CCHA, Historical Studies, 61 (1995), 171-194


St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto,
The Frustrations of Federation


Alexander REFORD



     “Possibly no institution has been so chaotically put together and its chaos so persistently maintained as St. Michael’s.”1 So wrote the historian of Cath­olic higher education in English Canada, Fr. Laurence K. Shook (1908-1994), about St. Michael’s College in Toronto. Shook knew of what he wrote. Not only did he make an exacting historical study of Catholic universities in Canada, but he presided over the challenges facing St. Michael’s College for six years. And as the superior and president of St. Michael’s from 1952 to 1958, the beginning of a period of remarkable expansion and development for the college, Shook attempted to establish some order and to bring unique solutions to the problems of Catholic higher education in Toronto. Whether Shook and his successor as president of the University of St. Michael’s college, Fr. John Kelly, developed an “Ontario solution” remains an open question.

     St. Michael’s College is the senior English-speaking institution of Cath­olic higher education in Ontario. Its beginnings date to 1852 when the Bishop of Toronto, Armand Comte de Charbonnel, invited his former teachers in France, the Basilian Fathers, to send some of their members to Toronto to found and staff an educational institution. At the start and for its first sixty­-five years, the mandate of St. Michael’s College was three-fold: to prepare young men for clerical vocations, to provide an education for Catholic boys at the secondary level, and to educate Catholic youth for careers in society through a rigid collège classique program adapted from that used in Basilian schools in France. From 1855 the college established itself in a building erected at the centre of several lots in what were fields in then north Toronto. The lots were acquired, by gift and by sale, from John Elmsley, a prominent Catholic layman who had converted to Catholicism two decades earlier. Elmsley created a Catholic precinct on the property adjacent to his home. Elmsley’s lands eventually became the site of several convents, colleges, schools and St. Basil’s Church. St. Michael’s property was close to land Elmsley had previously sold to King's College, the Anglican institution and Toronto’s first university, established in 1827. By the time St. Michael’s moved to St. Joseph Street, however, the King’s College property had passed to the new University of Toronto, the non-sectarian and state­-supported university established in 1849 as the provincial university. St. Michael’s was thus the first of the University of Toronto’s many educational neighbours, which came to include the entire university and its many colleges.

     The geographic proximity of the college to the university was immedi­ately recognized as bringing advantages to St. Michael’s. As early as 1855, the superior of the college requested permission of the university authorities for affiliation. This request was refused, likely because affiliation was primarily intended as an avenue by which the College could receive govern­ment grants. But these government grants were made to the College, and to other denominational colleges, beginning in 1856 and did not hinge on affil­iation. They continued until 1868 when grants to denominational colleges were suspended by the newly formed Province of Ontario, a policy which has endured to the present. Like other denominational colleges in Ontario, but unlike some Catholic institutions in other provinces, such as St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, St. Francis Xavier and other Catholic universities in the Maritimes, St. Michael’s has never received grants from the provincial government.

     In 1881, St. Michael’s again approached the university for affiliation. The then Vice-Chancellor of the university, William Mulock, saw the affil­iation as an opening for the university to fulfill its mandate as the “provincial university.” Because the University of Toronto was essentially an exam­ining body and a purely degree-granting institution, with University College as its teaching division, affiliation was thought to be attractive, even to those colleges with their own charters and degree-granting powers. The univer­sity’s leadership had long expected the principal denominational colleges in Ontario, Queen’s College in Kingston, Victoria College in Cobourg, and Trinity College in Toronto, to seek affiliation with Varsity. Instead of the Presbyterians, the Methodists and the Anglicans, it established a working relationship with the Catholics, the Low Church Anglicans and the Toronto Presbyterians when St. Michael’s, Wycliffe and Knox were affiliated as theological colleges. Affiliation allowed St. Michael’s students to register at University College, to sit examinations set by the university and to take university degrees. It also enabled St. Michael’s faculty to teach history and philosophy to their own students using texts of their own choosing. This control over curriculum was a pre-condition for affiliation set by Arch­bishop Lynch. It was accepted without complaint by the university. Lynch wanted assurances that St. Michael’s students would be spared the anti-­Catholic sentiments of several of the University's senior scholars. The motives of the then superior of the college, Fr. John Teefy, for pushing affil­iation are unclear. He was one of the first Catholic graduates of the Univer­sity of Toronto in 1871 and perhaps reasonably expected that other Catholic students would wish to receive degrees from the University. In fact, between 1881 and 1910 only nine St. Michael’s students took advantage of the agree­ment. In 1887 the university formally invited the province’s denominational colleges to federate with it and an act was passed by the legislature to facil­itate federation. The Federation Act of 1887 for the first time established a teaching faculty of the university which up to that time had been only an examining body.2 The university thus undertook instruction in a limited number of subjects, paving the way for the creation of professional faculties and an opening to the students at the colleges who wanted to enroll in these courses.3 The offer enticed Victoria College to abandon Cobourg for Toronto and to become federated as an arts college of the university. St. Michael’s passed from affiliation to federation as a theological college in 1889. This change in nomenclature aside, St. Michael’s status and perceived role had changed little. Unlike Victoria, it was not an arts college of the university. For St. Michael’s students, the university was of little consequence. Life at the college was strictly regimented and students had little if any occasion to mix with the students of the university.

     By the beginning of the century, several factors pushed St. Michael’s towards fuller integration with the university. The movement to reform secondary school education in Ontario altered teaching and courses in St. Michael’s College. Changes to the university entrance requirements led St. Michael’s to overhaul the high school and collège classique curriculum initiated and maintained by its French founders. In 1903 the college opened a new wing and separated the high school from the college. The high school adopted the curriculum of the Ontario Department of Education and Basilian teachers were sent to get certificates of education in increasing numbers. At the post-secondary level, it was also becoming apparent that increasing numbers of Catholic students were choosing to attend the Univer­sity of Toronto, the University of Ottawa or other degree-granting institu­tions rather than St. Michael’s College, which offered no recognized degree.

     One such student was the James Frances Kenney, an historian and founder of the Canadian Catholic Historical Association in 1933. Kenney enrolled at University College but spent much of his time at St. Michael’s where he fraternized with other Catholic students, attended mass, and took courses out of interest. The College had fully satisfied its original mandate of training Catholic youth for clerical vocations but it had yet to fulfill its role in educating Catholics for careers in society. St. Michael’s graduates, as many as eighty percent, were destined for clerical vocations after gradu­ation. But like Kenney, Catholics in increasing numbers were registering at the university to get arts and professional degrees.

     By the early 1900s, the organization of the University of Toronto was again coming under scrutiny. Long perceived as the privileged son of the government, Toronto nonetheless suffered from political interference in its academic affairs and fiscal neglect by the Liberal governments of the 1890s. The new Whitney Conservative government restored capital grants to the university and in 1905 appointed a Royal Commission to report on its governance. It entrusted the chairmanship to the antique but erudite Goldwin Smith and appointed hard-edged businessmen like Joseph Flavelle and Sir Edmund Walker to bring forth the required result. The Royal Commission’s report advocated the re-structuring of the university and a new university act incorporating the suggested changes.4 Shook chronicles the apparently relaxed attitude St. Michael’s took to this re-organization, which only included St. Michael’s at the last moment.5 Although not specif­ically mentioned as a college of the university, the new act established provisions whereby St. Michael’s could become, by administrative rather than legislative action, an arts college federated with the university. After the University of Toronto Act was passed in 1906, federation was quickly granted to St. Michael’s, and the first St. Michael’s students graduated with University of Toronto degrees in 1911. Soon after, the two Catholic women’s colleges in Toronto, Loretto and St. Joseph’s, were in turn feder­ated with St. Michael’s, paving the way for Catholic women to receive degrees from the University of Toronto through St. Michael’s College.6

     Federation for St. Michael’s meant that it had stepped up a rank to become an integral part of the Faculty of Arts. Students registered at St. Michael’s and were instructed there in the so-called ‘college subjects,” English, French, German, Classics (including Greek, Latin and Ancient History). St. Michael’s enjoyed the special privilege of teaching Philosophy. Some of the other colleges offered courses in Ethics and Near Eastern studies. Each college was responsible for hiring and promoting its own staff. They had their own undergraduate department in these subjects with its own chairman. The other subjects, such as History, Political Economy, the social sciences, physical and biological sciences, were taught by university depart­ments.

     By 1910, the first stage in the “Toronto Solution” for Catholic higher education had been achieved for St. Michael’s with little fanfare and less planning. But the arrangement proved to be remarkably versatile and enduring. Over the following four decades, St. Michael’s became an impor­tant part of the university, never an integral component perhaps, but a willing and cooperative partner. The college developed at its own pace and at every stage the university authorities proved helpful and supportive.

     The most ambitious plans for the College were hatched by Fr. Henry Carr (1880-1963), who took effective control of planning at the college when he joined the faculty in 1904 while still in his twenties. As superior and president of St. Michael’s and later as superior general of the Basilian Fathers, he formulated plans for the institution’s long-term development.7 He had a vision of the college as a Catholic university on a level with those rapidly developing in the United States. His plans to make St. Michael’s an independent Catholic university with its own charter were only beginning to take shape when the depression brought an end to his ambitious fund-raising and building programs. Carr did, however, succeed in putting St. Michael’s on the map as a leading centre for the study of St. Thomas Aquinas and of the Thomistic revival. He imported well-known Catholic scholars from Europe, Sir Bertram Windle, past president of University College, Cork and a well-known Catholic writer, Maurice De Wulf, a pioneering Belgian histo­rian of Thomism, and the French philosophers Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. The presence of Gilson and Maritain made the College’s philos­ophy department one of the most renowned in the country and inspired the foundation of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. In this develop­ment of what was essentially a graduate division, the university was fully

Text Box: Fr. Lawrence Shook c.s.b. (1904-1994) President of St. Michael’s College 1952-1958	Source: University of St. Michael’s College Archives

supportive. While it made no contribution to the institute, neither did it stand in the way of its establishment. In this and other ways, the federation agree­ment with the university proved to be adaptable and resilient. The university recognized the course work done at the institute even though there was no real provision for any college to establish a graduate division under the terms of federation or the University Act.

     From the 1920s to the 1950s, it is no surprise that the message conveyed by St. Michael’s to Catholics seeking their own colleges in other provinces was that the federation principle worked. J.J. Leddy in Saskatoon was one of several laymen and ecclesiastics who looked on the St. Michael’s – University of Toronto federation as a model for emulation in their own prov­ince. A Catholic college could be a full partner of a secular university, even a large secular research university of the kind Toronto had become. Catholic intellectuals, lay and clerical, could find an academic home where their work would be encouraged and respected and where they could give grad­uate instruction. Catholic students could have a milieu where they lived and studied in a Catholic environment, with other Catholic students, while at the same time participating in the offerings and facilities of the university, and working towards a degree which was recognized and respected. By the 1950s, St. Michael’s was a significant partner in the University of Toronto and a leader in Catholic higher education. By virtue of its programme in mediaeval studies, it was an important intellectual centre for the church in North America.

     As in the case of all other universities in Canada, the 1950s were years of incredible growth for the college, both in its enrollment and its campus facilities. The college was able to accommodate increased numbers because in 1951 it received its first significant government grants since 1868. The federal government of Louis St Laurent, following the recommendations of the Massey Commission, entered the sphere of university financing and began to make direct contributions to higher education in 1951. All recog­nized universities, including church-related institutions, received a portion of the grant given to the province, based on its student enrollment. St. Michael’s share of these grants over their duration was nearly one million dollars. Since the grants were related to enrollment, the system not surpris­ingly encouraged the college to expand its student population. The College’s enrollment grew to 1,000 students in 1961. By 1970 the enroll­ment surpassed 2,000. While the St. Michael’s figures were significant, amounting to a 169% increase between 1957-1958 and 1967-1968, the

Text Box: Carr Hall, the new administration building designed by Montreal Architect Ernest Cormier(1895-1980), opened in 1954	Source: University of St. Michael’s Archives

growth rate was common for Catholic and secular universities across Canada.8

     To accommodate this growth, the college embarked on an ambitious building program which from 1953 to 1969 saw the construction of a resi­dence for men and two for women (undertaken by the Loretto and St. Joseph’s sisters), an administration building, a student centre and the largest college library at the university.

     The physical expansion and enrollment increases at the college made the then president, Fr. Laurence Shook, realize that the administrative struc­ture of St. Michael’s was not adequate to deal with rapidly emerging reali­ties. He quickly perceived that St. Michael’s was not taking full advantage of federal funding because it was not claiming the grant to which it was enti­tled on behalf of its theological students. In order to receive such grants, however, St. Michael’s as a prerequisite had to grant civil degrees in theology. And because St. Michael’s had never been formally established as a degree-granting institution, it needed to have its original act of incorpora­tion amended to permit the establishment of a faculty of theology, a step that was accomplished in 1954. This exercise led Shook to seek a university act for St. Michael’s. Only occasionally in the past had the college thought of seeking a legislative act which would replace the act of incorporation of 1855 and grant St. Michael’s university status. Carr had flirted with the idea in the 1920s but had not pursued it. Not only would it have meant a depar­ture from the federation model, but it is unlikely that the Ontario legislature would have assisted in the creation of a Catholic university in Toronto. Shook apparently gave no consideration to seeking a charter to create a stand-alone institution. St. Michael’s lot was fully cast with the University of Toronto. The University of St. Michael’s College Act, passed in 1958, established St. Michael’s as a university on a par with its sister federated colleges, Trinity and Victoria – as an arts college federated with the Univer­sity of Toronto, and a university in its own right empowered to grant civil degrees in theology. The University of St. Michael’s College Act was Fr. Shook’s final achievement as president.

     To Shook’s successor, Fr. John Kelly (1911-1986), fell the task of dealing with enormous changes facing the college and the university in the 1960s. Kelly was an Irish-American from Scranton, Pennsylvania, who was one of the many Americans who had attended St. Michael’s. After joining the

Text Box: Fr. John Kelly c.s.b. (1911-1986) President of the University of St. Michael’s College1958 to 1978	Source: University of St. Michael’s College Archives

Basilians, he received a doctorate in philosophy from Toronto. Kelly was a respected professor of philosophy at the time of his appointment to succeed Shook.

     His first task was to implement the University of St. Michael’s College Act and to respond to the ever-increasing reports produced by the University of Toronto concerning the university’s structure and future. In 1959 the university examined the relationship between the Faculty of Arts and Science of the university and the colleges.9 The Woodside Memorandum tackled the problem of increasing enrollments in university subjects and declining enrollments in college subjects. The report aired the complaint that university staff were handling the bulk of the students while the colleges had the bulk of the staff. This was essentially a problem in the proliferating social sciences, which were entirely university-based and unrepresented in the colleges. Woodside wrote,


“There is no doubt that the four Arts Colleges have had an increasingly small share in the instruction of their own students. Limited as they are, not to the Human­ities, but to subjects representing only a segment of the Humanities, and excluded from now populous humanistic disciplines such as history, philosophy and Spanish, they are in a sense by-passed by increasingly large numbers of students interested in the social sciences, the physical and natural sciences, and the humanities offered by non-College departments, while some of the College departments in Humani­ties, which in fact are authoritative but for which there is in fact small demand, are obliged to maintain very large staffs and to require each member of the staff to devote many hours per week to teaching an exceedingly small number of students.”10


      An oft-cited example was in the teaching of classics, where the colleges together had thirty-six faculty and only several times as many students. The solution proposed by Woodside was not a collegiate solution, involving the appointment of social sciences’ faculty to the arts colleges, but a depart­mental solution. Woodside recommended that all college departments except religion be combined to form university departments. He also suggested that faculty be allocated to colleges by a system of cross-appoint­ment, whereby the university hired faculty and “supplied” them to the colleges.

     Kelly and his counterparts at the other colleges criticized the Woodside Memorandum for not solving the problems it had identified. The most cogent critique was made by Fr. Shook to Kelly. Shook’s analysis identified the fundamental problem with the university’s solution. He pointed out that the “loss of the right of the Colleges to appoint staff would in effect destroy the Colleges. It would deny the right of the Colleges to exist independ­ently.”11 It would also result in the “loss of the relationship of the College with the Basilian Fathers, and ultimately, the end of the appointment of priests and nuns.”12

     The Woodside Memorandum was only one of several reports produced which was critical of the university’s organization. A lengthy examination of Toronto’s graduate programs occurred between 1963 and 1965. The final report made repeated mention of the oddities of the university’s structure. For instance, the graduate school had no formal role in the appointment or promotion of staff either of the university’s faculty or the faculty of the colleges even though most faculty anticipated doing some graduate instruc­tion.13 Another oddity from the university’s perspective was that the chairman of the graduate department was generally chosen by the College department chairman from among their members. The report advocated the separation of the graduate and undergraduate functions of the university.14 It recognized the federated college’s concern that the university generally filled gaps in its graduate teaching by hiring additional faculty for Univer­sity College, thus ignoring the interests of the colleges in making their own appointments, often in the same areas.15 It also acknowledged that the colleges received little or nothing when members of their faculties engaged in graduate instruction and suggested that this be remedied by greater compensation to the colleges.16

     At the same time that such initiatives were coming out of Simcoe Hall, the University’s President, Claude Bissell, was affirming the importance of the collegiate nature of the university. When Claude Bissell assumed office in 1958 he squashed earlier plans for the building of residences outside the college structure. Instead, he developed and executed plans to deal with expanding university enrollment by expanding the number of colleges to accommodate them. There were three aspects to Bissell’s plan: the capping of enrollment of University College at 2,000 students; increasing registra­tions at the federated colleges like St. Michael’s; and the construction of new colleges on campus. The new colleges were going to resemble the federated colleges in most respects but without the status, the autonomy, the endowment or the separate faculty of the federated colleges. They were to be colleges in which students registered, lived in residence, and received some instruction and counselling. During Bissell’s tenure, several colleges were added on the downtown campus: Massey College for graduate students, New College for arts and professional students, and Innis College for arts students. Suburban colleges were also erected in Scarborough and Mississauga to deal with the expanding communities on Toronto’s borders, a step to guarantee the University of Toronto’s status as Toronto’s main university in enrollment and programs in the face of the new suburban York University in North York. Another “college,” developed by students and faculty but operating outside the university’s control, was Rochdale College, whose infamy eventually led to its closure and transformation into senior citizens’ apartments. Bissell envisioned the development of addi­tional colleges, one for engineering students and another for Jewish students, but plans for both foundered. While Bissell enjoyed the coopera­tion of the heads of the federated colleges throughout his tenure, he sensed a reluctant acceptance for the forming of new arts colleges to handle the expansion of the university. Their reluctance proved to be misplaced. Never again did the federated colleges enjoy a university president in Simcoe Hall willing to expand the collegiate structure of the university. With the appoint­ment in 1972 of the university’s new president, John Evans, and the new fiscal realities faced by all Ontario universities, the colleges came under even closer scrutiny and pressure.

     The collegiate nature of the Faculty of Arts and Science was tested even further by changes to the arts and science curriculum. In 1967 the university again subjected itself to a painful, and in some minds, destructive examina­tion of its undergraduate curriculum. The University of Toronto curriculum was then one of the most rigid taught by any university in North America.

The system had remained essentially unchanged since the 1930s. Students entering the university were admitted to either a four-year Honours program or to a three-year General course. Honours and General students were taught separately, and often by different faculty members. Honours students progressed by year and not by credit, and were ranked each year by their department. These final rankings were published in the local newspapers. For the students enrolled in the Honours courses, the university offered few course choices, only a regimented program, which progressed in chronolog­ical fashion from the first day of class to the last examination. The rigour and the internal rationale of the programme prepared students particularly well for graduate studies. It gave the University of Toronto and its graduates a high reputation in graduate schools in the English-speaking world. The advantages of the programme were not only academic. Students made strong connections with fellow students enrolled in the same honours courses with whom they shared classes throughout their university careers. They also developed very strong affiliations with the faculty in their depart­ments. The core humanities departments (Classics, English, French, German, and Philosophy (at St. Michael’s only) were college-based.17 History, Political Economy, the social sciences and the sciences generally were almost entirely taught by university departments. Even though such departmental offerings were entirely held outside the colleges, students often developed dual loyalties to their departments and to their colleges.

     In 1967 President Bissell commissioned the political scientist, C.B. Macpherson, to chair a committee to examine undergraduate instruction in arts and science. Macpherson was a well-known political theorist. His work on Hobbes and Locke and his theories of “possessive individualism” had identified him as a scholar of international renown with radical views. Macpherson was expected to produce a critical reevaluation of the univer­sity’s undergraduate curriculum. He did not disappoint. The Macpherson Report sought to reform the division between the Honours and General students by replacing both courses with a new curriculum. Macpherson favoured giving students the opportunity to take a broad range of courses in first year without forcing them to choose their specialization at the time of their admission. General education and student choice became the abiding principles governing the curriculum. The abolition of the honours courses reflected the shift away from the mandate of universities to prepare students primarily for graduate school as well as the demands from students and faculty for a variety of new courses. The vogue was for inter-disciplinary approaches, not the tried and true curricular strait jacket.

     After a year of agonizing work to redesign the curriculum, Macpherson’s recommendations were almost entirely adopted and imple­mented in 1970. The reformed curriculum brought the University of Toronto in line with most other universities in North America, ironically, at the same time that many of the large research universities in the United States were returning to the core curriculum they had earlier abandoned. The result at Toronto was a proliferation of course offerings but at the expense of coherence and unity in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum. These new courses changed the nature of undergraduate instruction and the role of the colleges. With an expanded curriculum and more faculty in non-­college departments to teach the new courses, there was a continuation of the erosion of the position of the colleges in the teaching of arts subjects. Students enrolled at St. Michael’s might find that their entire course load was taught elsewhere. The mandatory religious knowledge course, jetti­soned from the curriculum, was not replaced with another college-based course. The former instructors of religious knowledge formed the basis of the new university department of religious studies. The honours course had, in the college subjects, provided the academic anchor for humanities students at their college, and ensured a central position to the college depart­ments. With the new curriculum both the students and the colleges began to drift.

     he proliferation of courses following the abandonment of the honours programs left the colleges in a quandary. Should they continue their role of offering the basic courses in the traditional arts disciplines or should they increase their own faculty and attempt to fashion a new role in the prolifer­ation of course offerings within their recognized disciplines?

     The faculty in the colleges began to push their administrations to seek new ways to play in what seemed to be an increasingly competitive curric­ular arrangement. The lay faculty at St. Michael’s were strongly affected. St. Michael’s lay faculty had undergone explosive expansion through the 1960s. In the 1940s and early 1950s St. Michael’s lay faculty consisted of just one member, Marshall McLuhan, the “civilian Basilian,” as he called himself.18 However, by 1969 lay faculty outnumbered religious. The total had grown to ninety-three, while the religious consisted of thirty-eight Basilians, fifteen Loretto or St. Joseph’s sisters, and eighteen non-Basilian priests.19 Lay faculty thus had considerable weight even though they were largely excluded from the governing structure of the college. They urged the college to partake in the multiplication of course offerings enthusiastically endorsed by colleagues in non-college departments. With the resultant rise in the College’s lay faculty, the costs of running the institution had also exploded. Whereas priests and sisters returned as much as fifty per cent of their income to the college as what were described as “contributed services,” the lay faculty returned little or nothing of their salaries. Their different responsibilities and their commitments to support their families meant that they were in no position to follow the clerical model. By 1972, St. Michael’s salary costs were $1.33 million. Some of the lay faculty also joined their colleagues at other colleges in demanding wage parity with their counter­parts at the University. St. Michael’s faculty were paid on average fifteen to twenty-five per cent less than the faculty of the university. While the college kept the tuition revenue it received from each student, the revenue was not rising at the same rate as salary and other costs, which in the early 1970s began an inflationary spiral. In 1970, the forecast budget deficit was $800,000.20

     The college had also been caught out by the withdrawal of the Federal Government from direct grants to universities. For the most part, the federal grants had funded the college’s expansion from the early 1950s through to the mid-1960s. But in 1966, the Federal Government agreed to grant the provinces direct responsibility for funding post-secondary education. In lieu of per capita grants to the provinces for their respective universities, secular and church-related, grants were instead made to the provinces on a cost­shared basis of 50/50 funded by corporate and personal income tax. In some provinces, little changed for denominational institutions. But in Ontario, where church-related institutions had not been eligible for grants since 1868, the effect was drastic. From 1967 on, there were neither operating nor capital grants. The only money denominational colleges would receive was half of the figure, the basic income unit, used to calculate grants to non­denominational universities, and this for students in theology only.21

     This perilous decline in funding was exacerbated for St. Michael’s by the iniquity within the University of Toronto’s own granting formula. Even though the college registered a high proportion of honours students, for which the university received a higher grant from the province, it did not receive full compensation. As the Commission of Inquiry into Catholic Colleges and Universities in Canada reported in 1970 of the St. Michael’s situation, the arrangement between the college and the university operated to the “serious financial disadvantage of the College,” and was “a particu­larly burdensome disadvantage for the College already disadvantaged in terms of the provincial grants.”22

     As president of St. Michael’s, Fr. Kelly was thus faced with a dilemma partly of the college’s own creation and partly the result of government policy. The college had expanded enrollment and then enlarged its physical plant and its faculty. With little endowment, modest alumni contributions, rising costs and diminishing revenues, Kelly privately expressed the fear that the college faced bankruptcy within a decade. By 1970, St. Michael’s was in a dire situation. The reforms to the university’s curriculum had contributed to the erosion of the centrality of the federated universities in teaching arts courses to their students. The expansion of the college overbur­dened its finances. Its endowment was small. Its ambitious building programs had exhausted the federal government grants and required the liquidation of its real estate assets adjacent to the campus. The new library, the largest college library on the St. George campus, required additional staff and consumed more electricity than all other college buildings combined. To make matters worse, the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council saw a remarkable exodus from both men’s and women’s religious orders. Institutions founded, staffed and sponsored by religious foundations whether in education or health care underwent a transformation. The aggiornamento had led to an arrivederci of damaging proportions. The Basilians lost several qualified members. Laymen began to replace Basilians in administrative and teaching positions. Not only were the “contributed services” of these priests (and some sisters) lost to the institu­tion but additional expenses were incurred for salaried lay replacements.

     To some, the interest in the colleges expressed by the new president of the University, John Evans, was thus seen as their salvation. A graduate of Toronto and Oxford, Evans had come to the presidency of Toronto after being the Dean of Medicine at McMaster, where he had introduced new approaches to the teaching of medicine, later widely emulated across Canada. Evans was an active administrator and rapidly tackled some of the University’s lingering problems. In his installation address in 1972, he signalled his intent to resolve the perceived difficulties with the relationship between the Faculty of Arts and Science and the colleges. Evans was responding in part to recent murmurings of the Minister of Education, William Davis, to rationalize their operations in light of the decline in the province’s generous support for university expansion.23 Evans was particu­larly concerned about the vesting of the hiring of faculty in humanities disci­plines in the colleges. University College had led the policy of the proliferation of faculty in the “college subjects.” But none of the colleges could claim immunity from the charge of the duplication of faculty. The heads of the federated colleges welcomed the overture from the university. It held some promise of alleviating their growing financial burdens. St. Michael’s financial position was by far the worst of the three.

     Evans initiated discussions with the federated universities soon after his installation. The heads of the three federated institutions were Fr. John Kelly at St. Michael’s, George Ignatieff at Trinity and Goldwin French at Victoria. They were all accomplished men with broad experience and enjoyed solid reputations within their colleges and outside of them. For many reasons, it could be claimed, the federated colleges had never had a more able and respected group of leaders. Kelly had been president of St. Michael’s since 1958 and enjoyed a high reputation within the university and in Toronto’s Catholic community. His Basilian confrères found his charismatic style often masked what were highly autocratic methods of administration. Some felt that his allegiances were more strongly for the college than his commu­nity. However, any dissent was well-contained within the local Basilian community at St. Michael’s. Ignatieff was a Trinity graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, an experienced diplomat and former ambassador. He was well­connected with the federal mandarinate and Canada’s political and social elites. Goldwin French was an academic who had long been associated with Victoria College, but only recently had become president of Victoria after years of teaching history at McMaster University in Hamilton. They nego­tiated with Evans forcefully, mindful of the varying demands and beliefs of their constituencies of faculty and alumni. Nonetheless, they expressed few doubts about the necessity of the new arrangement formulated and pressed upon them by the university. In the end, it became a question of securing the best possible solution at a time when the federated colleges were unable to negotiate from a position of strength.

     The protracted negotiations and consultations took place over a period of more than two years. In contrast to the simple agreements for the affilia­tion and the federation of these colleges, the new administrative arrange­ments were sophisticated and complex. The final form was expressed in the Memorandum of Agreement, a short document of four pages which nonethe­less completely re-organized the administrative relationship between the university and its historic colleges.

     There were four objectives in the final memorandum: (1) to teach most arts and science courses, particularly in the early years, in the student’s home college; (2) to foster distinctive academic programs in the colleges; (3) to broaden the teaching in the colleges to include social, physical and life sciences; (4) and to expand the role of the colleges in student counselling, in hosting university classes, and in developing new programs to be offered by the university.24 These goals were to be implemented by a number of organ­izational changes. The academic departments in the college subjects in each college were integrated into the new university departments of Classics, English, French, German, Near Eastern Studies, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. The university recognized the status and tenure of the college facul­ties. The salaries of college and university faculty were to be equalized over a period of two years (which had to be extended to three because of the large cost to the university). Colleges could make faculty appointments by using their own resources but subject to the approval of the university. The colleges were to surrender all tuition revenue from their students. In return, all of the college’s arts faculty were to be paid at parity with other university faculty.25 The colleges would receive an instructional grant from the univer­sity to pay for the provision of classrooms, teaching materials and adminis­trative personnel assisting the academic staff and counselling students. The colleges would continue to be ineligible for all provincial grants except for the per student grant support accorded students enrolled in graduate programs in theology.

     Ignatieff was the most eloquent spokesman and forceful apologist for the arrangement. He publicly characterized the Memorandum of Agreement as moving the signatory institutions from “a static relationship between the colleges and the university to a dynamic relation.”26 Trinity appeared content with the arrangement to strengthen their fledging program in International Studies by cross­-appointments from History, Political Science and other departments. Thus, Trinity acquiesced without rancour. However, the Memorandum did not pass easily through the consultative process at Victoria and St. Michael’s. There the debate was more heated. Groups of faculty members at both colleges opposed the new arrangement and suggested innumerable amendments, both hostile and friendly. Already, faculty members wondered aloud about the sincerity of the university and especially of the key administrators in the Faculty of Arts and Science and at University College responsible for the interpretation and implementation of the terms of the Memorandum. Remarks made about the validity and purpose of the colleges by the principal of University College led some to suspect that the new departments would be nothing more than an extension of University College and of the university. Some academics focused on their own status within the university, seeking assurances on tenure and promotion. It was apparent that the transfer of decisions over tenure and promotion from the colleges to the new consolidated university departments was a significant transfer of responsibility. In retrospect, the concern proved to be valid. However, the proposed generous salary equalization mollified many of the potential protesters. The philosophers at St. Michael’s, the largest college department, and arguably its most distinguished, dropped their opposition to the agreement when they finally secured the right for their courses to carry their own designation in the course calendar (PHI rather than the PHL designation of the University’s courses) and to exercise greater control over their course offerings.

     The Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the heads of the three federated universities, on April 15, 1974. Ignatieff, French and Kelly agreed on the selling points of the arrangement. It equalized the salaries of college faculty with those of the university, it allowed the colleges to expand their teaching to new areas in the arts and science calendar and diminished the University’s encroachment on the academic functions of the federated colleges.27 With few modifications, this Memorandum has governed the relationship of the colleges and the university ever since.

     Ironically, while the new agreement was intended to provide greater flexibility, it instead placed the colleges in an institutional strait jacket from which they have not yet wrested themselves free. The presidents of the three federated colleges had apparently not counted on several factors in the inter­pretation of the document. The Memorandum effectively created university departments where none had previously existed. English, French and the other “college subjects” were no longer simply the amalgam of the college faculties but were administrative units in their own right. As Winston Churchill remarked about the distribution of honours, “Feed a bee on royal jelly and it becomes a queen.” Such was the case with the new departments. Following the anointment of the chairmen of the university departments, they quickly moved to establish a kingdom. While the agreement made no provision to house the new university departments in their own facilities, often the first act of each new department was to seek its own building or office space and adequate administrative support. The chairman of the new department assumed significant powers within the university and directly over the colleges’ teaching. Increasingly the departments functioned for themselves and not for the colleges. Instead of achieving John Evans’ goal of streamlining the operations in the teaching of arts, the Memorandum aided their expansion, but this time outside the colleges.

     The other unanticipated result was the failure of the system of cross­-appointments. The colleges expected the cross-appointment of existing and new faculty to one or other of the colleges. The objective was to invigorate the federated colleges with the appointment of new faculty, both in college subjects and in departments like sociology, political science, history and psychology; subjects previously unrepresented in the colleges. But the agreement did not take into consideration the sharp decline of faculty hirings from the early 1970s onwards. Fewer faculty were hired. The new hires largely shunned cross-appointments and chose to remain in the depart­ment, closer to the perceived perks and preferments and to their academic colleagues. More often than not the chairmen of the new departments also wanted to maintain their departmental and personal importance by keeping faculty members nearby. These chairmen were in the early years of the arrangement almost never from the federated colleges and rarely seemed friendly towards them. Faculty members in the former non-college subjects who sought cross-appointments by happy coincidence often turned out to be those whom the chairman was quite content to be rid of for personal reasons. Far from resulting in the decentralization of the faculty to the colleges, the new Memorandum allowed for the increasing centralization of power and faculty outside the colleges. While the colleges had a say in the cross-­appointments, faculty members ended up in the colleges for a variety of reasons, religious membership and commitment being one of the least important.

     One of the selling points of the new arrangement was that it allowed and even encouraged the colleges to develop new inter-disciplinary programs in order to provide college students with courses ideally suited to their interests and needs. However, it soon became apparent that while the university would permit the development of such new programs, it would not pay for them. Most often, these programs were cobbled together out of existing courses already taught by faculty members. The hiring of faculty to teach in new programs would fall entirely on the college developing the courses. St. Michael’s was the most adventurous in developing these programs. It offered college programs in Catholic Studies, Celtic Studies, Christianity and Culture, Mediaeval Studies, Biomedical Ethics and several other areas of philosophical interest. The first of these programs were not simply curric­ular groupings of standard courses taught by existing university faculty. They involved new appointments in new areas funded by the College’s already hard-pressed treasury. These programs and those offered by the other federated colleges did not acquire the central status in the college curriculum. The enthusiasm for inter-disciplinary approaches also proved to be limited. As the university curriculum began a slow return to the formality and structure it had lost, it gradually became apparent that the new programs had limited appeal to the students and lukewarm support from the Faculty of Arts and Science.

     Even after two decades of attempts to return coherence to refocus the curriculum after the radical deconstruction wrought by the Macpherson reforms, there is still no particular college core to the undergraduate program at the university of Toronto. Even though all arts and science students at the University must register at a college and can receive impor­tant student services through their colleges, the academic connection between college and student can in fact be negligible.

     The other profound effect of the Memorandum on St. Michael’s centred on appointment of religious to teach in the College. In 1974, St. Michael’s had fifty-six priests and other religious on its faculty. In the following decade two unanticipated trends developed. First, priests in the Basilian order left or retired in significant numbers without replacements by new vocations. As a result, the Basilian component of the academic staff became progressively weaker. A parallel development occurred within the Loretto and St. Joseph’s sisters. This phenomenon was seen in virtually every Cath­olic institution of higher learning in North America and was certainly not unique to St. Michael’s.

     What was unique at St. Michael’s was the second factor; the univer­sity’s control over the appointment of new faculty members. If the college intended to hire on its own it could do so with university approval but the college had to fund appointments exclusively. Given the financial situation at St. Michael’s, the practical result of the Memorandum in this area was to discourage to the point of elimination any new Basilian appointments to Arts and Science, despite the application of academically qualified Basilians. The Memorandum required approval of all faculty appointments by the appropriate department and the university’s academic planners. The selection process for new faculty naturally became politicized and subject to all manner of changing university criteria. In such departments as Religious Studies, for instance, the department refused to appoint qualified Basilians to tenure track positions. Few reasons were given, but it was widely specu­lated that among the reasons was the disinclination of department and university officials to add Catholic and particularly clerical members to a department which already had significant representation in both categories. This interpretation of the Memorandum required St. Michael’s, whenever it wanted to hire religious for the faculty, to do so out of its own funds.

     Maintaining the Catholic and Basilian identity of the college thus became a significant challenge to the institution, and not surprisingly, a serious point of discontent among the Basilian community. Ironically, St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan, modelled on St. Michael’s College at its inception in 1936, remained more faithful in the 1970s to the maintenance of autonomous control of college faculty and Basilian input than St. Michael’s. There, the system for university grants allowed the administration to reach an agreement with the provincial government and the university which allowed for appointments to be made by the college funded by the university. At St. Michael’s, the Basilian Fathers found themselves in a position where they governed an institution and contributed significantly to its financial well-being but were essentially prohibited from placing members of their own community at the college for anything other than administrative positions. Qualified Basilian academics thus turned to other Basilian institutions, notably in Houston, Rochester, Saskatoon and Edmonton, where full appointments were available. The community of religious at St. Michael’s was also essentially static because transfers into St. Michael’s were impossible. The “special relationship” of St. Michael’s with the university in this case contributed to a kind of isola­tion from its founding community. Indeed, the last Basilian faculty member teaching in the undergraduate college is expected to retire in 1996. This will end a presence on the faculty which has spanned more than 140 years. Sadly, all the predictions Shook made in 1960 have effectively come to pass.

     Was the St. Michael’s solution a solution at all? This question is still very relevant and perhaps cannot be answered for several more years. Compared to the solutions arrived at by many other Catholic institutions in the same period, St. Michael’s did arrive at a policy which at least assured its continuation. In contrast to St. Patrick’s College in Ottawa, St. Dunstan’s on Prince Edward Island, and Loyola College in Montreal, it did not disap­pear. Unlike the stand-alone Catholic universities, the University of Ottawa and all Catholic universities in Quebec, St. Michael’s has continued as a Catholic institution teaching at the undergraduate level. Indeed, one can speculate that had St. Michael’s adopted the stand-alone model it too would have ceased to be a Catholic institution in anything other than an historical sense. For Catholic universities in Canada, it seems that university status leads inevitably to secularization. St. Francis Xavier and Mount St. Vincent come to mind as exceptions, but perhaps only in Nova Scotia could a Cath­olic university also be considered a public university. The independence and Catholic identity of St. Michael’s once nourished by its relationship with the University of Toronto are now hindered by it. The college now finds itself in a precarious financial situation which threatens its future existence. At the same time, its two graduate divisions, the Pontifical Institute and the Faculty of Theology, are under pressure, the former by financial woes and the latter by declining enrollments. Most importantly, St. Michael’s has yet to find a way in which it can maintain its role as the centre for Catholic academics at the University of Toronto.

     Can the St. Michael’s solution be considered a failure? The college registers increasing numbers of Catholic students and is home to two grad­uate academic divisions of international importance. It provides a home base to more than 3,500 students, at least some of whom increase their knowledge and practice of Catholicism while at university. St. Michael’s has remained independent and it has remained Catholic. It is more than simply a Catholic chaplaincy and a residence. Within the University of Toronto context, St. Michael’s College is widely recognized as the only college at the University which remains faithful to its founding principles and religious identity. And though limited by financial constraints, the college has appointed new faculty in recent years, such as Joseph Boyle in philosophy, and Mark McGowan, a Canadian historian.

     There are thus varying standards of assessment. I would argue that the federation principle remains a dynamic and compelling arrangement for Catholic institutions and public universities. I would also argue that the large research university of the kind the University of Toronto has become is a hostile environment for any such arrangement. The St. Michael’s solu­tion is not a solution to be emulated without greater study of its origins and results. But an examination of its elements reveals a history which is impor­tant to our understanding of the history of Catholic higher education in Canada and provides signposts for institutions who may wish to follow St. Michael’s path.

1L.K. Shook, Catholic Post-Secondary Education in English-speaking Canada A History, (Toronto, 1972), p. 192.

2W. Stewart Wallace, A History of the University of Toronto 1827-1927 (Toronto, 1927), pp. 128-133.

3Shook, “St. Michael’s College and University Federation,” unpublished article, USMC Archives, p. 10.

4A.B. McKillop, Matters of Mind, The University in Ontario 1791-1951 (Toronto, 1994).

5Shook, pp. 151-2.

6Elizabeth M. Smyth, “The Lessons of Religion and Science: The Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph and St. Joseph’s Academy 1854-1911,” (Ed. D. diss, University of Toronto, 1990) pp. 174-188.

7The titles “superior” and “president” were used to describe the head of St. Michael’s College. The “superior” was appointed to head the Basilian community at St. Michael’s and to govern the college. Carr used the title “president” more often than his predecessors, perhaps to lend credibility to the office and to achieve parity with the president of Victoria College and the Provost of Trinity College. The position of superior and president were only finally separated in 1958 when the University of St. Michael’s College Act came into effect.

8“A Commitment to Higher Education in Canada The Report of a Commission of Inquiry on forty Catholic Church-Related Colleges and Universities” (Windsor, 1970), table 9c.

9Woodside Memorandum, 1959.

10Woodside Memorandum, 1959.

11Minutes of the Meeting of the USMC Woodside Advisory Committee, March 29,1960.


13“Graduate Studies in the University of Toronto Report of the President’s Committee on the School of Graduate Studies” (Toronto, 1965).

14Ibid., p. 55.

15Ibid., p. 54.

16Ibid., p. 130.

17Religious Knowledge was taught at each of the colleges but it did not form part of the Honours Program. Near Eastern Studies was a college subject at University College and Victoria College.

18Quoted in Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan The Medium and the Messenger (Toronto, 1989), p. 80.

19Shook, p. 207.

20Committee to Study the Government of the USMC, January 15, 1970.

21Ibid., p. 187.

22A Commitment to Higher Education in Canada, pp. 99-100.

23Paul Axelrod, Scholars and Dollars (Toronto, 1982), pp. 146-149.

24 Memorandum of Agreement Relating to the Role of the Colleges in the Faculty of Arts and Science, University of Toronto, April 15, 1974.

25Faculty members were given the option of transferring their contract to the university. College faculty responded differently to contract transfers; Trinity faculty transferred their contracts to the university en masse while the faculty at St. Michael’s and Victoria generally did not. New faculty were given no option. All new Arts and Science faculty would hold their contracts with the University.

26USMC Archives, President’s Files, 1958, George Ignatieff to Patricia Remy, August 8, 1974.

27UMSC Archives, President’s Files, 1958, George Ignatieff to Members of the Corporation of Trinity College, May 13, 1974.