Fond memories from North America
Fond memories from North America
St Cuthbert’s Society still means a great deal to a couple of gentlemen based in the Great Lakes region who enjoyed their time in and around the Bailey about half a century ago. Chicago lawyer Bob Edler and his Cuth’s roommate Wilf Innerd, a former college president at the University of Windsor, Ontario, retain strong views about what makes St. Cuthbert’s “different.” Neither has warmed to the notion of Cuthbert’s as a college.
Mature students, foreigners and oddballs welcome
St Cuthbert’s Society is a home for students who are atypical, as well as for those who are ‘typical’ but prefer to associate themselves with a more heterogeneous group of students than the typical Durham University college provides.
More specifically, SCS is a home for the nonconformist student; the older, more mature student; the student who does not want to live on campus and wants to live in his own digs; the student who prefers greater control over his life than a student in a typical Durham college student has; the “oddball” student (i.e., the person who has very different ideas about one or more important aspects of life, but who wants to have some association with other students when he or she feels like it, not when someone dictates that he or she shall have that association); and the foreign student who, almost by definition, is different from the average DU college student.
If I am correct about the foregoing, it means that SCS members are more heterogeneous than the members of the average DU college, and that SCS provides greater independence of action and inaction for its members, and enables greater participation in determining what members’ university experience outside the classroom will be.
The SCS member is not more or less interested in obtaining a first rate education at DU than students in the colleges, and is not more or less willing to work hard to achieve that first rate education. It is outside the classroom that the SCS member is different than the typical member of a DU college.
I suspect that the persons who would like to see SCS become a college prefer homogeneity to heterogeneity and are less tolerant, in some cases even fearful, of persons who are different. As a result, those persons would like to force every student into a mold. There are plenty of DU colleges that provide a home for the typical person and that is fine: after all, most people are ‘typical.’ However, it would be a shame if DU required SCS to become just another college and deprive the person who is different, and who wants to continue to be different, from finding a comfortable home at the university.
Will today’s students weep on leaving Durham?
I loved every minute of my time at Cuth’s in the late 1950s and again in 1965 when I went back to do a Dip Ed. I was the first in my family to go to university so I had no idea what to expect. I had been working for a year before going up and before that I had done my National Service, mainly in Egypt. So I like to think that perhaps I was a little more mature than most. I had a number of friends from other colleges and many had similar backgrounds to mine.
Regardless of which college they were from, they gravitated towards Cuth’s. Many were leaders in the student world of the University, running Dram Soc and the Light Opera, becoming Presidents of the Union, getting Palatinates in various sports and so on. They were all loyal to their colleges, of course, as well as enjoying what Cuth’s had to offer, and all loved Durham. I remember the last night I was in Durham, right after Convocation, sitting outside the Cathedral with a friend from Castle, the son of a London bus driver, who wept inconsolably at the thought of leaving Durham. Admittedly, we had had a few but the emotion was very real and I could understand what he was feeling.
There are two particular points I want to make.
1) There has to be a place for the more mature, independent student at Durham University. St. Cuthbert’s uniquely supplies such a place or at least it did, and always should do. It cannot and should not become a college like all the other colleges, who serve somewhat different populations and, for all I know, serve them well.
2) I suspect, however, that many, perhaps most, contemporary students are not like we were. From my own experience here in Canada, I know that to be at least partly true. As an illustration, there was a moment when I was President of a College at the University of Windsor, when we were trying to assess student needs, that astonished me. We had already provided high speed internet connection in every room and asked the students what else they needed. We were informed by a majority of those surveyed that they would like cable TV in every room.
This was so far removed from my own experience and what my idea of collegiate life should be that I was at a complete loss. (We didn’t give them cable TV, in case you’re wondering. I’m not that daft). But it did tell me that the students, at least these students, were very different from those I knew at Cuthbert’s. They have so much more materially. They know so much more about their world, I suspect, than we did about our’s. They are so much more focussed on what they want to do after they graduate than we were. They are, to some degree at least, solipsistic, comfortable alone before a computer or a TV in a way that we weren’t, because we didn’t have them.
I wanted and loved the collegiate life. I suspect many students are indifferent to it and would be just as happy in a residence/hall or at home. That is not to say that today’s students are better or worse than we were; they’re simply different. How many of the current crop of students will weep at the thought of leaving Durham? I suspect precious few.
Helvellyn, Die Fledermaus and taunting the Red Dean
Bob Edler was a foreign exchange student at Cuth’s during 1956-1957 and lived at 12 South Bailey. He studied English history and economics while his Cuth’s counterpart, Peter Gilbourne-Stenson, took Bob’s place at DePauw University, Indiana. Bob feels he learned a great deal about himself and the world through an exhaustive range of Society and University activity.
These included rowing in a Cuth’ cox and four; acting in several plays; singing in a University Light Opera Group production of Die Fledermaus, climbing Helvellyn with the mountaineering club; attending Debating Society sessions; enjoying Robert Frost’s visit to Cuth’s garden at 12 South Bailey before lecturing; enjoying conversation over tea and coffee with students from Cuth’s and other colleges; travelling around Durham County and on the Continent; buying a 1935 English Ford (the motor had to be cranked to start) for US$100; travelling around England during the summer of 1957 with Herb Sullivan (another Yank at Cuth’s); and selling the car for US$100 in Liverpool before departing for Ireland.
Special events at the University included the visit of Dr. Hewlett Johnson, the “Red Dean of Canterbury,” just after the Hungarian invasion in late 1956. A group of students carried a coffin draped with a Hungarian flag into the auditorium and deposited it before said Red Dean.
Best of all was walking the ancient streets of Durham, with the magnificent Cathedral always in view, thinking how “wonderfully different Durham was from my Midwestern U.S. (Rock Island, Illinois) home.”
After his year at Durham, Bob Edler completed his B.A. degree work at DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana (1958), received an M.A. in English history from the University of Chicago (1959) and gained an LL.B. from Stanford University three years later. He then began the practice of law in Chicago, which he continue doing to this day, now at Thiedmann & Edler (primarily corporate and securities law). In about 1965, he co-founded a history club that still remains active. He is a director of a foundation that helps developmentally disabled people live in single family homes in ordinary neighbourhoods.
His one surviving son received his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and promptly decided upon a career as a professional poker player! “So much for the plans parents have for their children! But he is happy, healthy, and economically independent.”
Bob is in frequent contact with his roommate from Cuth’s, Wilf Innerd, “the person to whom I will forever be indebted for contributing most to the success of my year at Durham. Wilf, a real people person besides being brilliant but self-effacing, introduced me to a myriad of interesting people at Durham and even fixed me up with a few dates!”
Wilf and his wife Jane, a Durham Ph.D., live in Windsor, Canada. Edlers and Innerds enjoyed the 175th University anniversary in 2007, including meeting Cuthbert’s alumni and alumnae of various ages. “Long live St. Cuthbert’s Society!”