SFU Beginnings, by Dennis CulverMar 05, 2010
The following article was written by SFU Business alumnus and supporter Dennis Culver, who passed away on February 10, 2010. We republish it here because it speaks to his love of writing and detail, and his special relationship with SFU Business. It also tells a unique and worthwhile story about Canada’s first EMBA program.
by Dennis Culver
In 1967, Eleanor and I made our second trans-continental journey from our North Vancouver residence to Halifax and back together with our nine young children. Aside from once again visiting her large Nova Scotian family, we also spent one week on our return journey visiting the Expo 67 World’s Fair in Montreal.
Arriving home in the autumn of 1967 I found a small green brochure in our enormous bundle of accumulated mail. This little folder mentioned that Simon Fraser University, then a mere three years old and suffering the inevitable plethora of growing pains, was proposing to initiate an Executive MBA Program to start in the following year. My own university career had been interrupted after a single year at UBC in 1940 when I was diverted for a one-year stint to Peat, Marwick, Mitchell to start training as a CA before that was cut short by my stint in the Canadian army and my overseas experience in World War II.
Accordingly, when I read this little green brochure in 1967, I felt a strong element of excitement because the brochure mentioned in one paragraph that the university was prepared to consider admitting a small percentage of its MBA candidates who had not completed a Baccalaureate Degree at a university, but who were deemed to have substantial experience and were capable of achieving a high mark on the GMAT.
Having been excited by those words, I then took the more sober-sided view that here I was, a well established professional approaching middle age and substantially out of touch with the academic world. Could I find time and energy for SFU while running a busy accounting practice, continuing community and Institute activities, and, most importantly, helping to lead an eleven person family. I said to myself, “What if you apply and take the GMAT but fail to gain admission? Is your ego tough enough to sustain that kind of slap in the face at your present age and stage?”
So instead I set the brochure aside and went on with the business of earning a living for our nine young children and my wife Eleanor until early January of 1968 when there arrived in my mail a further copy of exactly the same brochure. Once again I read it from beginning to end and felt the same surge of excitement. This time, however, I said to myself, “It may be a severe blow to be rejected, but what the heck, let them make the decision.” So I got letters of recommendation from my one and only partner and a client who himself had a Ph.D. in economics, having been the youngest such graduate from a distinguished American university, and sent these off with my $15.00 fee and application form.
There was complete and utter silence from Simon Fraser University for about two long months, during which I engaged myself with the customarily frantic activity of the spring income tax season.
On a Friday afternoon in March 1968 the telephone rang at about 3:00pm with this message, “Mr. Culver, this is Simon Fraser University calling. Can you come out to the campus at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning?” My response was that I already had made arrangements to take my family on a short trip, but that if it indicated that my application was being looked on with preliminary approbation, I could make other arrangements. The lady on the other end said that this was to write the GMAT and that indeed I had passed the preliminary screening process.
So I cancelled the family trip and arrived out there at eight in the morning where I was herded into a huge lecture hall with a large number of other prospective candidates and subjected to the GMAT test. This went on for some four hours in a succession of multiple choice questions with strictly timed responses and a charming but dictatorial female professor cracking the whip on every phase of the process. Between each successive test there was the briefest of interludes in which papers were gathered up, new ones issued, and terse instructions delivered before the time clock was re-started. I crawled out of there metaphorically on my hands and knees and went back home to my family.
Subsequently, other members of our family have taken the GMAT and I have observed them running around the house with a book of sample questions with which they would practice their proficiency for a month or two before taking the test. My introduction to the GMAT was more like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute.
After this experience there was once again total silence for six or eight weeks until at 3pm on a Friday afternoon the telephone rang with the same female voice on the other end asking if I could come out to the campus at nine o’clock the following morning. Once again I would have to jettison my family plans for the weekend, so I said to her, “Can I assume that this means you are prepared to accept my application and that I passed the GMAT hurdle?” “Oh yes,” she said, “You got the highest mark!” So much for worrying about the impact of rejection on my tender ego! I think it took at least two months before I was able to get my feet back on the floor.
Here I was forty-five years old with a busy and active family and an equally busy and active professional practice, having been a quarter of a century away from formal academic training, being granted access to a university. In those days entry to such higher education was only by a most formal and time constrained process of moving through the rigidly defined strictures which had been in effect for decades, if not centuries. Later I was to learn that Simon Fraser was the first university in Canada to start such a course, and one of the very earliest on the continent to relax the formal admission process and recognize that when students leave university, or when they bypass university entirely, they are capable of learning a few things that did not come out of the hallowed halls of academe.
Next morning I travelled again to Simon Fraser where our sixty prospective students were assembled. Sixty of us were assembled there to be greeted by Dr. Parcival Copes, then one of the professors in the Faculty of Arts, under which wing there operated a Department of Economics. Parzy Copes welcomed us and said, “Before I tell you anything about this program, I first of all want to boast a little. We started this venture not knowing where it would lead, and we got nine hundred applications. From those nine hundred we have selected you sixty. Fifty of you have completed your formal Baccalaureate or more advanced academic training, and ten of you have not done so but have, in our opinion, achieved an adequate level of formal and informal training, plus receiving the highest ten marks on the GMAT.”
Since that memorable beginning in 1968, I have been proud to be associated with Simon Fraser University over many decades in a number of different capacities, and have had the joy of watching three of my children receive their own degrees from this remarkable university.