You were responsible for many innovations that made SFU unique. What were some of them?
(1) The early adoption of the trimester system. (2) No compulsory English, maths, second language, or science. (3) A combination of large lectures and tutorials for all students and all years. (4) The internship and associate system in teacher training. Many people thought we did away with the compulsory subjects because we wanted to attract students. That isn’t so. I wanted to do away with them because schools had changed, they didn’t work, and they posed huge burdens on departments.
When I was a freshman at UBC in 1947, calculus didn’t start until second year, even for science and engineering students. By 1965, some students started calculus in high school. The English and language requirement, as taught, didn’t work well either. And the first heads of science didn’t want a compulsory science.
What were your biggest challenges?
The most time-consuming challenge was persuading [Chancellor Gordon] Shrum to support my proposals. He was all-powerful in the beginning. With some minor modifications, I eventually persuaded him to agree with what I wanted. But the biggest challenge was recruiting, especially the first heads. Canada wasn’t producing nearly enough faculty, especially with PhDs, and both the older universities and the new ones were expanding. Around 1964, Canada produced only five PhDs in maths. B.C. alone wanted over 30, so the competition was intense.
What are you proudest of at SFU?
Above all, of the quality of the first heads and faculty. Rudy Haering (Department of Physics), Don Nelson (Department of Biological Sciences) and Tom Bottomore (Department of Political Science, Sociology, and Anthropology) were outstanding by any measure. I was also very proud of the fact that we planned, built, staffed, and opened with over 2,000 students just 21 months after I opened the first office on January 2, 1964.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I would insist on better senior administrative staff. Shrum wouldn’t pay for more experienced admin people, and I didn’t know any better. I also wouldn’t have an all-year operation. Shrum was committed to it, and I thought the trimester system the best possibility. It was very helpful recruiting, but it was expensive and an administrative nightmare. I would pay very much more attention to explaining what we wanted to do and implementing it with new staff. We left that to the heads, and they had other problems to deal with.
What is your best memory of those early years?
In some ways, I suppose the opening ceremony with Lord Lovat on a beautiful day. It was a symbolic recognition that we had done what many people doubted we could do.