Universities—Some Crises of Misunderstanding
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 22 Jan 1976, p. 218-231

Chant, Dr. Donald A., Speaker
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Problems and crises facing Canada's universities. The true role of universities as institutions, and the original roles of universities: "to create new knowledge and understanding, to transmit these things through education, and to act as repositories for them." Recent pressures and attitudes have focused great attention on universities as centres of training. A discussion of this essential disparity of views of the role of universities. Canadian universities' global status as centres of research, funded and supported by government and the public. Prospects for achieving adequate funding, particularly for vital scientific research. Recent discoveries and inventions by members of the University of Toronto. The problems and consequences of present federal policy. The issue of the environment and how it is a crisis for universities. The need for support and understanding.
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22 Jan 1976
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JANUARY 22, 1976
Universities--Some Crises of Misunderstanding
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Allan Leal, Q.C.


Ladies and gentlemen: We extend a warm welcome to you all to this meeting of The Empire Club of Canada. We are privileged to have at our head table today representatives of ministries, departments, institutions, associations and groups who collectively bear the heavy responsibilities, share the planning and discharge the tasks of administration of our secondary and post-secondary education system. At the head table, as well, and in the audience, we have worthy representatives of the consumers group.

All of us, I am sure, are aware and have an appreciation of the debt we owe to those in the field of education who pulled us through the traumatic expansionist period of the fifties and sixties, a period of expansion necessitated by burgeoning enrolments at all levels of the system. In such circumstances, it is not the least surprising that mistakes, in one form or another, should have been made. Neither should one cavil at the fact that it should have cost the taxpayer a lot of money. It was Tommy Douglas who said that "a ship that is going somewhere always burns more coal than one that is tied to the dock". The cost in human resource expenditure was equally impressive. The sheer miracle is that we should have done it at all.

I understand, therefore, the feelings of resentment and no little discouragement felt and expressed by those who now view their present treatment as falling somewhat short of an expression of public gratitude. It has all been said before. "If I had served my God as diligently as I served my King, He would not have given me over in my grey hairs!" They do not deserve to be sent to Coventry. Though they must, like the rest of us, learn and strive to live within the limits of a more restricted resource frame.

To speak to us today on some aspects of this very topic and what the future holds, we have invited Dr. Donald A. Chant, Vice-President and Provost of the University of Toronto. In the best tradition of our universities, Dr. Chant is not a professional administrator, but he is a good one.

Dr. Chant is responsible for all academic programs at the University of Toronto. As an academic, he is a zoologist, and was chairman of the Department of Zoology from 1967. He is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. He is a member of the recently formed Canadian Environmental Advisory Council; President of the Canadian Society of Zoologists; and a member of the Ministerial Committee appointed by the Province of Ontario to study the effects of lead in the environment. He has served as Chairman of Pollution Probe, is a director of both the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee and the Canadian Environmental Law Research Foundation, and is on the Fisheries Research Board of Canada.

These offices held and interests indulged do portray the measure of the man.

Dr. Chant, I learn, has a preference for fishing in the waters of Frances Lake in the Yukon. Indeed, his enthusiasm for that old fishing hole outruns even the broad licence normally accorded the addicts of that art. When asked how large the fish were, he replied nine inches! That's not much of a fish! Between the eyes?

We welcome him warmly and it is a privilege for me to call on our distinguished guest, Dr. Chant, to address you.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: I think it might be useful to start by briefly discussing a current misunderstanding which could well become yet another crisis. I am referring to the recent lengthy strike by high school teachers in Metropolitan Toronto.

Naturally, there is concern regarding the position of the University of Toronto as to admission policies with respect to students affected by the Metro strike and the University's comments regarding the academic problems these students will face next fall.

How our admissions officers will manage the several thousand admission requests that come each year from students in the Toronto high schools will not be decided until further discussions can be held with high school principals and senior staff of the various boards of education. As you can appreciate, this is a very sensitive area, and we at the University of Toronto, and I am certain in this context I can speak for all Ontario universities, do not wish to inflict any unfair hardships on the students.

Our President, Dr. John Evans, has outlined the policy of the University regarding admission of students from Metropolitan Toronto schools affected by the teachers' strike. He has stated:

The University will take all reasonable action to minimize any disadvantage to students.

The University will accept for consideration whatever marks and other academic information are submitted by the secondary schools.

In the absence of full academic information, applicants still will be considered for admission and scholarships. Such applicants could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, however, especially for some of the limited enrolment programs and for scholarships.

The President's final point is, I think, worthy of special emphasis:

I would expect that once the strike is settled, the high schools and students will make every effort to rectify the deficiencies; otherwise the students may be inadequately prepared, particularly in subjects which are specific pre-requisites for university courses.

I want to caution students and their teachers that gaining admission to university, while a cause for some celebration, may not be the end of their responsibilities. That many students will be suffering from academic deficiencies is almost unavoidable, and I urge the students, their teachers, and the high schools, to make every effort to remedy this situation prior to the commencement of university classes next September. A student's academic ranking can be predicted with some accuracy on the basis of incomplete or partial work, but an incomplete grasp of specified knowledge is a quite separate problem. Adequate preparation for university-level courses is essential in discipline areas such as the sciences, mathematics, and languages.

It will be difficult, perhaps impossible, for the university either to reduce the scope of its course content because of the strike or to establish a significant program of remedial courses. We lack the financing, the staff, and the facilities to do so. Already many of our teaching staff are working on an extended instructional load and many of our classrooms, especially laboratories, are in use from early morning until 10 or 11 o'clock in the evening. Scheduling compulsory classes on weekends is a step the University of Toronto has long resisted: it would be most unfair to those students who must work part-time in order to defray the considerable expenses incurred in undertaking post-secondary education in Ontario. And it would put an unreasonable burden on our staff.

Put simply, my message is this: the University will do its best to facilitate the admission of the students affected by the strike, but the major responsibility for adequate academic preparation rests with the students and their present teachers.

Now I would like to comment on some of the other problems, or crises, facing our Universities.

Governments, Canadian society as a whole, and to some extent our universities themselves seem to have forgotten some of the true roles of universities as institutions. They have forgotten the original roles of Universities: to create new knowledge and understanding, to transmit these things through education, and to act as repositories for them. Governments have pressured our universities to grow, to maintain an open door policy, to increase accessibility, and we have played along with this, seeking the increased budgets that accompanied this pressure, perhaps afraid to challenge such a democratic concept. In response to this, society is coming to look on three or four years of university as the normal polish on the regular educational process and many employers now look upon a Bachelor's degree as a necessary prerequisite for entering the job market. Few young people or their parents would disagree.

These pressures and attitudes have focused great attention on universities as centres of training, and somewhat obscured their roles as centres of learning and of research. It would be wrong to say that our universities are not appreciated, I suppose, but I submit that too often they are appreciated for the wrong reasons. I am not suggesting that training for jobs should not be a part of our mandate in universities: I am suggesting that training should not be the dominant theme in our activities, as it is tending to become.

There are abundant signs in Canada today that in fact the dominant image of the university is that of training for jobs, and I will not dwell on this in great detail. One example: recently, when meeting with a group of scientists in Ottawa, a senior cabinet minister strongly expressed the opinion that the only function of our universities is to produce trained manpower (presumably he also included in this trained woman-power), more or less on order. When governments saw the need of additional trained people for the job market, university grants would be increased. When trained personnel were a glut on the market, the financial tap would be turned off. He actually denied the cultural and intellectual values of our universities and stated his belief that research and the creation of new knowledge should be left to government scientists.

An over-emphasis on the training role of our universities inevitably diverts the efforts of staff from education in its true sense, and from scholarship and research the discovery of new knowledge. Only so much time is available to the university staff member for his or her academic activities. As more and more students come to university, the class sizes inevitably rise, obviously staff members must commit more and more time to meeting this challenge and some other areas of activity must suffer.

Education, as distinct from training, should be a process of opening of minds to new knowledge and ideas, a process of intellectual growth and maturation. I judge it a crisis that education is being forced to give way to the pressures and attitudes that I have described.

We must realize that research, and the new knowledge it generates, are like money in the bank. We can hope to meet and solve the problems of the future only if we are adequately armed with knowledge. Canada's recent record of support for research, running the entire gamut from basic to applied, is disgraceful. No other word will do. We have fallen well behind every other major developed country in the level at which we fund university research, and, indeed, the level at which we support research in government institutions as well. But equally disturbing is the situation I am attempting to describe to you today: the distortions caused by the current overemphasis on training means that less and less time is available in our universities for scholarship and research. for the generation of new knowledge. Not only, then, is research in Canadian universities funded inadequately but the time available actually to do research is being reduced by these pressures. If this situation continues Canada may soon be bankrupt of new knowledge and thus poorly equipped to meet the future.

The prospects for achieving adequate funding of vital scientific research are becoming, quite frankly, most pessimistic. The vast majority of research funds originate with agencies of the federal government, in particular the National Research Council, the Medical Research Council and the Canada Council. The federal government is currently implementing a significant across-the-board reduction in the budgets of these three agencies. In addition, the Defense Research Board and Atomic Energy of Canada have cancelled all external grants, including grants for research done in universities and by private industry.

At the University of Toronto, the dollar value of grants for our research programs is 5% less than the level reached four years ago, and due to inflation the effective purchasing power is only 70% of the 1971-72 level. The federal government's spending freeze will mean a further erosion of purchasing power by 10 to 15%, depending on the level of inflation experienced. The Ministry of State for Science and Technology has acknowledged the need to maintain a strong university capacity in all fields of research endeavour. It is regrettable, therefore, that the government has implemented measures which can have only an additional adverse effect on a situation which the Ministry recognizes as "a net loss of university research capability".

If you will permit a second parochial reference: mention the term "research" in connection with the University of Toronto and you will likely receive the reply, "insulin". Research at the university did not stop, of course, with that great discovery by Drs. Banting and Best in the 1920's. I would like to acquaint you with some more recent discoveries and inventions by members of our staff, about which I suspect there has been little or no publicity.

A "Trace Gas Analyser", which has wide application in areas ranging from trace-pollutant detection to medical diagnosis; the analyser is used to quickly and accurately detect even minute amounts of toxic substances in a patient's body.

"Fibre Reinforcing Composites", a type of building material particularly useful for sealing cracks in concrete structures such as road bridges or swimming pools.

A research team began work in 1965 on an artificial pancreas and today there exists a bedside machine which effectively monitors and controls a diabetic patient's condition; three such machines are in use in Toronto and the invention is widely used in hospitals throughout the world.

A Lipid Research Study, in which a team of doctors is examining the co-relation between high amounts of fats and cholesterol and cardio-vascular disease in male volunteers between the ages of 35 and 59.

One project with significant application for those in the community outside the University is an on-going psychiatric study of stress in those who care for the dying, the bereaved, and so on. If the necessary financial resources are available, the researchers hope to launch a study on executive stress. Perhaps they should start with our own administrators in Simcoe Hall!

Two of the many successful projects undertaken by the Institute of Bio-medical Engineering include utilizing a computer and developing specialized surgical instruments for use in organ transplant operations, and the development of two unique pacemakers to control heartbeat and to straighten the spine.

The "Laser Beam Image Recorder", an ultra-high precision optical and electronic device which can scan and allow for distortions in high altitude photographs. In the field of genetics, members of our staff are taking the lead in studies which seek to direct sensitive genetic discoveries into such useful channels as the prediction of birth defects pre-natally and more intensive research into tragic genetic diseases such as Mongolism.

Other recent inventions in the medical care area include an artificial knee joint device, a computer reader for scanning the effectiveness of drugs on germs, and improved materials for patient blood-oxygenating devices.

In the critical field of energy research, our Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering is submitting to both the Ontario and federal governments an 850-page report outlining 22 projects. If approved, these projects would significantly assist both levels of government to develop a diversity of energy resources and thus prevent the excessive dependence on one fuel which made the Arab oil embargo so traumatic for the developed world.

To mention just one individual, Professor Howard Rapson of the Department of Chemical Engineering enjoys an international reputation as a pioneer in the development of both theoretical formulas and practical industrial processes for bleaching in the pulp and paper industry. Dr. Rapson has obtained patents in 30 countries on no less than 33 inventions. In addition to supervising a number of specialized research projects, he manages to maintain a full teaching load of undergraduate and graduate courses.

I could go on at much greater length, but I'm sure you have grasped my essential point--namely that our universities have demonstrated the capability to undertake successfully a wide variety of research projects, and not only theoretical studies, but also vital and critical investigations whose results significantly affect the national interest of this country. We have the human resources, but we lack the financial resources which only private industry and especially governments can provide.

Research is, of course, a continuing process and a second reason why I outlined this all-too-brief list of projects is to give you some indication of the scope of activity which will be drastically cut back or even abandoned if the present federal government funding policies are continued. Researchers cannot rest on yesterday's laurels; they must constantly update, innovate, improve their findings. Without funding sufficient even to match the effects of spiraling inflation, socially important discoveries such as those I have listed simply will not occur. And all of society will suffer.

One of the most perceptive comments on the nature of this crisis in research was made a few weeks ago by a colleague, Professor John Polanyi, one of Canada's most distinguished research chemists (his speciality is laser technology) and a person with considerable experience as a member of several National Research Council grants committees.

"Our neglect of science," Dr. Polanyi wrote in The Globe and Mail, "is something that sets us apart from countries with which we might reasonably compare ourselves. In the United States, in France, in Germany, even in beleaguered Britain, the support of basic science has roughly kept pace with inflation. Only in Canada has inflation been used, year after year, as a device for diminishing the nation's investment in this fundamental activity ...

"If we continue on our present course, the scientific understanding and the decisions that stem from it will be defective. For this we must blame our own shortsightedness in permitting the undermining of the nation's basic science effort, with barely a voice raised in public in protest."

In my opinion, the combined effects of the present federal policy will be the curtailment of many important projects and the break-up of skilled research teams which have taken years to assemble and train.

This is nothing less than a national disgrace.

Now, let me turn to another crisis facing the universities. I have a certain preoccupation with environmental matters. Many environmentalists today are deeply concerned with the phenomena of growth and consumption and are developing the concept of the Conserver Society. The acceptance of the idea of limits to growth is spreading quite rapidly through our culture, at least in principle. We are coming to recognize the finite nature of the environment in which we live.

There are finite limits to the non-renewable resources on which we depend so heavily, resources of fossil fuels, minerals, and all the rest. We are even pushing the finite limits of many of our so-called renewable resources: fish stocks are dwindling alarmingly, many of our forests are denuded, and so on. And we have seen that there are finite limits to the capacity of the environment to absorb the waste materials and toxic substances with which we assault it in such incredible amounts. In short, we know that many kinds of growth must be limited in the very near future. We do not yet know how to do this effectively in most cases, and we cannot accurately predict the effects of limiting growth on our own society, let alone the global society. However, one thing at least seems certain: limiting growth will cause many frustrations and resentments. The growth ethos is very strong in the culture of western humanity. It is equated with progress and, without growth, our traditions tell us there can be no progress.

Throughout most of the evolution of western humanity and of its culture, progress has been one of the basic ideals, and faith in perpetual progress has been a dominant force. It is doubtful that such a strong ethos can be abandoned in a single generation or two.

An answer to this problem will be to examine carefully many kinds of growth, identifying those that are malignant and have serious negative effects in the environmental and resource context, and those that are benign and seem to have no detrimental influences. Those that are malignant must be limited but those that are benign should not. In fact, in order to alleviate the frustrations of limitations to growth and to continue to accommodate our equation of growth with progress, we may even wish consciously to hasten growth of benign kinds.

There are a number of kinds of benign growth, even beneficial growth: growth in leisure and recreation, growth in humaneness and tolerance, spiritual growth. And there is intellectual growth, which not only provides knowledge for the solution of future problems, but which has strong inherent values of its own which we can encourage as ends in themselves.

One of the things that deeply concerns me is that much of the excitement of learning and of exposure to new thoughts and ideas seems to be missing in our universities today. Our staff and students are losing the opportunity to experience the thrill of an original thought. Such thoughts are rare at the best of times and they are not nurtured by the situation I have described, the crisis of misunderstanding.

I can remember when I was a graduate student in England twenty years ago, the almost unbearable excitement when I was able to travel to Germany and to meet other scientists who were doing studies similar to mine. I had the opportunity to match ideas with them and to strike sparks against their minds. I was so excited that I was unable to sleep at all for several nights.

I have experienced similar intense intellectual excitement perhaps a dozen times during my career and have seen it frequently in others. I hope that each one of you has had this experience at times during your careers, and frequently. But I wonder, and I am fearful. I do not think this experience is as common as it once was when there was a better balance between training, education, and scholarship in our universities.

Our children should be prepared actively for university study and understand the nature of an education as distinct from a training. They should be schooled not to begrudge but to welcome the challenge of long years of study, the broadening of their minds, the exposure to new and exciting ideas.

This brings me to my final point. I would imagine that many of you have graduated from a university: Toronto, York, Queen's, Western, McGill, wherever. Hopefully, while you were students you derived some benefits from your university, perhaps not to the fullest of your expectations but nonetheless to some significant degree. If this is so, then I believe you must accept an obligation to interpret the university to the people with whom you interact, now and in the future. I believe this is an obligation that extends beyond loyalty to a particular alma mater, and it is a role which can be played effectively even by those of you who have not experienced the benefits, or perhaps the liabilities, of a university education.

Never has there been a time when universities everywhere have stood in greater need of the support and understanding of their graduates and other friends. Through your contacts in business and government, and in society as a whole, you are in a unique position to interpret the values of the university to the outside community. Perhaps the university has failed in the past to tell its story with adequate aggressiveness and pride. But my message today is not about the past. As higher education tackles the problems of the second half of the seventies--and I refer to far more than just the financial problems--our universities are looking anew to the private sector for a variety of resources. We are asking for your help. I believe we have earned your support.

Our distinguished visitor and speaker was thanked by Mr. Duncan Green, Director of Education for the City of Toronto, and a Director of The Empire Club of Canada.

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Universities—Some Crises of Misunderstanding

Problems and crises facing Canada's universities. The true role of universities as institutions, and the original roles of universities: "to create new knowledge and understanding, to transmit these things through education, and to act as repositories for them." Recent pressures and attitudes have focused great attention on universities as centres of training. A discussion of this essential disparity of views of the role of universities. Canadian universities' global status as centres of research, funded and supported by government and the public. Prospects for achieving adequate funding, particularly for vital scientific research. Recent discoveries and inventions by members of the University of Toronto. The problems and consequences of present federal policy. The issue of the environment and how it is a crisis for universities. The need for support and understanding.