Academics

         

“A graduate with a fourth year diploma [from Prince of Wales] could go anywhere” 1

 

At PWC, school work was serious business: whether its students received Bachelor’s degrees, junior college diplomas, or teaching licenses, the academic standards at the College were rigorous, exacting, and highly respected throughout the country. “Some of Canada’s finest scholars have been proud to call PWC their alma mater” brags the 1960 Welshman yearbook.2 Some graduates, most notably LM Montgomery, went on to literary fame.3 Others, such as Sir Andrew Macphail and Jacob Gould Schurman, became leaders of prestigious universities (Macphail was Chair of the Department of Medical History at McGill, while Schurman was a revered president of Cornell University).4 PWC alums also found success in the political arena: Joseph Ghiz, a much-respected Premier of PEI from 1986-1993, was a Prince of Wales graduate.5 The College’s heavy focus on academics was a tradition that began in earnest with Alexander Anderson, who served as one of the school’s most illustrious principals from 1868-1901, who came to be hailed as the “Lion of PWC”.6 The work Anderson put into improving the program at PWC the set the stage for the level of academic excellence that the school would maintain for most of its existence.

 

It was Anderson who established the College’s entrance examinations in 1880:7 at the end of grade ten, before they were accepted into the school, students were required to pass an exam covering a variety of subjects, including a core of arithmetic, geography, English, French, Latin, history, and science 8 (samples of very early entrance exams can be found in the digitized PWC Calendars). The depth of questions from such a diverse range of subjects would most likely cause difficulty for today’s university graduates, let alone a student fresh from high school. Even during the less nurturing era in which PWC operated, the entrance exams were such a source of stress and anxiety that some high school students chose to attend nearby St. Dunstan's University -- an academically demanding school in its own right -- simply to avoid PWC's dreaded admissions' tests.9 Even among those who were brave enough to take up the challenge, failure rates were high10 -- between forty to fifty percent in the 1930s11 -- making acceptance to the school an exclusive and enviable achievement.

 

Once a student was admitted to the College, however, the strict academic standards that governed his or her entrance did not slacken. Marking was intentionally tough and expectations were high:12 although the passing grade was fifty percent, students were strongly discouraged from just “getting by” in their classes with only a pass, as it represented the minimum level of performance and was considered barely acceptable.13 Discipline for those who consistently missed course work or classes was equally exacting: “irregular attendance” could bring penalties ranging from course dismissal to outright expulsion. Perhaps more troubling to many academic underachievers, however, was the knowledge that anyone allowing school work to slip too far would have a letter sent home to their parents informing them of their son or daughter’s failure to live up to the exacting standards of PWC.14

 

Harsh as this ethos might seem today, it appears that these expectations and regulations were accepted and adopted by most College-goers. There was a great respect for learning amongst the majority of students, who sometimes reacted strongly to disruptions and interruptions during classes and study times. In an 1963 issue of The College Times, a group of students, who named themselves the “Fighters for Success,” were so fed up with interruptions caused by rowdy behaviour during their classes that they voiced their disapproval in a letter to the editor. The letter noted that PWC students “have a purpose here -- to make a success of our work. We consider the actions of these hoodlums detrimental to this purpose and request that something should be done.”15

 

The College was a demanding environment, then, but it was certainly not a cheerless place. Students were encouraged to have fun during their time at the school, and to get involved with extracurricular and social events. Even this encouragement, however, came with the caveat that no student should sacrifice his or her academic success in the name of a club, team or council:16 “All activities had to be accompanied by good marks,”17 and; “any student whose academic standing was not satisfactory shall be debarred from all extracurriculars.”18 Through such policies, the College required students to maintain a strong academic focus, and so ensured that the high standards cemented by Anderson in the 19th century continued to flourish at PWC for over a century. 

 


 

1        Sister Mary Olga McKenna, “Higher Education in Transition,” in  The Garden Transformed: Prince Edward Island, 1945-1980” ed. Verner Smitheram, David Milne, and Satadal Dasgupta (Charlottetown: Ragweed Press, 1982),  207.

2        W.R. Shaw, The Welshman (Charlottetown: Prince of Wales College, 1960), 10.

3        Marian Bruce, A Century of Excellence: Prince of Wales College, 1860-1969 (Charlottetown:Island Studies Press/PWC Alumni Association, 2005), 5 (image insert).

4        Bruce, 3-4 (image insert).

5        “Joseph Atallah Ghiz,” Premiers Gallery, Government of Prince Edward Island, accessed June 28, 2012, http://www.gov.pe.ca/premiersgallery/ghiz.php3.

6        Bruce, 3 (image insert).

7        Bruce, 46.

8        “Admission of Students,” in Prince of Wales College and Normal School Calendar 1960-1961, (1960), 11-12.

9        Frank Zakem, The Neighbourhood Family Run Corner Store Experience (Charlottetown: Frank Zakem, 2002), 32-33.  

10      Bruce, 183.

11      Cyrus MacMillan, “Course of Studies,” in The Report of the Royal Commission on Education in the Province of Prince Edward Island  (Journal of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of  Prince Edward Island, 41st General Assembly-3rd Session, Charlottetown: Patriot Job Print, 1930), 24.  

12       Bruce, 151.

13       Frank MacKinnon, “Annual Report on Prince of Wales College and Normal School,” in The Annual Report of the Department of Education of the Province of Prince Edward Island for the Fiscal Year Ended March 31st, 1959 (Journal of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of  Prince Edward Island,  49th General Assembly -1st Session, Charlottetown: Journal Publishing Co., 1958), 96.

14       “Attendance and Conduct,” in Prince of Wales College and Provincial Normal School Calendar 1955-1956 (1955), 18.

15       “We Get Letters,” The College Times 89, no. 7 (7 February 1963), 8.

16        Bruce, 181.

17       Frank MacKinnon, Church Politics and Education in Canada: The P.E.I. Experience (Calgary: Detselig Enterprises, 1995), 58.

18       “Attendance and Conduct,” 18.

 


 

Image Credits

"Convocation" is taken from the 1969 Welshman yearbook which can be found in both the UPEI Archives or the PWC digital Collection under "PWC Welshman."

© 2010-2012 University of Prince Edward Island. All Rights Reserved.