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The University and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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University College, lecture and course leaflets, 1931, 1935, 1936.

University College, lecture and course leaflets, 1931, 1935, 1936. The University's extension program offered a wide variety of courses and lectures, both downtown and on campus, often in cooperation with other Chicago institutions and organizations.

 

Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, University College, 1954.

Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults, University College, 1954. Basic Program groups met once or twice weekly to discuss writings of more than forty authors including Homer, Joyce, Aeschylus, Racine, Aristotle, and Marx. Photograph by Stephen Lewellyn (AB 1948).

Bringing the University to the City

Extension and Great Books
The campus of the University was never meant to contain its educational mission. As conceived by William R. Harper, the University of Chicago included an extension division that would bring instruction to students who could not work toward their degrees on campus. The extension offered three methods of instruction: students could learn by attending a series of scheduled lectures (lecture-study), register for courses offered in an extension center (class-study), or receive instruction through the mail at home (correspondence-study). At a time when state universities were bound to their rural land-grant campuses and the concept of adult education was still new, the University's offering of extension courses in the city provided opportunities for students for whom conventional higher education was out of reach.

Harper had several models for his extension program. The correspondence-study component of the extension was derived from Harper's own entrepreneurial experience as the founder and promoter of a surprisingly successful Hebrew correspondence school. The inspiration for lecture-study and class-study extension programs came in part from American educational and religious institutions offering similar fare, including the famous summer sessions of Chautauqua which Harper knew personally. It was also shaped by the lecture courses offered through the extension programs at English universities. The British public had attended them so enthusiastically that some of the lecturers were minor celebrities. As the administrator and first lecturer for Chicago's program, Harper recruited Richard Green Moulton, Cambridge's most popular extension lecturer. Moulton, who lectured at the University's downtown extension center until 1919, routinely filled the 275-seat auditorium with his addresses on English literature.

Over the years, the University Extension offered both courses for credit and nondegree classes. Correspondence courses were ended in the mid-1960s, but lecture and seminar programs continued. In recent years, the Extension Division, renamed and redefined as the Office of Continuing Education, continues to offer an appealing array of adult education programs. Enthusiastic response to the University's first half-century of extension courses prepared the way for one of Chicago's best known ventures in continuing education, the Great Books program. In 1943, Wilbur Munnecke, then vice-president of Marshall Field and Company, complained to President Robert M. Hutchins that too many bright businessmen had difficulty communicating. Munnecke thought that a great books discussion group, like the one Hutchins had conducted on campus with Mortimer Adler, would help overcome the problem. The result of this idea was a gathering of top Chicago executives, informally known as the "Fat Men," who met regularly to read and discuss the classic works of the Western tradition. The success of the group was so immediate that the experiment was taken to the Chicago Public Library, where librarians were trained to lead discussions.


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