New Brunswick History and Other Stuff

How to fix U.N.B.: A Modest Proposal

leave a comment »

From the blog at

How to fix U.N.B.: A Modest Proposal

An Early view of King’s College

From the Canadian Encyclopedia

King’s College was established in 1823, with a mission to foster “the education of youth in the principles of the Christian religion, and … the various branches of literature and science.” The academic curriculum was narrow, and it was said that “Nothing further … is required … for matriculation, than [to be] acquainted with the … Latin and Greek languages, and to be capable of … writing in Latin as well as English.” The “principles of the Christian religion” were also distinctly those of the Church of England.

College training aimed at producing gentlemen was not relevant to most of the population. Enrollment was low and the College was a significant budget item. By mid-century, there were calls for change, including that its annual grant to be discontinued, and even that it be turned into an agricultural school.

By 1854 the Assembly was preparing to draft a report and to make recommendations on how the College might be made more relevant in the eyes of the people, and Lieutenant Governor Edmond Head then wrote a letter expressing his thoughts on the matter. He was at pains not to interfere in the affairs of the Assembly, and that is why I called his letter “a modest proposal.”

Edmund Head’s letter follows, wherein he addresses many of the relevant issues. Only minor editing has been introduced.


Government House, Fredericton, August 3rd, 1854.


I am desirous of placing in your hands certain observations of my own, which I do not call by the formal name of Instructions, because I have no desire to fetter or control in any way the discretion which the law vests in you. The confidence which I have in that discretion is sufficiently shewn by your appointment.

My wish is to offer such remarks as may perhaps, whilst they guide your inquiries, keep strongly before you the objects to be aimed at in your report. I may add, that any additional information, or any assistance which I can afford to you, by personal conference or otherwise, will be most readily given.

From all that has passed, it is obvious enough that the real problem to be solved, is this—

“In what manner can the establishment and endowment of King’s College be rendered most generally useful to the people of this Province, by contributing to the promotion of sound learning and superior education?”

I say that this is the problem to be solved, because the Act in pursuance of which you are appointed implies an admission that such a result is practicable. The proposition originally made in the Assembly was to withdraw absolutely and entirely the whole endowment derived from the Provincial Treasury; the authority to appoint your Commission was carried as an amendment to that proposition, and certainly involves the expectation, or at least the hope, that means may be devised for extending the utility of the foundation to which it relates.

It will probably very soon occur to you that the one indispensable condition for securing any such result is a general and increasing confidence in the Institution itself, on the part of the parents and guardians of our young men. Without this nothing can be done. Whatever is taught must be in itself such, and must be so taught, as to meet the wants and be within the reach of our farmers, our lumbermen, our shipbuilders and our merchants. We must therefore be prepared to offer such instruction as will have some immediate bearing on the progress in life of the young man whom we profess to educate: without fulfilling this condition we shall never get him to our school at all. But the essence of a College or University requires, moreover, that such an institution should embrace a wider range of study, and should combine, with useful knowledge, those elements of classical literature, and of abstract science, which serve to raise the character and refine the taste of every class in every country. All our pupils will not profit by the offer of such teaching, but in every large number there exists a certain proportion of happier natures, eager to seize on the opportunity of imbibing more refined tastes and higher knowledge. The native of this Province who desires deliberately to forego the chance of imparting such instruction to those who are willing to accept it, must profess at once that he intends the Legislators and the Gentlemen of New Brunswick to sink contentedly to a level lower than that of their brethren in Canada or the United States. Few, however, would venture to prove their patriotism by openly expressing such a wish for themselves or their children. Indeed, the more urgent is the pressure of the material wants in a society such as this, the more important is it to secure the chance of offering to all, that liberal cultivation which may serve to leaven the mass, and soften, while it elevates, the character and feelings of the whole.

I think, however, that the sharp and distinct line which in older countries separates the School from the University, cannot in every case be draw’n in a less advanced state of society; nor is this to be wondered at. It is the same in other pursuits. In a European capital the wholesale and the retail dealers are persons almost in different classes of society; in America no such clear distinction can be said to exist.

It may be questioned perhaps whether one cause of the failure of King’s College is not to be found in the struggle to maintain in too clear and definite a form this very difference between a School and a College.

The Collegiate School at Fredericton is, I believe, a very useful Institution. It is governed by the College Council, and derives its resources from their funds. It may be for you to consider whether a closer connection between these two establishments would or would not be beneficial to both. It is possible that the upper classes of the School might advantageously attend the lectures of some of the College Professors, and on the other hand, the less advanced students of the College might profit by accurate grammatical instruction in the School.

This appears possible, because, as you well know, a College in a Province like New Brunswick receives young men, or rather boys, at such an age that their previous instruction has been scanty, and their conduct and progress cannot be trusted wholly to a sense of right or the impulse of proper feeling. For this reason too, among others, it will be a part of your duty to inquire whether the discipline hitherto enforced at King’s College has been sufficiently stringent in its character, not only as regards attendance at lectures, but also with reference to the individual freedom of egress and the moral habits of the students residing within the walls. I doubt much whether such an amount of personal liberty and discretion as forms part of the essence of academical life in Europe can be safely conceded to youths of the class and age likely to frequent King’s College, Fredericton.

In considering all these topics you will bear in mind the absolute necessity which exists for inspiring parents and guardians with full and complete confidence on two points, first, the utility of what is taught; second, the soundness of the morality and discipline. Unless this confidence can be produced no large increase in the number of pupils can be expected, and without an increase of pupils increased usefulness is impossible.

It is not desirable to profess to teach too much, but what we do profess to teach should be taught thoroughly. There are everywhere young men of peculiar aptness for learning who will teach themselves if they have but the opportunity placed before them; but these are not the mass. As a general rule, I myself believe that academical instruction, in order to deserve its name and be thoroughly effectual, must partake of a double character: it must be partly professorial and partly catechetical. The large views, the combined interest which belong to any branch of science or knowledge are best conveyed by lectures, but the indolent or the careless profit little by mere lectures. A pupil should be prepared for receiving the instruction given in a lecture by previous reading, and he should be closely questioned from day to day so as to ascertain that he has imbibed it and assimilated the facts and principles conveyed by oral teaching or illustrated by experiment.

Facilities might perhaps be given at King’s College to persons desirous of following any particular course of study without becoming regular pupils of the establishment or taking a degree. The progress of such persons might be attested by a certificate of competency granted after examination by the Professors whose lectures they had attended. The success of Mr. Cregan’s course of Civil Engineering and Surveying during last winter, is at least encouraging.

It has sometimes occurred to me as possible that the professorial lectures at King’s College may hereafter be made available for the improvement, of the higher class at least, of our School Teachers. It may be a very material point for your consideration, whether, if the Normal School were again moved to Fredericton, it would be possible to organize some connection between it and the teaching of King’s College. Such an arrangement would tend to raise very greatly the general standard of education throughout the Province. I throw this out merely as a suggestion, and I am by no means confident that it could be easily carried into effect.

Another doubtful question may be the expediency of creating in the College Grounds a small model farm on which practical illustrations of scientific Agriculture might be afforded and explained. As I have already observed, however, it would not be desirable to attempt too much at first.

In your Report you will have in some degree to discuss the difficult subject of religious discipline and instruction as connected with King’s College. I need not tell you that no religious test could consistently with the spirit of our institutions be imposed on Students admitted to the College, or on Candidates for a degree.

At the time of entrance of a pupil, his parents or guardians might perhaps be called on to do one of two things; either to allow him to profit by such religious teaching and religious worship as were offered by the ordinary regulations of the College, or to name and arrange with some Minister in Fredericton at whose hands they desired the boy to receive religious instruction. It would then be the business of the College authorities to receive from such Pastor or Minister, weekly certificates shewing how far the student had attended at the Minister’s house and at the usual place of worship. For the character of the instruction so imparted the parents and the person whom they selected would be wholly responsible: the College authorities would only see that the young man availed himself of it. I see no device other than this, or something resembling this, by which a College, open to all, and established and conducted at the public expense in these Colonies, can now enforce on its Students religious instruction of any kind.

It is possible that some parents might wish their children to board in the house of the pastor to whom they entrusted their religious tuition; nor do I know that under proper restrictions and safeguards, such a permission would be inconsistent with Academical discipline—but I doubt not, that all these points will receive your best consideration.

It will be for you to weigh carefully the arguments in favour of paying the Professors of the College by a salary only, or partly by a salary and partly by fees. The latter system certainly gives each Professor a strong interest in increasing and maintaining the number of his class, whilst the partial endowment by salary prevents his entire dependence upon mere popularity.

You will bear in mind that King’s College is a Royal Foundation, and that any change in its charter or its general objects ought to be submitted for the pleasure of the Queen.

There is one point especially on which I think it necessary to offer a caution. It is not in any way probable that a plan for reorganizing the College and extending its utility would necessarily dispense with the services of all those who now give instruction there; but if you should feel it your duty to recommend any personal changes, you may naturally suppose that the Legislature would be reluctant to destroy entirely the prospects of any gentleman who had come to this country, and abandoned the pursuit of his profession elsewhere, in reliance on the public faith. Now it might perhaps occur to you that any indemnity or retiring allowance recommended on such considerations, would be most conveniently charged on that portion of the endowment which is derived from the Civil List. It by no means follows however, that Her Majesty would be advised to assent to such an application of any part of this fund, which was originally assigned to the College for the purpose of carrying on its active functions. On the other hand, I have no doubt that any proposition of this kind made by you, on sufficient grounds, would meet with due consideration, though I cannot pledge myself that it would be considered admissible, even if approved of by the Legislature. This among others is a reason why I wish that the Government should be in possession of your Report by the 1st of November next, in order that an opportunity may be afforded of submitting the whole of your suggestions and advice to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

It may be useful to place in your hands the enclosed printed Prospectus of the course of Education proposed to be adopted in King’s College, London, for the new department of “Civil Service and Commerce.” I have obtained this paper from my friend Dr. Jelf, the Principal of King’s College, because, I thought it possible that the practical character which has been given to this course may be such as to meet some of the wants of a new country, or may, at any rate, supply some hints with reference to the course or study which it is most expedient to promote in this Colony.

I have the honor to be, Gentlemen, your obedient servant,

Edmund Head

Related blog posts – Sorry for the odd format, WordPress is behaving badly today:

“William Wishart Blasts the N.B. Education System – 1845,” dated Dec. 15, 2013 at

Education in New Brunswick in 1837,” dated January 10, 2018 at

William Brydone Jack on the Future of University Education in New Brunswick,” dated April 4, 2018 at

Written by johnwood1946

October 21, 2020 at 8:24 AM

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: