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

Miller, Russell


President Carmichael was no more able to escape the problems of institutional finances than any of his predecessors had been, and the presence of the numerous professional schools, both graduate and undergraduate, made his tasks no easier. He came to the College at a time when it was operating on the narrowest of margins. After reviewing the situation in his first annual report in 1938-39, he emphatically announced that "the endowment of Tufts College must be increased."[43]  The College avoided an operating deficit in 1939-40 only because of gifts to the Alumni Fund. An upward readjustment of tuition became a necessity, and a sliding scale based on an ability-to-pay formula was discussed but not acted on. Tuition was raised from $300 to $350 effective in 1942-43, in the undergraduate schools.

Preparing budgets and estimating income from enrollment became exercises in guesswork during the Second World War. Although income went up sharply when the College changed to an around-the-calendar schedule, so did expenditures. Even then, the only net operating loss in Carmichael's administration occurred in 1944-45, because of the overhead costs created by the School of War Service.[44]  Lack of confidence in what the postwar period might bring in the way of enrollments, the policy of returning the student body to something approaching a prewar size, and the increased costs of operating the institution resulted in the most rapid round of tuition increases yet seen. Five increases within seven


years, at the rate of $50 a year, brought Hill tuition to $600 by 1952.[45] 

It was a well-known fact of financial life that tuition increases alone could never carry more than a part of the burden of running the College, particularly at the rate it was expanding after 1945. In 1948-49 endowment was slightly under $10,000,000 and the operating budget for the following year was over $4,000,000. By the time the endowment exceeded $10,000,000 (in 1950-51), the budget had topped $5,000,000. A comparison made by President Carmichael in 1945 with twenty other well-known institutions which had smaller endowments indicated, on the surface at least, that Tufts was faring quite well. Carmichael recognized, however, that such comparisons were very difficult to make and were quite misleading in some instances, for Tufts had "peculiar qualities as a university-college" setting it apart from almost every institution with which it might wish to compare itself. It had a larger student body than many and more numerous educational functions than most. Thus income from endowment funds had to be spread more thinly than at many other schools. This was one of the factors accounting for Carmichael's often-expressed hope that the wartime cooperation with government agencies and industry might be continued. It was for the same reason that after the war the College looked more and more to philanthropic foundations for support.

Long-range planning to provide unrestricted endowment for physical plant, the professional schools, and faculty salaries was essential. President Carmichael, after casting about for a worthwhile project to mark the upcoming 100th anniversary of the chartering of the College in 1952, suggested the creation of a centennial fund of $3,000,000 or more. Plans were laid in 1946 for such a campaign, the goal to be $3,500,000; almost one-third of it was intended for the medical school. The objective of the drive, as it evolved in 1949 and 1950, became $4,200,000.[46]  The campaign, under the general direction of Professor Clarence P. Houston and designated the


"Second Century Fund," was launched on a full scale in 1950, its financial objectives centered on the professional schools (medical, dental, and Fletcher); faculty salaries in the division of arts and sciences; student scholarship aid; and the completion of Alumnae Hall, to supplement the funds already raised by the Association of Tufts Alumnae.[47]  The drive, successfully completed in 1953 with more than $100,000 beyond the goal, was unique in two respects: it represented the broadest base of giving for any fund drive yet conducted, with nearly 12,000 individual gifts; and it was conducted entirely by volunteer workers, drawn from alumni, faculty, and friends of the College.

The 100th anniversary of Tufts' chartering was marked in other ways than by fund-raising. A Centennial Pageant, "The Light Upon the Hill," depicting a century of the College's history, was presented during Commencement Week in 1952. The birthday celebration was climaxed by a three-day Centennial Celebration and Degree Convocation in October, attended by delegates from more than 400 colleges and universities and by statesmen and jurists from both the United States and abroad. The academic pageantry was highlighted with addresses by Dr. Vannevar Bush, of the Class of 1913 and at the time president of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C.; Sir Hector Hetherington, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow; President James B. Conant of Harvard; and the Honorable Erik C. Boheman, Swedish ambassador to the United States. The conferring of eleven honorary degrees was also part of the celebration. The Centennial observances were significant not only in and of themselves but also because they marked the closing weeks of President Carmichael's administration. On April l0, 1952, fourteen years after he had accepted the presidency of the College, he formally presented his resignation, effective December 31, 1952, in order to accept the secretaryship of the Smithsonian Institution.



Dr. Carmichael made his last annual presidential report to the Trustees of Tufts College in October 1952. He took the opportunity to review some of the events and achievements of his long and active administration, and to make some suggestions for the future. He reviewed first the institution as a physical entity. In spite of his conviction "that glass, concrete and paint do not make a college," what he considered to be a disproportionate amount of attention and money had had to be devoted to the restoration, renovation, and improvement of plant. The most important addition, in his estimation, was the new home for the medical and dental schools, representing an investment of over $2,000,000. The association of these professional schools with the New England Medical Center made possible a level of teaching and research unparalleled in the history of either school. The departing president reported that "the always excellent faculty" had become stronger, showed remarkable stability in its makeup, and grown steadily in numbers.[48]  Salaries had improved between 1938 and 1952, although admittedly not as much as desired. There had been, however, important retirement and medical insurance benefits provided for the faculty during his administration.

Endowment funds had risen from approximately $7,500,000 in 1937 to over $11,000,000 as Carmichael's administration drew to a close. The value of the College plant had risen from $3,600,000 to over $6,500,000 during the same period, and the operating budget had skyrocketed from $1,300,000 to well over $5,000,000. Borrowing for current needs had become almost a thing of the past, and in the fourteen years between 1938 and 1952 there was a deficit in only one year, in spite of his often-expressed fear that it would happen more often. Gifts and grants averaged $1,000,000 annually for the period of his presidency, and in 1952 the Second Century Fund was within half a million dollars of its goal of $4,200,000. He considered an effective and continuing Alumni Sustaining Fund indispensable to the future well-being of the College, and a yearly target of $200,000 not unrealistic.[49] 

One of the most striking accomplishments of Carmichael's


administration was the expanding scientific research program, financed in large part by grants from the federal government and from industry and comprising an important source of College income. In 1951 there had been assigned to Tufts a Naval research project on systems coordination (systems analysis) consisting of studies of basic military communications, with a budget in excess of $500,000.[50]  Dr. Leonard C. Mead, who had joined the faculty in 1939 in the Department of Psychology and was later to become, in succession, dean of the graduate school, provost, and senior vice-president, was made Assistant to the President for Research Projects. In 1953 he became Research Coordinator for the network of sponsored research activities that had begun to spread over the institution. Instruction at Tufts, as Carmichael pointed out, was being carried out in more and more of a "university-research" atmosphere.

Yet with all of the research activity in progress, the president insisted that Tufts should remain steadfastly and primarily an undergraduate college, so far as both the academic and professional offerings on the Hill were concerned. Tufts was "an essentially teaching College in which research is also given real emphasis." He saw no merit in building up a large, formal graduate program in arts and sciences emphasizing the production of Ph.D.'s, particularly with two large and exceptionally well-staffed and well-equipped such schools nearby (Harvard and M.I.T.). It did not seem likely for many years that Tufts would wish to enter the graduate field at an advanced level except in special instances, already represented by such divisions as the Fletcher School. When the graduate faculty voted in 1947 to reinstitute the Ph.D. program in arts and sciences which had been in abeyance for exactly forty years, it was with the clear understanding that no department should venture into this phase of higher education unless its resources were sufficient to insure success.[51]  President Carmichael thought it was


far better to maintain and strengthen a first-class undergraduate college with affiliated undergraduate professional schools and sponsored research than to embark on a too ambitious graduate program that might overextend the institution's comparatively limited resources and turn it into a second-class university. The commitment of Tufts to the undergraduate was a measure of its uniqueness.

The undergraduate enrollment during Carmichael's administration had shown the same phenomenal change as the physical aspects of the campus and the growth of contract research. The total number of undergraduates in the school of liberal arts had been 615 in 1937; thirteen years later it was 1,175. In the immediate postwar period (1947) it had jumped to 1,561. Increases in student enrollment in the engineering school and in Jackson College for Women were less dramatic but fully as significant. President Carmichael viewed the total increases in full-time student enrollment in the entire College - from 2,104 in 1937 to 3,356 in the autumn of 1952 - with mixed feelings. Bigness for its own sake should never be the goal of the institution. The student might well be the loser if the College succumbed to pressures to become a large educational establishment. Tufts should, in the future, "do everything in its power to remain a strong and effective small institution. Unless quite unexpected funds are presented to the College it probably should not become a larger university than it now is." Quality and quantity were two quite different things. The slogan of the Second Century Fund — "A Better, Not a Bigger, Tufts" — was quite in harmony with the outgoing president's aspirations for his Alma Mater.


[43] In view of later struggles over faculty compensation and benefits during his administration, the following statement in the same report is worth noting: "For too many years, it has been necessary for the Administration of the College to deny able Faculty members the advances in salary which they not only need but most thoroughly deserve."

[44] The Navy was not authorized to pay the full costs of instruction for students in its programs. Even the deficit was not as bad as it appeared, for part of it was eventually made up by government payments which had been delayed. Furthermore, the deficit was overbalanced by reserves of over $250,000 which had made it unnecessary for the institution to borrow.

[45] The increase of $25 per term in 1945 had been applied to those already enrolled as well as to those entering.

[46] It was originally allocated as follows: $1,600,000 for two dormitories on the Hill; $2,000,000 for the medical school (a dormitory, two endowed professorships, and the expenses of moving to the New England Medical Center); and $600,000 for two endowed professorships in the Fletcher School. There was no provision for increasing faculty salaries.

[47] The allocations were actually as follows: medical school, $1,400,000; dental school, $600,000; Fletcher School, $600,000; arts and sciences, $1,500,000 ($1,000,000 for salaries and $500,000 for scholarships); and Alumnae Hall, $1,000,000. The necessity for making the residence halls "the main object" of the Second Century Fund was removed by the passage of the Federal Housing Act of 1950, under which the College was able to obtain loans at low interest rates to construct dormitories.

[48] There was a grand total of 568 faculty when Carmichael assumed office in 1938 and 985 when he resigned in 1952. He always included part-time faculty for all divisions of the institution when citing statistics of this sort.

[49] Alumni Fund contributions in 1965 exceeded half a million dollars.

[50] During the brief period it was located on the Medford campus this research project was housed in a concrete-block building erected for the purpose near the Cousens Gymnasium. A Department of Systems Analysis was created in the graduate school and was authorized to award the Doctor of Science degree.

[51] Preliminary plans were made in 1946 to set up the standards and requirements. It was actually not until two years later that any department on the hill (Biology) felt prepared even to receive candidates. In 1952, Ph.D. degrees were actually awarded only in the medical school and the Fletcher School.

  • 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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