Sad times, hard times

The dean of arts finds a temporary workstation while protesters occupy his office. Philosophy professor Mike McDonald, who was the first chair of UW’s ethics committee, stands by to mediate.
The dean of arts finds a temporary workstation while protesters occupy his office. Philosophy professor Mike McDonald, who was the first chair of UW’s ethics committee, stands by to mediate.

Even trolls can weep, and I have to confess that I did -- like all the rest of the university -- at the news on January 12, 1975, that Mike Moser had died. It wasn't just that he was the star centre of the basketball Warriors, killed by some sudden fierce virus while the team was on a holiday-week trip to Florida: it was his youth, his strength, his vitality. Waterloo loved Mike Moser before his death and made him an idol afterwards, and you're probably aware that a Mike Moser Memorial Game is still played each year, at which scholarships in his name are presented.

For the rest of the 1975 season, the Warriors introduced just four players as their starting lineup, the position of centre standing symbolically empty. Mike Moser was a huge loss to the team. But, as fans soon discovered, the Warriors had other strengths. The team won, and won, and won. Finally on a Sunday in early March it found itself playing for the national championship, facing the University of Manitoba Bisons in front of five thousand maniacs, most of them human but a few, I have to admit, trollian. The Bisons led for most of the game; the Warriors made it close again; but going into the last seconds, Manitoba was leading 79-78. Then somehow Charlie Chambers had the ball and passed it to Phil Goggins, who sank a long basket with four seconds left on the clock. Time out; four futile seconds of passing by Manitoba; the buzzer; bedlam, and a CIAU championship banner to hang on the gym wall.

That second week of March 1975 was a busy time at Waterloo, let me tell you. The morning after the great basketball game, politics came front and centre again, with the beginning of the last "sit-in" your university has ever experienced. Seven students took over the office of the dean of arts, Jay Minas, and stayed there for some thirty hours to draw attention to the Renison College affair. Yes, that same Renison College affair: the parades and demands of November hadn't settled matters. Settling the dispute between the college and the faculty members who were losing their jobs took months longer, with many hours of meetings and the deep involvement of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. I wouldn't burden you with the details of those negotiations, even if I understood them, which I emphatically don't. The sit-in, frankly, was a lot more interesting, and I had a chuckle when I spotted the poor dean, still in his overcoat, negotiating with the protesters by phone from a borrowed desk down the hall. I would have chuckled more loudly, I suspect, if I'd been inside the locked-and-barred office at the moment when the occupiers discovered that the dean didn't have, as they had apparently assumed, an ensuite bathroom. Equipment and supplies were brought in through a window, and the sit-in lasted thirty hours before victory was declared.

It was just one thing after another, that year of 1975, the year the CN Tower was built. (About the biggest construction project at Waterloo that year was the ramps leading up to the Dana Porter Library promenade.) The central fact in everybody's life was steadily rising prices, to the point that photocopies in the library doubled from a nickel to a dime, and the Math Society coffee outlet jacked doughnuts up from 10 cents to 15. The weekly living allowance from the Ontario Student Assistance Program was raised to $57.50. Most staff members got a 15 per cent pay raise that summer, and faculty got 11.4 per cent plus their usual merit increases. It must have been news of those eye-popping figures that prompted prime minister Pierre Trudeau to bring in wage and price controls and the Anti-Inflation Board in October.

Warriors centre Mike Moser makes another shot.
Warriors centre Mike Moser makes another shot.

Waterloo would survive the AIB, of course, as it survived a fair number of other things in 1975. Students lived through a housing crisis, and everybody together made it through a Kitchener Transit strike, a mail strike, a march by the Anti-Imperialist Alliance with signs proclaiming "Long Live Liberated Vietnam" (Saigon fell on April 30), and a blizzard that hit on a Thursday afternoon during April exams, closing the campus. I don't know whether it belongs in the same category, exactly, but one night in September, person or persons unknown took blunt instruments to the big red fibreglass sculpture that sat, in those days, on a grassy knoll between the library and the Physics building. They smashed a hole in it and dragged it a few yards along the sidewalk. Rather to the regret of some folks on campus, though, they didn't finish the job, and "Convolution", as the alleged artwork was called, was repaired and put back in place. It took a more concerted attack the following year, apparently with explosives, to finish it off for good. An amusing sidelight on the sculpture and its importance to the campus is that Burt Matthews, the president of the university, who used to park his car in the old "B" parking lot on the east side of campus, walked right past the site of the depredations the following morning and didn't notice that anything was wrong.

Signs of the times in 1975: well, no-smoking areas were beginning to expand -- even the Modern Languages coffee shop got one. The libraries were no longer open 24 hours a day, but closed for a few hours each night. (That was a budget-cutting move, I think. The chief librarian also announced that the number of serials received by the library was going to be cut roughly in half, as the subscriptions budget fell from $510,000 to $250,000 a year.) The staff association man aged to enlist "50 per cent plus one" of staff members, paying dues that I believe were $1.50 a month, and won official recognition from the university's administration. There were a couple of new faces in the administration, with Tom Brzustowski taking over as vice-president (academic) and Gordon Nelson arriving from Western to be dean of environmental studies.

The most newsworthy academic development of the year was the introduction of the first co-op program in the arts faculty: honours economics. The biggest academic problem of the year was the failure rate in first-year engineering, which hit 23 per cent, the dean muttering that with changes in the high school curriculum, students were coming into university who weren't suited for engineering or at least weren't properly prepared for what they'd be facing. Religious studies, on its way to becoming a "department", acquired a "chairman" for the first time -- people weren't yet called chairs. FASS left its past as a variety show behind it, coming up with "The Peasants' Revolt", a performance that, whatever its lack of musical merit, at least had a continuous plot from beginning to end. The audiences weren't big, but I can tell you that they would have been smaller if it hadn't been for three or four trolls in a back corner of the Theatre of the Arts, trying to figure out which parts of the show were meant to be funny and which were a straight portrayal of university life at Waterloo. It wasn't easy.

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