PICKEN, DAVID KENNEDY (b. Glasgow, Scotland, 27 July 1879; d. Melbourne, Vic, 1956). Mathematician and college head.
Educated at Allan Glen's Secondary Science School, Glasgow, Picken early shone at mathematics. At Glasgow University between 1895 and 1899, he graduated MA with First Class Honours in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, winning a fellowship that allowed him to enter Jesus College, Cambridge in 1899. After reading for the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos, Picken became Glasgow University's youngest-ever senior lecturer in Mathematics in 1903.
In 1907 Picken applied for the chair of Pure and Applied Mathematics at Victoria University College, Wellington, New Zealand, and was a professor there between 1908 and 1914. Picken quickly became known as an active organiser in the Australasian Student Christian Movement. In 1915 he became the second master of Ormond College, affiliated with the University of Melbourne. An ardent worker for conscription, Picken did not settle down to his university-college role until war's end. He attempted to play a significant ecclesiastical role in 'reforming' Ormond College's Theological Hall in the 1920s, but felt thwarted by the incumbent theological professors, especially the influential and strong-minded J L Rentoul (q.v.) whom he quickly alienated. Recurring frictions between College Master and Theological Hall Senatus would dog Picken's long reign at Ormond. Rentoul's successor as Theological Hall principal, Hector McLean, also regarded Picken's religion with suspicion, and disputes over student initiations at Ormond would arouse serious conflict between master and theologians in the later 1930s.
From 1915 Picken had been active in organising Melbourne University student Christian activities, but his major religious contribution was as Chairman of the infant ASCM between 1923 and 1931. Picken contributed to a new interest in systematic Bible study within the ASCM, but a strong suspicion of alcoholic beverages did not endear the new Master to many returned-soldier students of that era. Picken's mathematically-oriented mind sought to elevate a 'Christian Philosophy of life' to the position of 'the truth underlying all other truth', and he saw the Gospels as a source of 'new floods of light on the whole complex human situation of this age'. Many students were enthused, but not a few were baffled by his 'mathematical' slant on religion.
With his friend K H Bailey, Picken helped to reorganise the ASCM on a sounder basis in the 1920s and 1930s. Whatever students made of Picken's religion, his deeply-held conviction that there was no fundamental conflict between intellectual pursuits and Christian faith encouraged many to think deeply about inherited religious beliefs, in an environment of 'Liberals versus Fundamentalists' wherein many evangelical Christians regarded intellectual rigour with suspicion.
Picken did not always encounter intense enthusiasm for his missionary zeal, and nonattendance at regular 'College Prayers' provided a recurring source of tension between Ormond College's master and its Students' Club. Student frustrations were vented in the boisterous intonation of words from a favourite Picken hymn: 'Change and D K all around I see'. Picken's approach to mathematics and religion puzzled some: Philosophy Professor Alexander Boyce Gibson (the younger) once said that he lost the thread of a Picken lecture with its opening words: 'Let I be 7'. D K Picken with his 'strictly Euclidian' approach did enthuse not a few theological and other students, his 'biographer' (and sometime vice master of Ormond College) Dr John Alexander, being far from unique in his admiration of a dedicated idealist and complex human being and thinker. Some were alienated by Picken's lack of humour and his 'black and white' ethics. He was master of Ormond College until 1943.
Electronic Version © Southern Cross College, 2004
Content © Evangelical History Association of Australia and the author, 2004