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Report of the Acting President for the year 1948-1949

The Chairman of
The Board of Governors of
The Memorial University College.


Circumstances do not allow me to compile as full a report as the President customarily provides and I shall therefore append factual matters as far as possible in statistical form and give the available time and effort to comment, avoiding repetition of earlier annual reports.

Enrolment: The total number of students enrolled dropped from 397 to 329. This is accounted for in part by the natural reduction in the number of freshmen from the armed services; and the lessened burden upon the staff, premises and equipment of the College was in itself welcome. There are however features which give food for thought.

(i) The proportion of women students has fallen sharply, and this concerns not only freshmen but sophomores. Certain courses are seriously affected, notably Household Science, English and "cultural" studies generally, and social life suffers. It should be remembered that a considerable group of women students, namely those registered at Saint Bride's College, Littledale, attend on only one day a week and are unable to make a full contribution to college life. Women are therefore in a marked minority and this is advantageous neither to them nor to the men.

It does not appear that this phenomenon has been observed in colleges with which we are affiliated. The cause must therefore be local. There appears to be agreement that the determinant is the higher salaries paid for work which does not demand college preparation. This factor operates in other directions and I shall make a comment upon it later in this report.

(ii) Fewer candidates are presenting themselves for training as teachers. In so far as this reflects a stricter selection of applicants it is very much to the good, but it also suggests that the profession is less attractive than it was. The cause is probably the same as in (i).

(iii) The proportion diminishes of students in courses in Arts and Pure Science. Presumably students choose, or are steered towards, courses which promise the most immediate monetary return. However objectionable on ethical principle, this is only to be expected, and there would be no wisdom in raising objection if it were not in part self defeating. More students enter for medicine than can possibly find admission to medical schools; the pre-medical and pre-engineering courses are both very heavy (pre-medical three science subjects; pre-engineering, eight subjects in each of the second and third years), so that many students fall by the way; and young people are put into studies for which they have neither taste nor aptitude, sometimes with very unhappy results.

I regret to have to call attention to the large number of withdrawals which occurred during the year. Some of these are to be explained by sickness or other adequate cause but several are not, and in some instances the Registrar was able to find out details only after persistent inquiry, and it would appear that some students and parents have little sense of obligation to the College.

Faculty: After fifteen years of unbroken service as President, Dr. A. G. Hatcher took sabbatical leave. He and Mrs. Hatcher went on their travels in Canada and the United States with the good wishes of the College and we hope that they will return refreshed and invigorated.

Professor Maddock's health continuing unsatisfactory Mr. R. W. McDougald, B.Sc., was appointed in his place for the current year. During the year Mr. Maddock resigned. His health has improved and the College hopes that he will obtain an appointment suited to his marked abilities. Dr. C. W. Andrews resigned after one year in charge of the Department of Biology and in his place was appointed the Reverend Rees-Wright, M.Sc., F.R.A.S. Mr. Eli Lear, B.Sc., who had been on sabbatical leave as British Council research scholar at Aberdeen University, returned to his appointment as associate-professor and Mr. T. K. Pitt resumed his studies at Dalhousie University. The Department of Physics has enjoyed continuity of instruction but the science studies as a whole have suffered in the circumstances of the last two years and it is much to be hoped that a stable situation may be attained.

Miss Ethel Brinton, M.A., returned from special leave spent at Harvard University and at the University of Mexico. Miss Brinton is now highly qualified in French and Spanish, well supported by a sympathetic understanding of English. She is moreover a very competent and energetic teacher, and it will be a great disappointment if the future does not bring increased scope for her usefulness.

Mrs. J. A. Cochrane, B.A., after giving invaluable help in an acting capacity, was appointed Lecturer in Latin. An ardent and accomplished teacher who wins the warm affection of her classes, she gave admirable service until her health failed a few days before the final examinations. The College was fortunate in being able to get at once the temporary assistance of Miss Rose Carmichael, M.A.

An important addition to the staff was made when Miss Ada L. Green, B.A., was appointed assistant librarian. The value of her work is already perceptible and it is to be hoped that there will be nothing in the future to militate against the College's deriving the fullest advantage from the establishment of this post.

In the course of the year Professor Carew paid two visits to Nova Scotia Technical College, once as member of the Senate and once as member of a conference on Physics. He presented the opinion of the Memorial University College on certain proposed changes in syllabus, and as a result it was agreed to retain English as a necessary subject in engineering courses of the first and second year but to remove the obligation to study a foreign language. It was also agreed to redistribute the subjects studied in the second and third years with the object of relieving pressure upon the students.

I take this opportunity of recording my very deep appreciation of the ungrudging support which I have had from all my colleagues throughout the year. The task of an acting chief can never be exactly easy, but all that my colleagues could do to make it less onerous they have done and I am very grateful to them.

Curriculum: Little under this head calls for comment. English III, a new course, was chosen by six students, which is a satisfactory start. Most of them were third-year education students, and the degree of understanding and proficiency achieved by these men in a difficult course is very creditable. It leaves little doubt in my mind what might be the quality of work done in a full four-year course in Arts.

For many years the College has provided a course in matriculation Latin, specially for intending medical students. Of late years there has grown up a custom of providing other courses in pre-university Latin so that the College is actually conducting various classes in this subject at various stages between grades 9 and 11. This can be done only at much inconvenience. Classes are given to weary students between 4:30 and 6 o'clock. Even if it is right in principle to offer these classes, which is questionable, it seems bad practice to use for them the services of a teacher who might otherwise be relieving the hard-pressed Professor of Classics.

Mr. Harold Goodridge having relinquished his courses in geography they will be suspended until further notice. It is a great pity that the first-rate importance of this subject is not more widely recognized and that the Memorial University College cannot give to it the place we should like. If ever the time comes when it can be put on a par with any other study in a four-year course controlled by the College we shall be fortunate if we can command the services of a teacher of the calibre of Mr. Goodridge.

Next year, in accordance with the modified scheme of studies adopted by the Nova Scotia Technical College, first year students in Engineering will not be required to study a foreign language. This change will no doubt reduce the size of certain classes but as the students concerned have usually done the work unwillingly there may in general be gain rather than loss.

Assemblies: The number being smaller the College has been able to hold assemblies in its own Hall and enjoy the homelier atmosphere. There was one exception -- a notable one -- when we had the honour and pleasure of receiving Professor E. J. Pratt in the Annex (former U.S.O. auditorium). Our guest delighted a large audience with a scholarly and witty address on his poetry, and opportunity was found in the occasion to hold in the Faculty Common Room a friendly union of guests, governors, and teachers. The success of the function suggests the advantage of using college funds for bringing annually to the College a guest of the distinction of Professor Pratt.

Other important assemblies were those at which the College was favoured with addresses given by the Reverend R. T. McGrath, MA., Fred R. Emerson, Esq., K.C., and Miss Ethel Brinton, M.A., to all of whom we warmly acknowledge our indebtedness.

Health: As usual we are indebted to the Department of Public Health and Welfare, its medical officers and nurses, for a complete medical examination of the students. It is good to note that the collective report is more favourable in most respects than in former years, although dental decay continues to be deplorably wide spread. There has, however, been much interference with college life by sickness, falling on the Faculty even more heavily than upon the students, beginning with Professor Ashley, who suffered from appendicitis soon after the College reopened; and ending with an obscure illness of Mrs. Cochrane who has not yet, unfortunately, made a complete recovery. A noteworthy number of students have fallen out of examinations as a result of illness, and in only too many instances this has been the result of quite absurd over-concentration carried out on the eve and in the course of examinations, often in an eleventh hour attempt to make up for neglect. The Faculty will have to consider and perhaps modify its policy regarding these cases of avoidable collapse.

Library: Appended is a large part of the Librarian's report to the President. It is a pleasure to confirm what Miss Organ says about the increasing effectualness of the work of her department. I know from my own observation that such ventures as the publication of a bulletin bear good fruit, and that in various ways the students' intellectual horizon is widened by experience of the library. They have chiefly themselves to blame if they do not reap even greater advantages. The Librarian has spoken to me of the narrowly utilitarian view of reading held by most students. Many unfortunately use the libraries merely as study rooms and visit the shelves only in obedience to orders. This is no doubt chiefly the result of earlier experience, in which books exist as an instrument of study, not as a concomitant of normal life; and in which harassed and insufficiently prepared teachers discountenance, or at any rate do not encourage, mental venturesomeness. Here is perhaps a case for joint inquiry by the College and other interested parties.

At the same time it is only fair to emphasize that more and more students, especially in their second and third years, are using the means provided by the Library in just the intended way, and I have more means than one of seeing how wide they cast their nets.

Building: The Annex (formerly U.S.O. building) has been of considerable service in providing ample accommodation for dances, socials, etc., and also for specially large gatherings such as the Assembly addressed by Professor Pratt. However the important work of the Adult Education Division, which attracted hundreds of students, required that every room, plus seven in the Memorial University College itself, should be put at the disposal of the Principal. This effectually prevented the use of the sleeping quarters (see my report of December 30, 1948), and hence the College continues short of a hostel.

The Annex was in full use during the Summer School.

Progress has been made in planning the projected New Wing and the architect's last plans promised an ultimate design of much convenience and utility. Nevertheless, at the present juncture, when the enrolment is declining and the future of the College is uncertain; when the human needs are, or at least appear to me to be, so much more urgent than the material, it would seem pertinent to remind ourselves of the Latin maxim: Festinemus lente.

A note on buildings would be incomplete without an appreciative reference to the help given by the Department of Public Works. This spring the Annex, (except the apartments) was completely redecorated inside. The men in charge consulted a committee of the Faculty and the result was a scheme of decoration of real beauty. The Department accepted with alacrity a suggestion that two rooms be equipped for exhibitions. These rooms were ready for the Spring exhibition of the St. John's Art Club and visitors commented with approval almost as frequently upon the rooms as upon the pictures.

Quite recently the Department met my request that the cleaning of the Memorial University College be looked into. As a result of the changes introduced I can report that the whole building is cleaner than it has ever been. It really looks cheerful and inviting, and the effect on the spirits of the staff has been remarkable. I cannot too warmly thank the Department and the capable woman at present in charge.

General Remarks: I should like to end this report with some impressions and opinions which I advance as largely personal, though all or most of my colleagues would share them.

Matriculants, whencesoever they come, are less and less well prepared for college life and study, both in the narrower sense that they lack knowledge and mental training, and in the larger sense that they do not know how to direct their lives. This opinion is held generally by my colleagues, whether older or younger, and whatever their academic interest; but symptomatic of the weakness in scholarship is the incompetence of matriculants in the key subject of English. The apparently increasing inability of even good students to express their own ideas with either idiomatic force or grammatical accuracy, and their difficulty in apprehending the ideas of others, are so serious that they formed last year a topic of discussion between the then Commissioner for Education and the special committee of the Faculty.

This phenomenon is not peculiar to Newfoundland. One reads exactly comparable reports from Canada, the United States, and even as far away as New Zealand. I am not aware that these complaints have been made outside the English speaking world. I did note that the compilers of the report (1947) on the State of the Humanities in Canada state that "University Authorities, both in the United States and Canada, express the gravest concern over the standard of English among freshmen. Even such institutions as Harvard to judge by the recent report, General Education in a Free Society (pages 199-200), must give special attention to remedial work in composition for students of the first year.

"Many explanations for this situation are advanced, under such headings as insufficient reading, poor teaching, excessively large classes, unattractive and difficult courses of study, and failure to engage the interest of the student who, through undue stress on an examination objective, misses the central importance of the subject, possibly through the illusion of familiarity. Some of these difficulties apply to other subjects in the curriculum, and one insufficient reading appears to be a deplorable tradition of large sections of the community. Homes with no books, parents who read only daily papers and an occasional magazine, have a negative influence which the teacher of literature finds hard to overcome." All of which seems to point to a possible explanation in the Anglo-Saxon "way of life;" or perhaps our "way of education." Certainly it is incumbent upon us to seek the causes and apply the remedies to an ill which is detrimentally affecting university study. Faced with these difficulties numerous college authorities in the United States are taking part in an experimental application of forms of test supplementing formal examination. The College has full information concerning them and the Librarian has kindly furnished me with a brief description which I insert here.

Some Notes On The College Entrance Examination Board

History: The College entrance Examination Board came into existence in l900 under the leadership of Charles W. Eliot of Harvard and Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia and the original membership was a small group of colleges in New England and in Middle Atlantic States, colleges which drew their students almost entirely from nearby private preparatory schools. Today after fifty years of conservative development there are ninety-three member colleges widely distributed geographically and drawing their students from public and independent schools all over the United States.

Purpose: The purpose of the Board's examinations is to supply through the medium of examinations impartially and objectively prepared, administered, scored, and reported, reliable information on the academic attainments of a candidate, to be used as a basis for prediction of that candidate's academic success in college.

Procedure: No copies of examinations of previous years are distributed. No formal definition of requirements of outline of syllabi of topics to be covered is published. There can be no coaching or cramming for the tests. The theory behind all this is that the examinations should be taken in stride, rather than regarded as the culmination of a secondary school programme and prepared for accordingly.

The complete programme is telescoped into a single day's testing The examinations last six hours in all.

Results: Candidates are simply compared with one another. There is no "passing," or "failing," or honours." The rating reported to the College where the student applies for admission merely indicates how far that student stands above or below the average of those taking the tests.

Scores on College Board examinations serve two main functions: the determination of level of attainment in subjects taken in secondary school and the prediction of success in college. The two functions are by no means related, since students with thorough school preparation tend to do well in college, and students with ability to succeed in college will as a rule be able to demonstrate a satisfactory level of achievement in secondary school.

The tests: There are two tests: The Scholastic Aptitude Test, aimed primarily at the prediction of college success with as little dependence as possible on secondary school training; and the Achievement Tests which have as their goal the measurement of the candidate's mastery of the various subjects covered.

The failure of young students to order their lives aright has become so marked that we are bound seriously to consider an important restriction of the freedom which the College has traditionally allowed to its students as mature enough to be entrusted with their own discipline. One of the worst enemies of the school and college is the attitude of passive expectation induced by indulgence in "movies," radio, and such like.

The foregoing has a bearing upon another phenomenon which is noted in a separate report appended to this, namely the undesirably high proportion of failures and near failures in college examinations. (I am glad to be able to report some diminution in this proportion in the final examinations of this year, though the figure is still too high). No doubt the change to unaccustomed methods of study and teaching is a contributory cause, especially since large enrolments have compelled acceptance of large classes in obligatory subjects but it is not credible that this can be accountable for a fall from a high distinction mark in Grade XI to failure or bare pass in our first examination. It has been noted also that matriculants of wide disparity in actual attainments have scored very similar marks in Grade XI. There is relevant significance in the fact that not a few holders of entrance scholarships are amongst the failures. This suggests that a type of examination may have been developed which permits successful "cramming" of candidates who lack either grounding or understanding or both.

Account should no doubt also be taken of the fact that at least one science must be included in a normal first-year course and that pre-medical students must take three sciences. Now many freshmen have done no study of science, or only inadequately in a "descriptive" manner, without laboratory work. These students often need a year to make sure their footing in scientific study.

The foregoing is not by any means intended to suggest a general decline in the quality of work done at the College. On the other hand the proportion of keen and intelligent students is normal, and a reasonable number of them reach a high standard of attainment and development. It is in fact only when we compare the raw product that comes to us in September with what it has become in June that we realize the value of what has been done in the interval. This observation bears upon the so-called failures, students who have fallen short of 40% in one or more subjects. It is patently absurd to treat as "successful" a man who laboriously (or chancily) puts together 40 to 45% in five subjects, and as a "failure" one who falls below 40 in perhaps one subject. But apart from that a student may have "failed" in every subject and yet had a profitable and enlightening experience. Hence the College does not refuse readmission unless there is proof either of persistent misconduct and neglect or of mental incompetence.

Students Doings: In the early years of the College's life the students societies were the Science Club, Literary Society, Debating Society, Glee Club and Dramatic Club; and in some years there were a Chess Club, Study Groups and Reading Circles. A change was made a few years ago and new, vocational societies gradually displaced these. For some time the leading societies have been the Engineering, Pre-Medical, Student Teachers' and Arts and Science. (The last named, by the bye, consisting of the students not taking a specifically vocational course. The club is still looked upon as vocational, by a kind of negative definition).

The effects of this were: (i) To bring much increased vigour to competitive games, in which "Inter-Faculty" competitions were instituted. Indeed at one time rivalry ran so high that unpleasant features developed and the Faculty had to intervene, but in these respects good has mostly followed. (ii) Interest in the non-vocational societies has waned and in the present year only the International Relations Club has been really vigorous. This is regrettable, especially as our quite numerous older students have no interest in most of the doings of the vocational clubs. It is clear that students cannot be left wholly to their own initiative, even in what concerns their own recreation.

In response to an appeal from a former student now in the Sanatorium, the Students' Representative Council arranged for the provision of enough blood to see the patient through necessary operations. The outcome of this emergency action was, after consultation with the medical officers of the Department of Health and Welfare, the setting up of a system of regular blood-giving so as to create a reserve for the needs of present or past members of the College or for transfer to the general needs of the hospitals. Done entirely on the students' initiative this testifies to the prevalence of a wholesome spirit among them.

The continued high reputation of Memorial University College graduates in universities abroad, the keenness and desire for further study displayed by second and third year students, and the rising public interest in higher education justify confidence in the future of the College, provided that its financial and other needs are met, in relation to the present new and changing social and political context

I should like to express the gratitude of the College to all those who by active kindness, benevolent interest, or in any other way have contributed to its well-being.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,

Acting President,
June 4, 1949

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