Tale of two parades

Renison students protest

Renison College students and supporters march past the Humanities building in November.

I was shocked, one spring evening in 1974, to see two naked men paddling their way down Laurel Creek in a rubber boat. Served them right when their vessel capsized in front of the Health Services building and they ended up in water that must have shrivelled whatever they had been trying to display. Later I learned that while only two "streakers", as the expression was, had dared that maritime adventure, some 50 other brave folk - mostly male, but with three women among them - had done the same thing on land, running naked from Village II East through the Campus Centre and the Faculty Club to astonish the bystanders. It wasn't the first streak at Waterloo (Village II West E organized that one, three days earlier) but it set a record as the biggest, while the streaking fad lasted. You have to wonder about people who run around unclad in the first week of March, really; they would have been much warmer if they'd headed for the Math and Computer building that evening instead, for a "preparatory lecture on Transcendental Meditation". However, it's pretty much what one might expect of human beings, I suppose, and I had to admire your university's security director, Al Romenco, when he said he wasn't going to be taking any action, because if the young bloods weren't doing that they'd probably be doing something worse.

That high-spirited parade in March and a much more earnest parade in November, about which I'll tell you shortly, are the defining events of 1974, as I recall, but plenty of other things happened that year as well. In particular, two phrases entered the Waterloo vocabulary: "recycling" -- 1974 brought the first talk about collecting white paper (and computer punch-cards) for pulping -- and "centre of excellence". The Computer Communications Networks Group received a $709,000 federal grant that year to turn itself into a C-of-E, and the excellence cat was out of the excellence bag. I have often wished, since then, that somebody would declare the place an excellence-free zone, and just get on with doing the job. You wouldn't catch a troll proclaiming himself world-class in grouchiness, would you now?

Still, there was excellence in various places at Waterloo in 1974, I have to admit. On the ice, for one: the hockey Warriors won the CIAU national championship that spring, led by their most-valuable-player, Ron Hawkshaw. (The basketball Warriors made a creditable attempt at the same honour, but fell short, although the national tournament was held right in your PAC gymnasium. The Warriors were defeated by the St. Mary's Huskies in front of an angry overflow crowd; next day Guelph knocked off St. Mary's while the crowd roared its approval. The Huskies went back to Halifax and complained loudly that not only the spectators but the public address announcers and the rest of their Waterloo hosts had been against them.) More excellence: in the Computer Science Club, where about 25 enthusiasts contributed to writing a program that could play chess. In Fortran, no less.

Those hockey Warriors, by the way, played their home games at Waterloo Arena downtown, as the university still didn't have an ice surface of its own. There was a vote in 1974 on imposing a student fee to build an on-campus rink, but the plan fizzled out. First the ballots were mailed out wrong and everything had to be done over again; then, as votes were counted, it became clear that there wasn't a majority in favour of anything. No wonder, really, when the ballot included so many questions, with so many options, that it was calculated there were 81 different ways of answering it. No arena got built that year. Soon there was no stadium either, as the university, unwilling to spend what it would have cost to repair Seagram, sold the facility to the city of Waterloo for a token sum. Later, as you know, UW's oldest building would end up in the hands of Wilfrid Laurier University, minus the hallowed Seagram name.

The Optometry building on the north campus had its official opening that year, starring James Auld, Ontario's new minister of colleges and universities, who got there only after his helicopter bopped from one spot on campus to another, looking for a safe landing field. With Optometry complete, there were (for the first time in Waterloo history, I believe) no building projects under way, although people began to talk optimistically about a building for "human kinetics and leisure studies" just as soon as some money came along. HKLS, you might remember, was the original name for what's now called the faculty of applied health sciences. You might also remember that it never did get a custom-built building. Instead, it eventually took over the Administrative Services building, renaming it Matthews Hall and adding one new wing, then a second. The faculty of environmental studies somehow got ahead of HKLS in the queue in 1974, as the Social Sciences Building, formerly Arts II, was reborn as Environmental Studies I.

There were lots of changes that year -- yes indeed. The library moved books onto the fifth and sixth floors of Dana Porter, which had previously been occupied by offices, and the chief librarian began dropping hints that the building would soon be full and there would be need of a book storage facility. The university applied for a regular liquor licence, to replace the disorganized series of "special occasion permits" that had been needed for pubs up to that time. Two organizations from the local "hospitality" industry formally objected before the Liquor Licence Board, but the university application was finally approved. The computing centre announced that it was beginning a system of "real-dollar chargeout", collecting money from university departments in return for central computing services, instead of the monopoly-money system that had been used up to that year.

In the executive suite, there were comings and goings. The vice-president (academic), Howard Petch, was invited to move west as president of the University of Victoria, and announced he was leaving at the end of the year; Tom Brzustowski was picked from the mechanical engineering department to succeed him as VP. Wally McLaughlin succeeded Archie Sherbourne as dean of arts, and Jay Minas succeeded Pat Rowe as dean of arts (but not before someone was heard at a university budget meeting exhorting his colleagues to remember that "we just can't stand pat!"). Andrew Telegdi was elected to succeed himself as president of the Federation of Students -- the first person, if I'm not mistaken, ever to spend two years in that post, which would pretty well guarantee a future in politics.

Staff in the food services department voted to join the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which already represented the plant operations staff. Other non-union staff voted to have the staff association represent them in bargaining on salaries, but still in a non-union context. Graduate students talked seriously about forming a union for teaching assistants, but didn't do it. Faculty members voted to negotiate for a 27 per cent pay increase, in that year of high inflation, but they didn't get it.

Now, I suppose I have to tell you about that parade in November, the biggest news item of the year at Waterloo, or at least so it seemed at the time. The signs some students carried, as they marched past Humanities and Needles Hall, were so naive: "Who runs Renison anyway?" Who runs any college or university, may I ask? You know the answer; I don't have to tell you.

Who was running Renison College that fall was John Towler, who had taken over on July 1 as the college's principal, after an awkward three years under an acting principal following the death of the college's long-time head, Wyn Rees. Towler apparently didn't like what he found, and in October, with the support of the Renison board of governors, he notified three faculty members that their services were being dispensed with. Jeff Forest wasn't having his contract renewed; Hugh Miller, who was actually dean of the college, was dismissed "for cause"; and Marsha Forest, Jeff's wife, was reminded that in fact she worked for the university itself, not for Renison, and she should get out of the college and stay out. A fourth faculty member, Marlene Webber, was soon added to the list, as a result of rather dramatic actions in support of Forest, Miller and Forest, complicating an already complicated issue to the point where no troll would ever even try to explain it.

Several faculty members besides Webber got involved, though to a smaller extent, as well as a fair number of students. Within a few days after Towler's action became known, the majority of Renison's classes were being taught in the Campus Centre or elsewhere, while Renison itself had rather the atmosphere of the Paris Commune, with emergency mass meetings, picket signs, and lots of loud arguments. Several dozen students charged over to Needles Hall one day to demand that the president of the university do something. He being away, they got to talk to the vice-president -- Petch -- instead, and he said it was a matter for Renison's authorities, not for him. The dean of arts was equally unsympathetic. That's the point at which the parade took place: students and hangers-on who had constituted themselves the Renison Academic Assembly were pathetically eager to attract support from the larger university.

Eventually help, of a sort, came from the faculty association, which announced an investigation of the whole business. Miller, a somewhat less flamboyant figure, did his negotiating with Renison behind closed doors and rather faded away, while charges and counter-charges, reports and speechmaking about Webber and the Forests continued well into the following year. Soon the university would be hearing a great deal about the Anti-Imperialist Alliance and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist), both of which organizations the Forests and Webber supported -- but I'm getting ahead of my story, which today is only about 1974.

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