Issue 12: 4 July 2008

H G Forder, Professor of Mathematics, 1934-1955

Retrospective 1883 - 2008

Extracts taken from an address by Professor H. G. Forder, Dean of the Faculty of Science at the opening of the new Biology Block designed by R A Lippincott, February 24 1939.

A University does not exist to train students and to give degrees to those passing certain tests. One of its duties is certainly to hand on knowledge, old and new, particularly new, to the rising generation. But it should do more. It should add its own contribution to the common store. There are institutions of research in New Zealand, but they are concerned solely with problems arising from the industries of the country. A University’s province is pure science and pure learning. It is true, and must never be forgotten, that it is research in pure science, the work of men like Faraday and Maxwell - which has transformed daily life and given man his new-found power to build and to destroy; but that was not its purpose. Its purpose was a fuller understanding of the nature of thought and of things. I am aware that research work of this kind has been done, and is being done in our University, but all who know the facts must agree that our output is pitifully small.

The three reasons usually given for our meagre intellectual output - that we are poor, small and new - are not adequate. I will not damp the gaiety of this assembly by discussing the real reasons - they will be obvious to anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Universities elsewhere, for each country gets the University it deserves, but I will mention a further point. Now that some important countries, once the homes of sound learning, have turned their backs on objective and unprejudiced thinking, it will be the duty of the smaller countries to take a larger share in preserving and extending the good things of the past. In this work of salvage and expansion New Zealand should do its part. Make no mistake! The reputation of a country in the eyes of the world, or in that part of the world that matters, depends in no small measure on its intellectual status.

A Research School in any subject is necessarily a plant of slow growth. We must tend carefully any shoots which may appear and meanwhile keep ourselves abreast of the work which is being done in various countries of Europe, in Japan, and in America. We must foster the idea that while teaching is one of the duties of a University teacher he has another, not less imperative, and he should be given help and encouragement in carrying it out.