Facing the third decade

Staff pack information boxes

The Watbox, to be filled year by year with UW admissions brochures, was new. Registrar’s office staff packed hundreds of them to be sent out to high schools. That would be Steve Little at left and Paulette O’Grady at right; neither Simon nor the registrar’s office can now identify the person in the middle.

Seduction beside Laurel Creek: well, I won't deny that it ever happens. Living under one of the creek bridges as I do, I see more than you'd think, but I don't have to tell everything I see. The creekside canoodling of Linda Bernell and Gregory Burgess was of much interest on campus in 1979, though -- mainly because it figures in chapter 2 of Thomas J. Ryan's novel The Adolescence of P-1, which was a best-seller at the UW bookstore that year in spite of a steep cover price, $4.95. Only some bits of the novel are actually set at Waterloo, as Gregory moves away and loses touch with the artificial-intelligence program that he's accidentally set loose in the computer networks of the world. Readers on campus loved it, though, and I seem to remember that Bob Gosselink of the English department actually put it on the curriculum of his science fiction course at least once.

Computer networks were still in their infancy then, of course. It was big news when the UW library announced CAM, the "community access module", that gave people dial-up access to a very bare-bones version of its catalogue. Remember that computers themselves were primitive by the standards you're now used to. In the Math and Computer red room, the old IBM 360/75 was moved out in August 1979 and replaced by an IBM 3031, with purchase of a 4341 already planned. Your university did, however, acquire a million-dollar computerized controls system for heating, cooling, fans and lights. That announcement came in tandem with word that the use of energy on campus had been cut by 25 per cent since the beginning of the "energy crisis" and the resulting conservation measures. But there were continuing complaints about the ventilation systems in Needles Hall and its twin, Matthews Hall (still known then as Administrative Services).

If you want to complain about Needles Hall, it might as well be about the air quality as anything else, I always say. And what came out of Needles in 1979? Hot air, naturally, including the Third Decade Report, generated by the senate long-range planning committee and discussed across campus and by the senate for months before getting eventual approval. For the first time, after struggling along any old way for 22 years, the University of Waterloo now had a goal! I quote: "to serve mankind, and particularly Ontario and Canada, as a distintive University of the highest quality", et cetera. Then came six "objectives", which spoke of the things you'd expect: "excellence", "technology transfer", "scholarship directed at current social issues", "off-campus education", "problem-solving" and "innovation". Quite consciously, the objectives made clear that this university doesn't try to do everything. The excellence, relevance and scholarship were to be "in Engineering, Mathematics, Science, Human Kinetics and Leisure Studies, and in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences". No law schools here, thank you. Notice that in what must have been a nod to the university's roots, engineering got first billing and science second.

Unlike some later planning reports at Waterloo, the Third Decade report -- which clearly bore the fingerprints of vice-president Tom Brzustowski -- was also full of specifics. "The French section of the department of classics and romance languages should be reconstituted as the department of French," the committee wrote, and before the year was over it was done, with separate departments of Spanish, French, and classical studies created. "Serious consideration should be given to establishing an Office of Technology Transfer or innovation centre," and before the year was out, $200,000 was extracted from Ottawa to help get the "industrial innovation centre" started.

If that seems like big money and fast work, by the way, you should bear in mind that there was a federal election going on, and Pierre Trudeau's Liberals felt threatened. As well they should have, being swept into opposition in the May 22 election. Frank Epp, who was president of Conrad Grebel College and the Liberal candidate in Waterloo, was de feated by local clergyman and city councillor Walter McLean. The resulting Progressive Conservative government was short-lived, though, being defeated on its first budget, mostly over the issue of gasoline taxes. Remember 1979? It was the year of Joe Clark.

Anyway, as I was saying, there was lots in the Third Decade report, including a recommendation that "the university should place severe restrictions on the renovations of existing space." That one was put into effect right away on the fourth floor of the Math and Computer building, where the Engineering, Math and Science Library wanted to expand, displacing some laboratories. No, the deans ruled; the library can stay the size it is, and books can be put into storage if necessary. Library officials put out a memo that said in effect, fine, but if the customers complain, library staff will be sending them straight to the deans for an explanation, because it's not our fault. Harmony all round at Waterloo, that year and every year! There was, however, some prospect of brand-new space being available, with plans drawn up for something to be called Environmental Studies II.

Government grants went up again that year and so did tuition fees, to the astonishing sum of $720 a year for most undergraduates, but the university was again feeling seriously short of money. Indeed, the year began with the president, Burt Matthews, warning that any previous promises of no layoffs at UW were now inoperative. "The human and physical resources of the University should be as mobile as possible within the institution, serving the University where their capacities can best be used," said the Third Decade report. Alfred Kunz, the long-time music director, was mobilized right out of the university, his job eliminated as part of the year's budget cuts. For the first time, the university was officially closed from before Christmas until after New Year's, allowing thermostats to be turned way down for a net saving (somebody estimated) of $21,000. Fooled them: the Christmas holidays were mild, and the biggest storm of the year hit during April exams.

President Matthews took a step that winter that I'd call "epochal" if trolls weren't too cynical to think that anything done by human beings really marks an epoch. Late the previous year he had dropped hints that he was about to lead UW into fund-raising activities, something it hadn't really had since the Tenth Anniversary Campaign wound up, and in February he told the board of governors that "The time is ripe." He must not have foreseen the full implications, though, as he added that "We will probably have to establish an office with a director and a secretary." The following year, that's exactly what would be done, and before long the staff would be growing and the money trickling in.

Fund-raising was seen as a source of incremental money in those days; I don't recall ever hearing anyone call government financing of universities a "one-payer system", implying that a multi-payer system was even imaginable. The government (of Ontario, I mean) might draw criticism for not sending big enough cheques, but the relationship was still close, with a respectful understanding on both sides about how things worked. One day in 1979, the provincial cheque arrived along with an enclosure, an Ontario flag which the education minister said she'd like to see flown prominently on campus. "The citizens of Ontario," she wrote, "are justifiably proud of both our province and our institutions." Ah, those were the days, and Waterloo promptly put up a second flagpole at the University Avenue entrance.

Also new on campus that year was my friend Porcellino, who now lives outside the Modern Languages building -- embedded in concrete, which must be inconvenient for him at times -- but who spent his first years here indoors, in the lobby under that perennially leaking roof. Passers-by started tossing coins at his base, which lacked the little pool of water it was supposed to hold; one day somebody, ignominiously, left him a dog biscuit.

Other innovations at Waterloo in 1979? The travel agency in South Campus Hall (Eaton's, it was then, located where the visitors' centre is now); a coat of arms and flag for Renison College, designed by its heraldically perfect principal, Ian Campbell; and Robin Banks, the new dean of arts. Banks, of course, wasn't new on campus -- he'd been chair of the psychology department for a century or two -- but that was the year he took over from the old warhorse, J. S. Minas, beginning what would eventually be the longest term in any deanship in Waterloo's history. Meanwhile the university lost a couple of its pioneers, with the death of chancellor Carl Pollock (a charter member of the board of governors) and an illness that forced the retirement of Father "Corky" Siegfried at St. Jerome's College.

Finally, I'd just like to mention the reopening of the Brubacher House on the north campus, as a museum recognizing the pioneer Mennonites who farmed these regions before any such thing as a university was thought of. I've mentioned before that as the resident troll I, too, go back a long way, and it was a comfort to me to see the burned-out house rebuilt and refurnished as, frankly, somewhere I can retreat when I'd rather not think about technology transfer or "excellence" in any form. I'm sure you'll understand.

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