Congregation Address by Malcolm H. Hebb
Manager of the General Physics Research Department of the General Electric Research Laboratory, Schenectedy, New York
at the University of British Columbia’s Fall Congregation
November 1, 1963.

Madam Chancellor, Mr. President, Members of the Faculty, Graduates of the Autumn Congregation, Honoured Guests:

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here today to address this Autumn Congregation of the University. It's good just to be in Vancouver to come "home" — if only for a brief visit.

It was in 1931 that I sat where you are sitting, looking back on four years of college and ahead at what was to come next. When I try to put myself in your place, I realize how many things are entirely different in 1963 than they were 32 years ago. It might be interesting to look forward 32 years to 1995 and, by comparison with the changes of the past, to try to visualize things then.

Nineteen thirty-one may seem pretty unreal to you — most of would not yet have, been born — and 1995 also seems a long time off. However 1995 will become a real date for you. You will be older then — a lot older by your present standards — but you will still be alert and active and you won't think yourself old. You will be established in your profession and in life. And, I shall venture, one way or another, you may be about as pleased with yourselves and your accomplishments as you are today with your graduation.

Since 1931, UBC has grown from a small college with fewer than 2,100 students to a first-class university approaching 15,000 students. This is a growth of seven times. UBC still enjoys the same beautiful setting, but its development has made it even more attractive and exciting in its outward appearance. There are still temporary buildings - even some that I recognize - but these are not evident from many points of vantage. In any case, the facilities of the University are vastly improved and the University itself has grown unusually in the breadth, depth and quality of its scholarship.

What of 1995? If UBC grows at the same rate, it will have 100,000 students. This is larger than New York University which is presently the largest university in the world. NYU has four campuses in New York City and just about 80,000 students in all. Presumably much of UBC’s future growth will be at other sites than Point Grey and a start has just been made on a new campus, Simon Fraser in Burnaby. By 1995, there may be four of five campuses, all larger than the present Point Grey.

The growth of the University has been more than twice as fast as the growth of the population and it will continue to be faster as larger fractions of the population we educated through college. From platform, I can hardly say that this is anything but good. On the other hand, by my casual observation it is becoming continually harder to get into college and to stay in. This is good also — in one way at least — since it means that standards are being raised. Having met these standards — as evidenced by your presence today — you may agree with me.

Vancouver today, in its metropolitan area, has a population around 850,000. This is over three times its size in 1931. Many areas that were bush or mountainside then are now beautiful and well-kept homes and gardens. The downtown area has kept up in its development. Vancouver, to me, has always been a beautiful city and it has become more beautiful with the years. In 1995, greater Vancouver should have a population of 2½ to 3 million. Two new Vancouvers — each the size of the present one — will be added. It's hard to believe that there will be room.

It is interesting to look at the income statistics for Canada thirty years ago and today and to project them ahead. Roughly the figures are the following: the gross national product of Canada, measured in current dollars, is about eight times today what it was in 1931. The population is somewhat less than doubled and inflation has reduced the value of the dollar by about half. It ends up that the average income in real value has somewhat more than doubled since 1931.

By 1995, it will, we trust, have doubled again. What will we do with twice as much? A lot of it will go for greater comforts and conveniences of living, for recreation. By 1995 tremendous areas of B.C. now inaccessible, will be opened by good roads and will be available for recreation. Hopefully, some of the increased income will find its way to education and to other intellectual and cultural pursuits.

In the past three decades, there have been notable achievements in medicine and in science and engineering, and comparable advances can be expected in the next decades. Antibiotics were unknown in 1931, there was no treatment for tuberculosis and no protection against polio.

Progress in future years will certainly be made against cancer and heart disease, but it is impossible to visualize the more unexpected discoveries that will undoubtedly occur.

The natural sciences have received the bulk of attention and have made the most spectacular progress in the last 30 years. In the next 30 years increasing progress will be made in the life sciences and better understanding come to the basic processes of photosynthesis transmission of nerve impulses and theory of brain function.

The discovery of fission and the release of nuclear energy was one of the most remarkable and least expected discoveries of the last three decades. The psychological impact of the bomb and its effect on the relations among nations has been profound. In the peaceful aspects of nuclear power the impact will be important but less obvious. It will become the preferred source of electric power where other energy sources are more costly. It is already in growing use in eastern Canada, where hydro power is now almost fully utilized.

The launching of satellites and particularly manned satellites is a spectacular engineering achievement. Satellites have already been useful for gathering weather data and for communication. Sending men deeper into space and landing and recovering men from the moon are much more formidable exploits that really challenge the imagination but are devoid of much direct benefit to humanity.

In all of this growth and progress there are some dark clouds and some problem areas.

The technical advances that are made in our industrial society in its progress toward higher standards of living put greater demands on skill, training, ability and education. Jobs requiring brawn instead of brain and routine repetitive jobs are properly being taken over by labour-saving machines. The lowly job of ditch-digging, requiring a minimum of skill and education, in my childhood was an epithet to be used with scorn of some child who was awkward and stupid. Today the word ditch-digger is more likely to refer to a machine whose operation and maintenance require skill and training. Nowadays much more complicated tasks can be performed automatically and the future will see this trend continue.

The importance of training and education is pretty well recognized and substantial sums are being provided in Canada and the United States for such purposes. Where a person has aptitude, training can develop skill and where he has intelligence, education can give him knowledge and developmental ability. However, training and education must have suitable bases from which to start and additionally motivation and ambition are necessary.

The fraction of the population which by lack of aptitude, intelligence, ambition or motivation is incapable of holding its own in the modern world is the most difficult social problem that we face in the future. It is no solution, simply to provide support through welfare payments, if only for the reason that the number to be supported will grow faster than the population and saddle the productive with an intolerable burden.

In China and India and in the backward countries of the world, the population explosion means that despite heroic efforts, capital for the tools of industry cannot be generated as fast as the growing population. On a per capita basis the facilities for the generation of wealth then get smaller and the standard of living falls.

This is not at all the situation in the Western world where the problem is more one of balance among different segments of the population.

Neither the world problem nor our own are really being faced and indeed are not even carefully defined. There is need for thoughtful exploration of every possible avenue of solution without bias or prejudice. There is need for open discussion so that the public can be informed. This will help us to understand the world problem better and to contribute to its solution, It will also help to reach socially acceptable solutions in the Western world.