Robert W. Begg (1975-1980) - Installation Address

Installation Address, 15 May 1975

Eminent Chancellor, Mr. Minister, Your Worship, Mr. Gauley and Members of the Board of Governors, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Senate, Members of the Faculty, Graduands and Friends:

I appreciate deeply the honour of being installed as the President of the University of Saskatchewan and I welcome the responsibility I must accept in the course of my duties. It will be a challenge to live up to the legitimate expectations of those who have brought greetings, and I look forward to working with all of the groups represented during my five-year term of office. I shall, of course, have a particular regard for the graduating class of 1975 with whom I share this Convocation.

The installation of a President is an incident in the history of the University of Saskatchewan and it is fitting that we should reflect on our past, while planning the future. Our first University Act was passed in 1907, Dr. Walter Murray was named the first President in 1908, and classes began in 1909. The development of the University since that time can be attributed to the efforts of students, faculty, administrators, alumni, governments, and members of the public. I am particularly conscious this morning of my predecessors in office: Dr. Walter Murray, Dr. J. S. Thomson, Dr. W. P. Thompson, and Dr. John Spinks; I will attempt to match their achievements, different in their times, but each significant and vital in our development.

We are a young University of less than seventy years. Oxford had its beginnings in the 12th century and Canadian universities date back to the 1780's; despite our youth we are in the tradition of centuries of scholarship. The learned professions of Law, Medicine, and Theology were prominent in the ancient European universities; thus a professional application of scholarship is also part of our tradition. We on the prairies are perhaps more in the mold of the "land grant colleges" than Oxbridge, with a tradition of service as well as teaching and research.

The University of Saskatchewan in May, l975, is an established, healthy, vigorous, provincial university, exhibiting the normal stresses and strains of our Canadian society, but having a record of considerable accomplishment. We have a student body that I would match with any in Canada, an excellent faculty, and an experienced administration and support staff. Able people such as Dr. Haslam, Mr. Pringle, and Dr. Kristjanson will be in the Office of the President. We have functional, attractive and well maintained buildings. Our financial resources do not match our aspirations, but are sufficient to do many things. We have the people, we have the resources, and we have the will – the vital question is how best to maintain, increase, and deploy these resources to achieve the legitimate aims and objectives of the University. We must define these aims and objectives before we can decide how best to deploy our resources. We must be prepared to make hard decisions on which objectives take priority over others, recognizing there will be many valid aims we cannot afford. Let me emphasize that what I am about to say is a personal viewpoint. Senate, Council, and Board are deliberating on these same problems, and some may question the wisdom of the President making a public statement in advance of institutional decisions. I consider it legitimate for the President to state his personal views at an Installation, recognizing that it will be his duty to implement the institutional decisions even if they be at variance with his own opinions. I. The primary oblective of the University of Saskatchewan should be excellence in undergraduate teaching to the level of the first degree.

Degrees in Law and Medicine, for example, may be the first degree for many; thus I include the professional colleges in this category.

I make this my top priority for several reasons:

(1) This is where excellence in scholarship must begin, and excellence in graduate studies must be built on a sound base; a minority of our students will go on to university teaching and research.

(2) This is the objective of many of our students and their families – to achieve their first degree and go to their career employment. They may return to graduate work at a later date, and hopefully they will be active in continuing education for "lifelong learning". Some may tend to dismiss this as mere "manpower training", but I would remind you that an ancient and honorable tradition of universities has been to train people for careers outside the university; this is the role much of society would stress and support, and indeed may have been a major factor in the establishment of the concept of the university.

The presentation of a primary objective with supportive arguments is a subjective mental exercise; the implementation is more complex and difficult. What must we do to achieve this primary objective? We must:

(1) Select our teachers and our students to ensure that the participants are of quality and have the motivation to immerse themselves in an intellectual adventure.

(2) Reward both teachers and students for excellence in performance – we require better tests of performance.

(3) Provide a learning environment for the encouragement of (a) increased

knowledge (b) critical analysis (c) problem solving (d) personal maturation and development as individuals, as citizens, as learned persons.

 

This will require accessibility for better prepared students, more and better teachers, an improved library, a critical examination of the use of new educational technology, an assessment of the number and quality of class offerings, an analysis of the breadth and depth of curricula, and the setting and monitoring of the standards to be achieved. These are but some of the factors to be considered. It is one thing to make some grand general statement at Convocation; it is quite another thing to find and apply the resources and to work consistently towards a stated objective that involves the participation of thousands of individuals.

Time does not permit more than a statement of the remaining priorities, and all require supportive analysis and comment which I may have the opportunity to provide on some subsequent occasion.

II. Provision of more adequate facilities and support for research and scholarship.

These are the activities that distinguish a university from other institutions in post secondary education, and must have a high priority. There is a problem of possible internal reallocation of resources to graduate studies and research, as well as the acquisition of new resources.

III. Provision of service to the community and the province.

Initially there was agriculture and home-makers extension but this has evolved into a wide variety of professional and community activities. This tradition of service must be maintained, but great care must be exercised to control the level of resource application and to maintain the proper balance between teaching, research, and service.

IV. We have a role to play in preserving and developing our national and ethnic culture, in providing better preparation for leisure time activity, in making our fine arts and recreation facilities available to the community, and in providing leadership dedicated to the future and engaged in a critical analysis of ourselves and of society.

Universities have become central, important, and expensive institutions in society. It is my view that we can best serve our province and our nation by concentrating on the areas where we are unique in higher education and scholarship. We recognize a valid and healthy spin-off in limited service, and, as a central institution in society, we are conscious of the complex inter-relations we must develop and maintain with the other components of post-secondary education and of society.

Finally let me address myself more specifically to the graduands who, I know, are impatient to get on with the ceremonies. You chose certain personal aims and objectives in coming to the University, and by your graduation today you have achieved at least some part of your objectives. You are to be congratulated and complimented, and I do so with great pleasure. You will proceed now to employment, or to further studies, and I hope we have prepared you well for the future of your choice. May I remind you that because you are University graduates, society has a right to look to you for a high level of performance and contribution, and I trust you will find satisfaction and happiness in discharging this responsibility.

[Copy available in R.W. Begg fonds, Personal, file 1a: Addresses to Convocation]