The perils and pleasures of a brand-new university

By 1980, 350,000 people will be scrambling to get into Canada's universities. Right now they have room for 129,000. We have two choices: make our old universities bigger, or build new ones. Here's what's going on at the newest of the new ones, good old York U.

BARBARA MOON April 7 1962

The perils and pleasures of a brand-new university

By 1980, 350,000 people will be scrambling to get into Canada's universities. Right now they have room for 129,000. We have two choices: make our old universities bigger, or build new ones. Here's what's going on at the newest of the new ones, good old York U.

BARBARA MOON April 7 1962

The perils and pleasures of a brand-new university

By 1980, 350,000 people will be scrambling to get into Canada's universities. Right now they have room for 129,000. We have two choices: make our old universities bigger, or build new ones. Here's what's going on at the newest of the new ones, good old York U.


THREE YEARS AGO all there was to York University was the Ontario Legislature’s assent to private bill No. Pr 6. The bill said, in effect, “Let a university now be created.” It was, forthwith.

York has now been in business for almost two years. For president it has Murray George Ross, a YMCA-worker-turned-social-scientist, whose fields of special study have been as pertinent as New Understanding of Leadership, Community Organization (Theory and Principles) and something called group dynamics. For campus it has a scenic eighty - six - acre private estate in a chic part of north Toronto with a brand-new, 1V2 -mil-

lion - dollar, red - brick academic building (interior decoration by Simpson’s, Eaton's and Knoll International) hard by the old manor house, which has been converted into administrative offices. It has a board of governors of the kind that, financially speaking, can do it the most good.

It has an undergraduate population of 215 (Class of ’63: 62 students; Class of '64: 153 students). And it has thirty-five names on its faculty rolls; a number of these being casual help, though, they are considered the actual equivalent of twenty-four full-time instructors, or one to every nine students.

York has even achieved some of

the more sophisticated accoutrements of Academe. These include a motto—Tentando Via or The Way Must be Tried — chosen in a special York Motto Contest for highschool students, held a few months before the official opening. The winner, young John Court of Etobicoke, who said his ambition was to go into advertising, got a $300 bursary to York for his entry.

The accoutrements also include some more or less conscientious rituals. The most striking of these was in fact invented especially for a staff reception for the students just last Christmas. It centred on a hot claret cup, made to a classical recipe, and involved a solemn ex-

change of Latin tags between three instructors, in the role of courttasters, and the president in full academic fig. Some days later President Ross acquired proof that this shortcut to esprit had been wholly successful. He was accosted on the street by a parent, who wanted to know what the ceremony had been all about. He had. the parent explained. already tried to find out from his son: “But all he said was, ‘Oh, that's a tradition at York.’ ”

If it has to resort to test-tube traditions, the university itself has been invoked so fast that it, too, seems almost to have been synthesized. And it must continue the unnatural process. By 1970 it is

committed to: an 800-student residential college on its present campus; a second, much larger, campus, mostly for commuting students, elsewhere in the metropolis; an evening college offering courses leading to a degree; a daytime undergraduate enrollment of 4,000.

By 1980 it plans to accommodate 8,000.

It must. For the fact of York — its existence — is a matter of rawurgency. By 1980 there will be a minimum of 350,000 students at university gates across the country.

In 1960, existing universities accommodated some 102,000. Though it would be a monstrous distension, they could perhaps, in twenty years,

double their enrollment; this w'ould take care of close to two thirds of the expected candidates. But 146,000 youngsters (that is to say, more than the entire present undergraduate population of Canada) needn't even bother to apply — unless, between now and then, at least thirtysix new universities, capable of taking four thousand students apiece, are created. If 1.000-student universities (the size, say, of Mount Allison in Sackville, N.B.) are built, it will take one hundred and fortysix of them.

These are the bald facts.

They reflect a number of situations and trends that have culminated in



York U. has tea, toast and talk — and “a genuine, response-provoking, all-purpose Public Image”'

the Sixties to make higher education one of the hottest topics on the national scene — and to give nightmares to many worried men.

The simplest of the situations is a swollen postwar birthrate and expanded postwar immigration. These have produced a shock-wave of students that hit the high schools last year and is now rolling inexorably onward toward the universities.

But not only are there more youngsters; other factors are also conspiring inevitably to hoist the percentage of them who will head for college. One is a lesson brought sharply home by last year’s unemployment crisis: the jobs of the future, and indeed of the present, belong to the highly trained. For their personal livelihoods Canadians are going to have to stay at school longer.

Another, the result partly of the same recession and partly of current economic regroupings and reappraisals, is the uneasy realization that Canada’s industrial leadership has been timorous and flaccid. And. significantly. Canada’s outmoded economy can be correlated with her educational sloth: among other statistics, she is a poor ninth in a list of countries graded by university attendance. For national economic survival, then, Canadians are going to have to have more and better, better-trained minds available.

As for sheer physical survival, the spacerace has helped make it clear that brain power counts more than man power in cold wars.

At last — belatedly — events have proved the experts’ clichés to be inescapable facts of life. And so Canada, most of whose major universities have been evolving tranquilly for over a century, contemplates tripling their total function in something under twenty years.

The requisition will undoubtedly be met in part by expanding and elevating facilities already in existence; for example, an act to give degree-granting powers to the Lakehead College of Arts, Science and Technology at Port Arthur, Ont., was before the Ontario Legislature this February. In part it will be met by the spawning of the universities themselves: the University of Alberta's branch in Calgary is well along in preparing itself to be a self-sufficient unit. But for the most part the only conceivable answer is something very like Instant University.

Which, as has been said, pretty well describes York.

The new little university seems worthy of study, therefore, as a model of others to come. It is worth studying, also, because it offers some evidence as to how much of a university can be built in haste, and what parts cannot; and some data on the peculiar stresses visited on stafl and student body. And it offers some pointers to those tens of thousands of people who will inevitably be asking themselves, some day soon. "Do I want to go to — send my child to — a rookie university?”

York is so new that most Toronto cab drivers have to ask their way to it. It occupies what was once the private estate, called Glendon Hall, of a rich Toronto financier, E. R. Wood, in an area that is still largely the residential preserve of rich men. In fact the contiguous property belongs to Garfield Weston whom, with immense practicality, the York board of governors have invited to join them.

In light traffic it’s about twenty minutes from the centre of the city north to the campus; the trip by subway and bus can take close to an hour, but nobody much uses public transportation in these en-

virons. Ibis year, with a student body of 215, the administration has issued 127 student parking stickers, and it’s a standard gag around the campus that, while the stair may drive Volkswagens and the president a 1959 Buick. the students arrive in MG’s, Thunderbirds and Cadillacs. York has no residences yet and most of the students arc Torontonians who can live at

home and commute to school. Many also come from upper-middle-class homes, a fact partly accounted for by York’s publicity. which suggests just the sort of experimental liberal-arts college attractive to youngsters who don’t have urgent worries about earning a living. In an informal poll in the smoke-filled student common room, recently, six lads out of ten said off-

handedly that they didn’t know what they wanted to be. (The girls — roughly a third of the enrollment — seem rather more serious-minded perhaps because, as one male student suggests, "The kind who are out for a husband go where the most men are: U. of T.”) The prevailing privateclub tone to the undergraduate body may also stem from the fees, which are $34

higher than the University of Toronto’s, and from the snob-appeal of York's smallness and its site in the plush Bayview area.

The estate entrance is made imposing by stone gateposts the size of kiosks, surmounted by neoclassic urns, adorned with carriage lamps, and framing a chaste marker hearing the university’s name. Hidden beyond trees and dense shrubbery are twenty-four level acres of grounds and about sixty-two acres of pitched slope and lush Don River bottomland.

The property itself illustrates one difficulty that can beset an ambitious new

academy, for a suitable site for a university in an even marginally accessible area is rare and correspondingly costly, these days.

The price of the Glendon Hall estate was exactly right: having inherited it from Wood's widow, the University of Toronto offered it as a kind of perpetual free loan to the fledgling York. But the size was all wrong: though it was ideal for the immediate future. York's planners felt they needed at least 500 acres for their promised 8,000-student goal. In a tugging match among haste, economy and the future, haste and economy won. As a result York is proceeding toward schizophrenia: the large campus, which it must have within a few years, will inevitably be miles away on the farther outskirts of Toronto: plans then call for the Glendon Hall campus to be developed as a small, elite, residential college — a kind of isolated model-unit for the main operation.

Somewhat the same kind of expediency is detectable in the 1 Vï-million-dollar academic building that dominates the campus. As the driveway loops around the shrubbery into the open it stands to the left: a windowed, three-story red-brick structure with one lobe jutting forward like a bastion. There is talk of architectural competitions to uncover more inspired designs for later buildings — this first one had to be put up in a hurry, so the commission went to a safe Toronto firm.

On the other side of a parking circle, amid its own 'original gardens, stands old Glendon Hall, housing administrative offices and the university library. The ivied hall, the stolid new academic building, plus a converted coach house used for pingpong and art classes, are York's practical facilities, and they define the new school, for all to see. as modestly operational and basically — so far — orthodox.

The one visible unorthodox note is a giant, bronze sheet-metal cutout affixed to the bastion wall. It is a man’s figure, five times human height, full-length and in profile like a hieratic Egyptian drawing, and it is called The Whole Man. Associated with the figure by various kinds of artistic guidelines are painstaking symbols for every possible lore and resource, including a globe to represent The World and a sample of molecular structure to represent Physics.

Whatever its aesthetic merits. The Whole Man is an apt decoration. Besides the workable nucleus of a university. York has achieved in three years something that the University of Toronto, after 135 years, still lacks: a genuine, recognizable, response-provoking, all-purpose Public Image. The image, as popularly accepted, is of an elite, exciting, frankly experimental institution under the guidance of scholars who are sophisticated without being arrogant and adventurous without being flighty. Furthermore it is an institution with a purpose: that of turning out "generalists'' (as opposed to “narrow specialists” with a knowledge of all the major disciplines and therefore the wit to take all factors into account in their speculations — in other words, Whole Men.

The image, though in a rather less selfconfident version, was implicit almost from the first notion of York, which was hit upon more than five years ago by three Toronto businessmen who had just returned, very thoughtful, from a tour of Russia. A group recruited by these three actually drew up York's charter, outlined a fairly radical general-arts curriculum and presented the private bill whose passage formally invoked York in March. 1959.

They also took a step designed to secure York’s status as a respectable university. They entered into an affiliation with the University of Toronto for a minimum of four years during which York students would be graduated with University of

Toronto degrees — patent notice to the public that York's standards would match the older university's.

But it was not until Murray Ross became president that the image acquired living color and a full sound track. Ross, a handsome, platinum-headed, pipe-smoking Nova Scotian with a rich voice and an easy, ingratiating manner, had been a YMC'A worker and a protégé of Sidney Smith; he was now a social scientist and vice-president at the University of Toronto. His appointment at York was announced officially on December 2. 1959, and he lost no time establishing himself as York's resident image-maker. He made speeches advertising “a bold new experiment in education.” "intimacy and excellence" and "a distinctive curriculum.”

He began taking an unflaggingly liberal and humane line in newspaper interviews and general conversations suggesting, for example, that Canadian universities should find room for "the freaks and the bores”: that a few' eccentric professors are an asset to a campus: that it might be a good idea to have a day once a month when the students could dress as they pleased because “It’s a good thing to break out and get rid of repressions once in a while." He still averages a formal speech a week ( Ross Urges Nurses to Keep Individuality; Ross Blasts Success Stress). And he has published his personal blueprint for York in several articles and in a recent book called The New University.

The results offer some evidence that creating a public image should be a priority project with every new' university.

“No. I’m not dreaming"

The image has specifically simplified the crucial job of assembling staff, for normally a fledgling academy has a hard time tempting competent men. But York has had 1.267 written applications for teaching posts on the strength of its publicity and the general sound of the place. Actually only one such applicant has been hired, because Ross has meanwhile been courting hand-picked men with good success. The first year he bagged, among others. Dr. Edgar Mclnnis, who is a Rhodes scholar, a renowned historian, and the former president of the Canadian Institute of International Affairs; and John Seeley, senior author of a widely noted study of Forest Hill Village in Toronto disguised as “Crestwood Heights.”

This year he lured Dr. William Blatz. founder of the world-famous Institute of Child Study, out of retirement to lecture part-time in psychology.

Next summer Dr. William Kilbourn is forsaking McMaster University to become chairman of York’s humanities division. Kilbourn, an historian whose biography of William Lyon Mackenzie. The Firebrand, became a best-seller, was influenced in making the move because, he says. “As it is, I take any excuse to talk about literature . . . music ... the arts ... in my history courses. I like the sound of a place where this sort of thing is the central idea.”

The image w'as also the deciding factor in the enrollment of at least some of the students. (Others, it is to be feared, applied because their marks were so low they were afraid more established universities wouldn't accept them.) During opening week of the first season, an informal poll of the freshmen produced the following reasons for their choice of York:

“I was very much impressed with President Ross. He is my ideal of what an educator must be.” (Gary Caldwell, a graduate of University of Toronto Schools.)

“It's wonderful to come to a university with a challenge.” (Claire Shoemaker, a graduate of North Toronto Collegiate.)

"1 would rather go to an educational lab than an educational factory.” (Dale Taylor, another UTS graduate.)

But primarily the image has worked to create an immense fund of good will and interest in a lay group that includes the sentimental, the rebellious and the just plain lively minded. The administration has heard unofficially that it’s already been mentioned in five wills. The comptroller of the CBC. in Ottawa, told a friend recently that he wants to send his two teenagers to York because, "That's the university that makes you think.” And when women's columnist I.otta Dempsey went up to interview President Ross she returned to write mistily. "Armchair students . . . fireplaces in classrooms . . . tea and toast jam-sessions with famous and stimulating individuals ... a real person-to-person relationship with professors . . . No. I’m not dreaming.”

There is one important danger, though, in having people buy the image; if the reality fails to match they may be disappointed and even outraged.

And York's image, unfortunately, is somewhat in advance of the facts. For example, Ross insisted so successfully on York's high ideals for Wholemanship and academic excellence that one freshman said recently, "Until 1 was accepted I thought there was a sign over the door saying Rhodes scholars only need apply.’ "

Actually in York’s first year, J96I-2. (which it spent in a borrowed mansion on the University of Toronto campus), even minimally qualified applicants were so few that it settled for an enrollment of seventysix instead of the expected 100: it achieved that number only by getting permission from U. of T. to admit some students with 59.5 percent instead of the required sixty percent. This year applications were more abundant—about double the number accepted—and staff members feel the overall quality is slightly improved. But it takes time and genuine prestige—as well as an image—to attract first-rate students.

There has been another equally serious disillusionment: so far the university is the very opposite of “a bold new experiment in education.” The newcurriculum, which is central to the experiment as advertised, is only sketchily formulated even though a stripped-down version is supposed to be ready for the inauguration of the Joseph E. Atkinson College of York University (the evening branch) this fall and a full version for regular use is supposed to be ready for 1963. Though this has not been spelled out publicly, all York offers at the moment is a duplicate of the University of Toronto three-year pass Arts course; it makes use of exactly the same course outlines and textbooks and culminates in the same exams and degree—as it must do by the terms of its temporary affiliation agreement. At least one front-rank professor, philosopher George Grant, didn't learn this basic circumstance until after he was hired; having come a-pioneering he was sufficiently disgusted therewith to quit on the spot. And at least one front-rank student has been privately advised by an instructor that she outmatches the course and ought to transfer to a university offering honors programs.

If the current students are being cheated of the authentic adventure, however, a number of things are being done to make up for it. Right from the outset, for example, York instituted both seminars and tutorials. The seminars follow a fairly orthodox pattern for small-group discussion but the tutorials, in practice, vary widely. Each student is assigned to an instructor and meets him five times a year, for an hour at a time, presumably to present a short original paper and discuss it with him. Actually the hour is often spent ad lib. and the discussions have been

known to range from current books to philosophizing to personal confession. At least once the tutorial has been turned over to plain old-fashioned coaching. It happened early last year when five students flunked a maths test with marks lower than fourteen percent; one girl got zero. The math instructor offered to give them a special round of tutorials and when the Christmas exam came up the girl got eighty-one and the others got marks ranging from sixty-nine to ninety-six.

Other compensations of the curriculum take the form of extracurricular activities:

noon-hour poetry reading and film shows; art classes conducted by Mr. and Mrs. Cleeve Horne; guest lectures by such academic lions as David Riesman of Harvard, author of The Lonely Crowd; and Tea and Talks—rather stilted, regular bull sessions with people like Mavor Moore and Morley Callaghan.

Some instructors also offer themselves conscientiously for bull-session purposes. They will forsake high table in the lofty, soft-lit dining hall to lunch with the students: or they will hold their tutorials in their own homes, or have groups of stu-

dents in to tea. The Dean of Faculty, geographer George Tatham, even instructs a group in yoga and weight-lifting in his spare time. (There are no formal athletic requirements at York and, indeed, very few facilities.)

As far as the students are concerned, the frills arc just what most of them like best about York. “Where else,” demands one freshman belligerently, “would you find a professor phoning you at night at home to remind you about something. Why, most places they wouldn't even know your name.” But a few are concerned that the

tone of the place is more that of bull-session than of scholarship. In an article in the student journal last fall a sophomore, Roger Hyman, asked bluntly, “Why is it that the intellectual activity at ‘bold progressive York’ is centred in the common room and the ping-pong table; why is it that the study room of York University is situated next to a barrage of noisy typewriters? Why is it that we have a luxuriously appointed common room and a sparsely furnished reading room; why is it that the Administration is considering the installation of a bowling alley while the library is still inadequately stocked with books?”

Nevertheless one staff member, sociologist John Seeley, claims that, as a result of the enrichments, “These students are getting, on an average, a ten percent better education than those in the same course at U. of T.”

If the current students are making out all right, a goodly number of the current staff are less than happy. Many of their anxieties centre around the new curriculum which, after almost two years of committee-work, is still little more than the original pious outline. More specific — and therefore less pious — proposals for individual courses have been developed by various subcommittees but have failed to find approval.

However, broadly speaking, the university has committed itself to a four-year honors course in general education plus a second honors course to consist of two years of general education and two years of mild specialization. Theme courses are to be a feature of both. One example of a theme course is being planned to occupy the entire third year of the general honors course and is called Study of a NonWestern Culture. (Suggestions: the USSR or China.) The idea is that the alien civilization would be studied from every possible point of view: its philosophy, economy, history, science, arts, social trends and so on. Suggested themes for other courses in other years include Is Science the Only Path to Truth? and Liberty. The general tenor of the wrangles about all or part of the planning can be gauged from a remark made recently by Lionel Rubinoff, a lecturer in philosophy: “Some time before next year,” he said, “we’ve got to establish whether we’re going to have scholarship here, or just a Unique Rich Experience.” Indeed Craufurd Goodwin, assistant professor of economics, so distrusts the shape the curriculum is taking that he has accepted a post elsewhere at the end of this session.

Others on the staff distrust the curriculum less than they distrust the administration. Last year a lecturer in Russian got his only notice of dismissal through picking up an advance copy of this year's calendar and discovering that someone else had his job. The inexcusable little incident has not been forgotten—nor has the faculty meeting at which President Ross described some younger members of the staff as being “neurotically obsessed with democracy.” He is, it must be reported, sometimes called Dr. Megaross behind his back (the name springs from the time a planning committee member, struggling with the inflated sums involved in York's expansion, resorted to “megadollars” which, he insisted, was the equivalent of “ten dollars to the sixth power"). It must also be reported that more than a third of the staff, for one reason or another, have toyed with the idea of leaving.

But York is, after all. a kind of hothouse or forcing-bed these days and under such unnatural circumstances feelings run unnaturally high.

Besides—as the man who coined “megadollars” said recently — “There's more people getting an education around here than just students.” ir