The second president

Burt Matthews in his empty office

Burt Matthews had a clean desk – briefly – when he arrived as UW’s president in July. A soil chemist, he had been vice-president of the University of Guelph (and would return as Guelph’s president after his term at Waterloo).

Somebody asked Burt Matthews, as soon as he was confirmed to be your university's new president, what he thought about the place -- he'd spent his whole previous career at the University of Guelph and wasn't really very familiar with Waterloo. Its growth from nothing to fame within a dozen years was, Matthews replied in a burst of candour, "a tribute to -- I don't know who." He should have asked me; I could tell him who it was a tribute to. The bulldozer operators, mostly. In 1970, the year Matthews came to Waterloo, they continued remaking the natural world, removing some 40,000 cubic yards of dirt from the site of "Engineering IV", later to be Carl Pollock Hall. Much of the soil was trucked across campus and used to make the berms surrounding the Village residences.

Matthews was chosen as Gerry Hagey's successor in a process that looks bewilderingly candid beside what was done a decade or two decades later. A selection committee looked for candidates, eventually naming Matthews and two rivals to a short-list. Each was invited to campus, was introduced in the Gazette, and met with all kinds of people. Finally the committee announced in January that it was recommending Matthews to the board of governors; it gave its approval in February, and he started work July 1 (July 2 really, since the first of the month was, as usual, the Dominion Day holiday). He was installed at the fall convocation ceremony. Somewhere along the way, he moved into a house on Kitchener's Westgate Walk that the university had bought for him (instead, the chairman of the board solemnly explained, of building a house right on campus).

It was quite a campus he found when he arrived. The summer of 1970 was hot, and messy with the construction of Engineering IV and Chemistry II. You had to walk (if you were a human, I mean) far out of your way around construction fences to get from anywhere to anywhere. A fence of a more bucolic kind still faced the ring road east of the Dana Porter Library, and the Gazette issue that welcomed Matthews to Waterloo in the first week of July used it as an excuse for a front-page picture, the real point of the photo being the microskirted secretary sitting on the fence. It was slated to disappear soon with the construction of the "Student Services Building". Earlier in the year, work had finished on the Faculty Club and on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of Dana Porter. The Married Student Apartments were going up too, and so was the General Services Complex.

I have to admit, in spite of my trollian prejudice against the things humans do to remake the world around them, that one or two of the innovations of 1970 were at least ingenious. The spiral that runs through the Arts Pedestrian Tunnel, from South Campus Hall to Arts Lecture, was new that year, and so were Ron Baird's four sculptures in the courtyard of the Humanities building. I absolutely deny that any of the four neoliths represent the calcified spirits of trolls who violated one of our few taboos. I can, however, report that about a minute and a half after they were bolted in place, there were kids climbing on them, which is as it should be. I can also report that, in a last-ditch (so to speak) attempt to return the campus to nature, a squadron of ducks took over the Modern Languages reflecting pool that summer. But it didn't last.

Plenty of boring things happened in 1970, of course, such as a year-long debate over the future of university government, and whether it should be unicameral, bicameral or possibly cream-caramel. The board of governors was still drawn entirely from off campus, but a couple of faculty "observers" were allowed to watch its sacred proceedings. When it developed that the first two observers were John New of the history department and the omnipresent Lynn Watt of electrical engineering, the obvious question to ask was "Watt's New?" Yes, somebody asked it.

Almost as boring as that was a structural struggle over the Campus Centre board, and over the job description for turnkeys. (Almost wrote "turkeys" there, and I can't think why.) The CC did face a real issue, though: drugs, lots of them. It won't surprise you to hear that soft drugs had been known on the campus occasionally in the late sixties, but by 1970 there was all too much evidence of hard-drug trafficking, supposedly involving motorcycle gangs. It was said that if you reached into the ceiling of the CC in any of the washrooms, or wherever else there were those removable acoustic panels, you'd find somebody's stash. In November a public meeting, attended by more than 200 people, demanded that something be done about "bums, pushers and bikers" in the CC. Turnkeys were told that they could phone the Waterloo police (there was no such thing as the Regionals yet) if necessary. Some people even talked about ending the 24-hour-a-day schedule of the CC, but nothing that heretical was done. It would have traumatized the 24-hour-a-day patrons of the new "Rap Room", where it was customary to rap, and rap, and rap with relays of supposedly trained volunteers. They'd refer you to an academic counsellor if that's what you needed -- or to somebody who might help you face your drug use squarely. Thank goodness, I remember thinking, there are some bad habits to which trolls aren't subject.

Seems to me I was talking about the summer of 1970, which was made raucous by a days-long festival that included Waterloo's first rock concert. Held in Seagram Stadium, it presented a series of now forgotten (and eminently forgettable) bands. I also recall, having slipped in to see a little of the action first-hand, that it presented a series of pretty girls with flowers in their hair. Yes, girls; they weren't called women then. (And the students' wives club in the optometry school was called -- I am positively not making this one up -- the Optometric Dames. It was an innocent time, really, in spite of the bikers.)

A few other senior positions changed hands on the same day Burt Matthews arrived in Waterloo. Paul Cornell became dean of arts; Peter Nash, dean of environmental studies (the first dean to head ES, which was still a "division" and not yet a faculty); Gerry Kenyon, director of the school of physical and health education, soon to be a faculty as well, with the new cumbersome name of "human kinetics and leisure studies". And on July 1 Al Adlington officially said farewell to Waterloo, moving to a vice-presidency at the University of Western Ontario. Later in the year Bruce Gellatly, the money-man, would become a VP in his stead. My memories of 1970 are a bit fragmented, because -- as usual -- so much happened so fast. A flagpole was erected at the University Avenue entrance to campus, proudly displaying the red maple leaf. The Carnival Room snack bar in South Campus Hall closed for lack of business, though you could still eat three meals a day in the Festival Room if you were so inclined. Staff and faculty members learned the initials OHSIP, as the employee health plan was turned upside down by the introduction of rudimentary public medical insurance in Ontario. There was preliminary talk about opening a day care centre or two on campus. The university senate refused to cancel classes for a day to recognize a teach-in about the Vietnam war, which was convulsing American campuses and made at least a small ripple at Waterloo. Graduate students held a referendum -- and talked, and talked -- about pulling out of the Federation of Students to form their own organization. The first Hagey Lectures were given, in January, by George Wald of Harvard University; didn't I see that he died, at a very advanced age, just the other day?

Oh, and I have to tell you about the appearance of an environmental conscience. There was no "public interest group" yet, but something called Pollution Probe appeared on campus, its purpose being to press for a cleanup of the world around us. Before long it announced that membership had reached 1,000 and, bizarrely, that two-thirds of the members were "housewives"; the rest were mostly students, faculty and staff. I doubt very much that any trolls joined, for all that we favour reducing pollution; political pressure groups aren't our style. The Probe people did their thing very solemnly, though, taking hourly readings of the air quality in downtown Kitchener and that sort of thing. They recommended the introduction of a recycling program in Waterloo, years before anybody had heard of blue boxes. And (in case you thought they were "radical", as the word was then) their first major report was a survey of anti-pollution research already being done on campus, including a project in the chemical engineering department aimed at developing a new method of attacking cyanide pollution from metallurgical industries. Tell me, can you think of anything more incorrigibly Waterloovian than that?

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