The College Reshaped

By the late 1940s and early 1950s, the period of innovation in the College curriculum was drawing to a close. Many of the students who entered after four years of high school, instead of remaining just two years at the collegiate level, took three years or more to pass all the "comps" and receive a bachelor's degree. This defeated the original purpose of an accelerated curriculum. It also left the students at a disadvantage when applying for graduate school admission, since many institutions - including the University's own graduate divisions - would not accept two years of collegiate work as equivalent to a full undergraduate program that included specialization in a particular discipline. These and other difficulties, including a high rate of attrition, brought a corresponding drop in enrollment, from about 3,400 College students in 1945-46 to less than 1,200 in 1953-54.

In 1954, with the encouragement of Chancellor Lawrence A. Kimpton, the University Senate reorganized the College to eliminate the Hutchins AB degree and relocate the bachelor's degree to its conventional position at the end of four years of collegiate studies. In 1958, the University adopted a College plan incorporating two years of general education courses for all students to be followed by two years of specialized work.

These efforts to revive the College found fuller expression in 1965 under the leadership of Edward H. Levi, Provost, Acting Dean of the College, and (after 1968) President of the University. As proposed by Levi, the College was reorganized into four Collegiate Divisions corresponding to the four graduate divisions and an unaffiliated fifth division, known as the New Collegiate Division, which would encourage interdisciplinary work.

General education courses were rearranged into an entering "common year" and a second year that could be taken later in the student's program, a sequence which was to become the basis for the College's revised "Common Core."

The Levi plan offered students an opportunity to acquire an integrated general education while permitting disciplinary specialization as well. New offerings in nontraditional fields and non-Western cultures enriched the College curriculum and broadened the alternatives for individual students. When the last of the comprehensive examinations was phased out, the College severed a structural link to the Hutchins tradition, but in its divisional structure and common core it remained profoundly indebted to his academic leadership.

John R. Davey to F. Champion "Relative Importance of Two Announcements," cartoon by John T. McCutcheon, Chicago Tribune, November 24, 1930, telegram, June 26, 1954


The adoption of the New Plan in the 1930s helped the University counter some of the bad publicity brought by its faltering football program. ©Copyrighted 1930, Chicago Tribune Company, all rights reserved, used with permission.

Students completing their comprehensive exams in the Field House

Photograph by the Chicago Sun, 1945

Echo: The Yearly Newsmagazine, 1936


President Hutchins was featured in the "travel" section of the first issue of Echo, an annual student review patterned on Time magazine and published with the Cap and Gown. While Echo praised Hutchins for his educational innovations and executive leadership, it noted that "students look forward to graduation as a means of meeting the president."

John R. Davey to F. Champion Ward, telegram, June 26, 1954


Despite the academic success of College students, graduate and professional schools, including the University's own, were reluctant to accept Chicago students on the basis of a two-year AB. Harry Kalven, professor of law, informed Dean of Students John R. Davey that the Law School would soon accept only those students with traditional college degrees.

These efforts to revive the College found fuller expression in 1965 under the leadership of Edward H. Levi, Provost, Acting Dean of the College, and (after 1968) President of the University. As proposed by Levi, the College was reorganized into four Collegiate Divisions corresponding to the four graduate divisions and an unaffiliated fifth division, known as the New Collegiate Division, which would encourage interdisciplinary work.

General education courses were rearranged into an entering "common year" and a second year that could be taken later in the student's program, a sequence which was to become the basis for the College's revised "Common Core."

The Levi plan offered students an opportunity to acquire an integrated general education while permitting disciplinary specialization as well. New offerings in nontraditional fields and non-Western cultures enriched the College curriculum and broadened the alternatives for individual students. When the last of the comprehensive examinations was phased out, the College severed a structural link to the Hutchins tradition, but in its divisional structure and common core it remained profoundly indebted to his academic leadership.

"The University of Chicago: The New Program," chart, ca. 1958


The Kimpton administration's undergraduate program retained an emphasis on general education for the first two years and added a year apiece for specialized study and electives. Although those with high school diplomas were preferred, qualified high school students were still eligible for admission to the College.

Study and conversation, Pierce Hall, undated


The construction of 7ew residence halls such as Pierce Hall was part of the University's effort to restore the vitality of the College. Photograph by Albert C. Flores.