1901 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Dixon, Stephen M.



The founders of a University which has already celebrated its one hundredth anniversary have small need of our praise. By law, however, each year at encoenia a short address is given in their honor. Now at the close of a college year in which the students, graduates, and friends of the University have begun and completed a building to be devoted to applied science, we should remember that the founders prepared the way for this, when by legislation in 1857 a course in civil engineering and surveying was established. though at that time the University had not the means and opportunity to avail itself of this legislation, still those who have had control of the affairs of the University seem to have had it always in mind thus, to enlarge its usefulness and we find that first a chair of physics and later a chair of civil engineering was established. the subsequent history of the University shows the wisdom of these steps, though indeed there could be no fear that these changes could be anything but beneficial, as all the larger universities both in Canada and the United States have shown by their attention to instruction in applied science that to them also this side of education seemed to need special development.

We should clearly distinguish between Technical schools properly so called, and schools of applied science, for we find that people do not always realize the very great difference there is between them. The word "Technical" as applied to education has at times been so vaguely used that perhaps it might be better to drop it altogether unless we agree on some sharply defined meaning. As has recently been pointed out by Dr. Barr, professor of civil engineering, Glasgow University, the meaning of the word "technical" has been given as "belonging to an art;" technical instruction has to do with instruction in practice, and so as practice may be continually changing we see that technical instruction differs at once from scientific teaching, scientific teaching being instruction in the unchangeable laws of nature.

In a Technical School besides receiving instruction in elementary science which must form the foundation of each course, the students must be taught thoroughly the work and practice of the various trades, for the object of the school is to make the pupil a really skilled artisan. In such a school then must be teachers who themselves are skilful workmen in their particular trades and able to instruct their pupils in plumbing, moulding, casting, carving, model and cabinet making, machine work of all descriptions, plasterers' and carpenters' work, stone-cutting, tailoring and all trades in which material more or less valuable has been intrusted to a workman, on whose knowledge, manual dexterity and ingenuity depends his employer to get the best return for material supplied and for the time spent in its manufacture.

In former days the knowledge and skill the workman possessed to a more or less extent was obtained during his apprenticeship. In England the introduction of Technical schools is of much more recent date than in industrial Europe generally, and we find that this apprenticeship is still in many places the only means adopted for the instruction of this system are readily seen. The waste of time is enormous. Under able well educated foremen and in large shops where there is plenty of business and which yet are not over pressed with work, it is possible for intelligent boys with a good preliminary education to pick up a practical acquaintance with the work on which they may be engaged, but his condition of affairs is very unusual. As a rule the former have all the work they can manage without trying to teach the apprentices and so keep them continually at one kind of work which fulfils the double purpose of getting some value out of the apprentices and also of keeping them out of mischief while in the shops. The apprentice very often goes to the shop having left school too early and perhaps he could not or would not learn the elementary subjects taught there, and when once bound to his master he probably has neither the time nor the inclination to supplement his scanty store of knowledge. Besides this we must remember that even if the foremen are skilled in their trade and ever so desirous to instruct the apprentices and have time to do so, teaching is not their profession and the ability to impart knowledge does not necessarily belong to the possession of knowledge, a special training in teaching methods being generally considered needful.

Seldom, however, do the foremen have more than a particular knowledge of their own special departments, and we find that in most work-shops so-called "rule of thumb" methods prevail in which the intelligence of the workmen is entirely neglected and which make the best workmen mere accurate copyists.

In this apprenticeship system which has been adhered to so closely in England we can find an explanation of the bad and good qualities of British workmanship. As a necessary consequence we find little inventive ability and a close adherence to patterns, of which Americans so often complain. It is an example of how the thoroughly practice man without theoretical training is unable to adapt himself to changes of practice. Of course a system that has obtained so long has its good qualities and we find them in the solid workmanship and careful finish which characterize British manufacturers. This no doubt is partly due to the fact that the workmen have as a rule during their seven years of apprenticeship been kept on the same kind of work under a master's eye ready to see any defect due to clumsiness or carelessness. In this system the pupil, as we may call him, no matter how stupid, no matter how unfitted for the work he has to perform, remains in the ship for the whole period of his apprenticeship and even if in his case practice does not make perfect, still early in his life he finds his level and his master finds what he can do and at this work he is continually kept. A perfectly monotonous existence begins, but if he is industrious he is likely to find employment in a trade he has been forced to learn. Such a workman, however, has small chance of ever being more than a mere machine, laboriously copying the work of others, never likely to improve his own condition, and incapable of advancing the particular branch of industry in which he finds himself. In looking at this dull side of the first great system of technical education we must not forget that nearly all the great English mechanics, inventors and engineers served their apprenticeship in the ordinary way, but in their cases we find that many other factories prevented their being crushed by this system--great natural ability, a good preliminary education, opportunities for reading during the term of pupilage enabled them to make the best use of their practical training.

It is to supplement this method of Technical Instruction and not to supplant it altogether that Technical Schools for Artisans have been introduced. The pupil must be instructed in science that he may understand the reason of work he does in the shop. As before, however, shop work will take up most of his time since manual dexterity is one of the chief objects desired.

The great difficulty in such schools at present is to obtain suitable teachers. The really technical part of each grade has to be taught and the number of men skilled in their trade who possess at the same time a thorough knowledge of the theoretical side of their work and the ability to teach has been found so far, very limited. The available supply of these men as teachers in Technical Schools is far more limited because unfortunately the remuneration of such men as teachers is in no way compared with the wages they might receive in engineering work.

This however is a matter that time will change, and thanks to the present Technical Schools (though not at all as efficient as we would like them to be) we shall before long have a large number of mechanics, thoroughly trained in both the technological and theoretical side of their trades from which its future instructors may be drawn.

In schools of applied science, the engineer using the word in its widest sense, is trained. Again starting with a definition we find one ready in the words of Indgold: Engineering is the "art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man." From this definition it is evident that the most complete knowledge of the laws of nature would be useful to the engineer and so his theoretical training should aim at giving him instruction in these laws. Mechanics, chemists, or experimental physics must be especially studied and in addition to elementary mathematics, a course in advanced mathematics must be given, such as has been pointed out by D. Hopkinson in a recent section.

Engineering differs from the other profession of applied science, medicine, in being a mathematical science. Without thorough instructions in mathematics no one should be called an engineer. It is true that much work is done by copying the work of others, this being sometimes called following the preceptive, but we must remember that this is a fruitful source of great mistakes. Good practice ten years ago would not be good practice in many things to-day, and skillful designing must take account of all the circumstances of each particular case. Many so called practical engineers place their reliance on formulas they find in pocket books or trade manuals, and make use of them without knowing or caring to enquire what assumptions have been made in obtaining these formulas. The man who has only practice to guide him can never do original work as long as he adheres to practice, and a sound mathematical education would save many men much experimental work and anxiety. That a theoretical training is necessary in order to fit men to deal with the great problems of engineering, seems reasonable to most men. As M. Price, past President of the Institute of C.E. says, "it is indeed difficult to remove the scales from the eyes of a man who has been successful in business and who knows not his own business." The work of the engineering profession is so large and so varied that some men of ability may succeed in it from the fact that they possess other qualities than engineering skill. The promotion of great schemes and financial management of mechanical enterprises requiring some engineering knowledge may lead to some men being looked on as great engineers and their success in some cases lead many people to suppose that theoretical training and mathematical education is not necessary. The work of such men however though much more remunerative than that of the engineer they employ is outside of engineering altogether. Their ability lies in another direction and schools of applied science are not intended for their instruction.

For the preliminary and scientific training a University is the right place, and so the great engineering schools are generally found as professional schools in connection with Universities. When this is not so we find that the requirements for entrance are such that the students will generally be graduates of Universities, or the course is so arranged that the students have a course similar to the arts course of a special scientific course. In no other profession are the advantages of a real education such as can only be obtained at a University more readily felt. The success of the Engineer needs especially the ability to deal with men. If we look at the works of those who have written on University Education, we shall find the schemes there laid down combined with special scientific training on those which alone will fit man to become a successful engineer. The engineer must first be an educated man and must have a special scientific and technical knowledge. General Francis Walker said in an address published a few years ago "many technical schools have made a mistake in throwing out philosophical as distinguished from scientific, liberal as distinguished from exact studies from their curriculum. those technical schools will best accomplish their purpose of usefulness which make more of the science than of the arts, mor of principles than of their application and which offer to their pupils in addition to those studies which make them exact and strong, some of those studies and exercises which will help and make them at same time broad and firm."

The technical work of the science school should be general rather than special and methods rather than details should be studied. But of course in all laboratory work accuracy should be required. Slip shod work is worse than no work at all. To spend several hours on an experiment and get no result may be simply a waste of time. But the student's time must be properly proportioned amongst the various studies. In mechanical engineering it is the methods of workshop and not manual dexterity that the future engineer needs to learn. In the physical, chemical and engineering laboratory the student should remember that accuracy is especially needed in each experiment, but that the experiments are preformed in order to thoroughly understand the theory. In each case, the attention and care needed to get reliable results should be exacted from the student.

The founders of the University of New Brunswick believed it possible to teach engineering here, and judged by results we must admit they were right. Our University arts course allows the engineering students to obtain all the necessary training outside its technical instructions which have been provided for by the founding of the chair of civil engineering. With the student in arts, the engineering student attends the lectures in astronomy, chemistry, economics, geology, modern languages and physics. The facilities for teaching chemistry and physics have been imminensely  increased by the ample accommodation furnished those departments in the engineering building. The work in the civil or technical engineering course is no longer hampered for want of room and special apparatus. By the end of July, thanks to the Madras Board, the provincial government, the city of Fredericton and the many friends of the University, the engineering lab oratories will be equipped in a way that a few years ago would have seemed past all expectations. The large drawing room completely equipped, well lighted and well heated will give all the necessary accommodation. The dynamo and motor obtained by Prof. Downing three years ago from the Canadian General Electric Co., will be driven by a 12 H. P. high speed engine, and boiler being built by Messr. Robb of Amherst. In addition to this Dr. Scott will have a large strap battery which will furnish the current experiments and lighting purposes at all times. The cement tester which owes its existence to the engineering graduates assisted by the provincial government is now set up in a properly equipped laboratory with all the modern appliance for testing cement. Messrs. Rhicle Bros. of Philadelphia, are building a 100,000 lbs. steel tester for the engineering laboratory and when this is in position, steel used on public works will be tested in the engineering school instead of at McGill University or Pittsburg as at present. The Chemical department has been enriched by a fine chemical balance presented by the class of 1894. Such an equipment in addition to the fine set of surveying instruments which the engineering school has possessed for some time will allow the practical work to be taught in a very satisfactory manner.

To its graduates and friends the University owes much for help in these matters during the past two years, and such a good start has now been made that we may be very hopeful for the future. A substantial building and all the more expensive and most necessary part of the engineer's equipment has now been obtained. The help given in the past shows us that we have many friends interested in the welfare of the University and what we now need is some little help each year so as by degrees to bring our equipment to as high a state of efficiency as possible.

New Brunswick students in engineering have now greater advantages and brighter prospects than ever before. The advantages of small schools if well equipped are well known. Individual teaching in the laboratory and drawing room is absolutely necessary as otherwise the student loses much time, and in an engineering course the student has not time to waste. The field for well trained engineers was never more open. In all directions we see great engineering works contemplated, and the large amount of new country opened up during the past year promises continual increasing work for engineers.

To the Founders of the University of New Brunswick is due our praise, since, thanks to them, it is now possible for those who wish as engineers to take part in the development of their own country, or who wish to practice their profession in other lands, to obtain the necessary professional training along with their University Education in their own province.

Addresses may be reproduced for research purposes only. Publication in whole or in part requires written permission from the author.