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Preface and Acknowledgements

Why, the reader may well be asking, should there be a history of the School of Business at the University of Alberta? A better question is why not? What we have today is the result of many activities spread
over, in this case, some nine decades, comprising a history that is itself full of interest.

In a sense this Chronicle is a journey - a journey that follows the growth of an extremely small localized organization that has grown into an entity with an international reputation. It is a journey that, I hope, provides insights into the complexities that surround and mould organizations within the context of a larger world rather than being a structure insulated and isolated from the rest of the world - a criticism often directed at academic institutions. What follows, then, is the story of the School of Business at the University of Alberta. After beginning in 1916 with three students and graduating the first Bachelor of Commerce students in 1923, the School has undergone substantive changes in the intervening ninety years.

This is a highly personalized account of that history - an approach not taken lightly since it could provoke an accusation of a lack of humility. Hopefully, my nearly five decades of involvement at the University of Alberta (with a few years in other institutions) does not preclude an objective overview of the history. I have attempted in this Chronicle to provide a context within which to understand the numerous attempts to modify the program over time, the extensive questions, discussions, and, one might say, turf battles over which courses should or would be offered within the evolving School. Needless to say, personalities (both on and off campus) play a major role in the changing structure of what has led to the present Alberta School of Business. This Chronicle reflects, in many ways, the biases and subjectivity of the author since my tenure (in the broadest sense of the word) covers more than half the life of the School. While not a Business graduate of the University of Alberta, I was an undergraduate student in the late 1940s and early 1950s and thus have some familiarity with the cast of characters who were an integral part of the University of Alberta at that time. Good fortune led to my involvement at the School in an academic context (much more on that later!) and varying levels of involvement with the School since that time.

What also struck me as I was working on this project were four major themes that I feel are indicative of a university environment:

1) The cyclical nature of growth and development of an institution with periods of growth followed by a levelling off or, in some cases, a decline;

2) The difficulty of meaningful planning (related, in part, to the above). As will become apparent, factors such as enrolment projections are buffeted by major factors that impinge on the process and substantially affect the best laid plans;

3) The labour-intensive and time-consuming nature of the decision-making process within a university context. Given the open nature of a university, decisions undergo an often tortuous process before implementation. This reality should not perhaps have come as a surprise, since some four decades ago I recall being asked to do a study on decision-making at the university by my then superior, Dr. Walter Neal, Vice-President (Planning). The conclusion: on average, decisions at the university took five years to be implemented;

4) External forces on development and the School of Business did not act in isolation. For example, on July 14, 1914, an R.J. Deachman of The Commercial Reviews sent Dr. Tory an article entitled “Why Not a Short Course for Merchants.” Dr. Tory replied on July 24, 1914: “I have your letter of July 14th. In reply I may say that we have already taken steps towards the organization of education from a commercial point of view. During the coming Winter, we propose offering certain courses to those who are interested in Accountancy, as a beginning.”

In order to provide some semblance of order to this Chronicle of the development of today’s Alberta School of Business, it is broken down into roughly fifteen-year periods as follows:

1. The Initial Years of the School (1916 - 1929)
2. The Depression and World War II (1929 - 1945)
3. New Directions (1945 - 1960)
4. The Turning Point (1960 - 1975)
5. Growth and Change (1975 - 1990)
6. Expanding Horizons (1990 - 2008)

Needless to say, there is considerable overlap between these periods since, for example, program development was often brought about by external forces, sometimes aided by the human element, at other times very strenuously fought by the human element, and these things do not always fall into neat fifteen-year categories. In compiling this Chronicle, a number of factors come to the fore. There is a tendency to forget that the somewhat convoluted system of management in today’s university evolved from a much simpler time in many respects, although personality clashes and disagreements were certainly not unknown even in that simpler era. What will also become apparent is the replication of activities. For example, while we might think that the concept of an Advisory Council is a fairly recent development, it has had a long history. On April 18, 1932, President Wallace wrote to a number of businessmen asking if they might be prepared to sit on an Advisory Board. A typical letter (this one addressed to a Mr. H.H. Cooper, a wholesale grocer of Blue Willow products), notes, in part,

In the University of Alberta there is a School of Commerce with a four years’ course leading to the Bachelor of Commerce degree. This course is taken by a considerable number of students, there being eighty-four enrolled at the present time. It gives a general cultural training but with special emphasis on accounting, statistics, political economy, history, and modern languages. The graduates from the School have found positions in various fields in the commercial world and as far as we can learn have shown that their training has been of real value to them in business and industry. We feel, however, that it is in every way advisable that the University have close contact with responsible business men in developing this course in order that the University give the greatest service to business and industry in the training of the students who intend to give their life work to those fields. For that reason the Board of Governors have agreed to the suggestion that an Advisory Board be asked to sit in with the committee in charge of the School of Commerce from time to time, say once a year, in order to give their judgement and advice on the kind of training which the University may best give in this field.

A number of technical factors must be noted. Obviously, in preparing a work of this type, much depends on the availability and content of archival material. Much of the material for the earlier parts of the Chronicle was obtained from the University of Alberta Archives. The Archives proved to be somewhat inconsistent in terms of notation, accession numbers, and so forth, but I have attempted to follow, as best I could, the numbering as found in the Archives. In order to make this history easier to read, references from the University of Alberta Archives are cited in endnotes as “UAA” with the appropriate numbers. Another major source of references is internal documents from the School of Business that have not yet been archived. These are referred to as “ASOB” with reference numbers developed internally (for example, 06/22/07 signifies June 22, 2007). Other significant internal material came from the minutes of the School’s Council meetings, begun in 1928, and internal files from Departments and Centres. Council minutes have not, as yet, been archived, so are referred to by date and meeting number, if noted on the minutes. As well, extensive use has been made of material from sources such as the Evergreen and Gold produced by the Students’ Union as a yearbook for some fifty years from 1920 to 1970.

The Chronicle, therefore, is for all practical purposes based on written evidence found in historical documents. The obvious advantage to this approach is the fact that they are written records. Disadvantages are threefold: first, the sheer volume of written material - I estimate that I have copied some 10,000 pages in the course of my research as I was never quite sure just what information might be required; second, written documents do not always provide the nuances of what occurred in specific instances from the viewpoint of personality clashes and other circumstances; third, inaccuracies and confusion in written material often created problems of interpretation. For example, there are two volumes of Commerce Council minutes, both numbered 4, with one covering the period September 1, 1971, to April 11, 1972, and the other covering the period January 10, 1971, to December 15, 1972.

A minor issue, perhaps, but the archival material is riddled with spelling inconsistencies, and degrees are abbreviated in several ways. What I have done is to retain the form of the original. The name of what is now known as the Alberta School of Business has undergone numerous changes - Department of Accountancy, School of Commerce, Faculty of Business Administration and Commerce, and more. I have attempted to follow the nomenclature as found in letters, reports, and other documents as they occurred at that point in time. This does, admittedly, create some problems since, on occasion, a document will refer to the entity by two different names. Other difficulties regularly presented themselves. The extensive use of onion skin paper often made archival material for much of the early parts of this history difficult to read and to copy given the somewhat delicate nature of the paper. As well, much of this earlier material was kept together by the use of straight pins; apparently staples were not too common in the early years of the university. While today the use of electronic media for communication is all-pervasive, telegrams and mail were paramount in the early period of the university. And, with reference to the latter, mail apparently moved far more quickly than it does today!

A final note. As one can appreciate, there are numerous problems in attempting to prepare a Chronicle of this nature. On the one hand, there is so much information available that it is physically impossible to use everything. To illustrate, for the period 1975–1990 (Chapter 5), not only are there Faculty and Departmental records and extensive archives for the University as a whole, but also there are some 111 boxes of material housed at BARD (Book and Record Depository) that have been archived from the School of Business; for the period 1990 to the present (Chapter 6), some 150 boxes of material are still stored in the bowels of the Business Building. On the other hand, sometimes documents were sparse, and sometimes it was difficult to obtain any materials at all, particularly with reference to students and student clubs. Typically, given the nature of most student groups, as a new group begins its year, documents and other potential archival material are discarded; by their very nature, student groups have little in the way of institutional memory. Lastly, there is the subjective element of all such research: what data should be included? Is it of significance, or is it merely interesting, or scandalous, or cryptic? In the final analysis, what has been included is a mixture of all of the above. Ultimately, the major purpose of the Chronicle is to provide an enjoyable (and readable) overview of an institution that has played a significant role not only within the University of Alberta but throughout the world. Hopefully, some of the shortcomings and my misgivings will be resolved in the planned companion website.

Numerous acknowledgements are in order, so sincere thanks are due to the following people who helped out in so many ways: Michael Conn Hodgson and Gary Hackman, former students who graduated in 1962, for their assistance in recalling the episode about the computer; Jim Franks and Kevan Warner at the Book and Record Depository (BARD); Jeannine Green and her staff at Bruce Peel Special Collections Library; staff at the School of Business: Jami Drake, Jayne Ference, Elaine Geddes, Jeanette Gosine, Kathy Harvey, Laura Jackson, Jacqueline Kokic, Marj McMullen, Debbie Picken, Susan Robertson, Keltie Tolmie, Donna Waring, Monica Wegner, Kathy West, Joan White, Rod Ziegler, and special thanks to Elke Christianson who took on the assignment of coaching, encouraging and proofing, and Leslie Robertson, Peter Midgley, Geri Rowlatt, Meaghan Craven, and Lesley Reynolds, who together took on the formidable challenge of turning masses of material into a readable format. Thanks also to Lara Minja and Susan Hunter for their elegant design. Graham Johnson needs to be thanked for his sketches. Thanks to Business students Katelyn Fehlauer, Kirsten Lindquist, and Angelica Menck for their assistance in compiling material; to Jim Doran of Strategic Analysis on campus who compiled the data on the number of students and graduates; to Rod Ziegler, who provided valuable insights into presentation and, of major significance, our Dean, Mike Percy. Mike not only provided the financial support required but had faith that the project would be completed. Lastly, words can’t really express my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Lillian and Carolyn Preshing - the former for putting up with the disappearance of her husband for hours on end and the latter for her ability and willingness to translate my illegible and often grammatically incorrect writing into some semblance of order. One final note of apology: given the thousands of individuals - academics, support staff and students - who have been involved with the Faculty over the past ninety years, only a small number are mentioned by name. Because of the numbers involved, only those persons directly involved with some significant event are mentioned; I offer sincere apologies, therefore, to those who have played a vital role in the development of the Faculty but who will remain anonymous (A Chronicle of Commerce, 2008).

-- Dr. William Preshing, Professor Emeritus, School of Business

“A University should be the most practical of all institutions. It should strive to find the answers to the economic and social problems of common everyday people and then share its knowledge with them.”

- Dr. Henry Marshall Tory
June 1908