Other University Experiences

University of Manitoba
I have dealt with most of the important events at the U of M in previous sections because I attended there on several occasions. These are a few different stories.

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I’ve never been a person to play ‘practical jokes’, although I must admit that I was often amused seeing other students playing them. In one Physics class the professor ‘taught' the lesson by opening his folder of notes to where he had left off and then continuing to copy the notes on the blackboard until the end of the class. One day, while the professor was copying notes, one student had been set up to call the professor to the door while another student ran up to the podium, picked up a few pages, turned them over and then put them back on top of the pile.
We thought he would notice that the top page did not continue on from where he had left off and would have to find his place. The joke was on us. He just carried on copying the notes without noticing that the last sentence on the board did not lead into the next one from the notes. The next day the notes suffered another big jump in continuity when he reached the end of the reversed notes, but he just carried on with them.
I can only hope he actually noticed our trick and turned it back on us by pretending not to notice, thus leaving us with the task of having to sort out our confused notes. I’d hate to think that the notes remained out of order until he retired.

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I tried to take an Education course in 1976 to meet an arbitrary requirement for my position as Special Education Coordinator. It was 21 years after receiving my degree in 1955. I arranged an interview with an advisor and was given a time and place to meet with her during the evening registration process. Well in advance of my appointed time, I dutifully arrived at the building specified. It appeared to be in total darkness. I tried a door. It was open so I went in, wandered around and detected a tiny gleam of light at the end of dark corridor. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked harder and pushed the door open a little bit, and announced myself.
“Hello. Come in.” The voice seemed to come from the dark outline of a lady sitting at the desk.
“I have an appointment with you about taking a course,” I suggested.
“I know. But I don’t think I can help you.”
“Oh,” I responded as I left to find my way back down the long dark hall. I was relieved not to have to talk to her—she was scary.

Back at the lines for registration, there was a long line for former students and another one for new students. I took a wild guess and stood in the one for former students. After maybe 20 minutes in line I got a chance to hand my information to a person.
She looked at it briefly and said, “ No. You haven’t been a student recently. You should be in that other line.”
“Yes, but I am a graduate. Doesn’t that make me a former student?”
“No.”
After a wait in the specified other line, I got a chance to say, “I was told I should be in this line.”
“You went to university here didn’t you?”
“Yes, but the lady over there said I should be this line because that was a long time ago.”
“You are a former student, not a new student. You need to be in that other line.”
I went back to the first line I had been in, and got to talk to the same lady again, “I tried the other line and she said I should be in this line.”
“Well, I can’t help you. You need to register as a new student and that is in the other line.”
I started to walk back to get into the other line for another run at it, with my sheaf of papers in my hand. I stopped when I realized that I had by now spent more than an hour and a half here and was exactly at the same place as I had been when I first walked in. I’m good at Math, and a quick mental calculation told me that at this rate it would require . . . uh . . . let me see. Oh, yes. Forever.
I did the only thing that made sense to me at the time. I stood in the middle of the floor, tore my sheaf of accumulated pages in half and then in half again and threw them into the air high above my head as I shouted, ‘aaaaaggggghhhhhh’ as loudly as I could while walking out the door.
I got in my car and drove home. The next day I told the Assistant Superintendent it was not possible for me to take that course and if I needed it for my current position then I would have to resign.
His response was short and to the point. “We can’t have that. I’ll call the Department of Education and tell them you don’t need the course.”

I’m not sure exactly what I learned from this experience, but I’m sure there is a lesson in there somewhere. By a quirk of fate, a few years later I was hired by Brandon University to teach that exact same course that I hadn’t taken.
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When my son, Ken, was in elementary grades (age 10) he was learning computer programming. There were no PC, Radio Shack, or Apple computers at that time. I taught computer science using pencil mark IBM cards, which required an oval to be filled in for each character. It was slow work and then they would have to be mailed away for the cards to be read and processed, making a time delay of about a week. There was also a problem if even a single oval was coded incorrectly. Computers require perfection, so the pack of cards would have to be returned, corrected, and then the whole batch sent back again for another try at running the program—another week delay.
I made arrangements with the University of Manitoba to have Ken use their computer lab to get a more effective experience. On one occasion he was there at a terminal programming furiously, while I sat at a table reading, when the woman supervising the room noticed him.
“He will have to leave. We don’t allow children to play with our computers,” she said to me.
“He isn’t playing. He is programming with APL (a computer language for handling arrays),” I responded. “Just have a look and see what he is doing.”
She declined my offer to look at the computer screen and said, “Whose account is he using?”
“Mine. But I only got the account so he could use the computers. I have a card here from the director of Computer Science authorizing him to use the lab,” I suggested, showing her the card.
“If it is your account then you have to use the terminal and he can sit at the table.”
“I don’t even know how to program APL.”
“He will have to sit at the table. You sit at the terminal.”
I left Ken at the table, went to the Engineering Building, up to the seventh floor and knocked on the door of the director. Very apologetically, I explained the situation and asked him if he could phone the computer lab and explain to the woman that Ken was authorized to use the terminal.
I went back to the computer lab. Ken continued working at his APL programming while I sat at the table reading my book. The woman periodically looked over to glare at us until we left.

I should mention it was refreshing that at both at the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba the professors talked directly to Ken at their level of communication rather than talking down to him because of his size or age. Not many adults did.

*

In 1962, the Shell Oil Company awarded me one of their ‘Shell Merit Fellowships’ to attend a special program for Science teachers through the auspices of the Leland Stanford Junior University in Palo Alto, California. They awarded only one fellowship per province and paid all expenses, so needless to say, I was delighted to have the opportunity. When I registered and found out the cost of the fees they were covering I was even more delighted.
Initially, I wondered why they called it a ‘Junior University’. That gives you some idea as to how naïve I was in those days—obviously, it was named after Leland Stanford Junior
The program was on the cutting edge of new developments in several fields of science, with cost being of no consideration. For example, a prominent Mathematician, Dr. G. Polya, was brought from overseas just to teach the ten of us one course. I never missed any of his classes in spite of the area around the lecture hall being rife with allergy producing plants. I would end up with several soggy handkerchiefs by the end of every class, but it was worth it.

His favorite question as he worked through a Math problem was, “Now, do you believe it more, or do you believe it less?”
Most Math teachers would say, “Is it right or is it wrong?”
When we filled out a form at the end of the program, most of the class filled in his name as the most memorable part of the program.

*

One of our class members was a Catholic priest. He had a car (an old wreck, actually) and liked seeing the sights of the area but didn’t like driving. I acted as his driver on occasion for tours of San Francisco. When the program ended and we were planning how we would get back to our respective homes, he let it be known that he would appreciate company (i.e., a driver) for the drive to Seattle, Washington, because it was hosting the Century 21 Exposition World Fair. It was sort of on my way home (more north than east, but close enough) and would save me a bit on the cost of my bus ticket. So I took a deep breath (I always had serious doubts that the car would be up to making any trip, no matter how short, successfully) and agreed.
On the day we left, he pulled out a small bottle of water, walked around the car carefully sprinkling each fender, and said a few words. We had no trouble on the drive. There have been numerous times afterwards that I regretted not asking him for some of that water.
But then again, maybe it was only effective when he said the pertinent words.

*

University of North Dakota (1967)
I learned a lot of things by getting my master’s degree from the University of North Dakota (UND) Most of them had nothing to do directly with the actual classes or program.

*

It started when I met my faculty advisor to set up courses and things like that. I suggested I wanted to finish the program in one year because Wilma was expecting our first child.
“I’m sorry. It is a two-year program,” she said.
“Who do I see so I can do it in one year?” I asked.
“You could go see the registrar, but it is a two-year course.”
I went to the registrar’s office and said to the girl at the reception desk, “I want to take my master’s degree program in one year.”
“It’s a two-year program.”
“I know. Who should I see in order to do it in one year? ”
She gave me the name of person to see.
I saw the man and he said, “You can try if you want, but it will be hard work.”
I assured him I had nothing else to do with my time. Back I went to my advisor to have my selection of courses approved.
“I see you have opted to take psychology. Your program is in education. You’d never pass that psychology course. It is for people enrolled in psychology, not education.”
“Is there any reason I can’t take it? Other than that I might fail it?”
“No. But you’ll never pass it.”
I did take it and passed it. I even got the highest mark in the class on one test. Neither the psychology professor nor his regular psychology students liked that at all.

*

I did have some inconveniences in organizing my program to fit my half-courses together. I had to take some ‘advanced’ courses in the first semester and then the ‘introductory’ courses the second semester. It really didn’t seem to make much difference.

*

For amusement, I started a non-paying job as research assistant for one of my professors. His project looked interesting and I thought I could use some experience in educational research. He had done a first run of correlating the data from his randomly selected sample with his hypothesis. What he wanted me to do was to go through his sample and remove all the subjects who didn’t correlate the way he wanted.
When I questioned him as to how he would justify this, his answer was, “Obviously they are not typical members of the sample and should be removed.”
At this point I apologetically excused myself from the project with the excuse I was finding myself too busy with my course work. I’m sure he and others have found computers to be useful tools in finding irregular subjects to be removed from their sample group and hence obtain a more suitable correlation.

*

Two things I learned from another student’s counseling practicum experience:
1) If you are going to make sexual advances and proposition a high school student whom you are counseling, remember to turn off the tape recorder.
2) If you forget to turn off the recorder and record your conversation with her, then do not play that tape to be critiqued by your faculty advisor.
Otherwise, he won’t pass you.
*

One of the psychology majors in my class did not like it when I would sometimes displace him as the one getting the highest mark on a psychology test because I was just a lowly education major.
One day he approached me and said: “James isn’t going to be able to take the test tomorrow because he is ill. Everyone is going to stay away from the test so his being absent won’t penalize him. Can we count on you to stay away?”
I replied, “Sure, if everyone else does.”
Ten minutes after the time scheduled for the start of the test, I decided to stroll down the hall past the testing room. I wasn’t surprised to see everyone except me, including James, busily sitting there working on the test.
I walked in, sat down, wrote the test, and got a higher mark than he did. That time, the professor neglected to announce who got the highest mark until a student prompted him.
I never said anything to the fellow about it, but I did give him a knowing look and tiny nod every time I happened to catch his eye.
He and I never became good friends.
*

My experiences continued on into writing my thesis. It began with my advisor not liking my thesis topic. He said it wasn’t firmly based on someone else’s previous research. As in, I was supposed to do research to provide support for previously written research. I, as usually naive, had thought my original idea would be more useful. After a short and one-sided discussion I agreed to change from originality to an analysis of a questionnaire based on a questionnaire someone else had done. At least I got to modify it.
The title was impressive, ‘The Preferred and Actual Practices of Guidance Counsellors in the Public Schools of Manitoba’. But already I was in trouble. I was in the United States where ‘counsellor’ is spelled with one ‘l’.
The people to whom I would be giving the questionnaire were Canadian and would expect two while the university wanted one. That problem was resolved after much frustration, discussion, explanation, and checking of the manuscript as to whom it was referring and who would be reading it.

All went well. I typed up the thesis, got signatures of all the advisors, etc., and submitted it. I returned to Portage to help Wilma await the arrival of our first baby. Then I got a phone call. I needed to return to Grand Forks to correct a ‘spelling error’ in the manuscript. When I got the manuscript, I discovered that the error was on the signature page (‘the’ instead of ‘the’). I was told I had to retype the page because a correction could not be allowed on the signature page. This was in the days before computers and everything had to be typed manually . . . and on the same typewriter. I found the typewriter I had used originally, got the advisor signatures (one professor was at a party), and handed it to the secretary at the Dean’s Office for his signature.

I sat down to wait. After maybe 10 minutes she came back and said that this being Friday afternoon I would have to come back on Monday because the Dean didn’t have time to sign it right now. While I had been waiting in the anteroom I couldn’t help but overhear the Dean talking on the phone arranging to play golf in about 30 minutes. This tidbit of information led me to question her plan.
“Can’t he sign it now? I live in Canada and I need to get home because my wife is the hospital having our first baby,” I said. “I told her I’d be there to visit her tonight.”
“Sorry. You will have to come back on Monday,” she said.
“Oh. Well, if that’s the case, there’s no problem. When you come in on Monday, you’ll find me sitting right here.”
I sat firmly down on a chair, with the comment, “Right here.”
“You are not planning to stay here all weekend?” she asked, with a surprised look on her face.
“I have nothing else to do.”
“I’m sorry. We can’t allow you to stay here overnight.”
“Then you can call the police and have me arrested. At least then I’ll have a free room. And they will probably feed me, too.”
At this point, she beat a hasty retreat into the back room where the Dean clearly would have heard the verbal exchange. Two minutes later she came out and handed me my copy of my signed thesis. Right behind her was the Dean with his golf clubs over his shoulder. He beat me out the door.
I went home to be there when my darling baby, Ken, arrived.

*

University of Waterloo (1976)
Maybe I shouldn’t include the University of Waterloo here; the only time I set foot on the campus was for my son Ken’s graduation. I do have very good feelings about the university because it helped get Ken on his way into the field of Computer Science.
He was in Grade 4 and interested in computers. I happened to see an advertisement from the University of Waterloo promoting correspondence courses, one of which was computer science. I promptly sent in his application (he was only 10 years old . . . so?). I got a reply accepting him with the condition he would need to have show credit in Grade 12 Mathematics. The obvious (to me) solution was for me to register for the course and he could do it. So we did.
A problem arose when it became clear that he would have to pass the midterm exam in order to get the second half of the course. There would be no problem in his passing the course. There was a problem in that the course was registered in my name and it would be violation of everything teachers hold sacred for me to have someone else write my exam for me . . . no matter how old he might be.
Well, I’ve never met a problem I can’t solve—maybe not well, but I can solve it. I would have to write the exam. It was registered in my name so that would be simple enough. Oh, yes, one minor glitch. I didn’t know anything about computer programming. I had a few weeks, so it should be easy enough.
It wasn’t. There were several nights after 8:30 (Ken’s bedtime) as I worked on the course while Ken was sound asleep in his bed that I would get stuck on something.
I would sneak quietly up to his room and whisper something in his ear like, “Ken . . . how do you do ‘read data statements’?”
Without rousing or opening his eyes, Ken would give a concise explanation. I would return to my assignment.
I got a reasonable passing mark on the midterm and Ken got to finish the course. Because I’ve always had a compulsion about closure, I also wrote the final exam and passed, giving me a credit in Computer Science 101. It later was useful for me to know how to program and Ken had the fun of doing the course.
This was obviously a classic case of, ‘It isn’t where you’re going—it’s how you get there’.

*

University of the State of New York - (1977)
I had read somewhere that degrees in the State of New York are all issued by the state, based on courses taken and grades assigned by separate universities scattered throughout the state, and in some cases, outside the state.
My penchant for taking random university courses had resulted in my having more than a dozen course credits that had not been used anywhere as credit for a degree. My overactive brain put the two facts together and came up with an idea. Maybe the State of New York would accept my Canadian and U.S. courses for credit toward a degree. I gathered up mark statements from all my universities (except Waterloo—I didn’t feel right about using it as a credit) and submitted them to the University of the State of New York. I expected I would have to take a few courses to make up the credit distribution required, but they checked the courses, asked a few questions about them, and issued me a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Studies.
I submitted my new degree to the Manitoba Department of Education and they moved me up one level in my salary category. I had never set foot in the University of the State of New York, but then, neither had any of their other graduates.

*

University of Connecticut (Storrs) - (1986)
I was appointed Coordinator for Gifted Students in the Portage School Division with a mandate to follow the model established by Dr. Joseph Renzulli at the university in Storrs, Connecticut. This seemed like a good opportunity to add another university to my arsenal, so I spent my summer holidays at Confratute 1986 under the personal direction of Renzulli and a cast of hundreds (literally).
The rather strange name—and one I have always found strangely disturbing—is accurately described on their website as, “conceived as a combination of the best aspects of a Conference, and an institute with a good deal of fraternity blended within.”
It is a high-power, intense smorgasbord of courses, activities, and demonstrations by classes of gifted students from the region. It still runs every year and I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for an exhausting but exhilarating summer experience. It would be just as good for parents as it is for teachers, and I notice (courtesy of Google) that they are presently setting up for Confratute 2009 . . . their 31st year of them.

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***

~ Helpful ~

We were living in a basement suite in Grand Forks and had bought a new barbecue with rotisserie. We were using it for the first time to roast a small chicken. We left the chicken slowly rotating over the bed of hot coals while we went shopping. When we returned, the landlady came out to meet us.
“I saw you had left the barbecue running and I was afraid the chicken would burn. So I unplugged it,” she said.
We looked at our poor little chicken that had been cooking without rotating. Fortunately, it had stopped with its back toward the coals. We did manage to make a meal from the front of  it.

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~ The Joys Of True And False ~

The psychology professor had us marking our true/false exam questions. I was doing quite well until I noticed one of his answers was different from mine.
On checking the question, I noticed it had a double negative in the statement, making my answer right and his answer wrong.
Since he frequently reused exams, and in fact they were available at a modest cost if you knew the right person, I felt I should point out to him why his answer was wrong.
He made a wry face, and said, “You can’t tell me you noticed that when you answered the question.”
So I didn’t try to tell him that it was obvious to me—because I don’t never use no double negatives.