Mr Chancellor, in requesting you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa upon Hugh Worrell Springer, KCMG, CBE, I am asking you to honour Sir Hugh himself, but also drawing your attention to this University’s close relationship with the world of Commonwealth scholarship. We in Hong Kong are living in an international city far removed in terms of space (if not of flying time) from the member-universities of the Commonwealth. Sir Hugh’s visit as Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities is, therefore, of importance as well as of great pleasure to us.
Sir Hugh’s career has been one of immense interest and variety from its beginnings over sixty years ago in Barbados (like this and island [largely] in the sun). He is a scholar and a lawyer. From an early education in Barbados he proceeded on a scholarship to Hertford College, Oxford (graduating in 1936) and to Inner Temple where he was called to the Bar in 1938.
Back in Barbados he entered into practice as a barrister for almost ten years, until he was enticed into the university world to become Registrar of the University College of the West Indies (1947-1962) and then from 1963 to 1966, Director of the Institute of Education. In the sixties he held high office in the Public Service Commission, in the Regional Council of Ministers and in the Medical Research Council.
In 1966 he joined the Commonwealth Education Liaison Unit as Director to work as an educational administrator, namely as Commonwealth Assistant Secretary General (Education) at that most regal building at Marlborough House in London. And yet he never forgot the academic aspects of his calling. In the sixties he took up firstly a fellowship as All Souls, Oxford. He was clearly established as a man with a triple vocation – lawyer, administrator and scholar.
In 1970, he was appointed Secretary General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities which is the coordinator, adviser and helpmeet for many of the activities of upwards of 200 universities. In the year following his appointment as Secretary General in 1971, he was honoured by the Queen with the KCMG, having received the OBE in 1954, and the CBE in 1961.
Mr Chancellor, six universities (Laval, Victoria, British Columbia, his own West Indies, Warwick, Ulster and Heriot-Watt) have all anticipated Hong Kong in awarding him doctorates. From today when your Excellency confers our degree on him, he will have three DLitt’s, two LLD’s and one DScSoc.
If however, we look behind the impressive array of richly-deserved honours, we see another man – one who, thirty-five years ago, was organizing the Barbados Labour Party as its General Secretary – a useful pointer to his will to become involved in the process of nation-building. Yet, whereas politics is man’s most exciting activity, his first love was education, and he threw himself into the development of higher education in the Caribbean – as an administrator, teacher and writer. The number of boards, committees and other educational agencies on which he served in the sixties is quite astonishing. These include governorships of the Board of the Centre for Curriculum Renewal and Educational Development Overseas as well as governorships of a large number of prestigious universities such as the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Universities of Exeter and Hull. He has been called upon to lend his undoubted expertise in the field of education to Commonwealth states in Africa – for example, such as Ghana and East Africa.
He has contributed to such journals as the Caribbean Quarterly, Universities Quarterly, and International Organization, while Harvard University’s Centre for International Affairs published his monograph on the issues and problems of federal government in the West Indies. His analysis of the failure of the federal principle in the West Indies is a masterly expose of the fallibility of facile federal forms.
Mr Chancellor, Sir Hugh Springer might be described as the Commonwealth’s first gentleman of education. Today, the Commonwealth is, above all, a pragmatic association of voluntary members; it is an educative force. It was once said of the old empire-builders that they conceived of education as consisting of two attributes – the ability to conjugate Latin irregular verbs and the ability to keep a straight cricket bat. As regards the former, of course it has largely gone, though Sir Hugh himself (as befits a former classics professor) has written Oriens ex Occidens Lux and I invite you all to remember this University’s Latin motto Sapientia et virtus. As for the straight bat, the sparkling cricket of Sir Hugh’s West Indies is vastly more than "casting a ball at three straight sticks and defending the same with the fourth" – as one cynic averred.
Today however, our empire is an empire of learning, which the Association of Commonwealth Universities helps to make more than just technically possible. Some in this hall will know Gordon Square, the Mecca of the academic interview, a call to which has sent many hundreds to posts in universities anywhere in the Commonwealth world, often to a new university, an untidy amalgam of mud, concrete, syllabuses and hopeful student guinea pigs. Many academics rapidly became involved in the exciting and exacting business of university-building. Perhaps the French are correct in saying that there are three sexes – men, women and academics.
At present the university world in passing through a period of quiet and cautious development – even retrenchment. Both as an initiator and as an observer, Sir Hugh is at the centre of international university development. Mr Chancellor, for his distinguished contribution to university education, for his insight into the arts of the transmission of knowledge and in tribute to his role as a Commonwealth statesman of learning, I ask you to confer on Sir Hugh Worrell Springer the degree of Doctor of Letters honoris causa.
Citation written and delivered by Professor Peter Bernard Harris, BA, BSC(Econ), PhD, DLitt(PCE), the Public Orator of the University.