Pres. Falconer—an Organizing Genius
W. A. Craick
An intimate view of President Falconer, of Toronto University, is presented in this character sketch, which is also somewhat of an interview in that in addition to revealing the personality of the man it throws an interesting sidelight on the nature of his work. As Canadians come to know him better, they are beginning to realize that not only have they a big man in Dr. Falconer^ but also one eminently fitted in every sense for the successful discharge of the onerous duties which have devolved upon him in the formidable task of University organization and the raising of educational standards in this country. This article gives a glimpse of the man as he is, together with some of his views on educational problems.
IN the spring of 1907, Principal Falconer of the Presbyterian College, Halifax, took passage aboard a liner sailing from New York for Mediterranean ports. His objective was Greece and he had in prospect a pleasant summer wandering about and viewing the historicsights of that famous land. The academic year was over and with a mind free from immediate care he was bent on spending an enjoyable holiday.
The Atlantic voyage was safely accomplished and the liner entered the Mediterranean. Several stops were made at French and Italian ports and then the ship passed up the Adriatic and dropped anchor at Venice.
Mail and cablegrams were brought aboard. Among the latter was one addressed to the Principal. Pie hurriedly tore it open and read the message. It was to this effect, “You
have been selected as the new President of the University of Toronto; will you accept the appointment?” In this somewhat out-of-the-way manner the present head of the University of Toronto was apprised of the honor which had b een conferred upon him. It is true that he was not in ignorance that his name had been under consideration by the committee of the Board of Governors, which had been instructed to name the president, but in his modesty he had never deemed it possible that the choice would fall upon him. The cablegram came almost as a bolt from the blue and for a moment he was quite overcome. Then, realizing that it was a call to a great and useful national work, he sent back his acceptance.
The story of the quest of the committee of the Board of Governors for a
successor to President Loudon is not without its interesting features. The new act by which the University of Toronto was reorganized and placed on a
more satisfactory financial basis was passed by the Legislature of Ontario in the session of 1907. Following upon the enactmént of this measure, a Board of Governors was appointed to adminis-
ter University affairs. Their first duty
was to secure a new head for the reorganized institution. To expedite the work, a special committee was drafted, on which such eminent Canadians as Sir William Meredith, the Chancellor of the University ; Sir Edmund Walker, chairman of the Board of Governors; Sir Charles Moss, Dr. J. A. Macdonald and the late Dr. Teef y consented to serve. v
Great Britain, the United States and Canada were scoured for eligible men and a list was gradually compiled of those who were deemed strong) enough for the position. Members of the committee were themselves responsible for several nominations, while numerous suggestions were received from outsiders. At length the committee met to make its selection. Eighty-seven names were up for consideration and the task of picking the best man was no easy one. Finally the choice of the members rested on Professor Michael Sadler of Manchester, England, a distinguished educationist. He was duly approached but after mature consideration declined the offer, giving as his reason the fact that he had set his heart on the work of improving the English educational system and. did not feel that he could relinquish the task.
The committee, disappointed, but still with eighty-six names before them, met again. Some members, among them Dr. Macdonald who had nominated him, put in a strong plea for the Principal of the Presbyterian College in Llalifax. As he was unknown personally to a large majority of the Board, the committee decided to send for him and place him under a close personal examination. This was on a Thursday. They were aware that Principal Falconer was sailing for Greece on the following Tuesday; but an urgent telegram was dispatched to him and in response, the Halifax man appeared on the scene. The experience must have been a severe ordeal. The Principal was luncheoned by Sir Edmund Walker at the Toronto Club, was cross-examined by “Tom” White at the National Trust Co., was interviewed by Sir William Meredith at his residence and was
generally observed from all angles by members of the Board of Governors. After it was over, the future finance minister of Canada voiced the opinion of the Board, when he exclaimed delightedly, “That’s the man for us.” Meanwhile Principal Falconer himself hurried away to catch his steamship at New York, quite unaware that he had made such a hit. The committee reassembled the following week and unanimously decided to tender him the appointment, sending him their offer by cable, as already described.
In the fall of Í907, President Falconer was duly installed in the important office to which he had been called and at once took up the task of carrying out the re-organization programme
that had been inaugurated with his appointment. He has now held office for five years, a sufficient testing time for any man and that he has abundantly justified the expectations of those who sponsored him is everywhere admitted. Indeed, he has proved himself a bigger and a stronger man than even his greatest admirers were prepared to prophesy.
The son of a Presbyterian minister, the future president was born in the city of Charlottetown on Prince Edward Island early in the year that witnessed the confederation of the Canadian provinces. In his tenth year the family moved to the island of Trinidad, where his father was called to a charge, and there young Falconer passed his boy-
hood days. What youth brought up in the prosaic surroundings of a Canadian town would not envy this boy his opportunities, living in a part of the world where romantic adventure has long had its seat. The West Indies of the story books, with their pirates and their buccaneers, their buried treasure and their golden galleons, were right at hand, and while the reality might have been as unromantic as the life in a peaceful Canadian village, yet there must have been much to captivate a boyish mind in the strange tropical surroundings. He saw a good deal of Trinidad and at one time penetrated far up the Orinoco River in South America on a memorable holiday trip.
Young Falconer, however, was more of a student than most boys and in the school at Port of Spain, presided over at. the time by an excellent old scholar, he soon became head of his class. The chief prize at this school was known as the West Indian Gilchrist Scholarship, given in connection with the work of the University of London. This he was
easily able to win and at the age of seventeen, along with his brother James he sailed for the land of his forefathers across the Atlantic. Both boys register ed at the University of Edinburgh ant both carried on their studies together trying the same examinations and taking the same degrees. The provisions of the Gilchrist Scholarship required its holder to be examined each year at London and to London he went at the prescribed time. From the University of London he took his bachelor of arts degree in 1888 and the following year the University of Edinburgh gave hin his master’s hood.
From their earliest years the Falcone boys had been destined for the ministry by pious parents, and having completed their arts course, they immediately turned their attention to divinity, con tinuing their studies at Edinburgh. These were halcyon times for them, for both were enthusiastic students. Their winters were spent in the Scottish capital, while in summer they crossed to Germany and attended the summer ses
sions at Leipzig or Berlin or Marburg. Finally in 1892, having achieved the distinction of bachelor of divinity, they retraced their way across the Atlantic and took up the chain of existence again on Canadian soil.
Robert Falconer immediately received an appointment as lecturer on New Testament Exegesis in the Presbyterian College, Halifax. His brother accepted a charge in the province. From lecturer, Robert advanced to a full professorship in 1895, and in 1904 became in addition principal of the college. The life in Llalifax was very pleasant for him. The duties of his position were not extremely onerous. He had time to read, to study and to write. He became a valued contributor to several theological publications and even went to the extent of writing a book on “The Truth of the Apostolic Gospel,” which was published in 1904. In the long vacations he travelled extensively and at other times took a keen delight in going for lengthy rambles with congenial companions through the beautiful country around Halifax. Walking is
still, as it was then, his favorite form of recreation.
On the social side he was associated in a small club with several men who have since then won distinction in the educational life of Canada. There was Dr. Gordon, then minister of St. Andrew’s Church in Halifax, now principal of Queen’s University, Kingston ; Alfred Gandier, his brother-in-law, now principal of Knox College, Toronto, bui then in charge of Fort Massey Church; Clarence McKinnon, who had a small charge just outside Halifax and who is now his successor in the principalship of the Presbyterian College; Walter Murray, then a professor in Dalhousie University, now president of the University of Saskatchewan ; and his brother James who is to-day his successor as professor of New Testament Exegesis in Halifax. The club met alternately in the studies of its members and discussed theological and philosophical questions,’ and if Principal McKinnon was the most brilliant of the six, President Falconer was the deepest thinker and the sanest in his judgments.
Then came a time of change. Other duties devolved upon the members of the little club and in the added work of the principalship, Dr. Falconer found his time more fully occupied. The duty of keeping the needs of the College before the church fell upon him and he was constantly in the pulpit urging its claims on the people. Meanwhile further academic distinctions had been his. In 1902 his alma mater gave him the degree of Litt.D. The state University
of New Brunswick and the Roman Catholic University of St. Francis Xavier alike honored him with the degree of LL.D., while in 1906, Knox College,
Toronto, conferred upon him a D.D.
Subsequently he has had LL.D.’s from Toronto, McMaster, Dalhousie and Manitoba, so that the number of his degrees is far beyond the average.
Personally President Falconer is not a man who lends himself easily to the pen of the descriptive writer. There are none of those oddities of character, pe-
culiarities of habit or idiosyncracies of disposition about him which make it a simple thing to sketch an interesting portrait. He is one of those thoroughgoing, matter-of-fact individuals about whom it is hard to weave any entertaining anecdotal paragraphs. Nevertheless there are certain characteristics in his make-up, which lend distinction to his personality and to these some reference should be made.
Absolute fairness seems to be one of
his most outstanding qualities. Placed as he is in a position, in which he is frequently called upon to settle questions of discipline, he has invariably taken a broad-minded stand. . He always_ listens to the other side, weighs conditions carefully and then decides on the merits of the case. At times he may appear stubborn in his views, but it will invariably be^ found that he has arrived at his decision only after long and careful cogitation.
Those who know anything of Uni-
versity affairs for the past twenty or thirty years must be aware how very much the University's progress has been hampered by jealousies engendered by cliques.
No better man could have been selected to cope with this situation than President Falconer. He came to the University, “nobody's body," and he has retained his position of independence. He possesses the gift of getting on well with everybody and even with the most crotchety members of the Senate and Board of Governors he is “persona grata."
He has continued to maintain the dignity of his position with rare success.
Combining a pleasing presence with a fine gift of oratory, he is an ideal representative of a great University. Toronto owes not a little of her fame among the other universities of the world to the influence he has exerted on various occasions when he has been called on to speak for her.
As an instance, last summer at the congress of universities of the empire, he was one of the outstanding figures. At the same time throughout Canada he is being looked to more and more as a mentor on things educational and especially in the West his word has come to carry great weight.
His life is an extremely busy one, almost his whole time being consumed in handling the work of his office. He no longer has an opportunity to lecture and this prohibition is one
most keenly, as it prevents
of the things that he regrets
him from getting into close touch with the students as a body. While still a comparatively young man, the burden
of his task is becoming a heavy one and his friends are anxiously looking forward to the time when he will be re-
lieved of part of the work and have an opportunity to devote more time to thinking out pressing problems.
President Falconer is perhaps best known to the public as a speaker. He possesses a remarkably clear, carrying voice, which in itself is a great asset. Add to this a wealth of ideas, gathered from much study, travel and observation, and an ability to think on his feet, and he is well equipped for platform work. There is possibly a little heaviness in his remarks. He means all he says and therefore lacks some of the sprightliness and wit of the “jollier.” But anyone who enjoys tine English, clearly enunciated and fraught with sound sense, will appreciate his oratorical efforts.
The President confesses frankly that he has never been a success in any form of sport, being, as he says, too clumsy to become proficient at any game requiring physical skill. His favorite recreation is still pedestrianism though he has few opportunities to indulge it. Like many men of note he pays a large annual fee to a golf club, but only plays around the course about once a year, thereby proving the truth of the contention that, next, to aeroplaning, golf is the most expensive sport on earth.
And now to get a closer glimpse of his personality and to learn something of the views he entertains regarding the University, a hurried visit to his office in the main building, will prove helpful. Seated behind a large flat-topped desk, plentifully bestrewn with books and correspondence, in a room known to the graduates of the nineties as the registrar’s office, Dr. Falconer receives his visitors with the kindly welcome of the man, whose life is devoted to the uplift of humanity. There is a quiet dignity about him that impresses one with the genuineness of his personality. He shows none of those airs of superiority and condescension that oftentimes cloak less important individuals, while his conversation is frank and unstilted. There is a boyishness about his appearance that would lead one to suppose him younger than he actually is. The face is open, with merely a faint suggestion of the sternness that usually marks the pedagogue. Of medium
height, the figure is erect and well proportioned.
As he sits back in his chair, let us chat with him for a few minutes about the affairs of the great institution over the destinies of which he now presides.
“What can I say about the development of the University since I became President?” he replies in answer to a leading question. “Well I must disclaim any personal credit for the great advance that has been made. We have been carried along on a wave of progress. The re-organization policy adopted some .years ago and which is still being matured, is one force that has helped to build up the University. The prosperity of the country is a second irrestible cause and the growing desire of the people for higher education is yet a third. All three have contributed materially to our growth.”
“What do you consider the most significant movement of recent years in the policy of the University?” was the next query.
“Undoubtedly the raising of our standards,” replied the President. “The standards of entrance are going up and we are aiming to get the schools of the country to do more advanced teaching, thereby relieving the University of much of its elementary work. As a result we hope to graduate better professional men and make Toronto’s degrees stronger than ever, even though they have always been good. We have advanced the course in medicine from four to five years, in applied science from three to four years, and our arts courses are also being raised. And yet in spite of that, the attendance in all the faculties continues to grow.”
“A natural question arises here. How do you regard the great development in technical education as opposed to scholastic learning?”
“The development of technical education has to go on very rapidly in a country like Canada. At the same time we are maintaining the balance pretty well in the University. Centres of learning like this cannot afford to low^er the standard in arts or neglect the dead languages. We want thinkers in this country, men who are not only ready to
take up the practical work of to-morrow, but who can think out the problems that confront us. The mistake is often made of considering Canadians as a young people. We are really an old people living in a new land. We must know what share the past has taken in our development. We ought to be quite free from intellectual crudity in this country and the universities should strive to prevent it. To the universities we must look for the men of original mind, who have been trained to think for themselves. And for this reason we strive to maintain the balance between action and thought.”
“What are your views as to the place of sport in University life?”
“Very necessary,” answered the President. “We aim to get as many of the students as possible to engage in sport and are glad to see so many taking it up. We don’t want a situation where the multitude look on and see a few playing a game, but where every student will participate. When the new gymnasium is completed, we hope to see more and more take part. Meanwhile we are not permitting the sporting element to predominate, because we are raising the intellectual standard. Better to Have a few well trained men, physically and intellectually, than a multitude of a lower standard of accomplishment. Compulsory physical training? Well, I wouldn’t like to express an opinion on that. I am personally in favor of a physical examination •of every student.”
“One last question. What about the University and public life? Are the
graduates taking up their share of the burden; or are they shrinking from politics?”
“They are doing pretty well. There is W. T. White, the Minister of Finance, as a good example. It is, of course, rare for University men to go direct into public life. They need to go through a certain amount of business or professional experience first. The case of Governor Woodrow Wilson is certainly rare. At the same time graduates should take more interest in politics, while it might often be good policy for public men to consult with the men in the Universities oftener than thev do.”
At this point, President Falconer jumps to his feet. His day is cut into exact slices and there can be no overlapping. An inexorable memory reminds him that he is due elsewhere and the brief interview is at an end. However^ there is this consolation. In fifteen minutes he has been able to give a very concise account of his views on the_ progress and policy of the big University.
There was much adverse comment when President Falconer was appointed. He was practically an unknown quantity; what was more, in the eyes of many, he was a minister. The only strong point in his favor was that he was a Canadian. That he has outlived this criticism and has attained a position of high regard, on the strength of his good qualities alone, is evidence of the power of his personality and his fitness for the work with which he has been entrusted.