Failures

Successes and failures can be assessed by comparison to either adopted or desirable objectives. By the first criterion SMD has to be characterized as an overall success, because it delivered on 100% of all contracted obligations.

By the second criterion, the projected self-imposed development and production of the SM Text Series, following the summer 1969 teaching seminars (see 2.3.2), ended as a serious failure. Completion of this project might have represented a unique contribution to the teaching of solid mechanics at the University of Waterloo. Ironically, while this initiative gave a constructive response to the often heard criticism that faculty members were more interested in research than teaching, it probably generated a political malaise responsible for the negative attitudes of Civil and Mechanical Engineering Departments toward SMD and its future. SMD efforts were aimed at reviewing the curricula, rationalizing inter-departmental programs and improving their implementation, without involvement in, or change to existing administrative structures. Sadly, departments misread our intentions, fearing an encroachment of their jurisdiction, power, and decision-making authority.

Beside the above, the critical SMD failure was an existential one. Although decisions on its fate were beyond the will and power of our group, a more outspoken response could have been given when SMD formal status was questioned and finally revoked. The UW reneging on the initial commitment to sustain its hard won centre of excellence brought disbelief, consternation, and eventual resignation to SMD membership.

It is fair to note that the political winds changed considerably during the short period of time since SMD inception: whereas the dominant orientation in the late 60’s was toward fundamental research and outward-looking, the early 1970s saw a switch to applied, nationally profitable research and development. UW followed the trend of chasing funding opportunities by downsizing long-term pursuits in favour of reaching tangible material benefits in the shortest possible time. It was in this climate that extensive debates took place on research policies related to basic vs. mission-oriented development, federal vs. provincial jurisdictions, the role of research in university vs. government labs, or industry. UW’s position may be inferred from the words of its Academic Vice-President at the time (Petch 1973):

There are three areas in which debate is still hot, with little indication that agreement will soon be reached: funding university research, organization of government research and stimulation of innovation in industry. (p.40)

Basic research has been one of the chief targets of those critical of the government’s policy, or lack of policy, on scientific matters. In moments of passion, some critics have suggested that Canada should divert all financial support to applied research and development and phase-out basic research. (p.36).

The demands for more mission-oriented basic research, applied research and development, arise because of a wide-spread feeling that Canada must utilize science and technology more in striving to achieve national goals, coupled with a new understanding that benefits do not necessarily flow automatically from free basic research, but require a conscious effort at application. (p.38).