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

Miller, Russell


The first steps taken in Miner's administration to strengthen the College resulted from a combination of principle and expediency. The introduction of a "Philosophical Course" and the creation of an Engineeering Department had several purposes. They reinforced Miner's conviction that educational opportunity should be increased and that the College's social and intellectual base should be broadened to insure that the institution was serving societal needs in the most effective fashion possible. At the same time, it was hoped that the introduction of new curricula would appeal to sufficient applicants to help fill the near-empty coffers of the College.

In 1863-64 the faculty adopted and the Trustees approved a so-called Philosophical Course of Study as a parallel alternative to the "Classical" or "Academic" curriculum. It was originally announced as a "partial Course of Instruction," for three years, to lead to the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy (B.Ph.). Entrance examinations were to be "well sustained" in mathematics, geography, and history, as required for the regular course, and in English grammar in place of ancient languages. The subjects required for the degree were substantially the same as for the A.B., except that French and German were used to fulfill the foreign language requirement. The new degree was introduced in part to meet the needs of increasing numbers of applicants who had insufficient preparation in Greek and Latin, and was for that reason considered an "inferior" degree by both faculty and A.B. candidates. After two years' experimentation, the philosophical curriculum lost its designation as a "partial course" and became a "Special Course of Instruction" of two years. The requirements for admission were also increased by raising the standards in mathematics to include geometry and algebra. But the philosophical course was never considered


satisfactory. Despite the existence of the program, students were encouraged by a catalogue statement to complete the "full Collegiate Course" whenever possible as the better alternative. In 1875-76 a reconstruction of the philosophical course was undertaken, for as a degree program it had failed either to gain favor among students or to accomplish the results originally expected of it. The faculty also considered the possibility of abolishing the course in that year, since only two students were enrolled in the program at the time. Giving a Bachelor's degree for only two years of collegiate work was thought "altogether incompatible with the dignity of the College" and inconsistent with the standard of scholarship it sought to maintain. Judging from faculty records and especially the "Proficiency" reports, less able students tended to enroll in the philosophical course prior to 1875. It was possible for students in that course to become candidates for the A.B. by making up the work in the "regular" course by arrangements with their instructors, but very few apparently availed themselves of the opportunity at first. The result was the establishment of a four-year curriculum in 1875-76 running parallel to the A.B. program, the only difference being the substitution in the philosophical course of modern languages for Greek. To insure that the language requirement was adequate it was stipulated that the student should have had the equivalent of one year's preparation in French before admission. This requirement not only provided a respectable criterion for admission but helped answer, said the president, "a crying reproach of American college education in general": namely, that too little attention was being paid to modern languages, especially French and German. Even then, the outcome was far from satisfactory. The freshmen were so deficient in French that they were "disqualified from pursuing the work that was laid down for them when the course was established." Such students had to be put in a special class and treated as though they had never studied the language. The only way the deficiency could be overcome, said President Capen, was "rigid adherence to our standard of admission."

The revised philosophical curriculum after 1875 was actually identical to the classical program except for the foreign language requirement, which represented the first major concession to modern languages and the first significant retreat in the position of


ancient languages in the curriculum. As the faculty themselves pointed out, the substitution of French for Greek and the offering of a relatively wide range of electives were "best adapted alike to the circumstances of the College and the needs of a large body of young men desiring an extended curriculum which shall be rather literary than scientific." Only one major change was made in the program before it was abandoned in 1902. Students were allowed to substitute German for French beginning in 1884. The philosophical curriculum was so much like the regular course that several times in the 1880's and 1890's the faculty considered the awarding of the A.B. degree for either course of study. When several students requested transfer from the B.Ph. to the A.B. program in 1896-97, a procedure was worked out so that it could be effected by taking six additional term hours in modern languages.

The reorganization of the philosophical course to bring it more into line with conventional collegiate-level expectations did not attract the "large body of young men" to whom it was intended to appeal. Only fifteen men had graduated under the pre-1875 programs. There was a slight increase after the four-year course was introduced, and forty-four students received the B.Ph. degree between 1879 and 1900. But the number of enrollees in the program thereafter declined while overall enrollment expanded, and only twelve more had been graduated when the last philosophical degree was awarded in 1905. On several occasions there were no B.Ph. graduates at all in a given year. The last two such degrees, awarded in 1908 and 1909 respectively, were extra ordinem, as of previous classes. In some ways the post-1874 course was more "modern" and more permissive than its "classical" counterpart, but it lacked the prestigiousness of the latter course. One reason certainly for the ultimate failure of the program was the tendency to set aside the "Philosophicals" (as the students in the program were called by the faculty) as an inferior breed. They were at the bottom of the list of underclassmen even in drawings for dormitory rooms, and they were not admitted to competitions for prizes. The next departure from the traditional classical curriculum was more successful.

  • 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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