Light on the hill: A history of Tufts College, 1852-1952

Miller, Russell


Like any other educational institution, Tufts sought in various ways to reward meritorious academic achievement by special recognition. The first such method (introduced in 1877) was to confer "Special Honors" at Commencement on a student who excelled in the required work of the study in which he desired honors and in two "cognate studies," passed with distinction a comprehensive examination (oral or written), and completed a special project of some kind - all to be supervised and administered by a special faculty committee.[17]  Such a student would probably have been invited to prepare a "Commencement Part" anyway, but if he elected the "Special Honors" (and achieved it), this fact was designated as cum honore after his name on the Commencement program.[18] [1]  The faculty made the first distinction between summa honore and cum honore in 1887. It was also possible after 1892 to achieve various degrees of honors through regular course work. They ranged from "Honorable Mention" up through "Final Honors," depending on the student's cumulative average.[19]  After 1894 students could receive "Double Honors" if they had fulfilled the


requirements (including collateral work) in two major subjects.[20] 

One matter concerning honors about which the faculty had great difficulty in making up its collective mind was how students should be listed on Commencement programs. For many years they appeared in order of academic rank; then they were listed alphabetically, by degree, and in some years by type of honors earned. Even though a student might have been a candidate for only one degree, it was possible for his name to appear as many as three times on the Commencement program - as the deliverer of a Commencement Part, as the recipient of a stated degree, and as the possessor of some gradation of honors. Over the years the practice eventually became uniform of listing the degree recipients in alphabetical order within divisions and by degree, with honors (if any) indicated after the student's name.[21] 

The same indecision characterized the Special Honors program, which had a most erratic career after the First World War and even in the 1960's was offered in only a scattering of departments. President Cousens, in the 1930's, questioned the soundness of the whole idea at the undergraduate level. He looked favorably on a plan to allow qualified students who desired advanced work to enroll in a special curriculum elected at the end of the sophomore year that would have bypassed the A.B. and ended in a Master's degree after three years of specialized work. Some of the proposals submitted to the Faculty Governing Board of the Experimental College established in 1964 reflected the continuing problem of combining acceleration and the liberal arts tradition.


[17] At first, application had to be made by the beginning of the senior year, but in 1880 it was advanced to the junior year in order to allow more time for the selection and execution of special projects and the making up of any course deficiencies.

[18] At the time the program was inaugurated, there were eight departments in which Special Honors work could be done. The first "Special Honors" was conferred in 1878 on a student who elected mathematics.


[19] "Final Honors" was reserved to those who attained an "A" (87 per cent) average in their major subjects and a "B" (75 per cent) average in collateral subjects. At first, "Honorable Mention" required the equivalent of a "B+" (80 per cent) average; in 1899 nine term hours of "A" in one department were required.

[20] Engineering students did not need as high an average as letters students to be eligible to deliver Commencement Parts, but the minimum academic average was the same for all students for other degrees of honors.

[21] One group in the faculty in 1895 felt so strongly that academic achievement should be recognized that they recommended that only those graduating seniors ranking in the upper half of their class should have their names printed on the Commencement program at all.

  • Light on the Hill, the history of Tufts College, was published to coincide with the centennial of the institution in 1952. A second volume was published in 1986. This edition was created from the 1966 edition of Light on the Hill, Volume I.
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