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BriefsReportTable of ContentReport IndexRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and SciencesRoyal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences

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IN THE earlier stages of our inquiry we had thought that the universities of Canada were quite outside our Terms of Reference and consequently, that they should not be included in this survey. As our work progressed, however, we naturally found it impossible to ignore the role which Canadian universities play in the subjects with which we are formally concerned; and we were strengthened in our belief that we must take this matter under review by the many representations made to us. In Chapter XIV we shall be noticing certain specific problems of Canadian universities; at the moment we propose to discuss the role of our universities generally in Canadian society.

2. The universities are provincial institutions; but they are much more than that. It would be a grave mistake to underestimate or to misconceive the wider and indeed universal functions of these remarkable institutions. We are not here concerned with them as units in a formal educational system or as representing the final stage of an academic career. We are convinced, however, that we cannot ignore other functions so admirably performed by Canadian universities. They are local centres for education at large and patrons of every movement in aid of the arts, letters and sciences. They also serve the national cause in so many ways, direct and indirect, that theirs must be regarded as the finest of contributions to national strength and unity.

3. We have been privileged to hear from universities collectively and individually. An important statement from the National Conference of Canadian Universities gave us the official views of the organization of which all Canadian universities are members. We have also received eighteen submissions from degree-conferring institutions or from their heads. The universities have defined their place in Canadian life and we fully accept this statement which appears in their collective brief:


"The work of the Canadian Universities is of vital and continuing importance to national development in the Arts, Letters and Sciences, to such an extent that this would be jeopardized or crippled if the activities of the universities were curtailed."1


4. It seems appropriate to examine in some detail the local activities of universities, occasionally taken so much for granted that their importance is not realized. We have said that the university is the local patron of arts, letters and sciences. This is especially true in relatively isolated areas in the Atlantic Provinces, on the Prairies and on the Pacific coast where universities are called on by diverse voluntary groups for equally diverse services. These involve both equipment and staff. The university may act as host in the evening hours to any one of the great variety of organizations described in a previous chapter. It may supply not only the lecturer but the club-room as well and even the officers of the club. The university head and members of his staff have always as many extra-mural engagements as their academic work permits. This practice may be open to objection. Too great dependence by voluntary societies on university faculties may not be good for either group. However, in smaller centres where few have leisure for intellectual pursuits, it is true to say that the university gives energetic leadership to many movements on which the well-being of the community depends, a leadership made more important by the presence on the staffs of universities of many of our foremost writers, musicians and painters.

5. Not only does the university serve voluntary groups, it is also the fountain-head of a stream of communal activities. University libraries, conservatories of music, collections of pictures, films, gramophone records, museum materials of all sorts are placed at the disposal of the public in that hospitable spirit which is in the university tradition. In isolated regions, where such facilities are few, universities not only serve their immediate neighbourhood as best they can; they try despite all handicaps to refuse no request for help lest a serious student be discouraged.

6. The university also reaches far into the community through night classes, summer schools, musical organizations, extension departments and through voluntary societies. The first two serve many students who must supplement their regular courses. They are largely attended by teachers and others who need further special training. They provide many with an opportunity to broaden their interests and deepen their understanding. These services are often rendered at no little inconvenience by the smaller universities with limited staffs. They may interfere with the research work


and private study of hard-pressed teachers. They could not, however, be withdrawn without causing disappointment and even resentment.

7. The extension departments reach out even further to many who perhaps have no idea what the university has to offer them. Some universities have established through such departments important library services and systems of film distribution. Extension workers form or help to form study groups of all kinds throughout the country. Farm forums, workers' study circles, homemakers' clubs, women's institutes, co-operative clubs, art groups, and clubs for young people, all owe much to the initiative of the universities. These are linked with the short courses and conferences which, with the summer schools, crowd our universities through the long vacations. Some of these activities may seem remote from the traditional university role; and so they are. Universities are doing work vital to a healthy national life and often only the universities can do it.

8. There is no lack of variety in the services of a Canadian university. The transition from a critical edition of an obscure mediaeval poet to the organization of a young farmers' club is a formidable one. But the university makes it. There may be no one else to do these things. However inadequately they may be done, the university has gallantly met the challenge of a new country to do everything it can and to do it immediately. Throughout Canada it represents to the community every aspect of cultural life, from "grass roots" to "ivory tower". Were our universities to close their doors except to the formal academic student, voluntary local effort in the intellectual and cultural field would lose much of its life and spirit.


9. We have outlined the communal services of the Canadian universities. They can now rightly claim that they play also a national role. To the graduate and specialized schools in Canadian universities come students from every part of the country; this has led to the creation of a network of cultural communication between provinces and indeed with other countries; at each of the larger universities in Canada there are students from all the provinces. Further, universities assume special responsibility for certain national problems, neurology and neurosurgery at McGill, for example, aerophysics at Toronto, or mediaeval studies at the University of Montreal.

10. The universities are also recruiting grounds for the national services. Twenty-five years ago relatively few graduates entered the public service. Today university qualifications are required for more and more posts in the civil service of Canada. There are now some 8,000 graduates of Can-


adian universities in the federal public service, and the demand keeps pace with our growing importance in world affairs. In 1949, 600 graduates were selected for appointment. In the Department of Agriculture alone out of a total strength of about 6,000 more than 2,000 are graduates of our universities. The Department of External Affairs employs about 250 graduates in an establishment of 1,200. Large numbers of university men and women are now employed by the Federal Government during the summer months. In 1950 about 550 graduates and 1,900 undergraduates were engaged on agricultural projects, economic and statistical programmes and surveys of various kinds.

11. It is perhaps unnecessary for us to dwell upon the great contribution which Canadian universities made to the defence of our country through the fundamental research work which they undertook during the war, and are continuing in the perilous times in which we live. It is true to say that our very safety depends upon this work of vital national importance which only the universities can do. There is, of course, a further point arising from this: if we are to be able to pay for our very heavy expenditures on defence, and if we are to be able to maintain a tolerable standard of living at the same time, we must increase and continue to increase our national income through the more efficient development and exploitation of our natural resources. For these purposes, trained men and women are essential, and again the universities are called upon to produce them.

12. A still more recent development in this field is the service of the universities to the armed forces. In general all commissioned ranks in the Canadian Army must on appointment now have a degree from a recognized university. Similarly a degree is necessary for appointment to commissioned rank in all branches of the Royal Canadian Air Force. University qualifications are now required to an increasing extent for commissions in the Royal Canadian Navy.

13. The nation is indebted to the universities for another form of service. It cannot be expressed in precise terms but its importance is obvious. The government, more and more frequently, borrows members of university staffs for special duties, not only in periods of emergency, but as a normal practice. Such loans, despite the inconvenience caused, are cheerfully granted by the universities, and rightly so. The service of the State must benefit by the efforts of those who bring to it independent minds and the spirit of the volunteer.


14. Scientific research is essential to material well-being and national security; the universities gave it birth, without them it would die. The


thousands of men and women engaged in fundamental research-the free search for scientific truth-in special fields of investigation such as atomic energy and in general industrial research and development have been trained with few exceptions in Canadian universities. Moreover, universities are the principal sponsors of research in most branches of science, both fundamental and applied; and although the National research Council supplies costly equipment and maintains many graduate research workers, those who direct the research are almost wholly paid from university funds. In addition to this expense, the universities provide and maintain laboratories, accessory apparatus and mechanical services. Although the National research Council provided in 1949-50 over one million dollars for research in Canadian universities and the Defence research Board in the same year almost half a million, for every thousand dollars given to the universities for research, three hundred must be found from their own resources. In short, the whole scheme of scientific research in Canada assumes the continuance and the expansion of university work.

15. We have felt it fitting to make this brief statement on the services rendered by the universities both to the local community and to the nation as a whole. The functions we have outlined go beyond the central role of the university in the field of formal education; but these added activities both communal and national are nonetheless essential elements in the university tradition. Moreover, they are so valuable that should they cease, or even be curtailed, other institutions would have to be created by the community or by the national government to carry them out.


16. Because we are deeply convinced of the vital role which universities play in the life of the nation we are concerned with a tendency common to Canada and to most other countries which, if not checked, will undermine their work in every field. We refer to the fact that subjects commonly associated in the public mind with cultivation and learning have been crowded out of the curricula or have lost their traditional character. Those reared in a respect for the classical tradition have long deplored the shifting of ancient landmarks, and even casual observers have their misgivings. This tendency affects not only the nature of the university's function but the quality of its product. "The plight of the humanities" has involved the sciences as well, and the whole question has of late been the subject of much discussion, indeed of anxious inquiry. On this subject we have had many important representations from Canadian institutions of higher learning.


17. We shall later on discuss in some detail the philosophic distinction between the scientific and humanistic fields, and their relation. Our immediate purpose is to present the practical aspect of the problem in relation to the work of the universities. Not everyone, however, is convinced of the existence of the problem. Some regard the disappearance of the humanities as inevitable in a practical age and the practical man may say: "Why revive them?" Yet at the same moment he may well be asking: "Why can't my staff draft a lucid memorandum or an intelligible letter?" It is very easy to miss the close relation between these two questions. There is a persistent illusion that what we call the humanities is mere educational embroidery, perhaps agreeable but certainly irrelevant. It is easy to forget that the liberal arts provide not the decoration but the fabric itself. The purpose of such great subjects as history and philosophy and literature, if we may tread a well-worn path, is nothing less than to teach the student how to think, to train his mind, to cultivate his judgement and taste and give him the capacity to express himself with clarity and precision. Nothing could be more practical than that. If we feel as many do that higher education shows a diminishing capacity to achieve these ends, we are without knowing it deploring the decline of the humanities.

18. Humanistic studies do not belong only to the faculty of liberal arts but should pervade the professional schools as well. They should permeate the entire university. One of the functions of a university is to train persons for the liberal professions, but a liberal profession is "liberal" only because it includes education in the liberal arts. A professional school without the humanities is little more than a technical institute. Our practical man may ask: "Why burden a doctor, engineer or lawyer with training in academic luxuries? Why ask him to make useless digressions into the humanities?" The answer is that the liberal arts, properly taught, make an able doctor, engineer or lawyer still abler in the practice of his profession. The mental discipline which comes from the liberal arts should develop in the student the ability to think clearly. He can also gain the breadth of view which enables him to see his professional task in the wider context of life. To exceptional persons such powers may come naturally. But wise professional men, and men of business, are the first to recognize the fact that there are few students, however good their professional training, whose capacity in practical affairs is not increased by some acquaintance with the liberal arts.

19. A similar neglect of the humanities is observable in many courses in pure science. Although rigid training in the methods of research has been intensified, the disciplines of the humanities have been steadily reduced. The Church of England in Canada wisely declares in its brief that "no field of knowledge or research, however important in itself, should be


allowed to become a substitute for a basic training in the humanities".2 This view we believe is shared by many who work in the natural sciences and who understand their relation to life. The serious results that follow when it is ignored are demonstrated by complaints that too many scientists, especially in certain fields of applied science, are only glorified technicians, lacking any broad understanding of the field in which they labour, unable to bring sound critical judgement to bear on the results of their efforts. The same evil is observable in the field of the social sciences. These studies are growing in importance but one must often question the conclusions reached by those who are too early exposed to rigid and complicated technical training before they have knowledge and understanding of human society, the material of their future labours.

20. Moreover, where the humanities are still taught, they seem to be losing their traditional character. It seems to us that the classics have been largely taken over by the philologist, that history is becoming a branch of sociology, that philosophy is under the shadow of psychology, that the study of English literature is losing its power to encourage good writing and wise reading. This is the true plight of the humanities; it is not so much that they have been deserted as that they have lost their way. Having forgotten their true purpose, which dictates its own techniques, they have shown a tendency to adopt utilitarian and so-called scientific methods admirable in themselves but dangerous when misapplied. We do the humanities no service by deploring their decline and striving to reinstate them without comprehending their task. Their neglect, serious as it is, is less serious than their misuse.

21. The humanities, in short, are to be valued for themselves. Not only does a study of the liberal arts give education the mental discipline without which it is meaningless, it gives the student the intellectual curiosity and interest which enrich his life. The purpose of the university is, through a liberalizing education, to enable persons to live more complete lives; this should be true of any training which has a proper place in a university. Academic courses stripped of the humanities lose enrichment as well as discipline. They provide for a living, but not for the life which makes living worthwhile. How have we come to neglect this essential truth? We have already mentioned the mechanical and utilitarian tendencies of the past generation or two. There is now some evidence of a change but the plight of the humanities causes grave concern, and as we have said, serious people are looking for a remedy. We have no easy remedy, but we do believe that at least something can be done to restore to those impractical subjects, so-called, the respect too long refused them in a practical age.


22. The humanities have become poor relations. If, for example, the size of a university library is not an unfair index of the attention devoted to the liberal arts, and particularly to research in this field, the relevant facts are illuminating. If a list of North American universities were to be arranged in accordance with the number of volumes in their academic libraries, the best-equipped Canadian universities would be distressingly far down in the roster. Moreover, most of the libraries in American universities possessing more volumes than the largest Canadian university library belong to institutions which are of more recent foundation and which have fewer students than the foremost Canadian universities; and many of these are located in cities possessing very large municipal libraries. This serves to remind us afresh of the debt which Canadian universities owe to the United States, and also of our regrettable tendency to lean too heavily on American institutions for services which we should have provided for ourselves.

23. Moreover, if the scale of salaries is any indication of the value attached to academic work, the following tables are instructive. The figures are based on conditions existing in three Canadian universities. There is reason to believe that they are representative of the whole field in the relative salary scales.


Salaries in Three Representative Canadian Universities 1949 - 19503
Salary Range ($) Number of Professors Number of Associate Professors Number of Assistant Professors
5,250-6,750 18 1  
4,500-5,249 15 4  
3,750-4,499 7 10 5
3,000-3,749   8 31
2,500-2,999     16
High $6,500 $5,500 $3,750
Upper Quintile 5,750 4,250 3,500
Median 5,000 3,750 3,000
Mode 5,000 3,500 3,000
Low 3,750 3,000 2,500



Salaries in Three Representative Canadian Universities 1949 - 1950
Salary Range ($) Number of Professors Number of Associate Professors Number of Assistant Professors
10,000 and over 4    
6,750-9,999 8 1  
5,250-6,749 35 3 2
4,500-5,249 16 11 3
3,750-4,499 5 38 3
3,000-3,749   14 64
2,250-2,999     9
High $ Over 10,000 $7,000 $6,500
Upper Quintile 6,500 4,500 3,500
Median 5,500 4,000 3,250
Mode 5,000 4,000 3,000
Low 4,000 3,250 2,250

These figures are disturbing; they reveal clearly that in the Humanities university positions are both fewer and less well-paid than in the pure or applied sciences.

24. Yet we must remember the resistance which within the limits of resources has been offered to this unhappy trend in academic life. The Canadian Catholic Conference has paid high tribute to these forces of resistance. At the same time, recognizing that the humanities are more necessary than ever for the preservation of our traditions, the Conference has insisted on "the critical need of preserving the humanities whose aim is to form the man himself and to develop his intelligence, his conscience and his taste . . ." 4 The representatives of the Canadian universities themselves, as we have suggested, are far from content with the present situation illustrated by the figures we have shown above.


25. But the starvation of the humanities is only one symptom of the problem affecting all departments of these institutions which, as we have seen, are an indispensable factor in Canadian life. Our universities are


facing a financial crisis so grave as to threaten their future usefulness. In the brief received from the National Conference of Canadian Universities an illuminating table appeared which we have thought it right to reproduce. It gives comparable accounts for eight universities: Laval, McGill, Queen's and the Universities of British Columbia, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, Toronto and Western Ontario. This representative group includes three-quarters of all Canadian university students.


The Pattern of Canadian University Finance from 1943 to 1949 (In thousands of dollars)
  1943-4 1944-5 1945-6 1946-7 1947-8 1948-9
Income from endowments 1,562
Income from students' fees, exclusive of board and lodging 3,378
Grants from provincial governments - other than grants from specific projects 3,978
Receipts from Department of Veterans Affairs, Supplementary to students'
fees included above

26. The universities face the twin spectres of falling revenue and rising costs. Student fees have increased to some extent, but income from this source can meet only a small part of the deficit. It will be seen that the universities referred to in the above table had in 1948-1949 to find 52 per cent of their revenue from sources other than fees: 32.8 per cent from provincial governments, 10.3 per cent from the Department of Veterans' Affairs, in all 43.1 per cent from government sources.

27. It will be noted also that the proportion of revenue from endowments and from provincial grants in relation to total revenue has decreased. This has caused a greater proportional dependence on students' fees; additional grants from the Federal Government during the last few years have no longer filled the gap. These grants were made to assist Canadian


universities to meet the increased overhead expenses created by the admission of the ex-service students after the war whose tuition was paid as part of the scheme; the Federal Government paid $150 per student per annum. Even this aid could not solve the universities' problems and it will end on June 30, 1951, before the last of the ex-service students graduate. Under post-war pressures the universities have had to meet fresh expenditures; they have been impelled to include new services and courses, to expand their professional schools and to provide additional equipment for research. Even when capital grants have been given them for new buildings, the maintenance of these has created new financial burdens.

28. Between the years 1943-44 and 1948-49 university enrolment increased greatly without any equivalent increase in university budgets. Thus the average expenditure per student has dropped from $515 to $433, during a period when the cost of living has risen almost fifty per cent, as shown in the following table:


Expenditure of a Group of Canadian Universities for Academic Purposes (Exclusive of expenditures for new construction and expenditures on board and residence)
Academic Year Total Expenditures
Number of Full-Time Students Expenditure per student
1943-4 9,831,000 19,071 515
1944-5 10,190,000 20,971 486
1945-6 14,575,000 36,921 395
1946-7 20,090,000 47,812 420
1947-8 21,597,000 49,991 432
1948-9 20,712,000 47,811 433

This calls for comment. In a business enterprise a fall in the cost of a product would entitle the management to praise. In a university such a development may not be so laudable. Sound economy in both commercial and academic establishments is, of course, a virtue, but not even a business is exempt from the consequences of false economy; and in a university the adverse effects of false economy take longer to discover and too often lead to a fall in educational standards: overworked professors, overcrowded classes and inadequate equipment. Such deterioration in services wherever it exists will become permanent if revenues are not increased. At a time like the present when greater expenditure is needed


even to maintain the present level, our universities will under these conditions suffer very seriously in the quality of their work.

29. Financial pressure is responsible for another development. As tuition fees have risen students are drawn more and more from those communities which have greater financial resources. Although comparable statistics are difficult to obtain we were told by the heads of urban universities that in recent years the proportion of students from the country has fallen materially and that more and more students come from the cities. The university is thus increasingly deprived of an element which gave it much strength in the past, and the student population is thrown out of balance. The chief causes are economic. Not only are students whose homes are in the cities better able to pay their way, but their expenses are reduced by living at home. Thus money plays a too important part in determining the composition of the student body. But it is not the country student alone who is affected. Even in university cities many a promising boy or girl is barred by the lack of the necessary means. To this problem we shall return in another chapter.

30. We have perhaps compressed into too short a space our analysis of this disturbing situation, so familiar to all within our universities, so little understood by many outside. Universities have become essential institutions of higher education, of general culture, of specialized and professional training and of advanced scientific research. For years they have been handicapped by inadequate income; now they face a financial crisis. Their enforced economies have had many unhappy effects; important plans of development and expansion have been curtailed. The quality of the work done has been impaired, the composition of the student body has been adversely affected. The result, however, which most nearly affects our work as a Commission, and which we consider to be the most dangerous because the most subtle, is the one already discussed at length-the neglect and distortion of the humanities. We have been told that although penury is by no means the sole cause of this unhappy situation, it has been an important contributing factor. Under contemporary demands the modern university is urged to provide expanding facilities for technical training. The urge "to speed up production" and to emphasize technology in the university's curricula has led to a growing stress on purely utilitarian subjects in academic courses. The practical result has been what one witness called "conspiracies to prevent people from being educated". It is certainly neither our right nor our wish to tell the universities how to do their work, but, if financial stringency prevents these great institutions from being, as they have said, "nurseries of a truly Canadian civilization and culture", we are convinced that this is a matter of national concern. We shall therefore make in Part II recommendations on measures to enable our universities to fulfil more completely their essential functions.

* From: Canada. Royal Commission on National Development in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences. Report. Ottawa : King's Printer, 1951. By permission of the Privy Council Office.

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