University of Alberta during the Depression
In 1930, President Wallace wrote a report to the Board of Governors that identified the critical need to make room for over-crowed classes, laboratories, and libraries. He thought Applied Science (Engineering) should be the next teaching building constructed because it was attracting extremely high student enrollments.
The Depression deepened and gained a stronghold across the province. Conditions on campus continued to deteriorate. In 1932, Wallace wrote:
…No regular increments to salary of staff have been made for three years. Two deductions have been made in salary as well during the period. Many members of the staff are now being paid $750 to $1,000 less than their normal salary would be at the present time. Vacancies have not been filled, and demonstrator assistance has practically been eliminated from the laboratories. Part-time members of staff in medicine, dentistry, law and education have taken heavy reductions in honoraria. And all instructors have been called on to do more work because of the reduction in the amount of teacher assistance. Courses have been eliminated where there seemed to be a possibility of carrying on with a measure of efficiency without these courses. …
While in very many individual cases of staff and students this whole situation has caused real hardship, and while in all cases and in the University as a whole it has caused real difficulty it has been possible to carry on without relinquishing any major field of University activity. There has been displayed a profound case of loyalty to the University during this difficult time. And this has made the path of those who have administrative responsibilities an easier one to tread. It must be frankly admitted, however, that it is not easy under the circumstances to maintain the morale which permits a University to do its finest and highest work and it is of grave importance that conditions as far as staff are concerned be made easier at the earliest possible time.
The legacy that Wallace inherited from Tory included a sound governance model and, as he mentioned in his report, he had a loyal faculty. While staff loyalty can’t be minimized, they also had practical reasons to remain with the University—having a job was better than having no position during such grim times. The decade continued to exact its toll on staff salaries and campus morale.
Not all was doom and gloom during Wallace’s presidency. To his credit, Wallace worked with Brownlee to alleviate the hospitals’ chronic deficit. The government became financially responsible for the hospital and half the hospital’s Board of Governors were government appointments.
Wallace also had a different view of the Arts than Tory. Tory regarded artistic endeavours as individual pursuits. Naturally, there was staff and student involvement in the Arts during Tory’s tenure. For example, when the University installed the War Memorial Organ in 1923, Professor Nichols (Applied Science) was the University Organist. He provided music for official occasions such as Convocation and Remembrance Day ceremonies, and for Sunday services. He also gave short informal recitals for students during their final examinations. The University community enjoyed art, music, and drama, but these activities were not tied to formal university instruction.
President Wallace thought providing systematic instruction in art, music, and drama was important to the education of many students. Realistically, it was impossible for Wallace to establish new departments or professorships in the Arts during this period of financial stringency. What he did accomplish was to expand the Department of Extension's CKUA offerings so they included the University Symphony Orchestra, choral concerts, a music appreciation series, and plays. By 1930, CKUA was offering full radio courses in Canadian history and English literature.
Large Carnegie Foundation grants to the Department of Extension enabled it to expand music, art, and drama programs and to hire notable individuals such as Elizabeth Sterling Haynes as the head of Extension’s Theatre Division.
A significant achievement for the University during these tight times was the establishment of the Banff School of Fine Arts. In 1933, Edward Annand (Ned) Corbett proposed that a school related to the theatre be their first formal venture. Wallace allocated $1000 of the Carnegie money to Ned Corbett, the head of Extension. Corbett went to Banff and arranged for space and four weeks of specific theatrical training. The Banff School opened with 130 registered students. The school grew to include Music and Fine Arts.
Despite savage cuts, cramped space, and increasing student enrollments, Wallace kept the University afloat. As a practical man, he was concerned about the ongoing Depression and the prevailing uncertainty surrounding the Social Credit government. When Queen’s University offered Wallace a position he accepted it immediately. President Wallace resigned in 1936. His replacement was Dr William Alexander Kerr.
A number of senior staff, such as Hector Macleod, W.H. Alexander, and E.A. Corbett, took positions elsewhere. Junior staff filled these vacancies.
Kerr and the University developed a number of strategies to try to curb soaring student enrollments. High school entrance requirements for Home Economics were increased from 50% to 65%. Quotas were reluctantly imposed on Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and some Engineering departments. In 1937, with the exception of the Faculty of Agriculture, the University no longer accepted students with just a junior matriculation (Grade Eleven).
President Kerr noted that from 1930 to 1938, the University increased its faculty by three people, whereas, during this same eight-year period, student enrollment increased by 358 people.