All our instant campuses are experimental. But BC’s Simon Fraser is the wildest of the lot

JON RUDDY June 4 1966


All our instant campuses are experimental. But BC’s Simon Fraser is the wildest of the lot

JON RUDDY June 4 1966


All our instant campuses are experimental. But BC’s Simon Fraser is the wildest of the lot



SOME TIME BEFORE Simon Fraser University opened for business last fall — and eventually you must conclude that “business” isn't a bad word in this context — Arthur Erickson, one of the architects, told a Vancouver Lions Club that the design of the place had been inspired by “the Acropolis at Athens, the hill towns of Italy and the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu, Peru.'' Now, by all that’s Canadian, the place should have ended up some kind of exquisitely impractical, pillared and porticoed freak. Instead of which it sits on top of Burnaby Mountain looking marvelous, and all the students and faculty say the design actually works.

But at first it seems philistine to even think of practical considerations up there. “This is a living metaphor for me,” says Michael Bawtrec, SFU’s young theatre co-ordinator and lecturer in theatre arts. “It is a case of my climbing up to my ideals every morning.” And, standing there, looking down at Greater Vancouver or back at the mountains — real, conical mountains — that march out to Garibaldi Park . . . well, you can appreciate a line like that.

It soon becomes clear, though, that the real Simon Fraser University is not Bawtree’s ivory tower, nor even the splendid pile created by architects Erickson and Geoffrey Massey. It is a knowledge factory. Simon Fraser happens to be the most radical and exciting of Canada's new universities, but it is fairly typical of all of them in its purpose, which is not simply to educate, uplift and enlighten all those carefully sloppy guys and all those intense young women with straight hair, but to educate, uplift and enlighten them with dispatch and efficiency.

It is a distasteful concept to the Amphora set in the faculty lounge. “Instant ignorance: just add professors and stir” is a line that, in such surroundings, is good for a disparaging twitter. “Ago-go education” is another. Still, as Floyd G. Robinson, former director of the Canadian Council for Educational Research, has said, “Possibly in the past when education did not utilize a large propor-

tion of the national income, the efficiency of the educational enterprise was of no great importance. But this time has clearly passed.” Clearly, it has. During the past school year, about $407 million was spent in Canada to educate 206,000 full-time college and university students. In addition, capital expenditures were about $247 million. In ten years, a mind-boggling $1,675,000,000 in operating costs will be spent on a projected 460,000 students, and capital expenditures will hit $357 million. To accommodate the almost 260,000 additional students then seeking classroom space, Canada will have to expand existing institutions and build a lot more new ones — maybe as many as thirty within the decade.

In Ontario, new universities already are busting out all over — typically in improvised quarters. Brock University in St. Catharines spent a million dollars converting an old frozen-food locker into classrooms and labs before starting to build on a five-hundred-andtwenty-five-acre site on the Niagara Escarpment. Trent University in Peterborough acquired a sort of instant tradition in 1964 by dressing its first freshmen in green academic gowns and installing them in a group of gracious old downtown homes, tastefully converted. York University, Toronto’s two-campus answer to overcrowding at the University of Toronto, started life on a corner of the Varsity campus six years ago.

In Port Arthur, where the outside temperature is often about that of an unconverted frozen-food locker, professors are making radical breaks with academic tradition. Last winter, survival kits containing blankets, primus stoves and food were issued to Lakehead University professors who, after regular classes, go by car with portable lecterns to teach university extension courses in such isolated spots as Marathon and Manitouwadge, Geraldton and Nipigon. Dr. Tom Miller, Lakehead’s director of extension, likes to tell about the time one of the profs ran into a moose on a lonely road: “He killed it, but its mate attacked him, and the car was a write-off. Finally he had to fight off the second moose with a shovel, which is a hell of a position for a classicist to be in.”

BUT CLASSICISTS AND ACADEMICS of every sort are finding themselves in unseemly positions at many a new university — and enjoying it. Says Dr. Charles Carpenter, associate professor of history, assistant to the president and director of university affairs at Simon Fraser, “Universities haven’t many years of flexibility. But it is wonderful while it lasts. People find themselves able to do diverse things. Since no department is older than any other, there aren’t the rivalries and inflexible little empires. There is a great esprit, a feeling that things can be achieved. Then too, we can temporarily avoid the great pitfall at the older universities, that of the curriculum being outmoded but almost impossible to change. Here, the academic life is very stimulating.”

Stimulating, but increasingly pragmatic. Clark Kerr, president of the University of California, defines the role of the modern American university in a way that is equally, probably more than equally, applicable in Canada. “What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century, may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry,” says Kerr. “That is, to serve as a focal point for national growth. And the university is at the centre of the knowledge process.”

It is this knowledge-as-industry concept that seems to define best the direction being taken by Canada’s new universities. At the University of Waterloo, seven years old and best-established of the so-called “instants,” the president, John Hagcy, is a tough-minded businessman with a single degree, a BA. He instituted Waterloo’s renowned co-operative engineering program, which requires almost five years for students to complete—one half of which is spent working for one or more of some four hundred and fifty participating Canadian companies. At Laurentian University in Sudbury, a good deal of emphasis is placed on training local students as high-school teachers who will want to stay in northern Ontario. And at Simon Fraser University, seven miles from downtown Vancouver, the faculty

were all chosen for their teaching ability

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Shrum wanted a university—and wanted it fast. He got it

rather than for their reputation as writers and researchers — a state of university affairs more or less unprecedented in Canada. Simon Fraser's head is in the clouds, all right, but its feet are planted very firmly on the ground.

The story of Simon Fraser University is, up to a point, the story of Dr. Gordon Shrum, who is co-chairman of the British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, a former physics professor and very big man on the UBC campus, the fastest administrator in the west and, as he has been described a hundred times in print, “well-connected politically.” A couple of years ago, when Shrum was a young fellow of sixty-seven with nothing much to do but run the sevenhundred - million - dollar Peace River Power Project, Burnaby was just another mountain and SFU a school song unsung. Then Premier W. A. C. Bennett made him chancellor of Simon Fraser, which consisted of a name and an idea to take the pressure off UBC in arts, sciences and education. “I did the whole thing in eighteen months,” Shrum says, not without a characteristic trace of pride. It was a one-man show, and a demonstration of the truism that one man can make decisions, especially big, bold decisions, faster than a group.

It was also a they-laughed-whenHarry-sat-down-at-the-piano situation. “A great many people got the shock of their lives when I got the job,” Shrum says. “I'm a scientist. They all thought I’d put up some dull utilitarian pile." Everyone had to hand it to Shrum — the pile he put up was utilitarian, all right, but it was far from dull.

How do you go about building a university from scratch — even if it is eighteen million dollars of Social Credit scratch? If you are Gordon Shrum, you play off the various municipalities around Vancouver against each other in their eagerness to become university towns, eventually consenting to accept twelve hundred acres of Burnaby Mountain greenery.

“It was a situation I could exploit,” Shrum says. “After I got the site for nothing, I went to the premier and said I needed twenty-five thousand dollars for an architectural competition. He just looked pretty glum. Then I said it wouldn’t cost him a cent. He brightened up.”

Shrum’s scheme: five prizes of five thousand dollars each for the best overall designs — or, instead of the prize money, commissions to design individual buildings within the overall university complex. “Naturally, the winners took the commissions,” says Shrum. “But the real point of the prizes-for-everybody thing was that I wouldn’t have to go along with a firstprize winner. I wanted to pick my favorite. So the committee we set up picked the first five, and then I was a super-committee of one."

What Shrum wanted for Simon Fraser was a design that would, he says, “avoid the mistakes made at UBC and at other colleges across the country. For instance, at UBC you can't drive into the centre of the campus. The University of Toronto has

no centre. I wanted a centre, now and for all time. Then, there is a lot of rain out here. I wanted covered walkways. On the other hand, I wouldn't have built one great building like the University of Montreal. It’s so dull — just a tremendous pile of bricks. And there had to be covered parking — at UBC they stand out in the rain wait-

ing for the guy from the car pool. But the main thing was that it had to look like a university in 1965. I'm an old man. 1 wanted to see it finished.”

Erickson/Massey, the winners, produced an overall design that filled Shrum’s hill and matched the grandeur of the site. Picture a twin - peaked

summit capped with a single, integrated. multilevel but always low-lying structure in uncmbellished concrete. Picture a massive, partially covered pedestrian mall forming a sort of bridge over the saddle between the peaks. Beneath the mall is parking for more than eight hundred cars. On the left peak are residences and lounges for students and faculty. On the right peak is an academic quadrangle from which terraced classrooms and laboratories flow down opposite slopes like



elaborate staircases, humanities down one side, science down the other, down and down — an expansion potential almost unlimited, and with no danger of additions encroaching on the university’s centre at the summit, the great mall where students and faculty meet.

Such, in essence, is the Erickson/ Massey design (which happened to be the only unanimous choice of the committee and Shrum’s choice, too). The heart of it now accommodates twentysix hundred students; the whole of it may some day accommodate eighteen thousand. It is a magnificent place. Vancouverites rave about it to visiting firemen from Back East, sometimes even to the exclusion of Ci rouse Mountain and the Sunshine Coast. Comedian Dick Gregory took a look at it and said, “It’s a miracle.” Interhuiid, the prestigious British architects’ journal, calls it “monumental” and “mandatory on any North American architectural pilgrimage.” Shrum says one professor of architecture from Harvard said it would influence world university architecture more than any existing university.

A common remark about SFU is that it is a showcase for Social Credit

— and of course it is. Some critics of the place go on to dismiss it as an expensive antidote to charges of “black - top government” (meaning that, as a premier, W. A. C. Bennett is a good road-builder). Shrum says, “The government had nothing to say about it. I selected the site. I selected the design. Somebody from Victoria University criticized us along these lines. It was sheer jealousy. Beauty

— why not? It’s all raw concrete. Our costs work out to about fifty-nine hundred dollars per student, while the Canadian average is nine thousand. Of course other universities are jealous.”

Most of the early criticism of SFU has come from UBC, and it has focused on Simon Fraser’s trimester system (adopted also by Ontario’s University of Guelph). Under it, the university operates all year long in three equal terms, making it possible for a student to get a degree in two and two-thirds years instead of the normal four. Before SFU ever opened its doors, UBC classics head Dr. Malcolm McGregor had delivered a slashing attack:

“The trimester system is dangled as a carrot before the eyes of students who are gullible and naïve enough to


From the old halls of ivy, a sneer

believe that after this wonderful two and two-thirds years they will be out making a fortune. This is not education at all. Education needs time for the digestive processes to work.”

But Shrum defends the trimester system on pragmatic grounds. “What we are doing,” he says, “is speeding up the process to meet the urgent need for professional people.” And Dr. Patrick McTaggart - Cowan. SFU’s president, adds, “The trimester system allows the kind of student who hasn’t any money to work his way through more easily. He can take time off in the fall or spring and find work more easily.”

Problems encountered so far with the trimester system include registration and examination - marking pressures — there are only about ten days between terms — and a slack summer term. “We must have a fair summer attendance to keep the cost-per-student down,” says McTaggart-Cowan. Shrum says that SFU's professors like the trimester system. “They only teach two of three terms and they can save up their time off and then get away to Chalk River or some big laboratory for a full eight months when the place is not overrun with professors from other universities.”

Eyebrow raisers

Another contentious innovation at SFU is a combination of large lecture halls (capacity about five hundred students) and small tutorial classes (ideally, fewer than ten students). “These lecture halls have raised eyebrows simply because they are so big,” says Shrum. “But we want more and bigger ones. They work.”

SFU uses “dentists’ wives” (Shrum's phrase) to do some of the tutorials. They are graduates who enjoy getting back in the academic swing. “We can't get enough of them,” Shrum says. The idea is for students to get individual attention in the tutorials; then everybody can get to hear faculty lectures (even though the professors have to wear transistor microphones around their necks). Shrum is annoyed by the fact that his daughter majored in English at UBC “and never got Earle Birney, the poet.” It couldn’t happen at SFU, he says.

Still, it is SFU’s wholesale-lot approach to higher education, combined with its reliance on automation and electronic gadgetry — computerized exam results, pretaped lectures in science labs replayed through individual headsets, even the odd “canned” tutorial — that’s raising academic eyebrows. There is a trend among the more established Canadian universities to sniff at all the new ones for their pragmatism, for their efficiency, for their unseemly emphasis on production of graduates. Also, of course, for their lack of tradition. And, in the case of SFU, for its athletic scholarships, the first in Canada. “There is something a trifle tawdry about that athletic scholarship business,” says a University of Toronto professor. “After all. look what happened in the U. S."

Even among the new universities

— especially the ones that are competing for the same high-school graduates

— there is a good deal of friction. A few months ago. Alan Macfarlane, a Liberal member of the BC legislature, declared that SFU was getting an unfair share of provincial government aid. As a result, he said, the University of Victoria would face a shortage of six and a half million dollars in building funds by 1970. Dr. Malcolm Taylor, the president of Victoria. does not say there is any political favoritism going on, but he is not loath to knock SFU on other grounds. “They’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of talking about that tutorial business,” he says. “It’s not the Oxford system at all. you know. It’s nothing unusual. Every large university has some form of it. We at Victoria feel that smaller classes, especially in the freshman year, are highly desirable. At SFU. they will have gone from no students in 1964 to seven thousand by 1970. We feel that our growth rate

— from a thousand in 1960 to five thousand in 1970 — is rapid and exciting, but controllable. We can retain a closer contact with our students.”

Fears that SFU may be overextending itself are being expressed on its own campus as well. “The place is already too crowded.” says Dr. Alan Cunningham, an SFU history professor who is dean of arts. (Cunningham came over from Oxford, partly because he is keen on climbing mountains. At one point he announced he was going to climb Mount Kennedy in advance of the Robert F. Kennedy party — “as an irreverent gesture.” he said. He was talked out of it.) Cunningham says the faculty are working too hard — “they won’t put up with it forever. At some point we’ll have to regulate entry instead of leaving the future size of the university to blind fate.”

Students, too, are complaining about overenrollment. “It’s a big problem,” says Fergus Nash, an Arts student who came from Calgary. “Sometimes there are twenty or thirty people in the tutorial classes. You don’t get the attention you should.”

But most of the students have been too busy to notice — complaining about the food in the cafeteria, fighting for or against fraternities (a vote found sixty-two percent in agreement with campus-newspaper editor Gillian Lindridge, who calls fraternities “morally horrendous and psychologically damaging”), and debating fiercely whether or not they are immature. But involvement in basic university problems will come, says McTaggartCowan, who has a high regard for the new university student:

“He is acutely aware of problems. He knows that universities have problems. He has ideas and he wants to be consulted. It’s not that he wants to run the world. I have a standing invitation to sit in on student-council meetings. When I was a student at UBC, we’d have thought it damned cheeky of the president to come to council meetings. It’s just that the new student looks on a university as students and faculty all tied up together. It’s a fine thing, I think.” ★