And next there was arts

Bill Dyck and Jim McKegney

Bill Dyck, left, and Jim McKegney try out UW’s first language laboratory

In 1960 Keith Thomas came to the University of Waterloo, and all the planning about how the new university was going to be organized fell apart. Of course I am not suggesting any cause-and-effect relationship between these two developments. But Dean Thomas, good Presbyterian that he is, would be the first to agree with me that there are seeds of disaster in any ambitious plan hatched by postlapsarian human beings, and that the potential for disappointment and bitter conflict is there most of all when one of the issues at stake in people's minds is the status of their religious institutions. Religious partisanship wasn't the only issue in 1960 when the "federation" plans for Waterloo collapsed in rancour, but it was a big one, and one for which I, as a troll, have peculiarly little sympathy. Gerry Hagey was a loyal Lutheran when it all started, but he was also the first president Waterloo College had ever had who wasn't a Lutheran clergyman, and perhaps that in itself was enough to make some people see him as the devil with a blue suit on.

I was telling you last week that the idea was for two existing colleges to "federate" with the new university. One was St. Jerome's, an ancient Roman Catholic foundation that had been blessed with Father "Corky" Siegfried as its president since 1955. From my hole here by Laurel Creek I can look out at the building on the new St. Jerome's campus that bears his name, and you know, if I have to have human habitations in my line of vision at all, I think that's the one I can endure best, for that tall Resurrectionist priest was a man to admire, with a great combination of patience and kindness and clear vision. He was also straight and honest beyond anything I've ever seen in a human being. Nearly twenty years later, when the original conflicts between Waterloo and "Lutheran" were nearly forgotten, but there was still some unease, the presidents of the two universities chose Father Siegfried to be the chairman of a committee that would sort things out. He was the one person they could both trust implicitly.

Anyway, in 1960 he and his colleagues were preparing to move St. Jerome's to Waterloo from the Kingsdale neighbourhood in Kitchener, to become "federated" with UW. (That is, the degree-granting powers St. Jerome's had just acquired, now free from its former association with the University of Ottawa, would be "held in abeyance" and turned over to the university, of which St. Jerome's would form a part.) A formal agreement to that effect was signed on June 18, and when I heard the news I could practically see the bulldozers ripping into the earth just a few feet away from my creekside home here, although in fact it took two years before that construction job was done.

So far, so good, and that left Waterloo College. Not only was it supposed to be federated with the new university just like St. Jerome's, but many people thought the change had actually taken place. Being much bigger than the Roman Catholic college, the Lutheran one naturally assumed that it would play a larger role in the university; in effect, it would become the faculty of arts (the only existing faculties, remember, were engineering and science), and Lloyd Schaus, the dean of Waterloo College, would become dean of arts. "They felt proud of their past," your historian has written about the folks at Waterloo College, "and had some understandable doubts as to the prestige which a University of Waterloo degree might carry." Understandable, indeed: they'd been affiliated with the noble old University of Western Ontario, let's hear it for the purple and white and all that, and nobody, but nobody, had heard of the University of Waterloo until a couple of half-drunk students painted "Beer" on the Hazel Street water-tower, which is hardly a guarantee of academic distinction.

Being only a troll, I can't claim to understand all the politics, still less the religious factionalism, that made the arrangement fall through. The board of Waterloo College accepted the federation arrangement, but they didn't have the last word; that lay with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Canada, which owned the place. And when the synod's annual meeting was held that spring, the Lutheran leaders voted no. The church, still strongly influenced by older German-speaking congregations with a loyalty to the traditional ways, may have been suspicious of these new fangled experiments, especially experiments in which a Roman Catholic institution looked as though it might have some influence. There was a danger, too, that people who weren't Lutheran would be in positions of power in the university itself - although Gerry Hagey himself, as I say, went into 1960 a good Lutheran. So did such colleagues as Bruce Gellatly, later to be a vice-president of UW, who felt driven out of his church by the bitter controversy and wound up an Anglican.

So as the winter of 1960 turned into spring, not only was everybody mad, but the university had made wild promises about offering an arts program in the fall term, and suddenly it was without any arts professors to do the job, apart from a few worthies from St. Jerome's, who were all out at Kingsdale anyway. What followed must set some kind of record for efficiency. It would certainly give conniption fits to the partisans of today's Policy 53 ("Faculty Appointments, Tenure") and hiring guidelines. There were no hiring committees, and sure-as-Schweitzer-farmhouse there were no carefully worded advertisements about Waterloo welcoming applications from designated employment groups. Instead, Gerry Hagey got on the phone. Keith Thomas, down in marshy Sackville, got a call: would he like to jilt the Royal Military College, where he'd been planning to move in September, and instead bring his passion for eighteenth-century satire to a twentieth-century university without so much as an arts building? Yes, he replied after a quick visit to check the place out. I wonder whether he realized everything that starting an English department and an arts faculty from scratch would imply - whether he imagined, for example, that he'd have to compile Form and Substance to define the standards for writing scholarly papers in the humanities at a new university.

Hagey mounted a few other raids as well, the biggest being on Waterloo College itself. There had been people down at Albert Street who wished the new university well and saw promise in it; when they realized that their choice lay between venturing into the unknown and sticking with what might well be an all-Lutheran backwater, some of them took the plunge. That's how the university acquired several people whom you know think of as venerable, if not positively historic, but who were then young and ambitious: the dignified Bill Dyck to teach German, the courtly and amusing Jim McKegney for Spanish, the punctiliously scholarly Al Dust for English, and so on.

In September 1960 there were, unbelievably, 54 students in arts. "They came with adventure," Thomas once said, and I think he might have substituted the word "recklessness", for what kind of arts program could an instant university possibly offer them? I can't help wondering whether some of them, Waterloo's very first women students, were in search of, as the joke was in those days, the MRS degree, to be earned through close contact with the all-male engineers and scientists. The place deserved the reputation that it still has as a male stronghold, you know. It wasn't until about twenty years ago that Waterloo could point to even one department where there were more women than men. Know which one it was? Recreation and leisure studies.

Anyway, there was suddenly a faculty of arts, with Thomas as acting dean. Half the two dozen faculty members were mathematicians, transferred (possibly with relief on both sides) from science to arts, and the other half represented fields from "German and Russian" to psychology. Said the thin but proud academic calendar: "Courses in Classics will be given by St. Jerome's College, and courses in Philosophy by Renison College, during the Academic Year 1960-61. Further appointments for 1960-61 are being made at the present time." Made almost daily, it seemed for a while.

There was mud around the place, but 1960 was not a big year for construction at Waterloo. Space was in short supply ("we squatted," Thomas recalls, when asked what kind of of fices the original arts professors had) but then so was everything else, except maybe chutzpah. I remember hearing staff and faculty chatting as they strolled down here by the reedy river. "Got to go cash my paycheque," one of them said, "before it bounces." I suppose that must have been before Gellatly and his minions modernized the business office and made this university one of the first Canadian employers to pay everyone by direct deposit.

Chutzpah - oh, and pride. A university that could still measure its age in months established, in 1960, a "faculty of graduate studies", headed by mathematician Ralph Stanton. That fall there were 22 grad students, half of them in Stanton's own field of mathematics. And before the year was over, the university held its first convocation. I was there, in an inconspicuous corner of Seagram Gymnasium, making myself look as much as possible like a cinder block, as the University of Waterloo installed its first chancellor, Dana Porter, the chief justice of Ontario. (They couldn't have found a troll to take the job?) At the same ceremony, the university granted its first degrees, eight of them, all at the master's level and all in math or "applied mathematics". Two of those eight original grads went on to spend their careers on the Waterloo faculty: Ron Mullin and Peter Roe. That's more than chutzpah and more than pride: that's something like the beginning of a dynasty.

Well, that was Waterloo in 1960, the year Montréal beat Toronto for the Stanley Cup, the year Bill Mazeroski beat the Yankees in the World Series, the year Paterson beat Johansson for the heavyweight championship, the year Kennedy beat Nixon for the American presidency. Oh, and the year "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polkadot Bikini" was a big hit - in some respects, come to think of it, a year I'd just as soon forget.

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