From the archives: The founding of the Centre—a timely reminder

The history of the Centre for Society, Technology and Values (CSTV) can tell us a lot about the history of the University of Waterloo. Founded in 1984, the Centre has been around for more than half of Waterloo’s 60 years. It began during a period of expansion and optimism on campus. Although the scope of its activities later contracted during a time of fiscal restraint, the Centre has survived and even thrived, in a modest way. As the university’s mission and goals have evolved to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society, CSTV has remained relevant and significant.

CSTV was founded to “study the relationships among society, technology and values, and particularly the effects of technological change on society” (UW Gazette, 18 December 1985). 

An Advisory Board was established, with all faculties represented. Right from the start, the Centre was designed to be interdisciplinary, because this was seen as critical to its role on campus “in understanding and affecting the impact of technology on people” (CSTV Newsletter #1, February 6, 1985).

The Centre was ambitious. It aimed to start an undergraduate program and, in 1985, CSTV established an option “to explore a wide range of social and personal issues,” according to its founding director, philosopher Larry Haworth. The option was open to all Waterloo undergraduate students.

And it immediately began to plan events, some of which will be described in more detail in future blogs. A workshop, colloquia, and conferences were on the agenda within months of the Centre’s birth. To help sponsor, organize, and fund these events, CSTV looked for campus partners—and found them, too.

CSTV was expected to be involved in research. As the first Newsletter stated, “The Centre interacts with organizations in the public and private sectors which are concerned about the human impact of the technologies they employ. It is expected that specific research projects will result from this interaction.” There was an interest, for example, in studying some area of public policy that related to science and technology.

Finally, the Centre aimed to create connections across campus by compiling a database of Waterloo researchers with relevant interests and by producing a regular newsletter.

One thing seems clear: CSTV still has an important role to play on campus and, possibly, in the wider community. The questions raised by its founders still merit attention. The notion of bringing together insights and processes from a variety of disciplines on core society-technology problems was never more valid then it is today.

As I will illustrate in future blogs, CSTV started with a rush of activity.

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