Changes in an intellectual elite 1960–1990: The Royal Society revisited

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  • Changes in an intellectual elite 1960-1990: The Royal Society revisited

    R. OGMUNDSON and J. MCLAUGHLJN university of Victoria*

    La Mosatque verticale de John Porter est encore aujourdhui une rbfbrence utile en ce quil permet de mesurer les changements qui se sont produits au sein de la sociBtb canadienne depuis sa publication. Cette communication traite plus particulihrement des changements survenus & lintbrieur de lblite intellectuelle telle que dbcrite par Porter, cest-&-dire, la Section 11 de la SociBtk royale. Les principaux rBsultats empiriques de 1Btude sont les suivants: 1Universitk de Toronto continue & dominer, linfluence btranghre est plus forte et la domination de lblite par les membres dorigine britannique a diminu6. En mbme temps, les donnbes ne sont pas sans soulever le spectre de la discrimination selon lorigine ethnique, le sexe et la religion dans les milieux de lenseignement superieur. LBlite pardt plus critique et plus active, certes, mais le gouffre qui separe les Blites intellectuelles anglophone et francophone semble aussi grand que jamais.

    Porters Vertical Mosaic remains a convenient benchmark by which to measure change in Canadian society. This paper focuses on changes in Porters anglophone intellectual elite, i.e. Section II of the Royal Society. The major empirical findings are that the University of Toronto continues to dominate, foreign influence has increased, and that domination of the elite by those of British origin has declined. Nonetheless, the data raise concerns about possible ethnic, gender, and religious discrimination in Canadian academia. While the elite appears to be more critical and more active, the separation between anglophone and francophone intellectual elites appears to be as great as ever.


    John Porters Vertical Mosaic remains a convenient benchmark against which to measure social change in Canadian society (Goyder, 1990; Rich, 1992). This book, one of the few ever to consider virtually all of the elites of

    * We are indebted to the provincial summer employment program for support which made the original research reported in this paper possible. We are also indebted to the helpful comments of anonymous reviewers. This manuscript waa received in February, 1993 and accepted in September, 1993.

    Canad. Rev. SOC. & Anth. 1 Rev. canad. Soc. & Anth. 31(1) 1994


    a given society, studied seven different institutional elites - business, labour, political, public service, mass media, religious and intellectual. There have been attempted replications of his work in only four cases - business, politi- cal, civil service and mass media (Clement, 1975; Olsen, 1980). Other stu- dies have used radically different methodologies (e.g., Williams, 1989) or have given only passing attention to specific institutions (e.g., Ogmundson and McLaughlin, 19921.l This leaves a significant deficiency in our knowl- edge about what has happened in Canadian society during the past two or three decades in the cases of the labour, religious, and intellectual elites. This paper begins to fill in the picture by taking a look at the Royal Society.


    When setting out to study the intellectual elite of Canadian society, Porter settled upon scrutiny of the Royal Society, especially Section 11 (English lit- erature and civilization) and Section I (French literature and civilization). In Porters view, this group was likely to give us an accurate impression of the Canadian intelligentsia. In his words: Fortunately, there exists an honorific organization called the Royal Society of Canada which contains all the leading savants and into which leading intellectuals might at some time expect to be elected. It is an exclusive and self-selecting group. To be a Fel- low of the Royal Society of Canada requires election by the already existing Fellows ... Many people have criticized my using the Royal Society as the basis of the intellectual elite, but my impression is that the criticism is much greater on the part of the non-Fellows than the Fellows. It seemed to me at the time, and with others with whom I discussed the matter, to be a per- fectly correct way of selecting the elite of the academic and intellectual com- munity (Porter, 1970: 165-6). Subsequently, the York School study of Ornstein et al. also selected its academic elite from the rolls of the Royal Society (see Williams, 1989: 74). In sum, it has become customary to desig- nate the Royal Society as the countrys intellectual elite.

    It can be argued that the three major empirical findings of Porter con- cerning the Royal Society (1965: ch. 16) were these:

    (1) A high degree of institutional domination - Section II was dominated by people affiliated with the University of Toronto and Oxford University. Section I was dominated by LaVal, the University of Montreal, and the Uni- versity of Paris;

    (2) Section 11 was also under a high degree of foreign influence, especially from the United Kingdom. Porter commented that this resulted in mobil- ity deprivation for Canadians and probably contributed to a failure to ar- ticulate values for anglophone Canadian society. Section I was characterized by strong indigenous (i.e. Quebecois) roots;

    (3) Section II of the Royal Society overwhelmingly consisted of people of British ethnic origins. In this case, Porter (1965: 501) made a special point of noting that: What is striking is the absence of Jews in the higher levels of the intellectual community. It is unlikely that there are so few in any other western society. Only four of 88 were females. Section I consisted overwhelmingly of individuals of French ancestry. There was no Acadian


    representation. In his more subjective discussions of this elite, Porter argued that the

    Canadian intelligentsia was too heavily weighted in favour of conservative traditionalists. He also complained about a lack of popular works, a lack of social criticism, and a lack of participation in the political process. He also argued that the contrasting sociological characteristics of the anglophone and francophone intellectual elites were directly related to what he con- sidered to be a dismal performance by the anglophones and a brilliant per- formance by the francophones in the performance of their social roles. For example, he noted that: The French intellectual elite is also native-born, a condition which helps it to articulate for French Canadian society a con- sistent set of values (Porter, 1965: 505).

    One would anticipate that there have been significant changes in the higher reaches of the Canadian intellectual community since Porter did his research in the early 1960s. In particular, one would probably anticipate a decline in domination by the University of Toronto/Oxford axis in Section 11, a decline in foreign influence, and a trend towards more representative ethnic origins in the elite. One would also anticipate an increase in the par- ticipation of females and Canadians of Jewish ancestry. As we shall see, only some of these expectations turn out to be correct.


    The Royal Society publishes a yearly calendar which lists the names of all its members and their present university affiliation. Almost all members of the Royal Society are listed in the Canadian Whos Who. This provides rea- sonably complete information on place of birth, location of first degree, and location of graduate degree. Consequently, these sources make it possible to investigate all three of our major themes. Patterns of institutional in- fluence can be measured by ascertaining the present and past university af- filiations of members of the elite. Foreign influence can be measured with indicators such as place of birth, location of first degree, and location of graduate degree. Ethnic grigins can be measured by examination of the last name and place of birth.

    Given that Porters use of the Royal Society as the intellectual elite has been criticized (e.g., Ogmundson, 19901, the analysis of the Royal Society has been supplemented by an analysis of information on academic author- ity figures such as university Presidents and Deans of Graduate Schools. Data on these figures were collected from the calendars of Canadian univer- sities. These calendars typically list names, first degrees, and final degrees of the individuals in question. Foreign influence can be measured by loca- tion of first degree and final degree. Ethnic origins can be measured by ex- amination of the last name.3


    Although its predominance has diminished, the University of Toronto re- mains the unchallenged institutional centre of Section 11 of the Royal




    1961 1987

    University of Toronto University of British Columbia McGill University York University Queen's University University of Alberta University of Western Ontario Dalhousie University University of Saskatchewan Others (less than 3.5%)

    N =

    43.0% 10.6 9.4 3.5 8.2 3.5 5.9 3.5 5.9 6.5


    31.0% 10.6 8.6 8.2 7.3 5.7 5.3 4.1 0.8



    * The original N was 104. The number affiliated with universities was 85 (81.7%) The original N was 303. The number affiliated with universities was 245 (80.9%)

    Society. The initial indicator of this domination is the finding that 31 per cent of Section 11 held appointments there. The closest competitor in this re- gard was the University of British Columbia at 10.6 per cent. (See Table I.) A similar finding emerges if one uses first degree as an indicator - 23.7 per cent of this elite had attained their first degree at the University of Toronto. Only two other Canadian universities were represented by more than 5 per cent in this category (University of British Columbia, 7.6%; McGill, 7.3%).4 This tendency is more apparent when the indicator of final degree is used. Some 18.6 per cent of the elite obtained their final degree at Toronto while no other Canadian university was represented by more than 2.3 per cent. The closest competitors in the final degree category were Harvard (9.5%), Oxford (7.4%), the London School of Economics (LSE) (7.4%), the Univer- sity of Chicago (5.6%) and Cambridge (5.2%).5 This pattern is especially pro- nounced in the case of those who took their first degree in Canada. Of these, 36.8 per cent obtained their first degree from Toronto. The closest competi- tors among the first degree category for the Canadian-born were the Uni- versity of British Columbia at 12.5 per cent and McGill at 10.4 per cent. (Thg University of Saskatchewan deserves honourable mention here at 7.6%.) Finally, 24.8 per cent of the Canadian-born members of Section 11 of the Royal Society received their final degree at Toronto. No other Canadian uni- versity had as many as 2.5 per cent. In the final degree category among the Canadian-born, the closest to Toronto was Harvard with 10.6 per cent. The only others at or above the 5 per cent level were Chicago and LSE at 6.8 per cent, Oxford at 6.2 per cent, and Columbia at 5.0 per cent.

    If membership in Section I1 is a valid indicator of intellectual authority, it would seem clear that the University of Toronto dominates the intellec- tual life of anglophone Canada. Or, as Porter (1965: 499) also noted in his original analysis, it may be that: '... the fact that a larger proportion of stu- dents and staff of the University of Toronto became fellows of the Royal Society may simply be a consequence of the selection procedures, making


    section II an offshoot of the humanities and social science departments of that university. Consequently, it is interesting to observe that our sup- plementary analysis of university authority positions confirms the pattern of institutional influence observed in the Royal Society - 25 per cent of uni- versity Presidents in Canada in 1988 had received their first degree from the University of Toronto. If one looks at final degree, a similar pattern is evident - 21.4 per cent of university Presidents attained their final degree at the University of Toronto. The role of all other anglophone Canadian uni- versities was negligible.

    One dimension of institutional authority that has changed is the role of Oxford which, along with Toronto, had ranked as one of the two dominant institutions of Canadian anglophone intellectuals. Over a quarter of the 1961 elite on whom data were available had obtained their final degree at Oxford. This pattern has changed. In 1987, only 7.4 per cent of Section 11 had final degrees from Oxford. That institution has not been replaced by any other as the focal point of external leadership. The leading university other than Toronto (18.6%) is Harvard, which, at 9.5 per cent of final degrees, is only slightly more prominent than several other institutions. As Berkowitz (1984a: 257-8) has noted in another context, the dominance

    of the University of Toronto in Canadian elites may well simply be a reflec- tion of its size relative to other institutions. Nonetheless, as Porter com- mented: The importance of the University of Toronto to the intellectual life of the nation makes nonsense of any claim that institutions of higher learn- ing are of purely provincial concern (Porter, 1965: 499). The degree of for- eign influence on the intellectual life of the country may also raise doubts about the assumption that an indigenous anglophone intellectual elite ex- ists. This is the matter to which we now turn.


    Porter found that the degree of foreign influence was high and that it was predominantly British. This was indicated by the substantial proportion of foreign born in the elite (27 of 881, by the fact that almost 20 per cent came to Canada as adults, and by the domination of British universities as a lo- cation for graduate study - almost one quarter at Oxford alone. Porter (1965: 498) noted: The proportion of foreign born was higher than with other elite groups, except the trade union leaders.

    The high degree of foreign influence over Canadian society generally, and over anglophone Canadian universities in particular, was a topic of great in- terest and controversy in Canadian academia during the 1970s. (For a sur- vey, see Hiller, 1979.) Given that the great Canadianization debates of the past have subsided, it would seem reasonable to anticipate that the trend in the anglophone Canadian intellectual elite would be towards an increased role for people with roots in Canada. One might also anticipate a shift in the locus of foreign influence from the United Kingdom to the United States.

    If one focuses on final degrees, our findings do indicate a shift in the locus of foreign influence from the United Kingdom to the United States. By 1987,



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