ARTICLES

The college where Joe College wouldn’t fit

The University of Montreal is going gallantly broke while its earnest carabins prefer politics and polemics to cheerleaders and panty raids. Of course, they can relax in the students’ bar

KEN LEFOLII September 26 1959
ARTICLES

The college where Joe College wouldn’t fit

The University of Montreal is going gallantly broke while its earnest carabins prefer politics and polemics to cheerleaders and panty raids. Of course, they can relax in the students’ bar

KEN LEFOLII September 26 1959

The college where Joe College wouldn’t fit

The University of Montreal is going gallantly broke while its earnest carabins prefer politics and polemics to cheerleaders and panty raids. Of course, they can relax in the students’ bar

KEN LEFOLII

As Canadian universities go, I’Université de Montréal does not. It goes its own way, breaking the rules right down the line. As a U of M professor would say, regard:

The University of Montreal has no football team, no cheerleaders, no fraternities, no ivy. Outside Paris, there is no larger French-speaking university in the world. Even so, its Frenchlanguage department is regarded as no more than adequate by the university’s own experts.

The U of M does have a championship ski jump, a students’ bar that stays open until the customers go home, the cadaver of an eightfoot giant, a mining professor who deals in tenmillion-dollar properties. Although it is a Catholic classical university, its international reputation rests largely on such non-denominational non-classical specialties as dentistry, pharmacy and its Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery.

Almost every university in North America today is overcrowded and underfinanced. The University of Montreal is half empty — one wing has never been occupied since the building was dedicated in 1943 — and is rapidly going bankrupt.

If this haphazard file of facts supports a

formula, this is it: the University of Montreal doesn’t look like a North American university, as often as not it doesn’t act like one, and its students go out of their way to avoid looking or acting like run-of-the-campus college kids. Whether the academic edge is with the conventional majority or the obstinate Montrealers is anybody's guess. Certainly the U of M long ago lapped the field in at least three non-academic departments—controversy, crisis, and several kinds of color.

It is one thing to say the U of M doesn’t look like a university; it’s another, almost hopeless, thing to say what it does look like. The campus, to begin with, is a crag, 125 acres of granite outcrop on the northern rump of Mount Royal, close to but about four hundred feet above the midpoint of Montreal. This much uncluttered real estate would be enough to make a claustrophobic midtown university like Toronto regain its sense of humor. The U of M, like Moscow and Pittsburgh and no more than three other universities in the world, decided to save space by building a single monolith and housing all its faculties under one roof. The lemon-yellow brick building that resulted combines a couple of the pyramid roofs perfected by the railway hotels with a shaft resembling the obelisks carved by the ancient Egyptians. In other respects it is comparable to nothing else on earth.

The building thrusts two identical wings east and west along its Mount Royal ridge. The wings are linked by a curved three-story-high arcade topped by a spike 270 feet tall and forty feet square — the overweight obelisk — which is big enough to house the stacks of the university’s main library. Each wing is in the shape of an overgrown E (the east wing alone accommodates about four thousand students without creaking) with an added square grafted on its spine. The squares provided the architect, Quebec's celebrated Ernest Cormier, with the occasion for the pyramidal railway-hotel roofs. The E-shaped wings lie on their sides, spines to the mountain and arms stretched out to the city.

The close-up view is just as unsettling as the long-shot. From one point on the campus the building seems to be four stories high, from another six, from another five, but the elevators run to the eighth floor. Inside, the structure is an endless web of bare, yellow-brick corridors plotted, apparently, by a spider who never sobered up. Fourth-year students are not above stopping now and then continued on page 60

continued on page 60

The college where Joe College wouldn’t fit continued from page 27

Students dress like businessmen or lawyers. A carabin without a tie is derided as a college boy

to get their hearings from one of the route maps posted here and there, with a small cross and the words “You are here" identifying their present location, not unlike the maps in the Paris Metro.

The University of Montreal’s students

long ago determined to forestall any confusion between themselves and the kind of undergraduates who wear beanies by taking over the ancient French word carabin. In medieval France a carabin was a medical student. In modern Quebec

he (or she; one carabin out of four Is a carabine) can be a lay student of religion or an aspiring psychiatrist or even an English - speaking schoolteacher working on a master’s degree, as several are at the U of M, as long as he is enrolled at

the Mount Royal university. There is no typical carabin, but a fictional composite specimen goes by the name Kid Carabin. He conforms, roughly, to these ground rules:

In dress, the Kid emulates a member of the Quebec business or professional class, which he usually is. The rare faddist who wears anything more juvenile than a jacket and knit tie is derided as a “college boy.” The only sport the Kid follows fervently and in force is skiing.

The Kid’s campus is embellished in one steep corner with a rope tow and a competition ski jump, but there is no gridiron and no gymnasium, although plans have been drawn up for both. A couple of years ago the carabins moved into the second building constructed on the campus, a social centre that has student-association offices in one wing, a chapel and restaurants and recreation salons, including the students’ bar, in another. The social centre is hooked by a breezeway to the U of M’s single dormitory, a 127-bed bachelor bunkhouse, and both units obey the peculiar laws of U of M architecture. At one point a flight of stairs leads down from the third floor and opens on the fourth; another stairway leads up from the mezzanine and ends in a blank wall.

In his social life Kid Carabin has never paid more than lip service to that mild form of mass hysteria, the old college spirit, and his closest approach to an athletic hero is an overcharged entrepreneur of the arts like Pierre Emond. Last year, as president of the students’ art society, the busiest extracurricular body on the campus, Emond directed a dizzy dance of art exhibitions, stringquartet musicales, a full-dress drama and a musical revue, personal appearances by famous artists (Badura Skoda, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf), film showings, jazz and theatre workshops. Emond graduated last spring but this year, as a sort of entrepreneur-emeritus, he’ll keep his hand in most of these productions and act as impresario for the first national music festival ever held in Quebec.

If Emond has a rival as a carabin big-wheel, he’s a tough political infighter like Bruno Meloche. By popular account Meloche, a small twenty-five-year-old law student who wears his hair like Marlon Brando playing Marc Antony, is the only man on the campus who owns a raccoon coat. Both these shaggy jokes are misleading. Meloche and his fire - eating friends are leading a carabin revolt against Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis, the administration of the University of Montreal, and anybody else who stands between them and a new financial deal for the U of M and the carabins alike.

The battle turns on the unusual anatomy of the U of M and the sources of its operating funds. Structurally the U of M is a hybrid; in the classic French mold, the faculties of medicine, law, and dental surgery demand a bachelor of arts degree as an entrance requirement. The U of M has no arts faculty of its own; to earn a U of M BA a would-be carabin has to enroll in one of forty-odd affiliated classical colleges across the province.

The BA course in the classical college is an eight-year haul, beginning when a boy is about twelve, at anywhere from $150 to $350 a year. Speaking for the insurgent carabins, Meloche says this high-

priced system “bolts the university's doors against half the best brains in Quebec” whose fathers aren’t well enough heeled to pay the shot. Fully half the carabins now reach the non-professional faculties through the high-school and technicalschool systems, but Meloche and his friends maintain this isn't good enough.

Both the carabin complaints and the U of M's corporate complexity cut deeper still. The engineering school, l’Ecole Polytechnique, moved into a new thirteen-million-dollar building on the campus this year and grants degrees signed by the U of M, but it is a separate corporation with its own budget and its own board. So are the School of Optometry and the Graduate School of Commerce, which plans to break ground on the campus for a new building this year. So, indeed, are the agriculture, veterinary medicine and teachers’ colleges, and so are several other institutes and seminaries.

L'Université de Montréal, the holding company, so to speak, in this chain of interlocking directorates, is relatively small. While there were 13,887 students working for degrees last year throughout the entire chain, only forty-three hundred of them were enrolled in the thirteen departments of the university itself. Most of these hard-core carabins were in half a dozen faculties—theology, law, medicine, philosophy, letters, sciences. About half of them were working on postgraduate degrees: advanced baccalaureates, MAs and Licences (a French equivalent of the MA, but with a more general field of study and no thesis), and Doctorates.

“The U of M is dying”

This intricate enterprise operates under two charters, one from the Vatican and one from the government of Quebec. Under the terms of the provincial charter the government has managed to dominate the board of governors; under the Papal charter the Church commands the top administrative posts; neither faction holds itself responsible for balancing the budget, although Quebec votes a grant every year. The effect of this power split is described by Maurice Séguin, a U of M history professor, as “the same difficulty that would distress a man with two heads. We never know which way we're going.”

A couple of years ago it became apparent that the way the U of M is going, financially at least, is straight into bankruptcy. In the school year 1957-58 the university spent a third of a million dollars more than it took in from tuition fees, provincial grants, and all other sources. “We are dying, and that is no figure of speech,’’ the rector, Monsignor Irénée Lussier, said at the time.

Last year the deficit had climbed to six hundred thousand dollars; this year it will probably reach a million. Lussier has made no further public statements on the subject, probably because nothing he could say w'ould put the case more strongly than he has stated it already.

To pay its debts, the university started two years ago to dip into the $4.9 million that then remained in a $ 13-million fund raised by public subscription in 1947-48. At the present rate of overspending the fund will be dead by 1962 and so. if Lussier’s bankruptcy speech is to be taken seriously, will the University of Montreal. “Ours is a strange industry,” Lussier said not long ago. “The more customers we get, the poorer we become.”

To the carabins, the way out is clarity itself. The provincial government can be made to cough up enough money to pul the university in the black and at the same time underwrite a sharply increased scale of scholarships for students. Since Premier Duplessis sees little merit in

these proposals, the carabins have rallied behind Bruno Meloche and a few other fighters to assault the government with such tactics as a one-day boycott of lectures in March 1958, for which they enlisted the students of every other university in Quebec as well. When this failed, Meloche, with two carabin companions. jumped a train for Quebec City and camped on Maurice Duplessis’ doorstep for eight weeks. The filibuster introduced Meloche to front pages across the country but failed to win an introduction to the premier; it was called ofF in time

for the two other insurgents to write their exams in Montreal. Meloche gave the school year up for lost and spent the next few weeks stumping Quebec, helping run off fourteen "monster public rallies” to cement the propaganda gains he had made at the capital.

The bout was a saw-off. Duplessis never did give Meloche a hearing, but later he opened his office to the presidents of the student bodies at Quebec’s five other universities. w'ho were carrying the same brief. Not long after, the repayable portions of student loans were hiked sub-

stantially. This year Quebec's “discretionary” grant to the U of M will go up from $1.4 million to $1.8 million. The carabins still claim the scholarships are too small and too few. The university will still be about a million dollars in the red.

Although political belligerence of the free-swinging style displayed by Meloche and his cadres has always been a carabin characteristic there is at least one striking indication that this attitude often mellows into effective diplomacy. More than half a dozen of Canada's senior ambassadors are graduates of the U of M including

The U of M has been called “priest-ridden” but one of its faculty lecturers in medieval studies is a rabbi

Léon May rand in Rome, and Jules Léger (brother of Cardinal Léger, U of M’s chancellor and himself a U of M graduate) who holds ambassadorial rank as Canada’s permanent representative to NATO. Maj.-Gen. George Vanier (U of M law school, class of ’ll), who this month becomes the first native Frenchspeaking governor-general of Canada, was ambassador to Paris in the sensitive period immediately after World War II. His current successor in Paris is U of M graduate Pierre Dupuy.

To the outsider, looking at the fiery students who have yet to acquire the polish of these alumni, all the agitation may seem pointless. For the university there is an alternate source of millions, and for many people in Quebec and elsewhere the great mystery about the U of M is why it doesn’t grab the money. There are $6.3 millions in rejected federal grants being held in trust at Ottawa

in the U of M’s name. To get the money all the university has to do is ask. Why doesn’t it?

Why indeed. The contentious explanation starts with U of M law-school alumnus (class of ’13) Maurice Duplessis. Premier Duplessis damns federal assistance to education as the rape of provincial autonomy and, furthermore, as a violation of the constitution. Willy-nilly, the Quebec universities unanimously spurn Ottawa’s money. This much of the explanation is well known, but there are further facts that aren’t.

For one thing, some of Duplessis’ most implacable adversaries condemn the grants as unconditionally as the premier does himself. Lawyer-economist Pierre Elliott Trudeau (class of ’44), whose slashing polemics are the anti-Duplessis war cry of many of Quebec’s young intellectual reformers, speared the grants on points of law, history and usage in his

own journal, Cite Libre. At the U of M a professor who repudiates Duplessis also repudiates the grants as an affront to selfrespect. "Our university is French and Catholic. if we must have state aid, let it come from our French Catholic govern ment at Quebec."

The man charged with keeping the uni versity alive, Irénée Lussier, recalls a 1956 conversation with the late Sidney Smith, then his opposite number at the University of Toronto. Smith harbored deep reservations about the wisdom of federal participation in university financ ing, even through no - strings - attached grants. But, he said, he would accept; his school needed the money.

Smith and Lussier saw eye to eye, and their view was shared by seven hundred Quebec university professors who stood up to be counted.

The U of M board of governors, which

has never made a decision seriously at odds with Premier Duplessis' preferences, overrode Lussier's decision. The rector's personal opinion is unchanged, but he sees little prospect of the board revers ing its stand. Gathering several yards of black cassock around a frame that would intimidate a professional wrestler, Lussier purses his lips and surveys the hazardous future. The U of M is growing as fast as any university in Canada; three thou sand more students last year than the year before and at least twice as many all told by 1965. So are its affiliates: l'Ecole Polytechnique, easily the fastest-growing engineering school in Canada, jumped twenty - five percent in enrollment to

twelve hundred students last year. The inference is not lost on Lussier. By 1965 he intends to have seen the U of M through its first great concession to modern Quebec, an arts college for un dergraduates specializing in the special ties that bring the highest prices in the marketplace. The central question he leaves for last. W.here will the money come from to haul the university back from the brink of bankruptcy? Lussier has an answer ready. "From the people of Quebec. After all, it's their university."

it has, in fact, been their university

from the beginning. Until 1919 the U of M was a branch of venerable Laval at Quebec City. One of its first undertakings after breaking away to set up business for itself was a public drive for funds to replace the alreadycramped buildings on St. Denis Street in the solidly French East Side. The money raised was enough to build the yellow giant on Mount Royal but not enough to run it. Between 1933, when the shell was completed, and 1943, when the building was finally dedicated to St. Joseph the Artisan, the university's patron saint, the U of M was a storm centre of controversy. The wind has died

down but the storm isn't over.

Dr. Roger Dufresne, vice-dean of medi cine, blew it up again last February. Pointing to the west wing, almost half the entire building, Dufresne told its odd story. For twenty-seven years all but the inner fringe of the cavernous wing has been deserted. Since 1947 the university has had enough money - again supplied by the public, this time as part of the improvement" fund now being drained by deficits - to equip the teaching hos pital the wing was planned to accommo date. But operating costs can only be met by Quebec, and Premier Duplessis "sees no need" for another teaching hospital in Montreal. For the medical faculty to re main silent any longer about this still birth, Dufresne said, "is treason and cowardice."

Although Dufresne is only the latest in a long line of U of M professors who have demonstrated their willingness to

mix it with the authorities on a score of controversial subjects, his statement surprised many people who speak guardedly of the U of M as “priest ridden” and subject in some sinister way to censorship. Like all bogeys this means nothing exact. It is difficult to sec how it can survive outbreaks like Dufresne’s, and it is even harder to see how it can outlast incidents like one that involved a young student priest a few years ago. It happened soon after the Institute of Medieval Studies added Rabbi Chaim Denburg to the faculty, a step that appears singularly unpriest-ridden itself. A professor of medicine happened to hear the divinity student reviewing the Rabbi’s first lecture, which dealt with Christ's early converts among the Jews, for a group of other fledgling priests:

"He has given us a list of rabbinical heretics. But consider,” the young man squeaked, Happing his soutane, “these heretics are our saints!”

They do have “le fun”

In coming to grips, however nervously, with an edged idea the young priest was repeating a fairly common carabin experience. Historian Maurice Séguin throws that hallowed scholar’s “miracle,” the French survival in Canada, back into the carabin’s sharp-planed Breton faces. "Of course we survive. We have no choice. But we survive on English terms. If we want to make our own terms, all our choices are hard ones.” By his own example, botanist Pierre Dansereau might be said to urge his students off the sidelines into the political arena where the choices are made. An internationally celebrated innovator in botanical research. Dansereau. dean of the science faculty was once head of a political educationand-action group known as the Rassemblement. which is in the thick of the drive for political reform in Quebec.

The scientific environment is charged with the same sense of adventure. The work done on stress in the human body

by Dr. Hans Selye, the Director of the Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery, has enlarged medical knowledge by a full dimension and marked the U of M in the world's eyes as a cordial host to genius. Physician-psychologist Louis Poirier has succeeded in artificially build ing all the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease into a series of test monkeys. His work may be the first crack in a major medical breakthrough.

Elsewhere under the same roof the first physicist to compound what is known to atomic scientists as a concentrated nuclear emulsion, Pierre Demers, can now photograph subatomic radiation as clearly as cattracks in fresh snow. His book, Ionographie, is becoming a world standard in a new science. Last fall, as Demers corrected the proofs of a companion volume, he was joined by two acolytes, Dr. Etsuo Fijii and his wife. The Fijiis, both doctors of physics, are pursuing a mystery that first spilled on them out of the sky when they were hand-holding undergraduates at the University of Hiroshima. Farther up the bluff in the engineering school, mining professor Paul - Emile Riverin presents to his students the best credentials a mining man could have. In the last few years a prospecting group organized by Riverin has closed mining deals involving at least twenty million dollars and now has more than one geological party in the field.

Kid Carabin, that untypical college boy, isn’t necessarily out to make a million. Nor is he, by definition, intent on saving the world or solving the ultimate riddles of science. Although the Kid's profile as it appears here doesn’t stress his inclination to gaiety, he is a keen student of le fun, one of his favorite phrases, and he speaks knowledgeably of beatniks and bop. He is a young man with a mind and a tradition of his own. In spite of his tendency to take a head-on run at professors, politicians, or anybody else who disagrees with him. the Kid is not backward about admitting that he is in the right place to temper his mind and polish his tradition, if