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

Miller, Russell


The Tufts Engineering School received its share of attention in the review of curricula and educational aims that took place shortly after President Carmichael's arrival in 1938. This part of the institution, unlike the school of liberal arts, had the problem of


professional accrediting agencies to contend with. It had naturally been jolted by the report of the inspection conducted by the Engineers' Council for Professional Development in 1936. The Council had given only probational recognition to the Civil, Mechanical, and Electrical Departments, and the Chemical Engineering Department had not received accreditation at all. The school was given until June 1939 to review itself, its aims, and its role in engineering education. The Council had found, besides antiquated equipment and inadequate staff and instruction, too much of a "trade school" atmosphere and too much of a propensity for turning out mere technicians.

President Cousens and the dean of the engineering school had had a series of conversations which produced certain conclusions. One was that insufficient use was being made of the resources in the school of liberal arts. It was agreed that a "sound educational program" for engineers should include, besides the fundamentals of engineering, "a considerable election in the humanities, the social and natural sciences." To this end, an attempt was made to formulate a curriculum that would provide a common core of studies for the first three years (except for chemical engineering), with a degree of specialization permitted in the senior year. Among the opportunities provided in a suggested course of study were an increased amount of mathematics, more electives in non-engineering subjects, and reduction of emphasis on so-called applied subjects, particularly in the first two years. None of these proposals was very revolutionary, and all had been either recommended or attempted in earlier curricula but had always seemed to wither away with the passage of time. A curriculum for chemical engineering students was proposed in 1937 that made the first year identical to that of other engineering students but contained more chemistry and less engineering thereafter. It was suggested that the degree of B.S. in Chemistry be awarded on the basis of a four-year program and that a B.S. in Chemical Engineering be awarded upon completion of a fifth year. By the fall of 1937 no decision had actually been reached by the engineering faculty, although discussions were active and disagreements were numerous. A year later, Trustee T. S. Knight, of the Committee of Visitors to the engineering school, was disappointed that the school, in an attempt to meet the demands of the Engineers' Council, was concentrating on physical


plant and seeking to acquire new and better equipment. In his estimation this was misdirected effort; quality of education, not physical plant per se, should receive the greatest and most immediate attention.

Those who were concerned about the state of engineering education at Tufts could take heart, however. On the urging of President Carmichael and with the arrival of the deadline set by the Engineers' Council, the engineering faculty reviewed its curricula and made certain modifications in the degree programs in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering. The most significant change, effected in 1939, was the adoption of a program in general engineering for those who preferred not to specialize in one of the four branches offered by the school; for purposes of carrying out this program, both physics and mathematics could be considered as major fields. A welcome physical rearrangement also took place in the fall of 1939; greatly needed space for the electrical engineering department was provided when it was moved to the old AMRAD wing of Cousens Gymnasium.[1] 

The engineering faculty continued to wrestle with the problem of the chemical engineering curriculum. The lack of accreditation was an especially sensitive problem because for several years, in the late 1930's, approximately one-third of all engineering students wished to major in that department, preferring a chemical engineering degree to a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. No attempt was made, however, to secure accreditation for the next several years, partly because of the effect of the Second World War and partly because of the lack of agreement about accrediting standards and requirements among various agencies such as the Engineers' Council for Professional Development, working through the American Institute of Chemical Engineers; the National Commission on Accrediting; and the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society. Part of the difficulty was reflected locally in differences of opinion over how much chemistry should be required in the engineering program, and over relations between the Department of Chemistry and the engineering school.


When the Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering Departments were accredited by the Engineers' Council for Professional Development in 1949-50, the general engineering curriculum was not accredited because insufficient engineering work was provided. No request was made at that time to have the chemical engineering program accredited, but this was finally accomplished in 1952. Meanwhile (in 1947-48), a somewhat revised curriculum for the entire engineering school went into effect. It included a common freshman year and the requirement of the equivalent of eight one-term courses in the humanities.[2]  There seemed to be a continuing consensus that a prospective engineer, no matter how proficient he might be in his area of technical specialization, needed at least minimum exposure to the liberal arts tradition.


[1] It was named the "Hooper Laboratory" in honor of William Leslie Hooper, for many years a member of the Electrical Engineering Department and between 1912 and 1914 acting president of the College. The vacated space in Robinson Hall was immediately taken over for a new physics laboratory.

[2] Beginning in September 1948, solid geometry and trigonometry were also required for admission.

  • 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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