Letters Summer 2007
WHO’S THAT GRAD?
Regarding the graduation photo on the back cover of the Winter 2007 Alumni Magazine, is the date of the picture known, or possibly the name of the graduate?
ERIC MORSE, BEng’54
How could you have omitted identification of the picture on the back cover? I searched high and low for it in the publication. Was it F. Cyril James? Please solve the mystery!
RON HIERLIHY, BEng’66
St. Albert, Alberta
As an alumnus of our great university, allow me to state how sad I was not to be mentioned in your Winter issue. Firstly, on the back cover photo, I missed by one being the graduate capped by Principal F. Cyril James. Eric Deakin, the one shown, was just ahead of me during the 1950 graduation ceremonies.
Then the News lists several graduates who became writers, but somehow missed out on the name John A. Neal. The desire to write started building up during my undergraduate years (courtesy of those long written examinations) and began to mature during my working life in marketing and consulting. Only in 1988, when the working world had no more use for my talents, did I turn to the written word as an author.
Since then I have written many stories, but only had the nerve to have two of them published. These include “The Lucky Pigeon” based on my experiences as an airman during WW II, and “Bless You, Brother Irvin,” the story of the Caterpillar Club (and the many who jumped from planes to become members).
The stories have won no prizes, but I do have many letters to attest to their readability. If anyone is interested in the full details, they can contact me at email@example.com. But, please rush; after all, I am a 1950 graduate!
JOHN A. NEAL, BSc’50
The image accompanying our back page ad for the McGill Mentor Program, which featured F. Cyril James (McGill’s principal from 1939-1962) capping a brand new McGill graduate, had quite a few people wondering who the young fellow in the photo was (including Vincent Jolivet, BEng’52, who mailed in the ad with a simple note asking, “Is this me?”). Our thanks to Mr. Neal for solving the mystery.
A CLOSE CALL REVISITED
The report of the incident outlined in the letters section of your Winter 2007 issue (Remembering a Close Call) contains inaccuracies. I remember the events vividly as I was the student who left the exam room without permission to go to the washroom.
During all our previous exams, anyone wishing to smoke could do so in the doorway, remaining fully visible to the invigilators. This time though, the invigilators said smoker “X” could not do so. He replied, “Don’t be ridiculous; I’ve done this in six straight exams,” and proceeded to smoke in the doorway.
One invigilator left the room at one point. Usually an invigilator accompanied a student to the washroom. I left my seat and indicated to the remaining invigilator that I wished to go to the washroom. He said, “There is only one invigilator.” Without thinking, and having been well schooled by Professor Frank R. Scott in human rights, I replied, “That’s not my fault,” and didn’t break stride!
When the second invigilator returned, he sent for the chief invigilator. This person was nervous and piped in a high voice: “I am the chief invigilator,” like someone in a Gilbert and Sullivan production. There was a chorus of boos from two-thirds of the class. The chief invigilator went berserk. Brahm Eisenstat said, “Be calm” and the chief invigilator tore his exam paper in half and crumpled it.
At this precise moment Professor Scott arrived, sizing up the situation instantly. He led the chief invigilator out of the room saying, “You don’t seem to realize this is the graduating class of a professional faculty.” A few minutes later Professor Scott brought back the torn and crumpled exam book and instructed Eisenstat to continue.
As Eisenstat struggled to smooth out the book, he announced, “If I fail, I sue.” He passed.
I was summoned to Dean Meredith’s office the next day, together with smoker “X.” The dean decided to fine smoker “X” $25 for his actions and added a $10 fine for each and every member of the class whether they took part in the booing or not. Some of us sought out Professor Scott to complain about this. He smiled and answered, “This is an example of British justice: when in doubt, bomb the natives.”
I was toasted by some of my classmates at our class party as one who “stood up for the right to take a leak.”
LAWRENCE CAPELOVITCH BA’52, BCL’56
It’s always flattering to read one’s name in print (even if misspelled), and especially so to be called “very intelligent.”
The article about the incident in the law final exam in 1956 erred in two respects.
(1) The boos first erupted in the exam room when the chief invigilator came in and, before even identifying himself, said: “There will be no trips to the washroom and no smoking in the corridor.” This put a sudden end to two long-term traditions in law faculty exams.
(2) The gentleman was about to tear up my paper when he was distracted by a comment from Brahm Eisenstat, who said, “Aw pipe down.” Nobody knows to this day whether Brahm was addressing the chief invigilator or the rest of the class, but it was in fact his paper that was torn up. The invigilator in charge of our particular exam spent the rest of the allotted time pasting the paper back together.
JAIME DUNTON, BA’53, BCL’56
North Hatley, Quebec
SUPERIOR IS SUPERIOR
No, Africa’s Lake Victoria is not “the largest body of fresh water in the world” (The Delicate Balance of Biodiversity, Winter 2007), not by a long shot. That honour belongs to another lake, quite far from Africa, but rather closer to McGill itself: Canada’s own Lake Superior, which has 18 per cent greater surface area and over four times greater a volume of water.
CHRISTOPHER NOBLE, BEng’77
A DIFFERENT TAKE ON TUITION
In Principal Munroe-Blum’s column in the Winter 2007 edition of the McGill News, she chooses to lobby to end the Quebec government’s tuition freeze, without simultaneously calling on governments to invest more in education.
To justify her call for higher tuition rates, she writes, “no government can afford to go it alone when it comes to funding universities.”
She neglects to mention in her column that the provincial government of Jean Charest has chosen to allocate billions of dollars towards tax cuts, money that could have been used to support Quebec universities. In addition, Quebec has one of the lowest corporate tax rates in Canada.
The federal government, meanwhile, is swimming in surpluses of billions of dollars and can afford to lower both income tax rates and the GST (in addition to escalating defence spending).
Whereas McGill’s principal should lobby governments in the interest of the University, she usually falls short of calling for more government funds and for a halt to the current trend toward reducing the size of the public sector at the expense of young students. If we want our society to be more creative and innovative, as the principal states in her piece, how can we achieve this by placing taller financial barriers in the path of young people who wish to receive higher education?
Everything that is possible should be done to minimize or prevent tuition increases. A good administrator should therefore consider all the options available in order to defend the interests of the University, its administration, its academic staff, and its students simultaneously, not of one at the expense of another.
Principal Heather Munroe-Blum replies: I appreciate Mr. Jetté’s dedication to the cause of higher education and accessibility. In fact, I continue to advocate strongly and publicly that universities must be a higher priority for governments; that increased tuition rates are not a substitute for sustaining public support; and that those students who can afford to pay a fair cost for their education should do so, while those who require assistance should receive the help they need. The evidence clearly shows that artificially low tuition rates on their own are not the answer to increased accessibility. Even though Quebec froze tuition rates for residents of the province at $1,668 per year in 1994, its degree completion rate is now Canada’s lowest.
The recent Quebec budget, which allows universities to raise tuition by $50 per semester, is a move in the right direction. McGill is allocating 30 per cent of all tuition increases to student support. At the same time, we are not relaxing our efforts to persuade governments to invest in strengthening the quality of teaching and research. And we are strongly advocating that Quebec build on its record of supporting universities more generously than other provincial governments, by investing in quality and student aid, and by bringing in matching programs to encourage greater philanthropic support for student aid. The stakes are critically high: Our economic future depends on increasing both participation rates and the quality of education. This implies increasing public and private investment in universities, and targeting financial aid to those who are in need of assistance.
POOR CHOICE OF WORDS?
I enjoyed hearing from these wonderful writers and the McGill connection was a pleasant bonus (The Write Stuff, Winter 2007).
I feel obliged, though, to draw your attention to two issues. First of all, on the cover you describe David Bezmozgis before hitting the big time as a “literary nobody.” Surely the word “unknown” would fit better here? Kind of ironic, isn’t it? The way you put it kind of slaps at Mr. Bezmozgis, not to mention people like me who are “soon-to-be-emerging writers.” Also, McGill unfortunately does not teach creative writing in English. Pity, that.
BEV AKERMAN, BSc’82, MSc’87
The Department of English has been offering creative writing courses focused on either poetry or fiction for the last 10 years or so, with English professor (and award-winning poet) Thomas Heise scheduled to teach a creative writing course on poetry during the next winter term. The Faculty of Education’s Writing Centre also offers courses on poetry and short story writing. Two of the authors profiled in the article Ms. Akerman refers to, David Bezmozgis and Colin McAdam, both credited the vibrant writing scene they encountered during their student days at McGill with playing a pivotal role in their own development as writers. McGill offers plenty of outlets for budding young writers — the student-published literary magazine, Scrivener, to name one.