Frank Cyril James
(1903 – May 3, 1973) was a Canadian academic and principal of McGill University from 1939 to 1962.
Born in London, England, he won a Sir Ernest Cassel Travelling Scholarship that allowed him to study at the University of Pennsylvania in 1922, where he received his Ph.D. In 1927, he became assistant professor in the Wharton School of Business.
In 1938 he had published the two-volume The Growth of Chicago Banks (Harper & Bros.), a masterful history of banking in America’s second most important banking center.
In 1939, he became the head of the commerce department at McGill University. Concern for events surrounding the Second World War, the high cost associated with public events, and the potential for negative public reaction to the Installation of the third Principal within five years, prompted a return in 1939 to a private ceremony. Principal James did however make an address to staff and students at the Spring convocation following his Installation. F. Cyril James was installed on January 12, 1940, in Moyse Hall, following the order of proceedings used in previous programs. The only significant difference in this ceremony is the singing of “O Canada” instead of “God Save the King.” After becoming friends with the Chancellor, Sir Edward Beatty, he was appointed principal and vice-chancellor and served until 1962. From 1941 he was on the original standing committee of the Foundation for the Study of Cycles.
In 1947, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan.
Tracing the course of a serendipitous career — from a working-class home in London, England, where he was born shortly after the turn of the century, to his death there in 1973 — the James story sheds light on student and professional life at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s, on economic and political changes in the US during the turbulent thirties, and on the development of the US banking industry in one of its most critical periods. James was invited to McGill to direct the School of Commerce but was almost immediately appointed Principal. He guided the university through the constricting years of war and, as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Reconstruction, made a major contribution to the ground-plan of Canada’s national welfare system. During the post-war years he inspired McGill’s response to the knowledge explosion of the forties and fifties and to the huge growth in demand for higher education. He also masterminded the successful endeavour of the National Conference to secure federal funding for all Canadian universities.
A great traveller, James played a major role in the Association of Universities of the British Commonwealth, as well as in the International Association of Universities, of which he was elected President in 1960. As James’ literary executor, Stanley Frost had privileged access to his private papers and has made full use of the opportunity to reveal the complexity of James’ personality: his brilliance of mind, high ideals, and acute self-knowledge, as well as his deep-rooted sense of insecurity and his strange inhibitions in personal relationships. The privileged person in the Ivory Tower emerges in these pages as a very human one.
He died in England in 1973.