1905 Fredericton Encaenia

Alumni Oration

Delivered by: Murray, Walter C.

"Alumni Oration" University Monthly 24, 7 (May-June 1905): 211-218. (UA Case 67a, Box 1)

The subject to which I wish to direct your attention today is the service a university renders the state.

In whatever sense we take the term university, whether, like the Germans we regard it as the home of research, or, like the Scots, as an institution for the diffusion of learning, or, with the French, as a collection of professional and technical schools, or, as the English, as a cluster of colleges devoted to a liberal education; we shall find that the University is a factor in the state, rivalling the Church, a power for moulding the national life. When the armies of Napoleon denied to the Germans the fullness of political life, the inner life and thought of the people found full and free expression in their universities. The intelligence of the Scottish people, the political capacity of the English, do more for the character than for theories; the French genius for construction, engineering, may be attributed to the influence of their systems of university education.

Most varied are the ways in which the universities have adapted themselves to the needs of the localities and times in which they have flourished. One of the oldest, possibly the oldest, Salerus, came into being at a delightful health resort in southern Italy. It became a famous school of medicine. A sister of almost equal age, Boloqua, grew up in the political atmosphere of northern Italy, and became the great law university; while under the shadow of the Cathedral at Paris the most famous university of the middle ages became the seat of theological learning. In modern times no less has the accident of locality determined the character of higher learning. In the midst of mines the greatest of schools of mining grew up at Freiburg in Germany.

The seclusion of Oxford has favored a type which has made, so some of its critics assert, a fetish of the useless in education: on the other hand in the heart of the Midlands, Birmingham has developed the school of science founded by Joseph Mason into a university where the faculty of science takes precedence over the faculty of arts, where courses in commerce and breeding have usurped the seats of law and theology; where Oxford’s lawns and historic chapels are represented by blast furnaces, steel mills and even a coal mine. For this, the newest and most practical of all the universities, believes it wise to reproduce in a smaller scale the workshops of industry and commerce. Could there be a greater contrast than that between Oxford the most conservative of all universities, which arose when the passion for learning was at its greatest and which held a race of rules for church and state, and that which became the most radical of all universities which came into being when invention had won her greatest victories in applying science to industry, and where man had bent all his energies not to control his fellows, but to make nature obedient to his will? One represents the humanism of the middle ages; the other the industrialism of the nineteenth century.

In Germany too the imprint of each age is clearly seen. When the great problems of the Reformation were absorbing the energies of the people, the universities were little more than schools of theology. When the human wit and invention turn to the problems of science, the universities become the great laboratories for research. In the United States, the seats of industry, of commerce and of agriculture are fostering schools of technology, commerce, and agriculture; but in other lands or in the other parts of the new lands where wealth or position has brought forth a leisured class, institutions steeped in the traditions that "manners maketh a man," surround the youth with the customs of the past and instil into him the traditions of the race.

If life be as Mr. Spencer states, the adjustment of the spirit to the demands of the environment; then the universities if they wish to live must take on the character of their surroundings, temporal and spiritual. It is folly to lament the disappearance of the obsolete or to resist the entrance of the useful. But another question arises. Are there not certain needs, certain factors in man’s environment which are not the creatures of a day, but the possession of all time? Are there not certain claims on that environment as deep rooted as human nature itself? If so, then those institutions of high learning which shape their courses, which bend their energies in the direction of their personal needs, and adapt themselves to their personal conditions may do the state a more lasting service than those which, sensitive to every change of popular opinion, wish a suppression, adapt themselves with surprising alacrity to the whims of the passing fashion. I believe that there are certain factors in man’s environment which are permanent, and that these factors are by no means the least but the greatest. For that environment is not a thing of rocks and trees, buildings and highways, shops and factories, but is in its very nature social made up of human beings. Men, not money bags, make life. "Man," said Aristotle, in the oft quoted phrase, "is a political animal." He is not a clod surrounded by other clods. As Sir Wm. Hamilton was fond of repeating, "On earth there is nothing great but man; in man there is nothing great but mind." The achievement of industry, the trappings of wealth, the gifts of nature, sink into insignificance in the environment of any human being beside those suppressions of the human spirit, in language, in art, in philosophy in these social, political and religious institutions which are but the mind of man writ in forms that strike the eye and satisfy the touch. An institution, devoted to education, devoted to the development of the mind of man, that ignores these things, that becomes engrossed in what man has made but figures what man has thought, felt and been, that thinks only of the toys and tools with which man may be planed or wrought, but is blind and deaf to the longings and the endeavours, the joys and the sorrows, the visions and the hopes of man, can never help man towards perfection. They may make the youth a skilled instrument, a clever tool, but they can never make him a man.

The conflict between Oxford and Birmingham is not the conflict between Greek and Science, the conflict between the new and the old; between traditionalism and rationalism, but between humanism and commercialism, between things of the spirit and the things of sense, between man and his money. I do not wish to prejudice the question by extravagant praise of the one and contemptuous sneering at the other. The truth of humanism does not exclude but includes the truth of commercialism. There is a place and a necessary place for each; but the place of commercialism is not the upper seat, but the lower. The old antipathy to science overlooked the fact that science is a product of the human spirit; that the gifted mathematician, the patient chemist, the imaginative geologist, penetrate to that inner reason which pervades the universe of men and things no less than the poet, the philosopher or the theologian.

The boundaries of this period are suggested in part by a feeling which every loyal classman acknowledges with pride. The most interesting day in the history of the college is that on which he and his classmates are admitted to the college. That which marks the beginning of a new era is the day when the college admits a student and his classmates to all the rights and privileges appertaining to the dignity of Bachelor of Arts.

There is, however, another reason, more satisfying to the men of other year classes, for regarding the last twenty years as a distinct period in the history of the university.

As you remember the first crisis in its history occurred when the old college, or really grammar school, took on the character of a college in the likeness of Oxford. A quarter of a century later, about 1854, the college lost its ecclesiastical character, and became a state institution, ready to serve all sects and classes with equal favour. Under the wise rule of Dr. Jack for over thirty years the college served this province well. It drew to itself young men from every part, and sent forth not a few who have since attained to eminence in the domain of letters, no less than in public life.

It was my fortune as a student to take up my studies when the old order was beginning to pass, and we were the first graduates to receive degrees from Chancellor Harrison, under whose guidance the University has take a new place in the life of the province.

The extent of the change between the old and the new order of things is perhaps, not realized by many. In order to see what progress has been made, let us for a moment or two look at the University as it was in 1885, and as it is today.

In 1886 there was but one course of study, that leading to the degree of B.A. Today he University offers courses in science and engineering as well.

In 1886 every student was forced to take up the same studies; today a judicious course of elective studies in the third and fourth years leaves the impression that the course of study is made for the student, not the student for the course. At that time the sophomore was unknown. His evil reputation was attached to the junior. For in those days they took but three years to convert the guileless freshmen into the solemn senior. Today, I believe, it requires four. Perhaps the task was less difficult in those days.

In those dark and evil days the undergraduates by University decree were denied the endearing elegance of female friendship, but now things are different.

In those days Greek and French, philosophy and physics, and geology were taken in equal doses and with nearly equal relish. A laboratory was to us a dark and mysterious place into which it was better not to peer. Beyond the annual trip to Currie’s Mountain, and a chance acquaintance with the Trilobite or Ammonite, we never saw the facts of science with our own eyes. Today it is vastly different.

But personal recollections must not be permitted to obscure the great differences between the University of 1885 and the University of 1905—between a short restricted course of study and the longer, more varied and more serviceable courses of today, between the school methods and meagre appliances of instruction of that time and the laboratory equipment and universal methods of today; between a university restricting its scope to preparation for the learned professions and excluding from its privileges one half of the young people of the province and the university of today offering to both sexes equal privileges and a preparation for an industrial or commercial career no less than for success in a profession.

The one characteristic of these changes is the university’s eagerness to adapt itself as fully as possible to the needs of the province. The permanent embodiment of this spirit is your school of engineering. From small beginnings—a few lectures on surveying given in 1888, it has developed into a well attended and efficient school, and this year the university has given further evidence of the same spirit by making provision for those who wish to apply scientific methods and scientific knowledge to the care of the soil and the forest and to the utilization of the great stores of energy on the magnificent water power of the province. Perhaps when electricity has supplanted steam, the day may be near when this province through its University may become a centre for great industries and the home of a rich and prosperous people.

The recent developments of the University have emphasized the service which a university may render its state by providing technical education, a training for some calling or profession. I wish to bring again, to your attention, that this is only part of the service which a university may render the state and by no means the greater part.

I do not refer to the fact that professional and technical schools are too apt to lay more stress on the mere technical skill or the mere technical information which brings a speedy success to the young graduate and at the same time to overlook the necessity of laying a broad and deep foundation on scientific principles and methods. The practices of the best technical schools is moving away from what we may call shopwork and manual skill to the study of the scientific basis rather than the application of scientific information. No profession can make great and lasting progress if it neglects its scientific basis. A study of medicine that confines itself to diagnosis and prescription will end in miserable failure, unless they be based on the principles of physiology, pathology, and therapeutics.

The young doctor who begins practice with a ready-made stock of remedies and short cuts to diagnosis and treatment will soon fall behind his slow and perhaps blundering competitor whose days were given to the study of those principles and methods of science which underlie the art of healing medicine. In a year or two the remedy that was once up-to-date becomes antiquated, the knowledge that was once advanced becomes obsolete. What is needed above all is the power to adapt oneself to new situations, the power to acquire new knowledge, and to solve new problems. This does not come from committing rules of thumb to memory.

May your technical school never lose sight of the great fact that power is greater than information, that mastery is greater than dexterity. I believe its growing principle hitherto has been a thorough mastery of principles rather than a superficial cleverness of a showy dexterity.

But the greatest service which a University may render the country is not in assistance in harnessing nature, not increase of power in extracting wealth from soil, forest, fishery or mine. Wealth, power are not life. They are at the best the means of a good life for the state and the individual.

The greatest service which a University can render the people is in making them better men and better citizens. The need for such work is no less, but vastly greater today than it was a generation ago. The crying need of the nation today, the crying need of our own country, is for greater spiritual forces, greater agencies for drawing the minds of the young men and young women away from the glitter of wealth, the lust of power, the passion for fame to the realities of life. Visions of great wealth, of continental power, of world-wide fame, dreams of empire, of fabulous treasure, of universal homage, have drawn our thoughts as a people and as individuals from those truer ideals of life expressed by Ben Johnson in those noble beginnings,
It is not growing like a tree,
In bulk doth make man better be:
The taint of commercialism is spreading. The principle of competition which the economists have lauded as the ground work of social progress, has its root in selfishness. The emancipation of the nineteenth century which reformers have hailed as the beginning of an era of perfection, has but released, unfettered and unguarded, the spirit of greed, of contempt for the weakling, of indifference to all that does not minister to the appetites.

In our religious life we crave for magnificence, for luxury, for vastness, for prestige and not for opportunities of service. In our industrial life our ambition is success in doing and in control. In our commercial life a madness for great riches and a luxurious luxury has taken possession of us. And in our political life as we begin to realize the vast possibilities of our land, the opportunities for great and sudden wealth, a last for empire and a mad passion for money stifle our consciouses and trample in the dust that sense of duty, those feelings of honour which place the good of others as nations and as individuals before the gratification of selfish desires.

Not so many years ago our public men bewailed the corruption of the electorate. The guardians of the natural conscience poured forth their denunciation upon the heads of the avaricious elector. Today the evil has passed from the constituency to the legislature, from the elector to the representative. A country-side alive with politicians none too scrupulous in their electioneering is a sight which pales in the presence of a legislature whose lobbies are thronged with greedy contractors, with insatiable promoters, with the willing tools of mighty corporations seeking oftener by foul means than by fair, to secure some valuable concession, some stupendous monopoly, some priceless privilege which our children and our children’s children will fight, and fight desperately to recover but in vain.

The fact is patent and cannot be gainsaid. What is the cure? Constitutional tinkering, legislative enactments, administrative changes, all these mechanical devices can afford no permanent amelioration. The measure that was designed as a safeguard may be converted into an instrument of torture. The law that secured the liberty of the protesting labourer became the tool of the tyrannical union. No legislative or administrative machinery will protect the state; covenants are but words, unless there is in the hearts of men the disposition to deal fairly and to live upright.

Whence may we expect this quickening of the national sense of honor, of the individual conscience, this striving of the passion for justice, honesty and honor?

Plato, the great poet philosopher, saw deeply into the national problems of his age and of all ages. Athens was intoxicated with the joy of great victories; was fascinated by the visions of great wealth which the empire brought; was given over to false teachers who smeared over the distinction between right and wrong and worshipped but one god—success. Plate proclaimed with almost divine persistency that the nation’s hope was in its education. Mould the characters of the rulers in accordance with justice, temperance, wisdom and courage and the state will be just, temperate, wise and brave.

That true is still true. Our hope as a people lies in our education, not in our technical education, not in our acquirement of skill or of knowledge, but in our education of character.

Now it seems to me that from our Universities must flow these saving influences that are to permeate the body politic and make us just as well as strong, honest as well as great, generous as well as bold. The universities receive our youth at the most impressionable age, when their minds are open to new ideals, when their impulses are generous, when their ambitions are noble. If our Universities place before them high ideals of public life, true ideals of private conduct, we may rest content that their lives will receive a lasting benefit toward that which is noble and just and true.

The arts course in our University, it seems to me, can do this work as no other can. Here we have the study of the best that man has ever thought or felt, expressed in a form which gives lasting delight, the study of human letters. Here we have in history the story of the best that men have done; here our young men and women meet face to face the mighty thinkers and actors who have grappled with the great problems of life, and have left memorials of their thinking in the systems of philosophy, or the policies of nations. Nor is this all. The academic life so remote from the struggle of the market-place, so kindly to the growth of the generous friendships of youth, so full of visions and of hope promises an atmosphere and a fitting scene for the growth of those virtues which fit men for lives of longer and more generous service to the state.

Such as least seems to have been the dream of that great master of industry, that builder of loft empires, that seer whose look rests on the lovely grandeur of the lofty Matoppp Hills.

To the people of this province should the appeal of public service come with overpowering force. Their political elements have always been the strongest, while the men of other places may become engrossed with the achievements of industry, the triumphs of commerce, or the romances of arts. The descendents of the loyalists surely can never forget that the greatest form of services is service to the State. May this University never be untrue to the highest ideal of public service.

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