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

Miller, Russell


Epilogue: "A Small University of High Quality"

Epilogue: "A Small University of High Quality"



IN A PARAPHRASE of what had once been said of President Eliot of Harvard, Dean Emeritus Lee S. McCollester of the Tufts School of Religion had written of President Carmichael in 1938: "His work is not to reproduce the Tufts of the past, but to produce the Tufts of the future." This was not to be the challenge for one man alone, but for his successor as well. At their fall meeting in 1952 the Trustees authorized the Executive Committee "to designate an appropriate individual as Acting President of the College." Vice-President Wessell was appointed, and a year later, by unanimous election, he became the eighth president of Tufts.

The dynamic new head of the College, like his predecessor, was only thirty-nine when he took office. Full of ideas and receptive to new ones, and thoroughly familiar with the workings of Tufts, from inside and out, since 1939, President Wessell set out with vigor and enthusiasm to make even more meaningful the charter change which, in 1955, finally made Tufts officially what it had been for generations - a university. But the institution was to be, in his often-repeated phrase, of a special kind: "A Small University of High Quality." What did this signify? It meant first a complete inventory of the new "university," accomplished under the immediate supervision of Provost Leonard C. Mead between 1956 and 1958. The Tufts-Carnegie Self-Study involved the faculty directly in the recommendation of major educational policy for the first time in decades and produced a series of projections for the future that was to keep the Trustees busy for a generation or more to come.

The concept of "university" meant a closer tie than ever between the branches and the main stem that was Tufts; this, in turn, called for such measures as the dismantling of the loosely


constructed educational edifice known as the Division of Special Studies and erected during the Carmichael administration. Many of the so-called "affiliated schools" were given the choice of losing their semiautonomous status and casting their lot completely with Tufts, according to Tufts standards, or leaving the family. The term "university" meant also a larger and busier faculty who earned much more money than ever before and spent less time in the classroom but not less time in the "community of scholars." There was more research activity and greater attention to professional


involvement than heretofore. There was curricular experimentation to meet the needs of college generations more highly selected and more intellectually sophisticated than their forebears. Pressures to expand and proliferate were stoutly resisted (although, some thought, not always successfully). New demands stretched resources as tightly as ever.

With the new president came many changes - in physical plant, in faculty and administration, in student body, in relationships among all the intermeshed parts that went into making up the University. Yet two themes that were echoed repeatedly over the years were as much a part of the philosophy of the institution in the 1950's and 1960's as they had been at almost any time in its history. Both had been expressed by President Cousens, and neither of his two successors, at least, saw fit to challenge them. "Our view," wrote Cousens to Harold E. Sweet, long-time president of the Board of Trustees, "must reach far into the future, within the field of our endeavor there must be no limit to our ambition. . . . Tufts College is ambitious to be great because of quality and not because of quantity." The second theme was much older than the man who expressed it: ". . . with pride I say to you again we are rich with the riches most to be prized; rich in men and women, you will find them everywhere among the students, among the alumni, on the staff, in the Board of Trustees; men and women ready to grapple with each problem as it comes, and to solve it finally. Day by day, my faith in the College strengthens. .. ."

  • 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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