Articles

NEW CROP ON THE CAMPUS

Joe College, postveteran model, is still older than his years. He has a sober eye cocked towards business, the Atomic Age—and another war

PIERRE BERTON November 15 1948
Articles

NEW CROP ON THE CAMPUS

Joe College, postveteran model, is still older than his years. He has a sober eye cocked towards business, the Atomic Age—and another war

PIERRE BERTON November 15 1948

NEW CROP ON THE CAMPUS

Articles

Joe College, postveteran model, is still older than his years. He has a sober eye cocked towards business, the Atomic Age—and another war

PIERRE BERTON

THE YELLOW leaves were drifting softly as snow down from the slender elms when Vernon Forster, an 18-year-old, towheaded freshman, arrived for his first day on the campus of old McGill.

Beneath the high, steel-trussed ceiling of the Sir Arthur Currie Gymnasium young Forster, and the 791 other members of this year’s bumper crop of postwar freshmen, got his first introduction into university life. He listened politely to the welcoming speeches—a mixture of plat itudes and good sense which sounded curiously like the farewell speeches he may expect to hear when he graduates under the same roof in four years. Then, because he’d planned it that way, he ducked quickly out a side door to be first in the registration line-up. This piece of foresight saved him four or five hours of queuing. He was home by 11.30 a.m.

Vernon Forster, who like so many postwar students is going to take commerce and be a businessman, is one of 15,000 young Canadians who started on a university career this fall. All but a tiny percentage of these freshmen and freshettes are

nonveterans. Their ages run 16 and 18. When the war began, most of them were under 10. If there is a Lost Generation after World War II, they are the ones who will compose it. If t here is a new war, they will march off to it. Any significant change in the thought or conduct of society as a whole in the future will be brought about by them, for—to steal a phrase from half a hundred campus valedictoriesthey are the citizens and the leaders of the immediate future.

Freshman Plots a Course

1VTONE OF this seemed very significant to ! i Vernon Forster, Comm. ’52, in his first days at Montreal’s McGill, which is probably the bestknown of all Canadian universities. Forster was more concerned with his own personal future. Like most young students he doesn’t know exactly what he’ll do after graduation but he has the general idea: he’d like to join a small business which is expanding and where the chances of advancement are good. He thinks that personnel work—one of the newest and fastest-growing vocations of the Atomic Age— might be the best plan. For that reason he took a job as counselor at a boy’s camp last summer.

Forster has decided that university training is essential today and the fact that so many veterans have taken advantage of it impresses him. He says: “It’s not like 48 years ago when you could make a mint of money on the stock exchange with a $10 bill. You’ve practically got to have a degree before they’ll look at you.” Besides, he adds, he thinks university will be fun.

He is sure there will be another war. For this reason he has already joined the COTC so he will be an officer if war breaks out. Also, it will pay him $143 a month during the summer. Like most students, Forster hopes to pay part of the cost of his tuition himself.

He hadn’t been on the campus three days before a couple of fraternities made guarded overtures. At the end of his first week he had decided to join a frat if his father, a Montreal insurance broker, would foot the bill. Frats are a good thing, he thinks, because you meet a lot of people—“important business contacts”—and also because they are quite a lot of fun.

Forster doesn’t do a great deal of outside reading, but last, summer he got through a condensation of “War and Peace” (“I wouldn’t attempt the full book”), which he found “quite interesting.” He

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He reads Time magazine, because it saves him from going through all the newspapers which he skims mainly for the sports page, comic section and editorial cartoon in that order. Although not old enough to vote, he’s inclined to favor the Liberals (his father is a Conservative) and thinks the CCF will eventually form a government. He is a Baptist, but attends church only occasionally. He has had a steady girl friend for three months. (She ta kes a stenography course in Montreal.) He gets an allowance of $2 a week plus carfare.

Forster has decided not to join too many things the first year at university because he’s been told freshmen who do are apt to find themselves writing supplemental examinations in the summer. If he gets over the first year nicely, then he may join the McGill Daily staff. The thing that first impressed him about the university was the lack of girls on the campus. His own personal opinion is that most girls come to university “either to say they’ve been there or to look for a man.”

Vernon Forster may not be a typical Canadian university freshman, but he is certainly typical of a general trend toward practicality among undergraduates on a campus whose grey Gothic and neoclassical lines have already been disturbed by the square, functional block of a cyclotron building and whose syllabus has been further distended by a brand-new course on modern European diplomatic history.

No Pacifists Now

Physics, the science of the atom, has taken its place over chemistry as the most popular of the pure science courses. Economics, the science of the dollar, has replaced psychology as the most attractive of the optional arts course. The proportion of students taking commerce has almost doubled in a decade, from six to 10%. The proportion choosing engineering has leaped from 13 to 21%.

Sixty-five per cent of the 171 students who answered a McGill Daily poll in October, representing a rough cross section of the arts, science and engineering faculties, said they thought war would come within 10 years. One third of this group thought it would come within two years. Only 17% said definitely there would be no war. The rest weren’t sure.

The two extremes of idealism that marked the campuses of another generation are gone. There are no petitions being signed by students saying they won’t fight under any circumstances. Nor is there any appreciable flag waving. When talk gets around to war, as it often does in the grillroom of the McGill Union Building, (here is little discussion about the rights and wrongs of armed conflict. The talk centres rather on what one will do when conflict comes—whether a rear gunner’s job is preferable to a navigator’s, or a signalman’s to a bombardier’s, The problem of an atom bomb, outside of its scientific interest, excites little discussion. The only unsolicited

reference I heard to McGill’s cyclotron in more than a week on the campus was to a blond and beautiful girl assistant who works in the building and is known to fraternity men as “The Atom

Smasher.”

“We have lost our idealism,” says says Dr. John Rollit, the young

assistant dean of arts, a veteran himself and as close to the student body as a faculty member can be. “This

liieration has never known the fea 1 ism of a war to end wars. And,” |e adds ruefully, “t here isn’t a decent Ldical on the campus.”

Dr. Kollit doesn’t consider the practical politics that goes on now at McGill |greal radicalism. Political discussion, |s at most Canadian universities, has ome dow'n out of the clouds. The ¡ndergraduat.es practice politics where mce they talked it. The four political •tubs, though they have no official party ties, send delegates to party conventions and act like their offcampus counterparts. They are just hree years old.

Party politics attracts more attenion at McGill than student politics. The Model Parliament last year got a arger turnout than the annual meeting of the student governing society (which was forced to reduce the size of its quorum). The LPP has tried vigorously, though unsuccessfully, to capture key student posts. (It was beaten by a fraternity-organized right-wing coalition.) A CCF’er ran for president of the students’ executive council, charging that, fraternities fostered racial discrimination, and was defeated. Bob Gill, the council president (who defeated a Progressive Conservative club member last spring), was a delegate to last summer’s Liberal convention.

Yet the total political club membership is less than 200. The CCF and LPP clubs have 50 members apiece; the Liberals have 60; the Progressive Conservatives 30. Some of the meetings attract as many as 500 students (Tim Buck’s meeting last season was the largest attended), but most of McGill’s 7,800 students have no strong political views and the new crop isn’t old enough to vote yet.

Rejuvenation

It is this new crop—the nonveterans in their middle and late teens—who will influence the shape of things to come on the campus from now on. The veteran phenomenon has reached its peak and is about to subside. The veterans’ influence is still felt: freshman hazing has not resumed at McGill (though fraternity initiates occasionally visit the Mount Royal Hotel clad in red underwear) and what campus jargon there is stems straight from the Air Force (there are “athletic types” and “studious types” and all information is still known as “gen”). Yet among the new students, life is less real, less earnest than it is to the veteran, and the campus is getting the younger look back again.

Ben Harris has noticed this. For 18 years Ben, who runs a small coffee shop on the campus border, has been listening to undergraduate woes, lending students his razor, selling Cokes and coffee on credit. (They have always paid him back.) Everybody knows his place as “Little Ben’s” to distinguish it from another “Ben’s” downtown.

On the first night in October, Little Ben looked out from his shop and viewed the spectacle of a dozen new students rounding the corner from the McGill Union arm in arm, beer bottles in hand, singing joyously,“ What’s The Matter With Old McGiil?” It was the night of the Freshman Smoker. Suddenly, Ben realized this was the first time in nine years that a Smoker had ended this way. “By golly,” he said, with his broad, slow grin. “It is just like old times.”

There are other signs that old times are returning. Last February, McGill students held their first Winter Carnival—a week of skiing, skating, dancing, queen-selecting and general hoop-de-ra. It is significant of the divided state of campus folkways that some of the older students thought the whole thing

nonsense. Serge Sarasin, a Swiss-born, French-educated third-year mechanical engineering student, who reads Sartre and Proust and likes /c jaz hot is bitterly critical of t he Carnival. It has been his impression, coming from Europe where students get philosophy and calculus at high school, that most nonveterans at McGill are concerned only with social life and sports.

Yet young Peter Miner, an 18-yearold, round-faced freshman from New York City, finds McGill a fairly sober campus after the U. S. Miner, who reads Toynbee and likes Tchaikovsky, chose McGill precisely because he thought he could get more work done at a Canadian university than at an American one.

The fact is that McGill has a typically Canadian middle-of-the-road attitude. Like most Canadian universities it manages to lie almost exactly between the concept of an American university built around a football team and a European university built around an ivory tower. Like most privately endowed universities (the McGill Fund is now doing its best to raise a desperately needed nine million dollars), it is sensitive to public opinion. It holds its Winter Carnival but frowns on snake parades. It cheers its football team hut gives no athletic scholarships. It has its cheerleaders, but they must be male. McGill men are indistinguishable from young businessmen, in sober tweed jackets and slacks or business suits. Co-eds dress decorously in McGill blazers or .sweaters and slacks. There are no hobby sox, no jive talk.

McGill is so big (it has jumped from 3,300 to 7,800 in a decade) and so close to town that its students lack the cohesion of a smaller, more isolated university. Prosperity is keeping it big: this year’s nonveteran freshman class was larger than the largest ex-service class. As at all mushrooming universities, student society has split up into so many groups and cliques that no undergraduate can be called “typical” of anything more than his own set.

There is one group, perhaps the largest, which simply arrives in the morning and leaves at night without taking any active part in student affairs. These students treat McGill as a high school, or as an office. The medical students, who rarely appear on the lower campus, form another group. The engineers, or “plumbers,” form a third: they have little time for anything but study and for the oft-repeated declaration that they can demolish 40 beers.

At “Brother Andres”

There is the group who drink beer at Cafe André, referred to invariably as “Brother André’s Shrine,” and like to think of themselves as Bohemian and intellectual; and there is the group who eat luncheon at the Barclay Hotel, referred to invariably as “The B,” and like to think of themselves as slightly upper crust.

Harry Miller, a third-year arts student, belongs to the most important group: he is one of 1,200 students who are active in one or more clubs and make the McGill Union (centre of student activities) their headquarters. When Miller, who is 21, came to McGill as a freshman, he felt lost and used to fill in time between lectures going to movies. Now he looks up from his coffee in the Union Grillroom (which sells 60,000 cups of coffee each winter) and says simply: “I live here.”

Miller is a BMOC: a Big Man on Campus. He belongs to the debating club, outing club, Arts and Science Undergraduate Society and the International Student Service. He admits to

spending more time in the McGill Union than he does in lectures, which take up 12 hours a week. He studies only a minimum amount until two weeks before exam time. He rates a second-class average (between 65 and 80%;). He is taking psychology, English and philosophy and decided last summer, after some thought, that he’d be a teacher, despite the low pay, because the teachers he knew seemed a happy lot.

The last two books that Harry read were “The Kinsey Report” and “The Tin Flute.” He has no political opinions but attended an LPP meeting last year out of curiosity. He can’t remember the speaker’s name, but the members impressed him as “a bunch of discontents and down - and - outs.” Though he doesn’t read newspaper editorials consistently he has done considerable thinking about the United Nations, which he has ceased to trust as a preserver of the peace. His favorite composer is Brahms.

Miller has had a steady girl friend for a year, Five Marler, a sophomore whose father is a Quebec MLA. Five belongs to several clubs including those Miller belongs to. She had some supplémentais last year, hasn’t yet decided what to do on graduation. Miller took her to the Normandie Roof five times last winter and to most college functions. College formais can cost him as high as $35, for he rents a tuxedo and has to hire a taxi. Unlike many students he doesn’t take a bottle to the formais.

Miller’s university life is almost completely different from that of Bruce Foster, a third - year mechanical engineering student, who has 35 hours of lectures a week and studies three hours each night Monday through Friday. Foster, is 22 (his father is a real-estate salesman), likes both boogiewoogie and Tchaikovksy, reads the sports page before the front page and has no time for clubs. He does no outside reading during the college year hut read “The Robe” last summer. Most of his campus time, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., is spent in lectures and he is seldom seen around the Union Building. On week ends he goes hunting or skiing or takes out a girl.

Foster’s first plan was to be a mining engineer (he chose engineering because he was good at woodworking and mathematics), hut he switched after working a summer in the mines. In hull sessions with his friends, talk runs all the way from Einstein to girls, but seldom dwells on world affairs. Foster gets a pass mark at exam time (between 50 and 65% ), works in a machine shop during the summer, but isn’t sure exactly where he’ll go on graduation.

Greek-Letter Man

F)mbryo teacher Miller, and Foster, the embryo engineer, are both different animals from Basil B. Brewer, the embryo advertising man. F’or Brewer, a 24-year-old veteran and 4th year commerce student, campus life revolves around the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. (He is one of 300-400 G retí k letter men on the campus.) He reads Time, Newsweek, the Post and Tide, a business magazine. He reads few hooks; the last one was “The Hucksters,” which he enjoyed. He has 18 hours of lectures a week, doesn’t study too hard, likes popular music, notably anything by the Goodman Sextette, figures there’ll be another war and “would like to pack a typewriter in the next one.”

Like many fraternity men. Brewer has a lot to do with the two big social events of the year, the Winter Carnival and the Red and White Review. He edits publications connected with both

f them. He does announcing for the piano concerto. There are few really

¿adió Workshop and belongs to the Montreal Junior Ad and Sales Club. He’s a salesman for a fuel company in his spare time and has tried unsuccessfully to get advertising contracts for several campus publications.

Brewer’s father is manager and secretary of the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. Brewer drives his father’s car to the campus, owns his own tux, and pays out something like $100 a year to his fraternity. He campaigned for a Liberal candidate in the last provincial election, but says he’s not an avid Liberal. At one time he intended to be an engineer but changed his mind after his stint in the infantry. He knows exactly what he’ll do on graduation and is already laying the groundwork for an ingenious advertising scheme which he’d rather not have revealed right now, but which he hopes will make him a minor fortune.

Magic Helps

Most McGill students, like Brewer, Foster and Miller, contribute something toward their education, but few except the veterans are able to support themselves without parental help. The McGill Placement Service estimates that 3,000 students work full time during the summer. Ninety-five per cent of the students quizzed by the McGill Daily said they’d worked at something last summer. The average monthly wage was $155. Another 1,500. mainly veterans, work part time during the college year at everything from night-club bouncer to magician at children’s parties. (Most popular job: baby sitting.)

Seventy-five per cent of the upperclassmen quizzed by the Daily said they knew what they were going to do on graduation. The figure among lower classmen was 62%. Sixty per cent said they did some studying during the summer: anything from one hour to three months.

The pattern of student culture at McGill does not differ in any startling respect from the over-all cultural pat-

tern of the nation. Student tastes, in general, are neither outlandish, eccentric nor advanced.

In music, undergraduates lean strongly toward old-line composers on the romantic side. Among the 56% who told the Daily poll that they listened to serious music, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, Debussy’s Clair De Lune and the Tchaikovsky Fifth Symphony —all of which have been heard on the juke boxes in modified form—headed the list in popularity. The handful of students who drop into the Carnegie Music Room have worn down Seheherezade, Grieg’s Piano Concerto Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s 4th and 5th symphonies and

avid music lovers on the campus. A jazz society and a student symphony concert, both flopped badly last year.

Sex and .Sartre

The general reading trend is toward current books and best sellers. (Only 12% of the students polled by the Daily reported that the last book they’d read was a classic.) Most popular book listed in the poll was “The Chinese Room,” a sexy, paper-backed love story. Other favorites: Churchill's

“Gathering Storm,” “The Kinsey Report,” “Forever Amber,” “War and Peace,” “Human Destiny” and Freud.

Librarians at the Redpath Library have noticed a trend among serious readers toward contemporary European writers and away from the Americans. The sort of student who might have read Hemingway and Faulkner a decade ago now reaches for (and sometimes swipes) Koestier, Sartre and Kafka. Mann’s “Magic Mountain” still holds its own. So do Tolstoy and Dostoevski.

But neither books nor music form the main topics of discussion at McGill. Students still discuss sex and boy-girl relationship, though the once hotly debated topic of whether a girl should or should not kiss on her first date has ceased to preoccupy the co-eds. More regular topics are student politics, courses and professors. Undergraduates choose optional courses as much for the professor who gives it as for the subject it deals with. Freshmen, like young Vernon Forster, usually “just, talk about girls and laugh and kid around a lot.”

By now, six weeks after he first arrived, Forster, the commereeman and COTC recruit, finds himself at one with his university. Three days after he set foot on the campus he had, like many of his fellow freshmen, discarded the green button which this year was the new student’s sole distinguishing mark.

During these six weeks, Forster and his fellows have woven themselves into the fabric of old McGill. George, the stuffed gorilla in the museum—and a standing threat as sub on the football team has become an old friend. So have landmarks like the ghinko tree that shades James McGill’s tomb in front of the Arts Building, and “The Three Bares,” a bit of nude statuary executed and donated by Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney for a fountain which was never completed.

Frosh into Old Grad

The campus standing jokes, involving the astonishing inaccuracy of the clocks on the Roddick Gates and the allegedly undrinkable Grillroom coffee, have become old hat. By next season Forster will be remarking how young the new freshmen look and will have begun to feel that he owns the campus.

This feeling will grow until he leaves McGill. Vernon Forster will never again recapture the fleeting but indelible impression of loneliness and awe which he, in common with all freshmen, felt on opening day. Yet a faint shadow of this feeling may return to him—say in a decade or so—if as a graduate he comes back to look his brief moment on his Alma Mater, to see the strange, unfriendly faces all around him and the young, young students brushing past. For then he may realize, as the yellow leaves are failing, that it is the students of the day—more than the books and the laboratories and the professors— who make a university, and that the only link with his own dead era are the grey old buildings tucked away behind the slender elms. ★