The University and the Republic
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Nov 1959, p. 92-101
Hutchins, Dr. R.M., Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A joint meeting with The Canadian Club of Toronto. The situation with regard to universities. Many contrasts and comparisons made between Canadian and American universities. The problem of specialization in an institution of learning that is trying to be a centre of independent thought. The changing status of research at universities. Difficulties with programming. The futility of ad hoc instruction in an age of rapid change. Pressures that universities have to deal with. Sources of financial support for universities, and problems with them. The need to have a vision of the purpose of a university against which proposals pressed upon it may be tested. What should universities be doing? Universities as centres of independent thought about the most important and permanent concerns of the community. Surviving in a new world: the role of the university.
Date of Original
16 Nov 1959
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Full Text
An Address by DR. R. M. HUTCHINS
Joint Meeting with the Canadian Club of Toronto
Monday, November 16th, 1959
CHAIRMAN: Mr. John Proctor, President of the Canadian Club of Toronto.

The speaker was introduced by Dr. Claude T. Bissell, President of the University of Toronto.

DR. BISSELL: I am grateful to the Presidents of the two Clubs that are meeting here today for asking me to introduce Mr. Hutchins. I think that since our distinguished guest might be looked upon as a surgeon, I shall use the English method and refer to him as Mr. Hutchins. It is an honour to introduce the man who for the last three decades has been, certainly on this continent, our most penetrating critic of education.

Now, as President of the Fund for the Republic, he remains an educator, no less powerfully so, than when he was President and then Chancellor of the University of Chicago, for the Fund for the Republic is directed, and I quote, "To the education of the American people to a more profound understanding of the Bill of Rights, and the responsibilities those rights entail."

Mr. Hutchins is thus still concerned with higher education. Indeed, I might say he is concerned with the highest education, for in his new position he can concentrate on fundamentals. Concentration upon fundamentals has been the constant emphasis of Mr. Hutchins' speaking and writing on education. When he was the chief Executive of a large and complex university he gave priority to basic issues and these did not include public relations and fundraising, although in a highly unorthodox way he was successful in both.

By fundamentals he means the purposes of education, quite apart from any professional goals, and the best means of realizing them. He has been a scathing critic of the spirit of vague benevolence that hovers over much talk of education and leads to blurring, indistinction and confusing of goals.

I have no intention, Mr. Chairman, of attempting even in this general manner to anticipate what Mr. Hutchins will say. He is no exponent of the party line. He believes that education is essentially a great debate in which the unpardonable sin is to cease to strive for truth and he holds with Emerson, of whom he is the modern interpreter, that all foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Several years ago Mr. Hutchins delivered the Marfleet Lectures at the University of Toronto. These were the most enjoyable and most productive lectures delivered at that University up to that time and delivered against the background, if I may say so, of a high standard of public discourse.

My colleagues of the University of Toronto are delighted that the major Clubs of this city have come together to bring Mr. Hutchins here today. We can think of no person better qualified to summon us back to first principles and to do so, as you will see, with wit, lucidity and eloquence.

DR. R. M. HUTCHINS: I return to Dr. Bissell my grateful thanks for his very generous words. I must take this opportunity to give thanks to you for the honour you have done me, and also to Canada and the University of Toronto for all that they did for me when I was a University President.

Twenty-five per cent of the Deans of the University of Chicago were always Canadians. The Doctors of Philosophy produced at the University of Chicago were almost all graduates of the University of Toronto. The Encyclopedia Britannica, of which I am Chairman of the Board of Editors, is now at last on its way with a Canadian President. We celebrate today the achievement of promise of one of the great universities of the world. All of us south of the border must be grateful to Canada for giving it to us.

When I first came to Canada thirty-five years ago I came as Dean of the Yale Law School with the Dean of the Yale Medical School and we were determined to raid the Faculty of the University of Toronto. We went back with only two pints of whiskey thoughtfully provided by our host, which we had to sit upon while crossing the border. I learned then both of the excellence and the loyalty of the Faculty over which Dr. Bissell now presides with such great distinction.

After that I learned much about university administration from my friend, Sidney Smith, and much about universities and everything else from my friend, Harold Innis. Dr. Bissell, Dr. Smith, Harold Innis and their predecessors, associates, and successors made the University what one ought to be--that is the centre of independent thought. As such, I think the University of Toronto is a triumphal reflection of the Canadian character, one of the great academic achievements of our age.

Think what the difficulties are! Just think of the difficulty of trying to be a centre under present conditions. The great obstacle, of course, is specialization. Specialization is at once indispensable and ruinous. The university now has to have departments running from Anesthesia to Zymurgy.

Since I became an officer of Yale in 1933 the greatest single change in the universities on this continent is precisely there. At that time it was not even admitted that research had a place in the university. Now, the distinction of a university is likely to be measured by its distinction in specialized research. By this standard, as you all know, the University of Toronto is one of the most distinguished in the world.

Specialization does not mean that it is hard to be a centre. It is impossible, in fact, in the absence of common schooling, in the absence of a common liberal education, and it is impossible in the face of large-sized and manifold departmentalization.

Every community has to presuppose some kind of communication. This appears to require a common vocabulary and a common stock of ideas. (The American Professors of the Faculty Club don't talk about the weather because they are interested in it. They talk about the weather because it is the only subject they have in common which they can discuss in a mutually intelligible language.)

Toronto has largely escaped this fate, not only because the weather is unmentionable, but it has escaped this fate principally because of the excellence of the Canadian school system, because of the universities' insistence on liberal education and because through federation it has established a principle of communication and union.

If it is hard to be a centre it is still harder to be an independent centre, and the reason, of course, is pressure. This is pressure as to immediate needs, the immediate needs of the individual or the community, and these can be real or fancied needs ... the desires of society, real or fancied, or of any group in society that is powerful enough to make itself felt in the university.

I am sorry to say it, the universities are becoming folk institutions, reflecting the temporary or permanent whims of the American people. They are afflicted by a number of immediate pressing needs. There is, for example, the need to accommodate the young until we are ready to have them go to work. Civilian Conservation Corps has been abandoned and cannot be revived because it is a Rooseveltian idea. We cannot put these young people in jail because they have committed no crime. Therefore, they must become inmates of institutions of higher learning until they have achieved the age that the labour unions and our social prejudices authorize as the age at which they may undertake the business of earning a living. (Under these circumstances it must be clear that the American university has to devote a tremendous amount of its time, attention and money to chaperones.)

In the second place, there is the need that we feel very deeply in our country to introduce the young to the folk ways of the group. This is known as adjustment to the group. You have all heard, I am sure, the melancholy tale of the Oklahoma girl who was at a college there and was asked why she looked so depressed. She said, "I came here to be went with and I ain't." (Failure of education to achieve its purpose with respect to her justified her disappointment with it.)

In Southern California there is a college of considerable distinction in which you will find in the catalogue the following two courses listed: Hope Chest 61, and Hope Chest 61 (b). The catalogue of the college states the object of this course, which is described as a specialized course in the field of homemaking, is to enable the student to learn how to purchase the proper appliances for her home, and it adds in a rather genial if ingenious spirit, that the college has created a special home on the premises in which sophomores, junior and senior girls may experience the more satisfying relationships of home.

Then there is, of course, the need which we feel very deeply to have the young learn to become self-supporting. This, of course, is not new, and it is not limited to the United States. The Dean of Christ Church, about a hundred years ago, was asked by a student what was the use of studying Greek, and he replied, "It is not only the immediate language of the Holy Scriptures, but it leads to positions of great dignity and emolument."

Now, of course there is some dispute about whether Greek was the immediate language or is the immediate language of the Holy Scriptures. You have all heard, I am sure, of the lady who began the study of Hebrew at the age of ninety and when asked why she did so, she replied that if she were about to meet her Maker she wanted to be able to address Him in His native tongue.

But apart from these theological considerations, there is a very practical one, and that is that the study of Greek now leads to no positions except positions of teaching Greek which though very dignified are not of great emolument.

The fact is that ad hoc instruction is futile in an age of rapid change. In the United States, fifteen million Americans move every year. The most obvious fact of life in Canada or the United States is the rapidity of change in technology. If there is one educational folly that is now obvious it is the folly of trying to teach a student to do a particular thing in a particular way in a particular time and place. About all you can be sure of is by the time he graduates whatever you have taught him to do will no longer be done, at least in the way you have taught him.

Consider, if you will, the programme in Beauty at the Syracuse Technical High School, a programme of which the State of New York is inordinately proud. Beauty, as you may know, is a career for women. I do not mean the process of beautifying themselves--I mean the process of beautifying others for pay.

The Syracuse Technical High School, realizing the responsibility of an educational institution to help the young people become self-supporting in any way that is not too disreputable, has instituted a three-year programme for girls in Beauty. The girl enters this programme at about the age of fifteen, and a sample year runs as follows:

She spends forty hours a week in the programme. Five hours are English, which is required by State law. Five hours are driver education and General Science, which appear to be the same thing. Eight hours are homemaking. Two hours are Physical Education, and the balance, which is about twenty hours is devoted to the Beauty laboratory, in which the girl goes through the esoteric mysteries of the science of learning how to do manicures, hair waves, and whatever else the mysteries may be.

What I want to know is what happens if the girl changes her mind between the ages of fifteen and eighteen. What happens if through technological change there are no jobs beautifying anybody around Syracuse by the time she gets through high school? (Imagine this if you can: suppose that style of beautification for ladies should become as simple a matter as it is for men. What, I want to know, would this girl have left with which to face the thermo-nuclear age?)

Then we have a need which we feel very deeply in our country--the need to have jobs done. A few years ago I was being driven across a bridge from San Francisco to Berkeley by a very good driver. He happened to mention that he had just taken a degree of Doctor of Philosophy. I said, "In what subject?"

He said, "Driver education." I said, "Where?"

He said, "At the University of California."

It may strike you as odd that there would be a Doctor of Philosophy in Driver Education. I can explain very quickly the fact that the man had taken this degree was absolutely inevitable. Anybody who has been to California knows California needs better drivers. Therefore, every graduate of every high school in California is required to take a course in driving. This course in driving must be taught him by a teacher who has been taught how to teach driving. Under the practices and laws of the State of California, a teacher may not be taught the subject he is going to teach except by a person who has the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Hence, there must be Doctors of Philosophy in Driver Education.

Now, these are what you might call external pressures, but there is in the United States ... I am sure it does not exist in Canada . . . a very serious internal pressure that operates on all American universities, and that is the pressure for money. The pressure for money arises from those members of the Faculty who believe, usually wrongly, that their salaries should be raised, that their facilities should be improved and that their staff should be enlarged. This pressure is communicated directly to the office of the central administration, and where you have weak men, and Presidents like me, they immediately respond and start out to get the money.

Now the American universities ... I am sure this is not true in Canada ... are convinced that people with money will give it to a university only if they can be misled about what the university is. Therefore, the university gradually changes from what it ought to be into what the ignorant and misguided think it is, because it is unfortunately true, even in the higher politics of large universities, if you give money to a university for a purpose, the university feels bound to carry it out. (The result is that the solicitations that you make disingenuously turn into boomerangs and you find yourself with activities that you deplore, amply financed.)

Now, the question is, how can these pressures be resisted? The University of Toronto has been assisted by the Act of 1906, and has been assisted by the fact that its sources of support have been as mixed as you can imagine. The ideal, of course, is not to take refuge in the law or even the mixture of your sources of support. The ideal is not to have these pressures and the question is whether this can be done. I think it can, and I think that Canada and the University of Toronto have the tradition and the understanding that reduce these pressures to the minimum.

I had a friend who was the Minister of Education of the Netherlands. Under the law of Holland he had the authority to appoint all the Professors in the university whether they were any good or not, or whether the rest of the Professors liked them or not.

I said to him one time, "What happens if you apopint a man who is obviously no good, universally disliked by the other members of the Faculty, to the Faculty, say, of the University of Leiden?"

He looked at me aghast and said, "My government would fall."

In other words, the people of Holland are perfectly willing to have the Minister of Education have these reserve powers, but they were not prepared to have him exercise them, and the reason the arrangement, therefore, under which the Minister of Education has these powers, and that this arrangement worked was that the Dutch people knew what a university was and what to expect of it, and they understand its relationship then under the political society.

Now, the way to develop a tradition of this kind is to have a vision of the purpose of the university against which proposals pressed upon it may be tested, and the way to arrive at this is to ask what a university can do that no other institution can do.

My answer to this is that a university can think. Now then, the range of this limited activity, of thinking, is obviously very wide. The task here if we are going to teach everybody how to think about everything would be enormous and I always remember with great satisfaction the words of Sir Richard Livingston who said, "The good school teacher is known by the number of valuable subjects he declines to teach."

Therefore, a university should be a centre of independent thought about the most important and permanent concerns of the community. The test of who should be a teacher or a student is: will he think? And the test, of course, of research programmes is: how much thought do they require?

I am ashamed to have to tell you I believe in the United States the application of these tests would save a great deal of money, would save a 'great deal of space, and would send a lot of people out into the world to earn an honest living.

We have, whether we like it or not, a new society and a new world, and the first problem is how are we going to survive? We can't hope to solve the problem by plans for bigger and bigger megabangs. We have to solve it by the use of intelligence and imagination, and the notion that the universities have no contribution except to keep young people off the labour market until we are ready to have them go to work means the universities will make no contribution except in the matter of the size of the megabang.

The universities of the United States have established one thing beyond cavil. That is that they certainly can produce weapons of war.

The second problem the new society and the new world confront us with is how can we make this new society free and just. We can't hope to solve this problem by the operations of the invisible hand in which Adam Smith placed his reliance. We can't hope that the by-product of the colleges, of the centres of power, will always be happy.

I will venture one broad generalization: there is no economic theory, no political theory, no theory of society, no theory of international relations we have at present that will explain and account for the fact of contemporary life. Therefore, if we are going to establish guides for contemporary life, we are going to have to think, and the universities should lead us in doing it.

The third problem of the new society and the new world is what are we going to do with ourselves if we do survive? One prediction can be confidently made:--that is, there is going to be a steady decline in the hours of labour. In the United States the hours of labour have declined one-third. We don't know what to do with ourselves now. It appears to me there is only one solution for this as far as the individual is concerned. Only the man who has grown accustomed to the use of his mind can solve the problem of what to do with himself. So it appears that the concentration of the universities on becoming centres of independent thought is required if we are to live satisfactory lives as individuals, or even if we are to preserve and develop our society.

In the face of the problems of a new world and a new society, what we have to have is great centres of independent thought and on this continent we look with hope and confidence to the University of Toronto.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. Lawson, the President of the Empire Club.

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The University and the Republic

A joint meeting with The Canadian Club of Toronto. The situation with regard to universities. Many contrasts and comparisons made between Canadian and American universities. The problem of specialization in an institution of learning that is trying to be a centre of independent thought. The changing status of research at universities. Difficulties with programming. The futility of ad hoc instruction in an age of rapid change. Pressures that universities have to deal with. Sources of financial support for universities, and problems with them. The need to have a vision of the purpose of a university against which proposals pressed upon it may be tested. What should universities be doing? Universities as centres of independent thought about the most important and permanent concerns of the community. Surviving in a new world: the role of the university.