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Address to First Convocation

The Address Given to the First Convocation of the University of Alberta Oct. 6th 1908, by H.M. Tory

Mr. Chancellor Members of Convocation, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is with a profound sense of responsibility that I come before you today for the first time in my capacity as president of your university. Positions of great responsibility and opportunity come to few men and when they do, tradition has usually marked out a way, a path well trodden by other men which it is fairly safe to follow. But seldom is it given a man or a group of men to lay the foundations of great institution, and while doing so, to blaze a path into which an established order shall compel other men to walk.

Three years ago His Honour the Lieutenant Governer, acting for His Majesty the King and the people of this province placed upon the shoulders of the Prime Minister and his Ministers the task of making a tradition for the enactment and administration of Law in this new part of Canada. With hands practically free, within the limits of the Constitution, they were given an opportunity to show the world what responsible Government could do for a country which begins its life with the effect of tradition reduced to a minimum. Similarly to you Gentlemen of the Senate and Convocation and to me as your Executive Head has been given the responsibility to say what an educational institution, started unhampered by fixed tradition, may become: as we build, unless we build so badly that our work must be destroyed, others will build after us.

May I also be permitted to recall a fact which I have before stated in your hearing — we are happily and fortunately free from all strife in the inception of our plans. Men of all political parties have joined together to make this beginning possible; men of all religious faiths have said Amen to our efforts. It would appear as if at last there had been found a place in Canada, at least one province in this fair Dominion, where men of all creeds and parties, men from North and from the South, men from the East, men from the West, would join hands to make an institution. whose mission would be to create an intellectual and spiritual atmosphere in which prejudice and hatred could not live, a just institution whose work would be to assist in the unification of the diverse elements which enter our national life.

In one other important matter we are almost equally fortunate. We are starting our work at a time in the world's history when, after centuries of struggle. the public opinion of the civilized world will be practically unanimous in commending our action, for the University has come to be recognized as an essential factor in the life of every civilized community The last century saw the struggle going on, in the English speaking world particularly, between those who demanded such institutions and those who would deny them to the people. The universities, however, so emphatically won the day that no self-respecting citizen will be found in opposition.

In England the development of this spirit can be seen in the growth of such institutions in the great centers of trade and commerce, in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds while in their growth the many universities and colleges, equipped to teach but without degree conferring powers, have received the hearty support of the Imperial Government. The last great step has just been taken; I was almost going to say that intellectually, the last great wrong has just been righted and Ireland is to have its two universities also. Thus has been reached the climax in the growth of that spirit of toleration and liberty which our universities are usually found to foster.

On the American Continent the same spirit has shown itself. This is evidenced by the fact that each state in the Union, however small, has founded for itself a state-supported institution, except where old and strongly established institutions are meeting the need.

Finally in Canada within all the provinces, legislation has been passed for the same purpose and within a very short time an adequately equipped university will be in operation in each.

The truth is, Mr. Chancellor, that the critics of such foundations belong to, a past and not the present age: Today no civilized state in the world feels that it can afford to be without its university.

When one comes to inquire into the causes which have operated to produce such institutions a complex problem presents itself to us.

In the first place they have arisen as a result of the demand of the intellect pure and simple. Quite apart from practical results, the restless energy of the human mind, slow to accomplish results, but never resting in its efforts, has demanded that a place should be found where men may be given an opportunity to fit themselves by rigid training to solve the problems of life. Thus it has become the task of the university to hold up the highest ideals of life; to help create in the hearts of men and to sustain in them a love for those things which are higher than food and raiment; to emphasize the teaching of the greatest of all teachers that man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. It has become a part of their recognized responsibility to instill a love of those things which really constitute greatness; to emphasize the things of the mind above those of the body; in relation national life to place patriotism above party; in our relations to others to place love above hate; in our relation to knowledge to choose truth and not error; in our relations to ourselves to be men not things.

The form in which the university life expresses itself varies in different countries. The universities of Germany are wholly unlike those of France; those in England differ from those in Scotland.

The American universities are unlike those in either France, Germany or England. But wherever the university is true to itself, to the spirit which called it into existence then freedom to investigate, obligation to teach the truth as it is understood, and recognition of merit irrespective of social distinction, exist.

So far as we are concerned there is no reason why in its best sense our University should not be all this to us on its intellectual side. In stating its call to us we may paraphrase for the people of this province the words which Ruskin addressed many years ago to the young people of England: We are not a degenerate race, we are a race produced by the mingling of the best blood. We are not yet dissolute in temper, but still have the firmness to govern and the grace to obey. We are rich in the inheritance of honour bequeathed to us through a thousand years of noble history and we may make it our daily thirst to increase it with splendid service, so that if it be a sin to covet honour, Canadians should be the most offending souls alive. Mr. Chancellor, the Science, the Art, the Literature of the greatest races of men call us to high duty and great responsibility.

But Sir, these universities have also grown up as the result of specific demands. The human intellect, fortunately, has never been able to dissociate theory from practical problems. The result has been the application of knowledge in specific ways to the betterment of man's physical condition.

The specific need that produced the ancient schools was generally the call of the Church for the training of men for religious service. The great ancient schools of Europe founded by the great emperors were under the guidance of the Church.

As the complex needs of men became understood other responsibilities were recognized and on the practical side teaching was added. Law and medicine came first. From these schools were turned out a splendid procession of jurists and physicians. Later still came our schools of practical science and last and by no means least that great practical science which was last to find a voice in the Agricultural Schools. Ten years from today a university without a well equipped Faculty of Agriculture will be an anachronism.

On this practical side it shall be our duty to see each need met as it arises and to give prominence to these things most closely related to the life of the province.

But, Mr. Chancellor, I would like to emphasize another fact. The state university has arisen out of a demand on the part of the democracy, either directly or through those who understood its needs, for an opportunity of self-realization. The modern state university is specifically a people's institution.

In many of the older universities men of merit were deprived of the privileges which they offered sometimes by creed or class legislation. The modern state university has sprung from a demand on the part of the people themselves for intellectual recognition, a recognition which only a century ago was denied them. The result is that such institutions must be conducted in such a way as to relate them as closely as possible to the life of the people. The people demand that knowledge shall not alone be the concern of scholars. The uplifting of the whole people shall be its final goal. This should be the concern of all educated men, it be never be forgotten.

To this end the training afforded by a university must give the men from the masses a chance to rise in the scale of life's responsibility, and as a ruler of his fellows, to relate government to their lives. This will make for national solidarity and not the solidarity of ignorance out of intelligence. It is the glory of our Canadian institutions that they have directed from the homes of those we are accustomed to call the common people, a steady stream of men into positions of responsibility among us. Without that which the university has to offer this would never have been possible.

It thus happens that the problems of our national life are being worked out, directly or indirectly, more largely by universities than elsewhere. The university has become, in the words of the late President Harper 'a prophet of the people'; may I add also, a prophet to the people. For from its walls must come forth the men who shall make their laws, who shall expound the principles of government, who shall soundly conceive the responsibility of the people. The men who shall see for the people, feel for them, hear for them, and lead them into those paths of life which make for stability and permanence.

It has been well said 'that there is a call for men trained by other agencies than the, caucus for the discussion of public affairs; men who know what the experience of the world has been in the development of institutions and are prepared by intellectual and moral discipline to advance the public interest, irrespective of party, and indifferent to the attainment of official stations.' Such men the universities should foster and nourish.

Mr. Chancellor, I consider that the extension of the activities of the university on such lines as will make its benefits reach directly or indirectly the mass of the people, carrying its ideals of refinement and culture into their homes and its latent spiritual and moral power into their minds and hearts is a work second to none that can be undertaken by any government.

No truer applications can ever be made of the words of the great Humbolt, who said: 'The State always acts wisely when in times of misfortune it uses its efforts to establish something looking to future good and connects its name with such work.' The time will come when all men will recognize that the founding of the Provincial University in this province was one of the great acts of the administration of the present Government.

But Mr. Chancellor, I must hasten on to another question. You will expect me to say some word with regard to the direction in which we are now, spending our energy.

Let me say in reply to such a query that here we have the past to guide us. The accumulated experience of past generations of educators and teachers has largely determined for its the materials of our sources of study and the direction in which our work must be started.

We have organized our first Faculty as a 'Faculty of Arts and Sciences.' In making our first appointments we have determined to begin with those subjects which everywhere by common consent are considered the subjects which should form the foundation upon which to build. These are: English Languages and Literature, the Ancient and Modern Languages, History, Pure and Applied Mathematics, Physics.

To these at once will be added the natural sciences, chemistry, botany and geology, and also philosophy. We shall rapidly push our scientific study into those practical fields which are necessary to meet the needs of the province and our philosophy into subjects related to the needs of the teachers.

Of course, in the extension of our work our great need will be money sufficient to secure efficiency. Here we will be dependent mainly upon the good will of the province itself. I cannot but believe that the province will be anxious to see us generously treated Mr. James Stuart, of Trinity College, Cambridge, tells in one of his books a quaint story of an old English Abbey. It appears that under the regulations the strictest economy was enjoined. The inmates were instructed each day how to use up the fragments of food left over from the day before. The beef roasted on Sunday was to be minced on Monday, soup was to be made of tile hones on Tuesday and so on so that nothing would be lost 'Finally,'" said the ordinances, 'if there is anything absolutely uneatable it is to be given to the poor.'

Mr. Chancellor, we are glad to say that the Government has not left us in the position of the poor merely to have what is left over. They are for providing for us on a basis of sharing in the province's revenue.

I mention this fact, however that I might make another statement There never was an enterprise into which private citizens could enter with greater benefit to themselves and to the community than in helping a university. Already we see evidence that the generosity which made the eastern universities flourish lives in the West. To the Premier the Province we are indebted for many favours but for none am I more grateful than for the splendid gift to the library of a complete set of books on Canada. The gift will, when complete, probably cost $5,000.

Another good citizen of our twin cities has set an example and has placed at our disposal a sum of $500 to be distributed scholarships for our worthy students.

These will be offered for competition to the schools of the province. The moral is plain.

Permit me to say one word with regard to our staff. On them the success of the university depends. If we are to have a great university it will be because great men are upon our staff. Here we are confronted with the problem which confronted the First President of Johns Hopkins. He asked a friend what he was to do in this dilemma. 'Yon cannot have a great university without great men and you cannot get great men without a great university. What am I to do?' This friend replied: 'Your difficulty applies only to old men who are great; these you cannot move; but the young men of talent, learning and promise you can draw. They should be your strength.'

Mr. Chancellor, it is from the young men of promise and learning of the continent that our staff has been selected. I will ask you to judge them by their work.

But, before I leave this topic I add one other remark. The members of the university staff must not be thought of in the ordinary way as state officers. They must rather be regarded in the light of independent thinkers and scholars who are to bring us into that appreciation of those higher things about which I was speaking a moment ago. For that purpose they have been selected, and I am confident they will prove worthy of their high vocation.

The process of education is a complicated process. Modern science teaches us that our art, our science, our literature, our history, our institutions of government, our religious life, all are so interwoven with the fabric of our life that in the rounding out of a full-orbed manhood none of these can be neglected. For their proper appreciation teaching power is necessary. Into their inner and larger meaning the university teacher must lead his students. Our professors are first of all teachers. To them the largest freedom must be given. It is their duty to push into the heart of things that the truth and nothing but the truth may be, discovered. I am sure they will temper freedom with discretion.

And here, Mr. Chancellor, I wish to say one word about the freedom of teaching. With every passing generation pious souls have been disturbed as one truth of nature after another, one phase of human experience after another has been revealed in such a way as to appear to conflict with accepted opinion. Those who have followed the history of the discoverers of science know how bitter this conflict of opinion has been. Europe was convulsed when the discoveries of Copernicus were published. Religious England and America were terrified when the theory of evolution was first published. Yet out of all this chaos came Cosmos. Materialism, it is true, for a while seemed to lift its head, then died, and the moral and spiritual sense of the Christian world was triumphant. Out of it all a larger, fuller and richer life has come to men. To search for truth can injure none. The power to appreciate the truth is God's greatest gift to man. Why should our timid souls fear the fullest light on any subject?

Did I say materialism was dead? I say it again! Man knows that he is greater than the clod and in that knowledge lies his supremacy. The age of thought has only begun. In spite of the practical and materialistic philosophy which expresses itself still the commercial spirit of the age I assert the deepest conviction of my being that thought and mind are still supreme. We who teach may be called idealists. Let me say to you that the idealist still lives and lifts his head to the stars and declares the impossible can be accomplished. All the ages of progress have been his ages and when the spirit of a material age is dead and the philosophy of materialism is forgotten the idealist will still be conquering the world.

To the visitor of our University, His Honour the Lieutenant Governor, may I express the hope that the affairs of the University will be so conducted as to make it unnecessary for him to do other than express approval.

To you Mr. Chancellor, may I say that your selection for the high position which you hold has given us the greatest pleasure. Your well known scholastic attainment and your deep interest in things intellectual assure us of your unmeasured support.

To you gentlemen of the Convocation of the University, permit me to say that the University expects your heartiest cooperation. To you we look to form public opinion with regard to our work and to stand together for its protection.

Gentlemen of the Senate, I am confident that you join in a pledge with me to the people of this province to unite heart and soul to administer this trust for the public good.

Published November 1923.

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