UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The fullest development of human potential : the Canadian Union of Students, 1963-1969 Clift, Robert Fredrick


The Canadian Union of Students (CUS) was Canada's national postsecondary student organisation from its founding in September 1963 as the successor to the National Federation of Canadian University Students (NFCUS), until its dissolution in October 1969. This thesis recounts the political history of CUS by tracing the development of CUS policies on access to higher education and on student involvement in the governance of postsecondary institutions. The central argument of this thesis is that over time CUS policies and activities became increasingly "left wing," causing CUS to become ever more isolated from the mainstream students who constituted its membership. The loss of confidence by the members resulted in campus student associations withdrawing support from the organisation, leading to the dissolution of CUS in October 1969. This thesis is not strictly an historical policy analysis, although such an analysis appears throughout. This thesis also offers comparative discussions, recounting developments in the Quebec student movement, in the Canadian anti-nuclear and social justice movements, and in the American civil rights and student movements. To a lesser extent, this thesis also contains elements of social history, collective biography and organisational history. This variety of approaches helps in more fully explaining CUS's changing politics. As demonstrated by the developments in policies on access to higher education and institutional governance, CUS was not content with merely treating the symptoms of educational inequity, but increasingly sought to identify the causes of such inequity and eliminate them. This put the organisation in conflict with prevailing social, political and economic arrangements and divided the CUS leadership from its membership. Although a significant minority of disaffected youth and students challenged the norms of the day, they were unable to bring large numbers of people to their cause and thus unable to sustain pressure for change. The CUS leadership's attempt to reverse the course of the organisation to save it from collapse was unsuccessful and CUS folded under the weight of a rapidly declining membership.

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