The University of the Seventies
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 15 Apr 1971, p. 366-378

Bissell, Dr. Claude T., Speaker
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Looking forward to make some predictions about the future; speaking as one about to shed responsibilities. Beginning with the problem of relating numbers to physical capacity, of determining the limitations of higher education. The sixties as the heyday of egalitarianism. The impossibility of universities absorbing increased numbers. Alternatives. Speculation concerning the system of financial support. The lack of the private college in Canada. Opportunities for individual and private initiative. Changes in the intellectual and social environment. Understanding the sixties. The bureaucratic nature of institutions. The continuation of the student protest movement in the different situation of the seventies. University governance of the future. The general position of higher education in national priorities and esteem. Entering a period of self-analysis and revision. The priority of higher education. Paying particular attention to the development of the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences. The overriding problem of the seventies to maintain a high degree of institutional autonomy within a strong provincial system. Extending the list of great scholars, teachers and artists from Canadian universities.
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15 Apr 1971
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APRIL 15, 1971
The University of the Seventies
Joint Meeting of the Empire Club of Canada and the Canadian Club of Toronto
CHAIRMAN The President, Harold V. Cranfield
GRACE Rev. Dr. Derwyn Owen, Provost, Trinity College


The Canadian Club and the Empire Club are most fortunate today. You of the audience are about to meet an educated man, educated by virtue of exposure to schooling in quality and quantity. With the exception of his years of service in World War II he has been constantly a scholar since he became old enough to cross the road alone. Meaford proudly claims him as a native son, for he was born there early in the year 1919. From Runnymede Collegiate in Toronto he went to University College with the Edward Blake Scholarship in English and History and he had acquired his Masters degree just after his twenty-first birthday. Armed with the Cornell Fellowship in English he went there to achieve further recognition and his Doctorate in Philosophy. He stayed at Cornell to teach for a year, then went back to his alma mater. From there he went into the army with the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders. He fought his war and then returned to University College. Here, ten years after gaining his Bachelor degree aged only thirty, he was Dean in Residence, and remained as that from 1946-56. Then a step upward brought him to the Vice President's Chair at the University of Toronto. He was quickly claimed by Carleton University as their President but remained there only two years before being recalled to the University of Toronto. He has been the President of the University of Toronto from July 1st 1958 to now. Just before taking on that responsibility the Empire Club was honoured to have him address us on the title, "The University and the City". His actual teaching career ranged from Instructor in English at Cornell in 1938 through to Professor of English at University College in 1962. Thus, you see, that in addition to the impossible burden of being Administrative Head of this great university, as it doubled its size, he carried on the full duty of an English Professor into 1962. He seems capable of doing several things at once, almost as a habit, for in the years before this, while he was assistant Professor of English, he managed, as well, to do a two year study of Universities in Canada, the U.K. and U.S.A. on a Carnegie Foundation grant.

In addition to being a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, at least fourteen universities in the United States and Canada, from coast to coast, have honoured him in Convocation with the Doctor of Laws or equivalent recognition. It is little wonder that in 1969 he received the Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest recognition that a Canadian may receive. (Because two men at the Head Table today are Companions of the Order of Canada only makes it commonplace at Empire Club head tables, it is rare elsewhere!) He has continued in other dual roles for he has been Chairman of the Canada Council and of the Carnegie Council for the Advancement of Teaching and of the Canadian Universities Foundation, etc., etc.--all of these without interrupting his function of President of the University of Toronto. That he found time to do his writing as well, is but a credit to his discipline and energy.

Edward F. Sheffield who prepared the foreword to our speaker's book, The Strength of the University, says he has "both style and substance" in his writing and being the, "most quotable and, because he spoke with more frequency than most (senior officers of Canadian Universities) we always had on hand more Bissell quotes than we could use" (and so do I today). May I give you three only, else you consider I would supplant the speaker. In each quotation he is addressing students:

(a) "I urge you to be skeptical of those who would hold up the pseudo-ideal of being "well-adjusted" and who speak in glowing terms of the "well rounded" man or woman, as if the highest aim of university education were the production of dumplings."

(b) "The pursuit of happiness has become the twentieth century nightmare. Happiness is not so much a pursuit as a condition of inner stability and inner knowledge."

(c) "But it is the importance of the individual scholar to which I return. The college may, indeed, be the last stronghold of individualism. When I look around at my colleagues in the College, I see no reason to lament the passing of characters--characters in the Beecham sense. You will recall that in his discussion of a liberal education, Newman did not maintain that the disinterested cultivation of the mind made for the good life, but he did say that the person with a well-trained mind invariably acquired a certain magnanimity of character. The same is true of scholarship. Your scholar may not be a specialist in public relations; he may indeed have a thorny directness in speech and act; but he is usually the character who makes the deep impression and who is remembered long after the more tactful and more conventional have merged with the public they so sedulously cultivated."

In 1958, Time magazine observed that Dr. Bissell was chosen by the Board of Governors of the University of Toronto because he was young (41), vigorous, experienced and authoritative. To double the size of a university from its then enrolment of 13,000 and still keep the quality is a challenge he has most certainly met. His predecessor, the immortal Dr. Sydney Smith had observed, "If physical expansion involves academic deterioration, we ought not to enroll one extra student." I hope Dr. Bissell will tell us something of how well the great "12 year plan of 1958" succeeded as his talk today develops. Here, then, gentlemen, is President Claude Bissell, C.C., of the University of Toronto who will address us on the subject--"The University of the Seventies". President Bissell.


I am honoured to be asked to speak to a joint meeting of the two senior Clubs in this City. One recalls that the Canadian Club grew out of the rise of national feeling in the latter part of the nineteenth century, and that at the time Canadian national feeling was closely bound up with Imperial federation and Canada's responsibility among the nations. Both Clubs have retained this double allegiance--to Canada, and to the wider world; and it is natural for both of you, therefore, to hear spokesmen for higher education, which shares your double emphasis.

I recall that the first speech I gave in Toronto following my appointment as President of the University of Toronto was to the Empire Club, almost exactly thirteen years ago today. The substantive point in that speech was a declaration of support for the establishment in Toronto of a second university. The second university should become, I maintained, "as rapidly as possible a separate and distinctive foundation". At that time the establishment of a second university in the Toronto area was not looked upon as a self-evident truth, and a backward glance at the 1958 setting and subsequent events will provide an instructive prologue for my glance into the future. I recall three reasons, stated with varying intensity, for doubting the need of a second university. One of them arose from scepticism about the predictions of university expansion, even though those predictions were simple extrapolations of known facts. The other two reasons were, in the broad sense, political, and were held by those who had an honest, if mistaken, idea of what was good for the University of Toronto. It was argued that even a great growth in enrolment could best be met by the expansion of the existing universities, in particular by the expansion of the University of Toronto. At the University of Toronto you could build on a solid bedrock of experience, and you would achieve splendid economies of scale. The third argument was simple power politics--not unknown in the gentle, refined kingdom of academia; establish a second university in the Toronto area, and you thereby divide the government grants and the community loyalties.

It is easy to see now that even from the most selfish institutional point of view the establishment of a second university in Toronto was an elementary necessity. Failure to establish such a university would have strangled the University of Toronto with its own numbers, and would have forced upon it a programme of expansion far vaster than the great one upon which it became engaged. But the positive and convincing demonstration of the soundness of the policy of two universities has become evident with the development of York. York has a fresh accent; it is not an extension of Toronto, but a new creation; and it helps to make this City a more tonic place in which to live. York was, of course, the creation of many people, and grew out of many ideas and dreams. The speech of thirteen years ago was only a minor incident, but it is one in which I take satisfaction.

My intention today is to look forward and to make some predictions about the future. I do so with an elan and self-assurance that come only to those who will shortly shed responsibilities. I recall a conversation last summer with a recently retired Vice-Chancellor of a prominent English university; he said that he now proposed to spend his time developing ideal solutions for university problems without permitting himself to be trapped by the facts. There will be, I think, a factual basis in what I say; but it will be general and speculative, and it will be a combination of what I think will happen and what I hope will happen--and these are often hard to reconcile.

I begin with a problem that we have always recognized, but not directly confronted. In one sense, it is the problem of relating numbers to physical capacity; in another and more important sense, it is the problem of determining the limitations of higher education. The sixties were the heyday of egalitarianism. Few questioned the assumption that every qualified student should find admission to the university; but "qualified" was undefined and became increasingly vague. University administrators knew that the public assumption of egalitarianism and accessibility was in practice sternly limited. The professional faculties had quotas, and some of them very exacting quotas indeed, so that accessibility really meant that one could, as a last resort, gain admission to general courses in Arts and Science. In this area, then, there was an increasing number of students who were there for negative reasons, either because they had no specific intellectual goals, or had not formulated any specific professional ambitions. In the seventies the number of these students--and many of them will be sensitive and attractive young men and women--will grow. Without another period of expansion--and both economy and sound policy forbid such expansion--the present system of universities in Ontario cannot possibly absorb these increased numbers. The universities of Ontario have recently suggested that we should think in terms of a new concerted approach to general education, with a central headquarters body charged with the fashioning of curriculum, and a number of centres distributed throughout the Province where tutorial instruction can be carried out. In the report, entitled Towards Two Thousand, which contains this recommendation, you will find a frank admission of this need for several levels of postsecondary school education; with the provision, however, for movement between the areas. It is a hierarchy, but the hierarchy is accessible.

One cannot rule out another possibility in the seventies: that a considerable number of young men and women will decide that a general B.A. is not a necessity, and will turn away from the university, or seek specific vocational training in the Community Colleges. In that case, the problem of numbers in the universities will be less intense than we had anticipated.

My second area of speculation concerns the system of financial support. Financial support of higher education is now almost a complete monopoly of government. Now, I hope that in the seventies this monopoly will be broken by increased private support. (This would be a benign process of which the government would approve.) I do not refer to the kind of private support that was seriously advocated during the fifties and early sixties when it was still thought possible to finance capital expansion, in substantial part, at least, from private funds. The shift now will be toward selective projects of an academic nature, such projects as endowed chairs and, on a more adventurous scale, the support of small, private institutes and colleges within the large public university. The complex university will draw strength from independent areas that are oases of individual enterprise and freedom.

The private college really never existed in Canada. In the United States the private institution enjoyed its heyday in the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth century, and even today universities like Harvard, Chicago, Yale and Stanford are centres of quality and experimentation that stimulate the entire educational network. In Canada it is too late to think in terms of institutions such as these, for the apparatus of the modern large university the computers, the libraries, the laboratories--can be encompassed only by government largesse. Within this wider governmental system there remains, however, an opportunity for individual and private initiative. If, as many observers declare, the real source of wealth in the post-technological age will be knowledge, then the private sphere should claim as its right participation in the process by which this knowledge is systematically stored and increased.

I move now from specific problems to general conditions--to changes in the intellectual and social environment. In the first address that I made to the freshman class in the University I called upon them to strive for angularity. Since then I often think of an aphorism attributed to Goethe, "Be careful what you wish for in your youth because you will undoubtedly get it in your middle age."

I think it is clear now that what happened during the sixties in the universities throughout the world, particularly in the West, was a mild, general revolution, in some respects analogous to the 1848 outbreak of the previous century. Its principal events were Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, the Sorbonne and the London School of Economics. Canada did not have a major event; the central universities felt the shock waves, and a few were shaken; but the only major destructive incident, at Sir George Williams, seems to have been a deviation. But despite the great variety in the range and violence of the student disturbances, they had one common emphasis. That was a protest against impersonal bureaucracy, particularly as it grew and flourished in the large university. Many of the major incidents were triggered by a specific bureaucratic act, by which I mean a correct, but insensitive, response to a crisis.

I pause here to give an example of a "correct, but insensitive, response to a crisis". The following letter was devised by Mr. James M. Shea, Vice-President for University Relations at Temple University, in response to an imagined situation where kidnappers of the President demand a ransom. Like all good parodies, it is at once wildly improbable and wonderfully probable.


Thank you very much for your note of Jan. 25th in which you request funding in the amount of $100,000 by tomorrow evening to insure against the permanent absence from the campus of Dr. Rowland, the university president.

The vital questions raised in your communication have been discussed fully by the president's cabinet, the executive committee of the board of trustees, as well as the ransom committee of the faculty senate.

As you know, all requests for funds must go first to the finance committee of the board, and then to the full board which meets next on April 28th.

If you and your co-conspirators have had an opportunity to read the Carnegie Commission report on financing higher education, you will know that most schools and colleges are experiencing fiscal difficulty. Our university is no exception. (For your information, a copy of this valuable report is enclosed.)

Despite the long hours and hard work by the trustees and administration to cut costs, the university still faces a sizeable deficit this fiscal year.

Because of recent fiscal reverses, the board feels its responsibility to balance the budget far exceeds the real, and sometimes sentimental, attachment it has for employees.

Dr. Rowland has been president for ten years and is now two years from retirement. During his tenure, he has given the university thoughtful and able leadership.

The various university constituencies here regretfully feel that in light of the university's present fiscal crisis, we cannot fund your group in the amount requested. For the record, however, the executive committee of the board of trustees does want Dr. Rowland to know that it unanimously approved a motion to continue the university's contribution to his Blue Cross and major medical plans.

If the fiscal picture should improve in the near future, you have our assurance that we shall review our decision via, of course, the appropriate constituent committees.

In the meantime, please extend to Dr. Rowland the warmest regards of the trustees, faculty, students, and staff."

All institutions must be bureaucratic to some degree; not everybody can participate in decisions, and this means that many of the decisions will be implemented by those who do not understand them. Bureaucracy is, perhaps, particularly hard to accept in the university where the traditional rhetoric evokes a sense of community, a concern for the individual, and a general atmosphere of unhurried contemplation. The facelessness and impersonality of much that went on in the multiversity was, accordingly, all the more galling.

The initial student attack was directed at the administration, which was seen as the recalcitrant core of the bureaucratic process. Now, however, the attack has shifted to the teaching staff. The staff, according to the student activist spokesmen, have turned a great profession into a bureaucracy; faculty are more concerned, so these students argue, with the mechanism of assessment and their status as productive scholars than they are with teaching individuals. In all of this, there is some truth, and much distortion.

I have presented the student protest movement sympathetically, without any reference to the fringe of lunatic violence that usually caught the attention of the mass media. I think that the student protest movement will continue in the seventies, but it will face a different situation, and, for survival, will need more than rhetoric and mass emotion. Students will now have to move from protest to positive action, and that is always a difficult transition. Many of them have been splendid leaders on the attack, adroit and tireless manipulators, brave men on the barricades; but they must now make their mark in a tougher and more demanding environment. If they are to be entrusted with the responsibilities for which they have fought, they must rearrange their priorities, discipline themselves, and abandon any faith in victory by majority or parity. For their sake, and the sake of the University, I hope that they can make this transition. The universities will need their help, and this country will need students so tested.

The student movement has been and will continue to be more important in changing the atmosphere of the University than in altering the structure of university governance. The principal forces for change here come from the faculty, which wants to be wholly involved, and from administrators and laymen, who want a simpler and more direct system than the one taken over from British and American models: one less vulnerable to veto groups, one designed to encourage innovation and not enshrine the status quo. If, in the new system of governance, academic participate in financial decisions, laymen will participate in academic decisions. The traditional university has had not one, but two, ivory towers, and both belong to another age. I believe that university governance of the future will point the way to developments that will come elsewhere, in particular, the closing of two gaps that yawned menacingly in the sixties, the celebrated gap between the generations, and the gap, no less awesome, between those who deal primarily in theory and those who deal primarily in action.

I come, finally, to the most important and the most difficult area of speculation--the general position of higher education in national priorities and esteem. The sixties began with an outburst of euphoric faith in higher education; almost any problem you cared to name, from pollution to world peace, would eventually yield to its wisdom and power. If anything, journalists and businessmen were more enthusiastic about higher education than the educators themselves. Editorials about universities written in the early sixties sound as if they were describing some lost Utopia. I need not remind you that all that has changed: a decent poverty attracted concern, but solvency arouses criticism. Add to this, student arrogance, the tendency for some academics to assume an air of omniscience (especially when they mixed the two mysteries of economics and politics), and doubts as to whether university teachers are as selfless and disinterested as the folk wisdom says they are. As a result of all this, the universities have now entered upon a period of self-analysis and revision, and the mood will continue into the seventies.

But education--and, more particularly in recent years, higher education--has always been a high priority in this country, and it always will be. Even the present criticism of universities for their acceptance of "Americanization" illustrates this. For the criticism arises from the fervent belief that our universities are the principal custodians of the national culture. I share this belief, and I also share the concern that the universities are not sufficiently sensitive to this role. My year teaching Canadian Studies at Harvard impressed upon me that, if we fail to examine our own culture, nobody else will. At Harvard (and this would be true generally in the United States) the chief problem in teaching Canadian Studies is to convince Americans that Canada exists as a cultural and political entity. Almost no Canadian periodical or book crosses the border or the American consciousness; and, if it does, it is assumed to be American. We need, in this country, to pay particular attention to the development of the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences, for these contain the key to understanding ourselves and the means whereby others can understand us. In the current concern about overemphasis on graduate studies, we must not repeat the mistakes of the sixties when the need for teachers, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, could be met only by turning to other countries.

The sixties were dominated by mass movements of students and staff, by the necessary response in physical expansion and the growth of systems and techniques of quantitative measurement. Both the universities and the Provincial Government resisted the temptation to solve all problems by the imposition of a uniform, provincial system. The individual university came under criticism, externally, because it insisted on maintaining its autonomy, and internally, because it adopted more restrictive methods of control. The overriding problem of the seventies will be to maintain a high degree of institutional autonomy within a strong provincial system. Independent universities provide one necessary check on the power of the corporate state. They remain places where strong-minded individuals can flourish. When I think of the University of Toronto, I do not rest long on the external pomp of size and complexity, but rather on the succession of scholars, teachers and artists--in my time, I think of Best, Creighton, Frye, Innis, McLuhan, Polanyi, Pratt, Willan, Wilson, Wright, Woodhouse, Underhill. The list could be greatly extended--men, who taught us and taught the world, that Canada is more than a place of surface activity. This is the true glory of a university. May it always be so.

The gratitude of the conjoined clubs of today was expressed by the President of the Canadian Club, Mr. John Gray.

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The University of the Seventies

Looking forward to make some predictions about the future; speaking as one about to shed responsibilities. Beginning with the problem of relating numbers to physical capacity, of determining the limitations of higher education. The sixties as the heyday of egalitarianism. The impossibility of universities absorbing increased numbers. Alternatives. Speculation concerning the system of financial support. The lack of the private college in Canada. Opportunities for individual and private initiative. Changes in the intellectual and social environment. Understanding the sixties. The bureaucratic nature of institutions. The continuation of the student protest movement in the different situation of the seventies. University governance of the future. The general position of higher education in national priorities and esteem. Entering a period of self-analysis and revision. The priority of higher education. Paying particular attention to the development of the arts, the humanities, and the social sciences. The overriding problem of the seventies to maintain a high degree of institutional autonomy within a strong provincial system. Extending the list of great scholars, teachers and artists from Canadian universities.