First Generation: An Autobiography
Published: December 1996© 1996
440 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
Ebook - PDF
Ernest Sirluck's life has been full of passion and, not infrequently conflict. His childhood and youth as a Jew in a predominantly Mennonite Prairie village, his service as a divisional intelligence officer in Europe during the Second World War, and his experience as a professor and university administrator during a period of dramatic changes produced a man of firm convictions and the ability to fight for them. His story charts his many battles: against antisemitism and Nazism, mediocrity and academic complacency, ideological zealotry, and government and union encroachment on university autonomy. But he is, first and foremost, an educator, and his autobiography provides an intimate intellectual history of mid-century universities, spiced with anecdotes about the many prominent educators he worked with, among them E.K. Brown, A.S.P. Woodhouse, Northrop Frye, and Marshall McLuhan.
Born to Russian Jewish parents in Winkler, Manitoba, Sirluck, grew amidst the antisemitism of the 1930s. This was a particularly strong influence in his life -- the swastika-flaunting Canadian Nationalist Party, exploiting the misery of the Great Depression, had found a receptive audience for their Nazi-influenced propaganda in the German-speaking Mennonite community. During the Second World War, Sirluck interrupted his university education to serve in the field with the Canadian army in Europe. After the war he pursued his doctorate while teaching English literature at the University of Toronto, then was appointed to the University of Chicago, where he taught for fifteen years. When he eventually returned to the University of Toronto to become graduate dean and vice-president, he seized the opportunity to initiate an inter-university rationalization of graduate studies and library services throughout Ontario.
Subsequently he was appointed president of the University of Manitoba, where a reduced level of public funding and the influence of a union-oriented government led to the university's general unionization and its first strikes.
The special value of this work lies in the unique perspective that Sirluck brings to familiar and unfamiliar event and issues. His deeply held beliefs, persuasive analytical powers, and richly detailed memories combine to make this a fascinating autobiography.