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

Miller, Russell


In deciding in 1876 to grant the Master's degree only upon completion of a full year's work in residence under supervision, or its equivalent done in absentia during two or more years and approved by the appropriate College authorities on examination, Tufts fell into line with the practice of other New England institutions. The earned M.A. degree announced for 1875-76 was to be conferred on graduates of either the regular or the philosophical curriculum, or on graduates from other institutions with equivalent courses of study. The program began with three graduate


students in residence who complied with the requirement that studies had to be pursued in two departments.[23] 

The first earned Master of Arts was awarded in 1876 for a year's work in residence in the Departments of Chemistry and Physics to a graduate of the preceding year. From this modest beginning, the number of Master's degrees in arts and sciences rose in thirty years to 140, with 20 in the first decade, 40 in the second, and 80 in the third. About half of the unusually large number granted in the fifteen years preceding 1906 were awarded incidentally - that is, on work included in the requirements of the divinity school for the professional degree of B.D. Of the 100 advanced degrees awarded on the basis of specific work, the division was almost exactly equal between work done in residence and outside the College. Of the fifty degrees given for a year's work in residence, in twenty-five instances both Bachelor's and Master's degrees were given at the end of four years under the system based on the number of courses satisfactorily completed and not on a fixed number of years. In actuality, the first such "accelerated" earned degree (three years) was awarded in 1868. The A.B. and M.A. were first given simultaneously, at the end of four years, in 1894. There seems to have been no consistent policy at first in requiring a thesis, for passage of an examination was for many years an alternative at the discretion of the instructor. After 1891 an M.A. candidate could do his work in a single department.

Yet another set of degrees was introduced by Tufts at the end of the nineteenth century, in this instance in connection with its Engineering Department. The degrees of Civil Engineer and Electrical Engineer were created in 1892-93 to be conferred on Bachelors of Civil or Electrical Engineering to encourage professional activity.[24]  These professional degrees were to be conferred on the


basis of either one year's residence and a thesis or three years of professional work, one of them "in a position of responsibility." After the earned M.A. degree was created in the school of letters, the Master of Mechanic Arts was provided for engineering students in 1883-84, to be granted under the same conditions as the M.A. The same provision was made for holders of the Tufts A.B. who enrolled in the divinity school. In the 1880's, students who "pursued with distinction" the B.D. program received simultaneously an M.A.[25] 

The first recorded inquiry as to whether the College offered the earned Ph.D. came in 1879 from William Leslie Hooper, who had been graduated from Tufts in 1877 and had received an M.A. the following year. He was informed that "the college does not offer the degree and that the faculty does not at present consider it expedient to confer it." Four years later a faculty committee was appointed "to consider the subject of arranging a course of study for the degree of Ph.D.," but after taking the matter under advisement for several months they reported that they were not prepared to make any recommendations for such a program. The same policy prevailed until 1892, when it was announced that Tufts would award the earned Ph.D. degree in the Departments of Biology, Chemistry, "and such other departments as the faculty may determine." A three-year minimum was presupposed, with two years' residence or its equivalent required and all academic effort to be concentrated in one field. The same fees were to be charged as for undergraduates ($100), one half to go to the faculty as compensation for "laying out and supervising the work."[26]  Higher degrees were to be open to both men and women.

The occasion for the decision to offer the Ph.D. was the strengthening of the Department of Biology by the appointment of Dr. John S. Kingsley in 1892 and the return of Dr. Arthur Michael to the Department of Chemistry. Four Ph.D. degrees had been conferred by 1906 on students in biology (1895, 1897, 1899, and 1905) and four in chemistry (1898, 1901, 1904, and 1906). The Department of Classical Philology added its announcement in


1893-94, but no candidates appeared, and the program was withdrawn when Professor Frank Pierrepont Graves left Tufts to become president of the University of Wyoming. The Department of History and Public Law announced a Ph.D. program in 1902-3 and had produced one doctorate by 1910. Between 1892 and the end of the First World War, Master's degrees had been offered in fifteen departments, ranging from Philosophy to Civil and Structural Engineering.[27] 

Arrangements for graduate work were strictly informal until after 1890. A candidate would work out a program, usually in consultation with the president and one or more members of the faculty. Very little notice was given in the catalogues. Until 1891-92 not even the $100 tuition fee levied on undergraduates was applied to graduate students, and charges were scaled according to the number of courses taken. The casual attitude of the College toward graduate students in the early period was reflected in a faculty vote that an alumnus who wanted to "enter upon an optional post-graduate course [was] at liberty to return, making what private arrangements he may be able with the several instructors." Not until 1882 were the names of recipients of earned M.A.'s even listed on Commencement programs; not until 1887-88 were candidates for the Master's degree formally recommended for their degrees by vote of the faculty; not until after 1890 was any consideration given to establishing graduate courses or even to organizing a graduate faculty. Nothing resembling a system for handling graduate instruction appeared until 1891-92.

The decision to offer the Ph.D. degree coincided with the realization that some sort of administrative machinery had to be established to supervise graduate work. The first move in this direction was the creation in 1892 of a committee of seven, headed by the president, one of whose duties was the appointment of a board of three to examine each candidate for an advanced degree. The original committee was officially designated the "graduate faculty," but before another year passed, it was also being informally referred to as the "graduate department," until 1898 as the


"executive board," and from 1898 to 1903 as the "administrative board." The designation "graduate department" was first used officially in 1903 when the office of dean of the graduate faculty was created, with Professor Kingsley as the first incumbent. This had been done after Kingsley had urged the creation of "a graduate school and of graduate scholarships." At the same time (1903) one tuition scholarship was established for each department offering graduate instruction, with the understanding that a faculty member supervising the work of graduate students would relinquish his share in the charge otherwise made. The term "graduate school" was not officially used until 1909. The original graduate faculty was composed of the heads of undergraduate departments plus all instructors, regardless of academic rank, who supervised graduate work. Between 1914 and 1918 the deans of the Crane Theological School, Jackson College, and the engineering school were added as members ex officio.

Administrative details associated with graduate instruction were gradually worked out after 1903, when the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was created and the staff of the graduate department became one of the Associated Faculties. Thirty term (credit) hours were established as a requirement for the Master's degree, to be taken in one major department with related work in another. Whether or not the required thesis was a part of or in addition to the thirty hours was left up to the major department. No fixed minimum grade was at first set for graduate students; the various departments concerned made their own decisions, except for the expectation that the work was to be "of a higher grade than that demanded for the pass mark of undergraduates." Because of the policy adopted in the 1890's of allowing a student to work for both the first and the second degree in four years, undergraduates were allowed to undertake certain work which could subsequently be counted toward the Master's degree but could not be counted for both. Such students were listed in the catalogue as Master's candidates after they had completed 118 term hours of undergraduate work and had filed application for the combined degree program.

The expansion of the graduate program of the College had by 1906 brought into sharp focus a problem that had bothered some individuals almost from the day the earned Master's degree was introduced. What was the legitimate role of the College in regard to


the relationship between undergraduate and graduate instruction? Did the institution have the resources to sustain both programs? Had the resources of the College been diverted, and, if so, to what extent, from strictly undergraduate work to the supervision of graduate students and the granting of advanced degrees? The Board of Overseers in 1905 recommended "that the resources of the College be devoted primarily, if not entirely, to strictly undergraduate work" and considered the issue such a fundamental one that it solicited the opinions of the faculty.

In replying to the Overseers' request, a representative faculty committee indicated that to their knowledge no financial resources had been drawn upon to any significant extent for either equipment or instruction in the graduate program, even in the decade preceding 1906 when the graduate degrees awarded averaged eight a year. On the other side of the coin, there was no doubt that "much time and labor" of instructors had been given to the supervision of graduate work "which should have been devoted exclusively to undergraduates." The addition of graduate work merely pointed up the fact that many instructors were overworked already. From the first, advanced elective work offered to undergraduates in any department of the college of letters was open to graduate students and could be counted for advanced degrees. It was difficult, if not impossible, to measure precisely the exact cost of graduate work in time and energy of instructors. Most graduate students took about half of their work in existing undergraduate courses, but no two students (or departments) had the same experience. If an average were to be struck for the years 1901-5, graduate work added the equivalent of one additional undergraduate course to the load of each teacher providing advanced instruction.

The faculty wanted it generally understood that, as a constituted body, they had exerted no pressure on any department to offer graduate work. Not until the staff of a department had "united in announcement" that they were prepared to receive graduate students had such students been admitted to undergraduate classes. The same neutral policy prevailed if a department deemed it best to withdraw its graduate program. Consultation with the heads of the nine departments offering such instruction in 1906 made it clear that the offering of graduate instruction had been a departmental prerogative for thirty years, although there


was wide disagreement among departments as to whether it was advisable to continue or to expand graduate work. The faculty committee appointed to study the whole matter defended the offering of graduate work if a department saw fit to do so. There was no ground for criticizing the Tufts graduate program by arguing "that the ambition to do graduate work after the manner of a university" had caused "a burdensome and worse than useless multiplication of courses of study, with the necessity for many additional instructors." The faculty committee intimated that the Board of Overseers and other alumni perturbed about the introduction of graduate work were living too far in the past and had not been keeping abreast of developments in the educational world. Those who recalled the instruction given at Tufts thirty or forty years before and who "regret the passing of the 'good old days' " had better inform themselves as to what was actually going on. "No college could stand today on its administration of thirty years ago."

The list of advantages of graduate study compiled by the faculty committee consulted in 1906 differed not one whit from a list that might have been drawn up in the 1960's or in any other decade. Although a few instructors had found the supervision of graduate students a burden and a drain upon the energy they believed should have been expended on undergraduate instruction, a majority of the faculty found graduate supervision not a debilitating task but "a creator of energy." They believed that because they were involved in graduate work they could "do more for the undergraduates." Furthermore, "the presence of graduate students acted as a stimulus to all others."

Professor William L. Hooper of the Electrical Engineering Department had supervised some fifteen graduate students and regarded the effect of graduate work "as in the highest degree beneficial." Among other things, it kept him intellectually stimulated and had delivered him from "the daily grind." Professor Kingsley of the Biology Department felt that graduate work at Tufts should be "fostered and encouraged." He regarded the supervision of twenty graduate students over a thirteen-year period "not as a drain upon the department but rather as a distinct gain to it." Oversight of original investigation by graduate students into unsettled or unsolved problems kept him "out of the ruts which are so apt to trouble the mere following of routine work." A considerable num


ber of students of biology were entering the teaching profession, and Kingsley felt that the College had an obligation to assist them in increasing their academic competency and enhancing their employment opportunities by offering graduate work. The chairman of the History Department, Professor Lawrence B. Evans, added his voice to the majority in favor of offering graduate instruction. Between 1901 and 1906, ten students had undertaken graduate work in his department and one of them was a candidate for the Ph.D. His arguments echoed those already given; like Professor Kingsley, he emphasized the growing demand for teachers who held more than the first degree. The influence of the College was extended by offering graduate instruction. He noted also the psychological effect on the campus. "The fact that the college offers graduate instruction is itself a wholesome corrective of the perspective of the undergraduates." He felt also that justice to the undergraduates seemed to demand that the opportunity should be left open for the more capable and enterprising students to complete the undergraduate work in less than four years and devote all or part of their senior year to work for the second degree.

The faculty committee saw no imminent threat to the principal work of the College - the instruction of undergraduates when no more than fourteen graduate students (only half of them in residence) were receiving instruction side by side with over 350 undergraduates. It was the conviction of the committee that "whatever may be the wise policy of Tufts with regard to the most advanced degree, at least the Master's degree in Arts and Sciences should continue to be provided for." The head of a department should continue to be allowed to judge whether he and his staff could best serve the interests of their classes and of the College by devoting themselves to strictly undergraduate work and encouraging their more promising and ambitious students to do graduate work in a thoroughly equipped university, or administering a graduate program so long as it could be done without detriment to their primary obligation to undergraduates. If Tufts did have the capability of offering work at the Master's level and refused to do so, it would threaten its own existence as a "living institution [which] must continually advance or continually and hopelessly fall behind."

The College continued to offer the Master of Arts degree, with


one-half to two-thirds of the departments participating. The Master of Science (M.S.) degree was introduced in 1897.[28]  It was another story with the Ph.D. In 1907 the graduate faculty voted to accept no more candidates for that degree. Dean Charles E. Fay explained that the offering by Tufts of the highest degree had been "a new departure and an extension of the field of college work beyond what later developments showed to be feasible and expedient." It was almost half a century before the College felt that it had the resources to reestablish Ph.D. programs in any departments in the division of arts and sciences.

Doubts continued to be expressed even about the advisability of offering graduate instruction at the Master's level. Dean Anthony of the engineering school spoke for many of his colleagues when he called attention in his annual report for 1911-12 to the fact that no graduate students were listed in the registration statistics for his school. He "hoped that the practice of receiving such students may be entirely discontinued," for the engineering school, at least, could not carry on graduate work "even to a limited degree without severely taxing the departments involved, and we need to conserve all available funds and teaching force to maintain the present high standards, and to make an undergraduate school without a superior." The same sentiments were being echoed by some of the faculty fifty years later.


[23] Typical combinations under this requirement were English and German literature; mathematics and chemistry; or chemistry and natural history. Less typical were such combinations as Latin and mathematics.

[24] The undergraduate degree of Bachelor of Civil Engineering was created in 1892 to replace the original degrees of Civil Engineer and Bachelor of Mechanic Arts. In 1913, Acting President Hooper made an unsuccessful attempt to have the degree of all the engineering graduates who had received the Bachelor of Mechanic Arts prior to 1884 changed in the Official Register of the College to read "Civil Engineer." The Executive Committee insisted that the degrees as published in the Register remain "exactly as they were voted."

[25] Twenty-two combined B.D.-M.A. degrees were awarded between 1885 and 190l.

[26] Extra compensation for graduate school instruction was abandoned in 1913.

[27] Between 1895 and 1906, five of the eight Ph.D.'s were earned by Tufts graduates; the other institutions represented were Brown, Colby, and the University of Nebraska.

[28] The first recipient of an M.S. was a graduate in electrical engineering. In 1907 the advanced degrees of Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer, and Mechanical Engineer were abandoned in favor of the Master of Science. In the first few years after the introduction of the M.S. degree no clear distinction was made between arts and sciences; M.A.'s continued to be granted in such fields as mathematics for several years. By 1906-7, the M.S. was offered in biology and chemistry as well as engineering.

  • 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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