1907 Fredericton Encaenia

Address in Praise of Founders

Delivered by: Perrott, Samuel Wright


"Address in Praise of the Founders By Prof. S. W. Perrott" The University Monthly 26, 7-8 (May-June 1907): 215-220. (UA Case 71)

The original founders of this University, as indeed those of many other institutions which have also proved to be of such inestimable benefit to the community are certainly objects of laud, and the more so if they could have realized even to the extent of one half with what results their efforts would have been crowned. But this year marks a further development in the U. N. B. which can only follow in the wake of that fundamental addition to the founders. Hitherto their numbers have been swelled by those who gave the Engineering Building, the Gymnasium and numerous other things, chiefly in the equipment of these. This year they are further increased in a very worthy manner, and it is not difficult to see what abundant additions the future can bring with it to satisfy the rapidly growing requirements of the place. Even now it is in urgent need of a building to accommodate the students with reading rooms, meeting rooms for the various societies and other necessities. No Provincial University as this is for New Brunswick can expect to expand to meet the demands of modern efficiency without a corresponding expansion in its endowments.

I fear the reverence for the Alma Mater, frequently so pronounced with the graduating class, as to make them voluntarily undertake to subscribe to funds for its betterment, at a time most likely to cripple their efforts in starting their own life-work, ceases to glow with the same enthusiastic brilliance when that life-work is well established and success assured.

It is probably due to "out of sight, out of mind." For, given the first foundation, it is the graduates who must lay the foundations of its subsequent expansion and this year it is due very appropriately to the action of a most brilliant graduate that a new era starts for every part of the province in the coming session. I need hardly state I referred to the Hon. William Pugsley, to whom this University and through its benefits the province also must ever owe a debt of gratitude.

The University will no longer feel a lack of any departments to make its curriculum complete ; nor do I mean by curriculum an inexhaustive programme set out in a calendar of which a large percentage of its items have no force, while some others are attempted to be covered by professors actually engaged upon very different work and with too little time to cover that thoroughly. I mean by curriculum an accurate dial, an adequate indication of the work actively being carried on in every department of the Institution, each department being in charge of a carefully selected and highly efficient professor whose whole time is given to the work of that department.

Colleges endeavoring to include in their study courses special branches as, for instance, Forestry and Agricultural Chemistry, no doubt have a very good cause at heart, but without specially appointed professors in the subjects, their efforts on behalf of such important branches of education seem little better than frivolous, and the false impressions that arise from such attempts are more likely to make the members of the community rather satisfied with their own ignorance than encourage any real attempts in the advancement of technical education.

The province has been in sad need of a training college in both these important branches for a very long time, and it must be a great joy to everyone concerned to know that at its own University, where such unique facilities exist in its immense tracts of forest and other land adjoining the college, such departments are being established and will be conducted on the most efficient and up-to-date lines.

Nor is the missing link in the perfecting of our Engineering Department to be denied; as a technical institution it will now be self-contained. Each of the departments of civil, mechanical and electrical engineering will be in the charge of highly qualified professors who are themselves practical engineers, and whose main desire in demonstrating fundamental theory to their classes will be to draw their lines of influence into such a train of thought as to enable them to converge upon the main problems most prevalent in their occurrence in the everyday practice of the profession, and to solve them in the most direct manner.

Between the graduating and the practicing engineer there has always been a gap, perhaps I should say a great gap, though on investigation quite appreciable, yet not so great as to be insurmountable; but always very large in the mind of the man about to start his work in the world. It might be called the gap of self-assurance. In the older types of engineering colleges, students were educated on no doubt very sound but old-fashioned lines, which deviated pretty far from the real requirements of practice; so much so that practicing engineers hesitated before accepting graduates as members of their staffs, as they seemed to require several months' experience in their offices before being of any practical use to them. Consequently a much less educated person who actually had a few months' experience in an engineer’s office, was always preferred as being a useful factor to the concern and likely to be able to carry out from his inception the duties he was required to perform. In his case he started on the other side of the gap; not so the graduate who, struggling with his training experience and a mind imbued with many fundamental principles, endeavored to reconcile them with the requirements of his case, and upon circumspection found that he was indeed striving to crack nuts with the proverbial 100-ton hammer. It is the diminishing of this gap which is foremost in our minds in conducting the final course in this institution, nay, more, we even affect its bridging in part by conducting our work in the form in which it is carried out in practice and fulfilling the requirements of each case by making the investigations exhaustive, its only weakness being the absence of responsibility, a fault incurable, I fear, in every training institution, as it is only by employing men on responsible work which is being carried out and paying them for the performance of their duties that we can make them realize in full what responsibility means. No doubt in other professions there are somewhat parallel cases where the remedy has long since been able to be affected, but unless our training colleges are run in connection with the Provincial Board of Works or the engineering department of a railway company or in some way connected with a source of abundant work, there is little chance of rectifying in full this part of the difficulty. However, of late this difficulty has in part been alleviated by the success which students have had in obtaining summer work on engineering operations.

This practice not only gives additional confidence in undertaking professional work when the opportunity is presented to them, but also fires them with greater enthusiasm to grasp those methods in their training which they then know to be indispensable.

It is to be regretted that the course of instruction in many useful methods has to be supplemented by assurances of its practical use later and thus much valuable time is wasted as well as leaving the unpleasant impression that little attention was probably paid to the main facts; that this is only due to the natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge of our youth, is the most pleasing interpretation to place upon it; but I fear it is more a thirst for knowledge of those things which can most easily be omitted without much detriment to their after-success, rather than the former. But be it what it may, the material with which we have to build up this province is by no means to be despised, and its natural adaptability to practical methods would awaken the envy and admiration of many such institutions in the mother country if brought in contact with it. Nor have we reason to be ashamed of our graduates, who though only dating from 1899 and the majority since 1904, yet hold some of the most responsible and useful posts in the profession. It has been asserted on more than one occasion by the chief engineer of an important railway in the States that in making a choice of men for engineering posts on that line he prefers U. N. B. men to graduates of any other University, and arrived at this decision from his experience of them. Our graduates of last year in Civil Engineering have well maintained the reputation of their predecessors, and are all doing well and holding posts inferior to no 1906 graduates of other-colleges. One, with phenomenal nerve, obtained a contract on railway construction and finished it with excellent results and a profit for himself of over $1,000 per month. Another holds the chief post of resident engineer with eminent success on extensive constructional work on which six engineers from one of the largest and most prominent institutions in the country, namely, McGill, are holding inferior posts, one being a graduate of 1905. Of our other 1906 graduates I have also a record of most of them having been actually promoted during their year of work. This remarkable success of our graduates is in large measure due to that closer personal supervision during their training which is possible in an institution of the dimensions of our engineering department, but utterly impossible in the larger engineering colleges, where each student becomes lost in the crowd and the principal test of his efficiency is examination, the more important test derived from intimate observations during routine in drawing, office and laboratories being obliged to occupy a very secondary place.

Engineers stand in very close relationship to all commercial and indeed social activities through their work and its relation to modern expansion. Indeed, in their relation to commercial life they stand in very close proximity and it is a matter of the utmost importance for the maintenance of the integrity of the profession that the young engineer before exposing himself to the dangers of baneful influences should set for himself a high ideal, a high standard of excellence to be maintained in all work under his care, and the fact of its being lowered on any specific occasion by his superiors should on no account lower his ideal for the future. The principles that the quality of work is the first thing to be considered and that no amount of profit is worth having if obtained by methods other than those which would be adopted by a gentleman, are very sound and cannot fail to be interpreted correctly. Nor is the prevalent impression feasible that an engineer in his private capacity may continue a gentleman while in his business affairs he sets "smartness" before honesty.

The rapid strides due to the evolution of science made in almost every direction during the past fifty years in what is called civilization, continue to sweep along with ever-increasing velocity, developing in its onward extension new branchings, each in turn to be extended and again sub-divided; and this process repeats itself with ever-increasing regularity till the vast host of branchings has not alone become unwieldy to our mental grasp, but the very names by which they are denoted now overcrowd the memory. Nor has education attempted to keep pace with this onrush, as regards the production of skilled specialists for each of these branchings; but year by year a larger and more complex variety of subjects have to be dealt with by single individuals whose training consequently requires to be of a very high order and with capacity for training above a fixed standard. What this standard is to be in future one hardly dares to think; but the problems to be solved in our daily life indeed continue to become so much more complex day by day as to make it imperative for our own safety and that of the community at large, that none but very efficient and highly trained persons should be allowed to undertake such responsible work. It may be said that these posts have been held by men of moderate training hitherto, and what objection can there be to their continuing to do so? I say the limits of their capacity will sooner or later be passed on some important problem and with it the limits of the factor of public safety. Such disasters are happening every day, but that they may not continue to happen in an ever-increasing ratio, it is essential in making selection of persons to.hold responsible posts, that their training and competence be first considered and on that alone the selection be made, provided their characters are not at fault.

It is very much to be deplored that political influence should play such a large part in the selection of candidates for important engineering posts in this country. The fact that other nations adopt these practices is no justification to us Canadians. Nothing can be more damning to the welfare of the public than this prejudiced selection of fit—or as often unfit persons to carry out work probably thus doomed to imperil the community. On the other hand, the chances of appointment of the most highly qualified without that useful "pull" are indeed small. No doubt they may be honored with the assurance that their names will be kept on record in a prominent place or in the waste paper basket, but this not supplying the means of livelihood, forces them to go elsewhere. What is the advantage of going to the expense of a scientific training to qualify for responsible posts, if these can be obtained without any training and probably at the age for starting training. There is a common expression I have often heard used in the mother country, "anything is good enough for a railroad." But exact and scientific methods of calculation in this country suggest that here we think otherwise; would that all those who have most influence in the selection of men to make these calculations would fall in line and also think otherwise. It is through their failure to do this that the very efforts on behalf of higher efficiency are nipped in the bud and the real demands of the country remain unsupplied. Nor is the remedy likely to be forthcoming till training qualification takes first place in the selection of candidates and is rigorously adhered to. Then shall we feel that all works being carried out for the public use are under competent supervision; then only will that security due to a trusting public be maintained and unexplained accidents cease to be so prevalent; and then and then only will that natural freedom from fear of mishaps be established in the minds of all, and we with the graduated class shall indeed find ourselves safe—safe, in the wide, wide world.

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