Charles Morden Levi. Comings and Goings: University Students in Canadian Society, 1854-1973. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003. Pp. xii, 172.

Despite its encompassing title, this study of university students has a narrow focus. The slim volume began as a York dissertation which may have had the potential to become a nice journal article or two. As the university students in question were enrolled in the University of Toronto, however, nothing short of a book was required. The author provides an assessment of the origins and later lives of several generations of students at the University of Toronto's University College. Instead of choosing the study group by sampling his 100+ years of students, he focuses on the 1,876 officers of the Literary and Athletic Society and its "sister" organization. In order to get round the problem of assessing how representative this group of student leaders might be of the college’s whole student body, the author makes good use of comparisons with historians’ published group profiles of students in other Canadian universities.

Levi’s generations encompass four periods: 1854-90, 1891-1921, 1922-58, and 1959-73. Prominent among these dates is 1921 when the men's society, dubbed the "Lit," underwent an overhaul and became the equivalent of a student council for University College. (The concurrent women's organization had matured to a similar level by 1917.) The year 1959 marked the amalgamation of the men's and women's college organizations. The nadir for the integrated society was reached in 1973 when an interim treasurer, unconnected with any university, attempted to abscond with the funds.

Although a description of the activities of the student organizations is provided, the analysis centres on the not very surprising realization that "each student came to university from somewhere and each of them will go somewhere after graduation" (p. xi). The data on students' background (place of birth, father's occupation, and religious affiliation) and disposition (occupation and location), arranged according to the four periods and representing seven cohorts, are to be found in 50 tables at the end of the approximately 100 pages of text. These tables aggravatingly do not give percentages for the cases where the information is missing, acknowledged by the author to be considerable. They are left out of the calculations altogether. Moreover, none of the numbers and percentages are totalled which means the reader has to have a calculator to hand. On the basis of the data for the men of the first generation, we learn that the Lit. officers were "largely not farmers' sons" (p. 16), that most of them entered the professions (10.7 per cent unknown), and that those who became lawyers and high school teachers achieved a disproportionate degree of success. In the second generation (first for the women), which receives the lion’s share of attention in Comings and Goings, the professions still dominated career choices for the male "animals." The author claims that business occupations, which are discussed here only when professional and business activities were combined, also made a strong showing. As might be expected of student politicians, politics in real life captured its share of attention among the members of that cohort and produced the likes of William Lyon Mackenzie King and Arthur Meighen. In teaching, men now preferred the universities to schools, where they made a significant impact. They included some of the new specialists in the sciences and engineering disciplines that were emerging in this period. The discussion of the denominations of clergymen includes some interesting speculation about the number of ex-Lit. Presbyterian ministers who eschewed church union in 1925.

Levi subjects the female contemporaries of these male students to comparative data analysis. But he is particularly exercised over the failure of historians of university women to evaluate the 50 per cent (give or take a few percentiles) who chose matrimony as their life’s work. The key ingredients are identified as "the character of their husbands and the number of their children" (p. 60), and the key questions are the degree to which women were responsible for their husbands’ successes and for their own low breeding rates. These issues appear particularly sententious in light of the author’s failure to say anything convincing about either, and his conclusion that "what is known about the female graduates of University College for this period is overshadowed by what is not known" (p. 70).

Levi’s data for the male students in the third period (1922-58) reveal a significant increase in the number of Jewish students. Similarly, the sons of businessmen increased while the residential destination narrowed and over half of the graduates remained close to home. The law continued to be the dominating profession but the university also supplied men for "new enterprises, such as the television and film industries, and for the new concerns of Canadian society, such as foreign affairs" (p. 85). Programs preferred by women were less focused on occupational outcomes and the large number of unknowns means that Levi is unable to provide any reasonable assessment of where they went or what they did, other than to surmise that teaching remained a significant choice. He does know that some 84 per cent married and that their spouses were predominantly university-educated or otherwise well trained. In the later stages of this third period the working wife became a feature. Meanwhile within the academy, female students demanded access to male-dominated spheres, including the Lit.

Only six pages of this text address the fourth and final period, when the amalgamated Lit. had 182 male and 95 female officers. The range of origins of this somewhat selective group nevertheless reflected the results of Canada's post-war immigration policies. To the author’s consternation, most of the desired information on students in this cohort is not available in the university records. Moreover, he found that his survey plan was thwarted by respondents’ fears that he was a fund-raiser for the university. He could trace the post-graduation careers of only half the men and one-third of the women. Arguably, he might have done better to terminate his study with the third generation. Undaunted, Levi merely observes that "among other things, this book has demonstrated that the possibilities of quantitative analysis of university students have by no means been exhausted" (p. 104).

To say that we could have done without this book may be considered too harsh a judgement. However, a historian needs to be able to provide a more balanced approach to the presentation of data and to ask different questions if the original ones do not work out. This study tells us nothing about the number of students who attended a college because it was the alma mater of one or both of their parents or about the incidence of sibling relationships at University College. It assumes that all the society officers graduated, which seems unlikely. Despite its focus on student leadership, it fails to correlate amateur, undergraduate training with leadership in later life in the professions, politics, and community. It does nothing to indicate how important those leaders were to the promotion of their university as supporters of fund-raising campaigns and alumni organizations.

Judith Fingard
Dalhousie University