral to the well-being of their communities.
Massive expansion in the early 1960s implied a change in the nature of higher education. This change is perhaps best encapsulated in the term “multiversity.” President Clark Kerr of the University of California, who coined the word, meant by the term that the modern university was so variegated that there was no “single vision” to shape it (Owram 180). For Kerr, the “intellectual world had been fractionalized” (Owram 180). As the universities expanded and interests continued to diverge, academies found that their utilitarian roles took on added significance. Only by functioning as economic and technical storehouses and by providing higher learning to the masses of young Canadians could the universities find any unifying purpose. Presidents and boards of governors had to weigh the oft-conflicting interests of funding goals with educational philosophies and standards. Smaller institutions could still claim that the “liberal arts constitute the centre of their educational offerings” (Somers 150). But all universities had to be “guided by utilitarian considerations if they [were] to receive the understanding and support required from the community” (Hodgetts xviii). Universities had become ensconced in the public ambit as the location of power. In Kerr’s words, they “moved from inside to outside the original community of masters and scholars” (Owram 180).
Critics denounced the demise of the traditional university and criticized the monstrosity that Kerr expounded upon. George Grant, a key participant in the struggle against academic modernization, continued to speak out against the advent of the multiversity. A subtext of his 1960s analyses on the predominance of technological liberalism was the decline of the religious and contemplative traditions. In becoming the handmaidens of the technological society, modern universities had not been true to their role as spiritual and philosophical centres. Grant saw that the ultimate goal of North Americans was to build a “noble technological society of highly skilled specialists who are at the same time people of great vision” (Christian 328). He did not dispute the magnificent results of the research orientation of the universities, especially in the natural sciences. But, in exchange for great achievements, universities lost something very important: justice, knowledge of the beautiful and a notion of where people stand toward the divine. Grant continued to lament the loss of the universities’ main purpose: the duty of its scholars to lead society in the pursuit of truth, justice and beauty (Christian 328).
Northrop Frye provided a new perspective on old problems. For Frye, the university was not an extension of society’s social-technological aspirations. Instead, it stood outside society, analyzing it and assessing social interaction. It was a social laboratory that provided “insights into the structure of society, nature, or the human mind” and thereby facilitated an understanding of the modern world (Frye, “Critical” 5-6). For Frye, higher learning’s defining function was to evaluate and challenge the accepted views of society. “If one’s view of society has been formed by great philosophers one cannot be satisfied with the view of it taken by luxury advertising” (Frye, “Liberal” 6-7). In a world dominated by the material and technological, higher learning helped “awaken minds” and liberate students from the prominent modern fallacy: of thinking about education – and life in terms of an adjustment to a comfortable, material existence (Frye, “Liberal” 6).
Frye believed universities enabled students to pursue truth and to gain freedom. They allowed students to focus on the study of great art and literature and absorb “the discipline of the scientific method” and understand “the wisdom of the ages” (Frye, “Critical” 11). Academies were society’s “powerhouses of freedom.” They exposed false thinking and directed their adherents to the truths inherent in art, philosophy and the good life (Frye, “Liberal” 8, 11). For Frye, the “free” university was a symbol of the achievement of a greater societal emancipation. The university was more than a physical manifestation, a group of buildings. The university represented “what humanity … is free to do if it tries…. Wherever there is respect for the artist’s vision, the scientist’s detachment, the teacher’s learning and patience, the child’s questioning, there the university is at work in the world” (Frye, “Liberal” 8-9).
Frye also postulated a social mission for the university. He considered it central to the adaptation of modern humanity to changing social realities. Society, for Frye, was in “a state of process,” striving towards future ideals (Frye, “Perserving” 2). Through its function as social critic, the university would make sense of the revolutionary process and lead society through perilous times. Against the backdrop of tremendous socio-economic change, expanding enrolments, the development of the multiversity and student radicalism, Frye singled out higher learning as a stabilizing force. “The university, “by virtue of its emphasis on the cultural environment, the supremacy of mental discipline over personality, and academic freedom, has the resources for forming a bridgehead of flexible and detached minds in a strategic place in society.” The academy was best able to perform its social function by serving as purveyor of cultural, moral and humane truths. By presenting historic perspectives on society, the university would provide insight on modern problems. It best fulfilled its function, Frye averred, “by digging in its heels and doing its traditional job in its traditionally retrograde, obscurantist, and reactionary way. It must continue to confront society with the imaginations of great poets, the visions of great thinkers, the discipline of the scientific method, and the wisdom of the ages, until enough people … realize that it is a way of life” (Frye, “Critical” 11).
But modern humanity did not understand the civilizing and humanizing mission of higher learning. The immense perspective engendered by experiencing the imaginations of great artists and scientists was in danger of being lost. Present society “[was] not predestined to go onward and upward.” The academy itself – the last refuge of civilization – had become a reflection of a debased culture and was contributing to society’s demise. “If the university, like so much of the rest of our society, falls into the habit of rationalizing its prosperity as a kind of virtue, it will have been kidnapped by that society and will have betrayed its special function,” Frye warned (“Changing” 5). He added that social pressures continued to endanger universities by forcing them “to work out and teach some kind of democratic philosophy” (Frye, “Changing” 8).
Although he was not hostile to material advancement per se, Frye chided a society that had become obsessed with the material and the technological and had fallen prey to the trappings of mass culture. Intellectually, he distinguished himself from the growing numbers of academic observers who were willing to work within the limits of modernized and democratized higher education. Frye stood firm against advancing tendencies in higher learning. He was a strong and loyal advocate of the merits of the traditional academy. In advocating traditional education, he provided a link to the academic critics of former times. His great success as a critic of the university was to bring the tradition of dissent into a period that was increasingly inimical to the ideas and uses of traditional higher learning.
Other academic observers, however, were not receptive to a reversion to the principles of the traditional university. Commentators such as J.A. Corry were less willing than their colleagues to eschew the multiversity. In a group of addresses given in the 1960s and published in 1970 under the apt title Farewell the Ivory Tower, Corry, principal of Queen’s University, was unwilling to concede that the universities were handmaidens of the state and therefore bereft of vision. The leitmotif of his addresses was that the universities found their focus through their service to society. In a political climate in which laissez-faire attitudes and individualism predominated, the “medieval” university, aloof from society, could be justifiable; in a democratic society, it was not. The university, in other words, had to adapt to new circumstances and realities. Corry was not averse to the traditional principles of the university – scholarly freedom, tenure, the importance of humane values and contemplative traditions – but he did object to the aloofness of a system from the community that paid the bills (19-21). Universities must be kept free, he claimed in 1964, for theirs was
essential work that can only be carried on in the flexible conditions of freedom. Governments in Canada affirm this just as strongly as anyone else. Equally, it will not be denied in any responsible quarter that governments which guard the public interest and provide increasingly heavy support for universities out of public funds need assurances. How can they claim the continued confidence of the taxpayer unless they can say with knowledge that his money is being wisely spent in the public interest? (Corry 21)
Corry thought that the universities had a responsibility to the communities they served. The obligation would be fulfilled when the universities could “interpret the felt needs of society,” which included the “utilitarian interests” of the masses of new students. The universities ought to accommodate students harbouring pragmatic inclinations as long as their numbers did not overwhelm. The world’s work must be done.” Much of that work requires knowledge and disciplined minds of an order that universities are best equipped to provide. The universities need to keep in close touch with the workaday world. Common sense and practicality never come amiss, even in universities” (Corry 54).
Corry implored the university to adapt to society and to aid in the achievement of its ultimate goals. Arthur Lower, who had frequently spoken out against cloistered scholarship, implicitly supported Corry’s arguments. Society was full of “plain, work-a-day people,” he claimed “getting ‘equaler and equaler’ as the days go by” (Lower, “Canadian University” 256). Scholars must endeavour to understand the “people they are working with, their social and economic background” (Lower, “Canadian University” 249). Canadian universities must work diligently to eliminate the remnants of nineteenth-century elitism and enable themselves to relate to the new and changing world. Claude Bissell, President of the University of Toronto, also expounded upon the modern university’s integration into society. According to Bissell, society had accepted both scholars’ “assumptions about the importance of higher education and the necessity of meeting its enormous needs” (“Problems” 5). The role of the university could be “seen in different terms and [expressed in] a more elaborate and stimulating context. We can talk about universities not in terms of subsistence, but in terms of expansion; not as production lines for business and the state, but as a principal means whereby our economy, our political structure and our culture grow and change” (Bissell, “Problems” 5). Even Marshall McLuhan elaborated on the university’s new societal function. In the electronic age, McLuhan asserted, universities had relinquished their centuries-old function as “the main processing plants for young minds” and had become the means by which society could understand cultural change and social environments – which for McLuhan had become dominated by electronic media of communication. As highly decentralized institutions, able to access and understand the nature of electronic information transfer, universities became “the principal organs of perception for the entire society” (McLuhan to Bassett D156). The university had developed into a nodal centre of all society.
The academy had developed into an agent of society, and most people within and outside the academic world were willing to accept and accommodate this fait accompli. This willingness to accommodate was a powerful manifestation of the sway of the modern university. As one critic declared in 1961, the days of supremacy for the humanist had passed. Humanist scholars could no longer “defend their right to a place in the sun” (Schlatter 3). Rather, “science, technology, and the humanities must cooperate and live in mutual dependence” (Schlatter 2). Added another commentator, the universities had to address the “needs of government, of industry and of society over the long haul” (Steacie, “Task” 4). They must “move with the times” and “adjust to the changes in society” (Ibid.). There was somber resignation among academic observers that the day of the modern university had arrived at last.
By the 1960s, Canadian universities were completing a process of academic modernization begun several decades earlier. Modern institutions scarcely resembled their late-nineteenth-century forebearers, which had been cultural outposts responsible for inculcating the virtues of British culture and for helping to develop a “dutiful, morally sound social order.” In an age of astonishing expansion, economic prosperity and democratic ideals, universities shunned their former responsibility as access points for the sons of the elite to the higher forms of learning. Characterized by democratic education, a growing culture of utility, the advent of the multiversity, a more intimate relationship between universities and their government and private benefactors, the modern university was staunchly ensconced in the modern realities of mass enrolments and million-dollar budgets. Universities did retain some educational structures to meet the challenges of the new age. The arguments of George Grant and Northrop Frye and others are testaments to the strain of conservatism that marked academic life even into the 1960s and 1970s. Faced with the immutable forces for social change after 1945, however, a newfound willingness to accommodate modern exigencies sundered academics’ reactionary predilections. Critics such as Frye and Grant had been marginalized amid a growing tide of “academic modernists.” Critics wondered immediately after 1945 whether recent trends towards academic modernization were mere aberrations. Their counterparts a decade and a half later harboured no illusions about the fate of the traditional academy. The acceptance by scholars of academic modernization was, ultimately, the most telling of all manifestations that the end of the long evolution had been reached and that the modern university had been born at last.
Copyright Trent University Summer 2001
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