Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 14. July 12, 1939
Victoria University College
Victoria University College
I have never been in the mood to level criticism at any of the student organisations of this College, yet in view of a certain amount of feeling that has developed, my mood must be in some manner one of rebellion against the state of affairs as they appear to be. Victoria has for a long time enjoyed a reputation for liberal thought and advanced views on most subjects, especially polities, yet in spite of that, at present it appears to be in many respects the most intellectually barren of the University Colleges in New Zealand.
The defect is not something readily expressible or capable of being understood by many—rather is it felt, and felt very intensely when the desire for knowledge is no longer fogged by the shadow of examinations. "Salient" may serve very well as an organ of certain student opinion, and in that it is admirable, yet remove the ever-present veneer of Leftism, and is there left anything really worthy of a University? it is not that the basic outlook behind "Salient" appears to me wrong—actually I have come to believe that that outlook is in keeping with the findings of science—but the lack of balance and variety of opinion is serious. The remedy appears to lie in the student body rather than the staff of "Salient."
A University should be fundamentally a seat of learning—learning which whether pursued for the satisfaction of some inner urge in the individual, or from a desire to help in the enrichment, and ennobling of the lives of others, scorns the preoccupation with only the immediate material results that it brings. Yet there is in this College too much of a tendency for the student affairs to be left in the hands of those on the side of Law and Commerce, students who, by the nature of their studies, tend to remain under the shadow of the static and traditional in human affairs, yet who possess, so they think, an understanding of the major problems of mankind. It is unfortunate that the atmosphere must he akin to that expected in a night school or technical school, in its lack of a broad cultural basis.
Then we have the problem of the part-timers of all faculties and their struggle to do the minimum of work necessary to pass certain exams. Yet these are the people who appear to take most of the active parts in College societies. It may be different in other faculties, but I fail to see how anyone can possibly do a science course part-time in a manner worthy of the things of beauty which lie ahead. Perhaps we should have pity on them, and not expect too much, realising that some knowledge with little understanding is better than none at all; for at some later stage in life it may supply a certain number of facts to act as a basis for a newly-born impulse towards original thought.
There appears to be a certain amount of hope among the full-timers, and it is indeed pleasing that some of their number have at last woken up to realise that they have a responsibility in running the affairs of the College. The awakening appears to have been a painful affair for all concerned. Among their number are the same deficiencies, but they have the time, and do not know how to use it.
We may remember that the old Science Society of a few years ago died a natural death—a death caused by the failure of the students in the Science Faculty to care about anything but the branch of science in which they were immediately interested. It was a sad thing that we had to hasten the process, and it will be something sadder still if the general lack of interest allows the Science Association, a body now working unofficially and in its experimental stages, to suffer a similar fate. At the present moment in the Science Faculty there are individual societies, serving a very necessary function in their own fields, without one of them daring to mention the name of Science, their Master, or attempting to expand into the more important field of Philosophy, inseparable from Science and from the world around.
There is also an admirable society in the Arts Faculty, at the time of its foundation stirred by impulses more than those of Art alone. Now, this general philosophical outlook appears to have gone, and there has been a withdrawal into the Weltanschauung of Art as something complete in itself.
What does exist in the College appears somewhat deficient—the gap ahead is surprisingly large. It involves all that field dealing with the basic concepts of Art, Science, Religion, and the like, an understanding of which may appear vitally necessary when we have reached some of the higher stages of our quest. I think a thorough understanding of scientific method as a live tool of investigation is necessary before we can get very far in this synthesis. Our environment is known to us as a result of urges coming from within, and sensations from without; the net picture we divide up into small fragments, apparently unrelated, for the purpose of study, and few seem to develop an urge to attempt any re-synthesis. We do not expect the younger students to aspire to these heights which some of the older ones may begin to visualise, yet something can be done in this College, and would be of infinite value in shaping the ideas of those entering a University for the first time. The responsibility would rest mainly on the older students, with perhaps the help and approval of certain members of the Staff. (I have come to believe that the Staff is not wholly immune from this responsibility, and it could very well help by giving some Introductory Lectures along the lines indicated. A balance could be obtained of material relating to the past, and material which is vitally necessary for us at the present. J.D.F. has dealt with this subject in "Salient" March 15, 1939.)
Given a desire of the intellectual societies to attempt something along these lines, there remains the necessity of the Exec. to do its part. Until a lead is given, we cannot expect an active sympathy from that quarter. The responsibility for a move in this direction is of a dual nature. So few of those who really do attempt to think about these problems care to have much to do with the control of affairs—for it is truly a thankless task, fogged with criticism and misunderstanding. It is all a story of infinite sadness, and it is even sadder that those who do encourage the spirit of enquiry should be so impotent to put some of their pent-up feeling into practice; those who really do feel about these matters tend to look with disgust on the petty bickerings going on in their environment, whether in the 'Varsity, or in the larger society of which they are a part. The private lives of scientific and artistic creation appear to us as refuges from this sadness.
Some will ask for more concrete proposals. I can say nothing further—an individual alone is helpless in this matter. Many individuals must become conscious of these matters, and by discussion arrive at something more definite.