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College History

The roots of the IU College of Arts and Sciences date back to 1824, when 10 men began study in what was then known as the Indiana Seminary. During its first few years, the only classes taught were preparatory courses in Latin and Greek—classical scholarship that separated seminarians from the local grammar school pupils. The school that would become IU grew rapidly, adding a mathematics professor in 1827, becoming Indiana College the following year, and finally creating a complete four-year curriculum under newly arrived president Andrew Wylie in 1829.

From day one, the liberal arts were always the University’s central focus. The 1841 catalogue of classes defined the purpose of a liberal-arts education:

The principles of science and literature are the common basis of all high intellectual attainments. They supply that furniture, and discipline, and elevation to the mind, which are the best aids in the study of any profession. The student, in further prosecution of his professional career, may enter a school of Law, or Medicine, or Theology. With these the undergraduate course is not intended to interfere. The object is, not to teach what is peculiar to any one of the professions, but to lay a foundation which is common to all.

The earliest surviving academic catalogue lists a variety of courses in the liberal arts, including the Iliad, astronomy, geography, logic, "Evidences of Christianity in connection with Natural Religion," and the Constitution of the United States; these non-elective courses were largely still in place in 1854, when the University introduced its first Bachelor of Science degree. The three-year sciences program consisted of the traditional Bachelor of Arts curriculum without the classes in Latin and Greek.

Much of the university’s modern administrative structure was initially hammered out during the 1870s and 1880s, when academic papers first mention the Department of Literature, Science and the Arts. In 1875, the university administration divided the faculty into specific academic departments, and a rudimentary system of academic majors followed shortly thereafter.

During most of the 1880s, students could choose from three programs: a Bachelor of Arts degree in ancient classics, a bachelor of letters degree in modern classics, and the Bachelor of Science degree. The full modern system of academic majors was created in 1886, when students were allowed to specialize in one of 15 departments: Greek, Latin, Romance Languages, German, English, History and Political Science, Economics and Social Science, Philosophy (which included courses in psychology), Education, Mathematics, Astronomy and Mechanics, Physics, Chemistry, Geology, Zoology, and Botany. Allowing students to specialize in a specific area would, according to University President David Starr Jordan, "give everyone the right to choose in accordance with his own powers and tastes." The system worked so well in enhancing students’ interest in study that in 1894, the university faculty even did away with the grading system, substituting a pass/fail system for letter grades (which lasted for the next 14 years).

When William Lowe Bryan took on the presidency of IU in 1902, the university faced an image problem. The university’s in-state academic rival, Purdue University, was growing by leaps and bounds, gaining students interested in more "practical" educations in fields such as farming, banking, and business. Indiana University, on the other hand, was viewed as providing a classical education that was inadequate to meet the needs of the country’s technological age. President William Lowe Bryan sought to modernize the university’s offerings by creating a graduate school, and during his term IU also laid the groundwork for schools of business, journalism and music.

But while the classical curriculum was diluted slightly as students were gradually allowed greater academic specialization, IU’s liberal-arts students continued to enjoyed the strong support of the IU administration. New academic facilities, such as Biology Hall (now Swain Hall East) and the Chemistry Building, provided unparalleled opportunities for study, and the expansion of the library made it possible for liberal-arts scholars to pursue their chosen fields with more resources and contact with fellow scholars than ever before.

The latter half of the 20th century saw vast changes in the College of Arts and Sciences, reflective of the vast changes in higher education and American society as a whole. Innovative programs, such as Women’s Studies (now Gender Studies) and Cognitive Science, expanded IU’s academic offerings, while new centers and institutes, such as the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction and the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis provided fresh means for academic collaboration and learning.

All the while, however, the College of Arts and Sciences continued its emphasis on hiring the best and brightest faculty available across all departments. Notable College academicians, from Alfred Kinsey and B.F. Skinner to Douglas Hofstadter and Susan Gubar, sustained Indiana University’s national reputation as a center for groundbreaking and socially relevant research. In his inaugural address to the university in 2007, IU President Michael McRobbie reaffirmed the school’s emphasis on recruiting and retaining top educators:

“Many things make a university a world-class institution of research and education, but none is more essential than a world-class faculty. To borrow a phrase from President Ehrlich, this is an environment where ’teacher’ is among the highest of accolades.”

Today, Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences continues to teach a broad introduction to science and literature for all undergraduate students, while also providing many of the foundation classes for students earning degrees in other schools of the University, such as the Kelley School of Business and the Jacobs School of Music. It trains students in the fundamental skills needed to compete in the 21st-century workplace, from composition to mathematics to foreign languages, and also provides resources for students seeking their own personalized academic major.

For more information on what’s available for undergraduate and graduate students in Indiana University’s College of Arts and Sciences, visit the College website, or speak with an advisor in the Undergraduate Academic Affairs Office at 812-855-8245.