Inflation and job markets

Students gather for summer concert

Summer concert of Renaissance music and dance in the Humanities

Beer prices on campus went up twice within a week in the spring of 1973, first to 45 cents a bottle (including four cents tax) and then, after the Ontario government raised the tax rate, to 50 cents. Coffee out of the vending machines was boosted from 10 cents a cup to 15 cents. And that was the kind of year it was: prices going up, and salaries chasing along after. The faculty association asked for a 5 per cent pay increase and eventually got 3.4 per cent, in a year when the inflation rate hit 7.8 per cent. Staff did somewhat better; the salary classifications were complicated in those days, not that they're exactly simple now, and all I recall for sure is that "secretarial-clerical" staff got a 6 per cent scale increase and were eligible for merit pay as well. People were worried about their incomes, and worried about their job prospects. The first time I can ever remember the Gazette running a page-wide banner headline came in January 1973, when the black letters declared: "Job market for grads being underestimated." The jokes about PhD holders driving taxis had started that winter, I believe.

Like individuals, the university was pinching its pennies. An inspection found that Seagram Stadium -- the same place that's now known as University Stadium, but owned at that time by UW -- was in such disrepair it was unsafe for public use. The authorities simply closed it for a while; there was no money for fixing it. All across campus, staff from "the physical resources group" checked light levels to see where there were bulbs and fluorescent tubes that could be removed, without affecting people too much, as a way of saving on the energy bill. In many buildings you can still see the results of their work: glance upwards and see if your light fixture has one of the red magic-marker dots they made to indicate that a tube or two had been taken out. There were reminders, too, that people should turn off lights in rooms that weren't in use -- but in at least one recently-opened building such a thing wasn't possible. Needles Hall (which got its name that year, after a few months as the Student Services Building) had been erected without light switches. The electricians would soon be coming through to retrofit them.

As I recall it now, 1973 does seem to have been dominated by talk of maintenance issues on campus. There was, for instance, the replacement of the wooden steps up from the arts quadrangle to South Campus Hall. They'd deteriorated quite a bit over the years, and now that it seemed clear there would never be a library annex there under the hill, a permanent concrete staircase was built instead. A new bridge appeared across my creek, just up stream from the one under which I lived at that time, and just a few yards away from there, St. Jerome's College built itself a new library. The university agreed to sell a road allowance to the Region of Waterloo so it could push Westmount Road onward across the north campus -- you know, of course, just how swiftly that project has moved along in the twenty-four years since the land transfer took place.

Construction on the south campus was coming to an end, for the time being, with the completion of the Psychology building, all 670 rooms of it. Jokes about the building being merely an enlargement of a rat maze began the day it opened for business, as I recall, and haven't stopped since. The Optometry building north of Columbia Street was near completion as 1973 came to an end, and after that there wouldn't be a new university building for a decade. Talk started that year, though, about possible construction of a student-financed hockey arena. The Warriors had had a so-so year in 1972-73, making it to the OUAA semifinals only to be clobbered 13-2 by the University of Toronto. In basketball it was much the same story: a number one team, knocked out of the OUAA playoffs by Windsor.

Of all the disagreements about buildings, grounds, maintenance and the environment generally, the fiercest that year was about those plastic-covered chains that ran across most of the driveways and delivery roads on campus. Letters flew back and forth between advocates of unfettered access (Jan Narveson of the philosophy department actually got a petition started) and advocates of law and order (consisting mostly of Al Romenco, the security director, who insisted the chains were essential, and complaints about them were "a tempest in a teapot"). Somewhat on the lighter side, there were also complaints about the blue-and-white fibreglass benches outside the Physics buildings. It seems people who sat on them at lunchtime were coming back to work with itchy rashes -- and, given the skirt lengths that were in fashion in 1973, some of those rashes were in rather indelicate places. The university's safety director sacrificed a length of forearm epidermis in the cause of research, and somebody finally figured out how to keep the sitting surface free of itch-inducing fibres.

I know people at universities like controversy; that's what you come here for, isn't it, to argue? New at the beginning of 1973 was a newsletter by and for mathematics students, calling itself mathNews, and in the very first issue the guns started firing with an article by student senator Bruce McKay. "At the senate meeting on January 15," he wrote about the annual budget debate, "the Federation of Students presented a set of proposals which were completely ridiculous, and indicated that very little research was done." Weeks later, the Feds held their annual election and a young man named Andrew Telegdi was chosen to be president of the students. "They underemphasize sandbox," another mN writer commented about the Federation attitude to services and entertainment, "and keep playing politics, but it must be obvious now that it's sandbox the students want, as Telegdi's victory proves." (Still, that writer wasn't satisfied with the sandbox quality, adding a few complaints about the quality of the music at Fed-sponsored dances: too much heavy rock and blues, not enough "dancing music".) I don't know about sandbox -- probably the Paintin' Place day care centre had one -- but if your choice was other games, you could have headed to the sixth floor of the Math and Computer building, where a modest "museum of games" opened that year with an exhibition of Go, parcheesi, Eskimo bones, playing cards and other such artifacts.

In the fall came a report from the President's Advisory Committee on Equal Rights for Women and Men, chaired by Margrit Eichler of the sociology department. It called for things that were quite innovative at the time -- greater efforts to promote women out of secretarial jobs into middle management, for example, and a conscious use of gender-neutral words in university publications -- and it led to the establishment of a permanent equal rights committee. Why men and women, but not trolls, I wondered briefly, but only briefly.

Among academic innovations in 1973, perhaps the most significant one was the creation of the Guelph-Waterloo Centre for Graduate Work in Chemistry, though I'm sure some people would point to the introduction of a co-op program in earth sciences as being equally important. GWC2, though, was a sign of things to come in cooperation between Ontario universities. Late in the year, what had been Waterloo Lutheran University formally gave up its church ties and became Wilfrid Laurier, among talk of possible cooperation with UW in fields ranging from Spanish teaching to library services.

There weren't a lot of transitions in high places at UW in 1973, at least until the last few days of the year, when Paul Cornell resigned as dean of arts (or "withdrew from the deanship", as the official announcement put it). Pat Rowe took his place on an interim basis, becoming the university's first-ever woman dean. Taking over as university librarian, meanwhile, was Murray Shepherd, who's still in that job and probably still enthusiastic, as librarians were in 1973, about a computerized union catalogue of all the Ontario university libraries. Just as his appointment was announced, a study was released showing that Waterloo had fewer library books per student than any other Ontario university. The resources were even worse than at a couple of third-world universities he had experienced, said John Morton of the biology department, who kindly added high praise for the interlibrary loan service -- then, as now, one of the library's emphases. Of course there might have been a few more books on the shelves if not for the enthusiastic efforts of one student who was detected in a washroom of the Engineering, Math and Science library, stuffing volumes down his pants. Twice.

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