By the late 1930s any consideration of how to portray universities as they were and how to reassess their roles in the light of new conditions had to take account of acute dangers. An international student discussion of 'Education in the modern university', held a year before the outbreak of war, heard its rapporteur general, Dutch theologian Dr Visser 't Hooft, warn of two reefs-that of superficial discussion and that of unduly philosophical discussion. 1 There were other reefs of which everyone concerned with higher education was only too well aware-economic depression, Nazism and Fascism and the threat of war. The central issue was how universities could strike a balance between the traditional values of scholarship and resistance to the attack on humanitarian values represented by totalitarian regimes. Anyone writing about universities or education generally in the period leading up to war in 1939, and then when war had arrived, knew that Nazism and Fascism had presented an inescapable challenge to 'liberal education' everywhere. The advent of Soviet communism and the impact of economic depression on living conditions in the industrialized countries had already begun to undermine settled understandings of the roles of universities in modern conditions.
Writing of the literature on the English universities in the 1940s Sir James Mountford described what he called 'a new crispness in the academic air'. 2 Writers had moved from such positions as Flexner's advocacy of appropriate curricula and Percy's advocacy of local technical education. Theirs became a 'crisp' concern with the momentous issues that now had to be confronted in times of war and in preparation for a post-war world that would need to be fundamentally different from the pre-war world of profound and agonizing social and political failures. Basic to the discussions from the late 1930s was an awareness that the university had become incapable of responding, it had become fragmented into specialisms to the point at which it no longer represented a whole or a general culture-an issue that dominated the international