A pie in the face

Renovations turned Administrative Services into an academic building, and soon it would be getting a new name: B.C. Matthews Hall
Renovations turned Administrative Services into an academic building, and soon it would be getting a new name: B.C. Matthews Hall

A pie in the face, and you weren't there to see it? Pity; but I was, that Monday afternoon in March, as the audience gasped in disbelief and the Federation of Students leaders, whose guest was their implacable political enemy, scurried to find paper towels to wipe off the whipped cream. That was the defining moment of 1980, that act of absurdist disrespect on the Theatre of the Arts stage, and as troll in residence and a keen observer of human frailty, I watched with interest.

The victim of the pie was Bette Stephenson, the tough, dumpy little doctor who was serving as Ontario's education minister just then, and who had showed her usual courage in coming to campus to face her critics over the issue of tuition fee increases. The pie-tosser, who raced out of the theatre but was collared by security officers within moments, proved to be a well-known, if fringe, figure on campus who said he had acted in the name of the Anarchist Party of Canada (Groucho Marxist). Maybe so. If that organization exists, it deserves to be remembered in Waterloo history right along with the Aryan Affairs Commission of the late sixties, whose chief activity was stamping "Approved" on everything in sight, and the Karl Friedrich Gauss Foundation of the late seventies, which claimed to be perpetuating the fame of the great mathematician -- not the memory, for they claimed he wasn't dead, but the fame. Again, maybe so.

Anyway, I was talking about Bette Stephenson and the theme of tuition fee increases, which was front and centre in the news at Waterloo not for the first time and certainly not for the last. At the time of Stephenson's talk and the pie-tossing, the government had announced an increase of 7.5 per cent in fees for the year, meaning students would have to pony up an extra $57.50 starting that September. Students were infuriated, not just at Waterloo but all across the province. An estimated 2,500 of them marched on Queen's Park one day later that month, while Stephenson watched and told reporters, "Students will never be satisfied. They would not be good students, exercising their intellectual abilities, if they were satisfied."

At UW, some of them were so dissatisfied that they announced a "fee hike strike" by which they wouldn't pay the extra bucks at September registration. Sorry, UW officials responded, but if you don't pay the going rate, you're not registered. Perhaps taking the hint, or realizing that there wasn't quite the mass movement they had hoped for, Federation of Students leaders dropped their support for the strike, and come September, exactly three students tried to make the gesture of withholding the cash. Shortly afterwards, a provincial election was called, and student leaders announced an effort to vote out Stephenson along with premier Bill Davis and the rest of his Tories. Fees weren't the only issue, said Fed president Neil Freeman, announcing "an all-encompassing type of committee" to press the student viewpoint on candidates. (The voting came in March 1981, and Davis won 70 of 125 seats in the Legislature.)

That was the sort of thing that was going on at Waterloo in 1980, a year when governments grants were going up but costs and enrolment were going up faster. It was officially announced, for those who kept track of such things, that Ontario had fallen to last place among Canada's ten provinces in its level of funding for universities; I understand that as the largest and wealthiest province, it's maintained that record unbroken ever since.

The place -- Waterloo I mean, now -- was bulging in September, with a record 4,150 full-time first-year students, including 860 of them in engineering; the dean at the time, Wally McLaughlin, didn't know whether to laugh or cry, especially when he realized that a program in geological engineering had just been approved and he'd have to find room for even more students in the years to come. Among the 4,150 bright shiny faces in September 1980 were 100 belonging to the very first students in another new program, "arts applied studies", the brainchild of Ken Ledbetter and John Stubbs.

Good times? Sure they were good times, in their way, especially when Burt Matthews, the president, announced that next year's budget cut would be smaller than this year's. For all the cutting, the university's total spending passed $100 million for the first time that year, and money was found somewhere for some construction and renovation. Tenders were called for Environmental Studies II. "It will be good to have some mud on campus again," said Burt Matthews when he signed the construction contract, three inches thick. Complaints about salmon-pink bricks were on the horizon, and a new parking lot was carved out behind the Minota Hagey Residence, unpleasantly close to my creek, though certainly preferable to what had originally been planned for that site, namely three more residences just like Minota Hagey. Elsewhere, a shuffling of offices made room in the Administrative Services building for the department of recreation and leisure studies, which had been based off campus, on Phillip Street, for a good while. The visitors' reception centre, almost as peripatetic as my friends the Laurel Creek geese, moved from Needles Hall to Admin Services, and would soon be on its way again, north to Optometry. There was talk (isn't there always talk at Waterloo?) of a building for the earth sciences department to call its very own.

They were good times in Canada as a whole; inflation was high, but the recession of the early eighties hadn't hit yet, and unemployment was lower than it's been since. Ray Wieser, who was director of coordination (you'd say "director of co-op" now), was embarrassed to have to announce that so many employers had shown up, he had 4,000 jobs he couldn't fill one term. Canada was on a roll, in spite of a few bad feelings over the boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Voters in Québec said no that summer to "sovereignty-association", and voters across the country said yes to Pierre Trudeau again. (His coat-tails didn't extend to Waterloo, where Walter McLean of the Conservatives was re-elected; the chief unsuccessful candidates were both professors, Frank Epp for the Liberals and Bob Needham for the NDP, and there was also a UW students who ran on behalf of the Libertarians.) Canada was, in fact, the toast of the world, and especially of the United States, for much of 1980, when it became known that this country's consul in Tehran, Ken Taylor, had helped a dozen American diplomats escape from Iran at the beginning of what came to be known as the "hostage crisis". Americans grasped any opportunity to say thank you to Canadians: some folks at the University of Kentucky phoned Ted Dixon of Waterloo's physics department, the only Canadian they knew, to express their gratitude, and a thank-you note arrived at the UW library from colleagues at Pennsylvania State.

It amuses me -- though of course trolls amuse easily, looking at human foibles -- to look back at the issues that got people excited in 1980, besides separatism and Iran. It was the first year most people heard about "sexual harassment" as a problem on campuses, and it was the year that "programmable calculators" got to be common enough that the university senate discussed when and whether students should be allowed to bring them into exams. Technological progress never stops: the 13-year-old IBM 360/75 computer was unplugged that year, with Burt Matthews himself, in borrowed hard-hat, officiating. People talked ambitiously of something called Telidon, a Canadian-made interactive delivery system that had only one serious flaw: it didn't work very well, though it provided a sort of clumsy preview of the World Wide Web.

A sign of the times, quite literally, was the one that turned up on photocopiers, warning people not to copy things to which they had no right. Professors were beginning to as semble sheaves of "readings" to sell to their students, as an alternative to traditional textbooks, and the copyright violations multiplied, quickly followed by highly publicized lawsuits by publishers against copy shops. Dumb computer terminals proliferated on people's desks, and there came to be near hysteria about "VDT radiation" emanating from them, although it wasn't until 1983 that your university actually adopted a policy saying pregnant women didn't have to sit in front of VDTs if they didn't want to. Issues of that kind, and changes in Ontario law, led the university to create a "joint health and safety committee".

Plans had been made the previous year for the university to get started on private sector fund-raising, and in February Jon Dellandrea, late of the University of Toronto, arrived to take on the job. The name "Watfund" was soon heard, and it was made known that staff and faculty would be the first targets, to set a good example for the alumni and corporations who were on Dellandrea's longer-term target list. Also new on campus, though only temporarily, was Harold Horwood, well-known Canadian novelist, who became the first "writer-in-residence" and arrived announcing that he'd like to leave a magazine behind as his legacy. (You know what came of that idea, I'm sure: The New Quarterly.) New appointments in 1980 included two from the computer science department: Alan George, later to become provost, as dean of mathematics, and Morven Gentleman as "university computing officer", first in a long if irregular stream of officials who would try to bring some order to a decentralized, undisciplined and fast-growing computer infrastructure.

As I think back to 1980 I remember other developments here and there: a convoy of new professors arriving from McMaster to bolster the accounting "group", not yet a "school", in the economics department; the last meeting of the old Industrial Advisory Council and the first meeting of its successor, the Waterloo Advisory Council, representing co-op employers from the public sector as well as from industry; a flurry of recrimination when an associate registrar was appointed to get the bureacracy of the correspondence program under control, and the two academics who had started it all, Jim Leslie and Ted Dixon, resigned in protest, going back to full-time work in the physics department. Oh, and the retirement party they held in the psychology preschool for Reiny Syrotiuk, the psych department technician and carpenter who built the kids' cubbies and their beloved "rocky boat".

Somebody else was leaving Waterloo in 1980 too: the president. The year began with formation of a search committee to find a successor for Matthews, who had said he wanted to leave office at least a year early -- he'd arrived in 1970 and should have stayed for twelve years. Things had changed hugely since the days of the search that brought him to Waterloo; that one had been conducted with great openness, and he was the winner among three finalists who came to campus to be scrutinized like horses at a sale. This time the search was very secret, and not many people knew what was in the wind until the late November announcement that Matthews's successor, in July 1981, would be a man who had known Waterloo well in its early years, the first dean of engineering, Doug Wright. A few days earlier, Matthews had held the last in his series of occasional open meetings for staff and faculty members; at the end of it, they gave him a standing ovation.

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