The class of '79

Jane O’Hara June 11 1979

The class of '79

Jane O’Hara June 11 1979

The class of '79

Jane O’Hara

The students are marching again. Not in the convulsive manner of the ’60s, when campus causes billowed like spinnakers and Dylan sang Blowin' in the Wind. Those days have gone. That mood has changed. The Canadian Class of ’79—hardened by current unemployment statistics and tempered by economic forecasts which promise to rain on their parade until 1990—is a conservative class. A cynical class. Especially in light of their stormy precursors, the late ’60s and early ’70s protesters who sat in and freaked out, all the while preaching a polemic of social and political radicalism. They were against The System and against The War and definitely skeptical of Big Business. They experimented with drugs and sex and raised the consciousness of a decade. If people on the outside envied them, it was because, hell . . . they seemed to be having fun.

But the Class of ’79 will have none of it. As Roberta Clare, a graduate of the University of Toronto and now editor of The Varsity, puts it: “The day of the denim is gone.” Today’s graduate isn’t interested in peace vigils, he’s more concerned with academic vigilance. He isn’t bothered with civil rights. He is more caught up in protecting his own economic fortune. So when the Class of ’79 marches—some 87,000 strong—across the 68 Canadian campuses toward convocation this month, it will march in straight black lines, capped and gowned in the uniform of convention. The rallying cry of the ’60s, “Power to the people” has been transmuted. “Go for it” is the slogan of the ’80s. The torch lit by the New Left has fallen into the grip of the New Right.

Papers are piled high on the chairs and desk in Rod Hurd’s small, corner office. There’s hardly room to sit. And yet the bad lighting and the single batik and the cacophony of paperwork seem to suit what is now the business address of a former student activist. As president of the University of Toronto Student Union in 1970, Hurd remembers well the days of student protest, the fire at Sir George Williams, the Company of Young Canadians. When students stoned the grey face of the U.S. consulate on Toronto’s University Avenue in protest over the Kent State killings, he

bailed 11 people out. In all, 91 were arrested. Today, as president of the Canadian Universities Travel Service, Hurd is somewhat mellowed. He is 33. He makes $20,000 a year and he loves his work.

“There’s no doubt today’s graduate is a far more conservative person,” said Hurd. “I don’t think it’s good, but it’s understandable in light of the economic crunch. In my day, we felt we had the time to tackle the broad social issues. We took courses because they were of interest. Students now pick courses to help them get jobs. They aren’t apathetic, really ... they’re busy.”

For the past seven years Hurd has been ministering over Canadian students’ perennial rite of passage—The Grand Tour on a meagre budget. A spring tradition as Canadian as the Stanley Cup. Although it’s estimated that close to 30,000 Canadian students will travel overseas this year, the percentage packing bags is lower than a decade ago. The reasons are many. But one, in particular, is indicative of a changing lifestyle of Canadian students. They are taking their futures more seriously and staying home to consolidate their positions in the work force. Students who “bum around” Europe are no longer regarded as scholarly gypsies in search of self-awareness, but rather as the carriers of some new social disease. “I don’t know anyone who’s taking off this year,” said Rose Morin, a 26-year-old bachelor of science who plans to return for a master’s. “A lot think they’ve lost too much time. They have loans to pay off and Chargex bills.

They just don’t have the flexibility.”

A 1978 study of University of British Columbia arts grads showed that only 4.4 per cent (down from 9.6 in ’73) planned to hit the road after graduation. Also, more and more undergrads are taking course-related summer jobs “that will look good on a résumé.” When the Canadian Universities Travel Service posted an ad for 50 jobs in Belgium, it got 3,000 replies. As Dick Mathews, a

It wasn’t always that way. Hurd and academic cohorts were fortunate. As members of the Second World War baby boom, students graduating in the ’50s and ’60s were sought by industry and government. But by 1973, the picture had changed. As the number of graduates continued to rise, Canada and

political science grad from Dalhousie, said, “There just isn’t the money to fool around anymore.”

the U.S. were undergoing the worst recession since the ’30s. Basically, the educational output was out of whack with the Canadian economy. Since Canada is still suffering double-digit inflation and 210,000 university-age Canadians are unemployed, there’s every reason for the Class of ’79 to be worried. Some more than others. Especially, the 35 per cent who will graduate with liberal arts degrees and the 19.2 per cent with education degrees. Diana Turbide, a 25-year-old grad of Canadian Studies at McGill, is one of them. She hasn’t started looking for work yet, but she isn’t optimistic: “I suppose you have an idealistic view when you come here. You think that university might be a way out of a secretarial job.”

An April Statistics Canada report stated that 16.5 per cent of post-secondary grads in 1976 were still looking for full-time work after two years and that doesn’t take into consideration the numbers who are languishing in jobs unrelated to their field of study or who are simply underemployed. Some students, like Cheryl Flieger, a physical education grad at the University of New Brunswick, take the news that there aren’t jobs with chins high. Flieger plans to pluck chickens at $4.99 an hour in her home town of Sussex, New Brunswick, until the market eases up.

“Kids should be willing to move across the country and take a look at lower paying jobs,” advised Ian Miller, on-campus manager of the Canadian Employment Centre at Ottawa’s Carleton University, who recommends that students change their perceptions and expectations of the status of many jobs. “There’s a shortage of trades people, but university grads still think that’s beneath them.” That’s true. But attitudes are hard to change. “There’s one surefire way to motivate yourself,” said David Ewart, a 22-year-old engineering student who took a year off university and worked as a farmhand and construction laborer. “Just take a rotten job. I did.” Ewart has subsequently put himself back on the academic track and will graduate from the University of Prince Edward Island in business administration.

For an estimated 20 per cent of the Class of ’79, there is some reason for optimism. Across the country, enrolments in professional faculties such as business, commerce, engineering and computer science are rising. Since university enrolment fits hand in glove with what’s happening in the job market, it’s clear that students are looking to a more vocational, pragmatic higher education—by picking faculties that promise a pot of gold at the end of their studies.

What are today’s hot fields? At the University of Toronto, Employment Programmes Co-ordinator Jan Straeter boasts there are 25 per cent more job listings than last year, partly a result of the centre’s aggressively going out and “beating the corporate bushes. We don’t have enough computer scientists to fill the demand,” said Straeter, while admitting that engineering, business administration and commerce grads are “almost assured of getting jobs.”

Quebec’s three English-speaking universities have shown a phenomenal growth in the numbers of students trying to get into business administration and commerce. At McGill, the 15-percent-a-year growth has been partially due to the number of francophones seeking a McGill degree as their entrée to the anglophone business world. In spite of declining general enrolment at the University of Prince Edward Island, students are rushing to get into the business faculty where graduates have an 85-per-cent chance of employment. According to Canada Manpower officials in Manitoba, commerce, engineering, economics and computer science grads will find it relatively easy to gets jobs in the province. Due to the number of doctors who have abandoned the province for the U.S., Manitoba is experiencing a shortage. On the other hand, the Manitoba Law Society reports that graduates will find it hard to get articling positions this year.

“The average arts graduate these days is in business,” said Beth Miller, supervisor of the Canada Employment Centre at the University of Calgary. And in keeping with Alberta’s low rate of unemployment, Miller maintains that almost all the graduates “have jobs lined up by now and are working.” The big sellers out West are engineering, geology and commerce majors with accounting skills. While in New Brunswick the unemployment picture “is the same old story,” Manpower counsellor Mona MacMillan says: “The engineers are laughing.”

Caught somewhere between educational ideals, all-too-concrete tuition fees and the sad facts of the work market are today’s students. Jockeying to get the high marks needed to enter the professional faculties, they have become highly competitive. Cheating is “becoming pervasive,” according to Robin Ross, vice-principal of administration at University of Toronto’s Erindale College. “No doubt it’s partially a result of the pressure to get into grad school and professional faculties, but it’s also because of the pressure of parents visiting their ambitions on their wretched children.”

In his quest to pick a major to match

a career, today’s student has become highly cautious. And given the prospect that there might not be life after graduation—or, at least not the good life that he has known — today’s student has become increasingly cynical. “My own view is that students are more serious, more mature,” said John Clake, the University of Winnipeg’s vice-president of academic and student services. “Society is moving quickly to the right and the students are moving with it.” The pendulum has swung back: the ’60s dialectic has given birth to a group of campus moderates—university kids who look and act more like their parents. Hair is shorter, beards are trim and blue jeans are no longer the frayed, beat-up proletarian uniform: they are designer denims.

Disco, the tumor of an industry that talks more of making money than music, has replaced Dylan as the social conscience of the day. And according to the students, hard drugs have vanished on campus like the Liberals from Western Canada, although the smell of burning “grass” is at least one nostalgic reminder that all things have not passed. Not unexpectedly, alcohol has shown a steady growth rate. This is partly due to the entrepreneurial instincts of most student governments, whose main mission is to provide cheap bread and circuses for their campus constituents. Although there’s some debate about whether student councils are becoming too capitalistic, in the current atmosphere of educational cutbacks, most campus politicians know how to make a quick buck. “Our liquor operations made $30,000 last year,” said Carleton’s Student Union President Kirk Falconer.

At the University of Alberta, where the students union’s corporate machinations are in keeping with provincial politics, the union made a profit of $130,000 this year from sales in their two cafeteria pubs. “Alcohol is definitely the chosen relaxant,” said Dean Olmstead, the 21-year-old president of the union, who will be paid $450 monthly to watch over the $4.7-million budget. “It also creates the most problems.”

Once considered boot camps for sexual revolutionaries, college cam-

BACHELOR’S AND FIRST PROFESSIONAL DEGREES SPECIALIZATION 68-69 69-70 70-71 71-72 72-73 73-74 74-75 75-76 76-77 Arts 25,397 26,329 27,585 29,706 27,832 29,583 29,669 29,561 30,557 Science 6,320 6,739 7,730 8,788 8,862 9,762 11,020 11,189 12,003 Architecture 199 368 287 249 243 346 477 473 546 Commerce 2,386 2,949 3,445 3,656 3,965 4,604 5,246 5,983 6,785 Engineering 2,966 3,543 3,898 4,068 4,122 4,055 4,057 3,852 4,342 Law 1,322 1,502 1,949 2,152 2,268 2,443 2,629 2,578 2,763 Medicine 1,019 1,073 1,133 1,550 1,478 2,042 1,894 2,005 2,031

puses have settled into the general social pattern: the sexual revolution has dissolved into a war of attrition. In the mind of Valerie Whiffen, a 25-year-old psychology grad at UBC, there’s an “emotional celibacy” going on. “Students here seem to be more achievement-oriented,” she said, “and getting involved is like taking an extra course. There’s a general feeling that having a relationship will wreck your grades. I know people who have made pacts with their roommates that they won’t get married until after their degree.” Although co-ed dorms are commonplace and more students are living together now than in the ’60s, middle-class morality is still alive and well. According to Dr. Edward Herold, a sociologist at the University of Guelph, the majority of students still believe that “monogamous marriage is the ultimate goal” of a live-in relationship and only a small minority “accept the idea of promiscuous sex.” About 50 per cent of female students, according to Herold, “experience guilt feelings the first time they have sexual intercourse.” Only 10 per cent, however, feel guilty after subsequent encounters.

Not far from the door of the Peer Counselling Centre at Carleton’s Unicentre, a sign on the wall welcomes students to discuss problems about birth control, pregnancy, abortion, sexuality and stress. Except for exam time, “when everyone is studying,” the 21volunteer counselling service does a roaring trade. According to Jenny Baumbach, co-ordinator of the service, “most parents think that sending their kid to college is like a ticket to getting laid. It just isn’t so. A fairly common complaint from men and women is that they feel pressure to be sexually active, but they just don’t want to be. Generally, most women want to know about birth control, but more men complain they don’t know how to meet women.”

While ’60s students were battering the foundations of government, family and almost anything else that reeked of authority, organized religion did not elude the jackhammer. The kids didn’t fool around. They went right to the top and asked the question, “Is God dead?” The resulting debate found a focus in

such places as Newman Centre on the campus at the University of Toronto. And in its slightly sombre chapel, the

vestiges of the ’60s remain. Liturgical tie-dyes hang on the walls. Ceramic chalices and burlap vestments are still used in the celebration of the mass. But Father John Robbins, a graduate of the ’60s himself, has noted a change. Not purely in the growth of multidenominational religious observance on campus. He sees that as an offshoot of students wanting the answers. Longing for security. (At Dalhousie University, eight new religious organizations sprang up on campus last year, everything from Dal Muslims to the Latter Day Saints.) Robbins’ main concern is with the nature of the revived religious interest. “In the ’60s, this was one of the first alternate churches, an intelligent, religious thinking base for many students.

But students now aren’t interested in social justice, they want dances and trips to Stratford. They don’t want folk masses and guitars, they want more gold, beautiful vestments and beautiful music. We just started a mass which is part Latin and where we sing Gregorian chants. It’s a big success. They say that any age of great rationalism gives rise to great superstition and that’s what we’re seeing today. It accounts for the growth in the fundamentalist and revivalist movements that are showing up on the campus. We’re moving back into a Victorian era.”

Campus conservatism is not restricted to Canada. In the United States, the new wave of students may be riding a downcurve of political consciousness but, when faced with the economy’s fall from grace and the rise of the nuclear age, they are showing an upswing in academic conscientiousness. Following the global trend, U.S. students are taking care of business the best way they know how—by running lemming-like toward the accounting and commerce courses that are springing up across the country. In his new book, Campus Shock, U.S. author Lansing Lamont reports that the increased competition on universities has led to a phenomenal growth in cheating, plagiarism and library losses. And while Northwestern University sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels blames the counterculture generation for failing to “leave behind any organizational structures for people to cling to until a better time,” she’s pessimistic about the current crop of students. “The mood on campus is conservative, conventional, anxious. These kids are ready to make money.”

In Europe, the picture is much the same. Britain’s traditionally left-wing colleges, the London School of Economics and University College, are making overtures to the right. It surfaced recently during the general election when for the first time the Conservative party declared support among the students. Oxford philosophy don and sociologist Ron Harry sees the change as not so much a philosophical conviction as a “longing for a more traditional, a more secure and ample past.” While on Canadian campuses student dress may look more ’50s than ’60s, British students have dipped back to the Edwardian era for their sartorial lead. “If you can’t have the reality,” said one student, modelling the oldest in velvet smoking jackets, “you might as well try to look like it.”

In Western Europe, the Class of ’79 has been dubbed the “bleat generation” for their sheeplike conformity to middle-class moral standards. The veteran

campus campaigners of the ’60s find that ’70s students make undependable allies. Said one 35-year-old Dutch lecturer, after failing to mount a demonstration against police brutality: “The students will rally as long as it doesn’t interfere with their exams or holiday plans. It’s a generation nobody will have been proud to have been a part of.”

And in what one Italian sociologist calls “a ritual shedding of rags,” European students have cast off their robes of penury and gone off on an unprecedented spending spree. Consumerism is the reigning form of escapism as students buy the latest in Japanese motor bikes and sound equipment, and gorge on the newest fashions in clothes. In Belgium, university students are tuning in to the revisionist rock of a local group called TVA, which specializes in 1950s corn. In France, where students stopped the Paris transportation system in the riots of 1968, 80 per cent of students polled showed a “disenchantment with politics and ideology.”

“They’ve realized that reading leftwing philosophers like Herbert Marcuse won’t put them on a short list for getting a job,” said Bob Reid, a British professor at the University of Kiel. “It may buy them a conscience, but who needs that anymore?” David Stimpson, who for 15 years has watched literary trends come and go as manager of the U of T’s Bookroom, concurs. Stimpson revealed that his best sellers with the Class of ’79 were books like Barron's How to Prepare for the Graduate Record Exam and Preparation for the Miller Analogies Test—how-to texts on the age-old art of passing graduate school entrance exams.

It should be remembered that during the turbulent ’60s—during the protests over Vietnam, civil liberty, women’s status, black rights and student participation in university decision-makingmost of the Class of ’79 were still cutting teeth on their first adolescent kiss. Some of those issues are still rallying points for student activism, but the priorities have definitely changed. In March, 1978, 25,000 Canadian students marched on their provincial legislatures to protest the cutbacks in educational spending. It was an orderly march. It was also the largest march in Canadian student history. But more then anything, it left no doubt about what students really care about—themselves and their futures. It is as if the old ’60s idealism, turned out toward a world they thought they could change, had turned inward; the question now is not How can I make a better world? but How can I make the most of myself Caligula wanted the moon—today’s kids just want the money. f¡?