by F. M. Doeringer

For almost two generations the Freshman Program has been a Lawrence hallmark. Created originally in 1945, largely through the efforts of Nathan Pusey who was then president of the college, the program has proven remarkably hardy, withstanding a number of major changes in the size and nature of the institution. Indeed, Freshman Studies--the basic course underlying the program -- has not only weathered frequent transformations over the years but even survived a brief suspension in the 1970s. Now that we are about to overhaul the program once again, it seems sensible to acquaint ourselves with its history, if only to clarify what has and has not worked before. Hopefully an awareness of the legacy of the course will strengthen our efforts to reshape it and provide it with new vitality through the century's end.

Genesis of the Course

The Second World War was still raging when the Freshman Program was conceived. Despite the problems created by the war--reduced enrollments, a depleted faculty, and material shortages--Lawrence's new president, Nathan M. Pusey, was already beginning to think about the needs of post-war education in America during the winter of 1945. Some years back, while a member of the faculty at Wesleyan University, he had participated in the creation of an experimental course for new college students that was designed to awaken then to the world of ideas and arouse their interest in the intellectual side of college life. Early in 1945, he resolved to launch such a course at Lawrence. Thus on February 5th he had the Committee on Instruction recommend to the faculty "that all freshmen, beginning with the class entering in September, 1945, be required to take, in place of the present requirement of English 1-2, a reading-writing- discussion course to be called simply Freshman Studies."(1) With the passage of this recommendation at a faculty meeting on March 16, 1945, the new program was officially launched. Not even the war deterred President Pusey's resolve to begin the course in the fall, as one of its early instructors, Ted Cloak, later recalled:

    In 1945, I was still in Washington when I received a letter from Mr. Pusey, who was then Lawrence's President, urging me to get back to Appleton as soon as possible after the Japanese capitulation because Freshman Studies was about to be inaugurated. In the next mail two books arrived: Thoreau's Walden and Plato's Republic. As I phased out my duties in O.S.S., I started working my way back to civilian and academic life by reading those two immortal works. Five days after leaving Washington I was back in the classroom teaching Freshman Studies. (2)

Though clearly intended as a replacement for an older writing course. from the start the new Freshman Studies emphasized intellectual stimulation over the acquisition of mechanical skills. Pusey was adamant about this orientation. Speaking to a group of faculty representatives when he first proposed such a course, he agreed with the importance of teaching the fundamentals of writing but noted: "Freshman also need to learn that they can read a book, whole books, not just digests or assigned chapters in a textbook." In expanding upon this point, he exclaimed: 'They need to know that they can read great books, understand much of then and enjoy them. They need to read different kinds of books to learn that one reads differently in different fields. They need to learn that these books have significance for them in their own lives."(3) This same stress was obvious in the proposal which the Committee on Instruction brought to the faculty when seeking to get the new course approved. For the Committee recommended "that the course endeavor ... to emphasis the discussion of ideas rather than the acquisition of information." (4)

This concern for the exploration of ideas no doubt explains many of the features of the course as it was first taught. Certainly it explains why the course was designed to be taught in small groups of no more than fifteen students, as well as another peculiarity: Instructors shifted sections in the middle of each semester so that students were exposed to multiple viewpoints. Given the fact that Freshman Studies was originally a two semester course and most departments were still comprised of only one or two members, the insistence upon small classes made it extremely costly in terms of faculty resources. The staff of 12 to 15 instructors required to teach the course represented a considerable portion of the faculty, and their assignment to the Freshman Program meant that many departmental offerings had to be reduced. The use of faculty drawn from all departments created another unusual feature of the course: there were no experts. As Professor Anne Jones, who directed the course in its early days, later remarked this was a deliberate decision in which the teaching staff took considerable pride.

    The feature of the course which has created the most interest, and consternation as well, outside our college is the composition of the teaching staff. The discussion leaders are teachers drawn from almost every department of the college; and in this course all the teachers teach all the books, not merely those from their field of specialty .... The student understands that each of his teachers is a specialist in some one field but is interested, as an educated man or woman, in other fields. He learns that liberally educated people are able to read with intelligence and pleasure significant books on various subjects without, of course, pretending to be specialists in them. When he sees a physicist reading Hamlet, an English professor discussing Darwin, or an Art Historian recommending John Stuart Mill, he realizes that his teachers, professed believers in the liberal arts, are here honestly making proof of their principles.(5)

Dilettantism, however, was never celebrated in the course. To insure that the classes were well grounded, a series of lectures prepared by specialists was developed to parallel the regular discussions. Yet, the lectures were carefully kept separate and distinct from the discussions, and for this reason they were scheduled outside the ordinary class periods in a special fourth hour. Furthermore, there was an additional demand on students ' time beyond these four class hours during the earliest days of the course. For at that time all students enrolled in the course were required to take a three-hour laboratory session dedicated to the performance of some art such as music, painting, drama, or literary writing. In other words, students had to devote seven hours a week to class sessions alone in Freshman Studies besides having to keep up with a substantial set of readings, prepare two formal talks, and complete eleven essays (including one research paper) over the course of the year.

The readings themselves demonstrated that there was little inclination to make the course easy. Although considerable variety existed, certain works quickly became standard in the early years of the course, and a list of frequently used books (drawn up in 1953) included the following:

  • Plato, The Republic, The Apology, The Crito
  • Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
  • Shakespeare, Hamlet, Othello
  • Thoreau, Walden
  • Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Darwin, The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man
  • Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  • Mill, On Liberty
  • Supreme Court Case Rulings on Civil Liberties
  • Kierkegaard, For Self-Examination
  • The Gospels according to St. Matthew and St. Luke
  • Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians (6)

In addition to these readings, during its first few years the course also included works on art, a piece of classical music, and a film. From the beginning, therefore, the term "work" enjoyed a very broad definition. Furthermore, as the above list of books indicates, a great deal of eclecticism characterized the original course, and no systematic effort was made to survey any single theme or tradition through these works.

Works , however, were not treated in a random way; to the contrary, they were carefully clustered around a number of broad issues which were chosen in order to help attain one of the secondary goals of the course: "to introduce Freshmen to the questions which are treated in the various branches of liberal education." (7) By the '50s this approach seems to have been revised to focus upon what were then understood to be the basic academic fields or disciplines - these were not what we take them to be today but a five-fold division based upon Lawrence's requirements' at the time. Thus a description of Freshman Studies from that era claimed that the course "introduces Freshmen to a few of the questions which arise in five great fields of men's thought: the social sciences [which then counted history among their ranks at Lawrence], philosophy, religion, the natural sciences, and the arts [including literature] - It also introduces them to the kind of mental activity which is pursued by each field."

This same document explains why such a disciplinary approach was adopted despite its further complication of the goals of the course. "It is important at the onset of their career at Lawrence," it notes, "that students know that one approaches science and religion, for example, or philosophy and literature in different ways."(8)

Apparently the course achieved this objective along with its other goals to the satisfaction of its creators . Indeed, in its early years, Freshman Studies seems to have met and even exceeded most of the original expectations. The first evaluation of the course, prepared by its initial head, Professor Dorothy Waples, on the basis of questionnaires given out to both students and faculty, concluded that the course contributed to "a general quickening in the whole college."(9) Students did appear to be excited by the course, to judge by such remarks as one freshman's claim that "Freshman Studies is the biggest thing that has happened to me for a long time" and another's contention emphasis on ultimate meaning of various spheres knowledge ... be made in all courses." So, too, were faculty. fact, report concluded greatest impact course was teaching staff "who found this opportunity intellectual talk which Isolation their study had denied then." It would seem, then, from did inspire students teachers alike broader outlook" as well more collegiate sense institution. >(10)

A similar satisfaction with the course prevailed over the following decade. In 1953, Professor Anne Jones, who claimed to be "merely a spokesman of my colleagues," wrote an article on the course for The Educational Record "because,' as she said, "when a course has proved unusually successful in one college for eight years, it becomes a sort of academic duty to make its existence known to other institutions. "(11) Certainly the course portrayed in her article was still very vital and well accepted by the faculty. She could thus note with evident pride "that of the fifty-three members of the academic faculty of 1952-53 (including three on leave and not including the faculty of the conservatory of music), twenty-eight have taught in Freshman Studies" and conclude that "it may very well be the kind of course that the freshmen in our colleges need most."(12)

Modification of the Program

Despite general satisfaction with the Freshman Studies program in its early years, there were from the beginning problems which created strains and led to talk about modifications. Two of the most perennial already emerged in Professor Waples' review of the course after its first year: its heavy demands on faculty time and its failure to teach writing skills as effectively as had been wished. Actually these were related problems, for as Professor Waples pointed out, with respect to writing "the trouble was that the course was too crowded and the English staff did not know how to direct the work." She thus gave voice to what would become a common frustration within the Program. "There is stimulation in getting up a course of this kind," she acknowledged at one point, "but a sense of one's own failure and inadequacy can set in strongly when teachers with heavy schedules of teaching and advising feel that they cheat their advance classes a little and yet are never ready for Freshman Studies." (13)

Understandably, therefore, a number of the changes made in the course during the 1950s were instituted in response to faculty complaints that too much was being asked of them. As early as 1952 the laboratory requirement in the arts was dropped, ostensibly because students objected to it on the grounds that it was not significantly related to the rest of the course. But, soon after, the faculty also abandoned efforts to include works of art, music, or cinematography in the course. Although this change was justified in terms of the technical difficulties that had been encountered in presenting such works to students, there may have been another, less explicit reason for it. As Anne Jones noted, "there were also a few members of the staff who felt singularly unsuited for any discussion about music and maintained, perhaps rightly, that too such was being asked of them."(14) The lecture series was also modified to ease what faculty felt were too many demands on their time, since they were expected to attend weekly lunches as well as the regular four class sessions (admittedly a considerable burden at a time when the normal teaching load was four courses per semester).

Essentially this change involved a reduction in the number of lectures in order to create more time for other course activities, principally the frequent student conferences. "In recent years," Anne Jones explained, "we have reduced the number of lectures to one or two on each work we study. This frees several class periods for what has seemed more important, discussions of rhetoric and composition, and helps balance the lecture budget." (15)

Professor Jones' remark indicated that the problems of student writing and faculty time still remained foremost -- and, as before, interrelated. To deal with the problem of student writing, the staff decided in 1953 to assign a text on rhetoric and composition to be reviewed in class. Eventually this led to the commissioning of a work specifically designed for the course, Schneider and Tjossem's Themes and Research Papers (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961). Nonetheless, Ben Schneider--who was directing the course in the early 1960s. could still lament:

    There is apparently a great deal of dissatisfaction with the poor quality of reading and writing of Freshman Studies students. There is further the feeling that only the English Department knows how to remedy this deficiency and that its cure lies either in abolishing Freshman Studies and establishing a Freshman composition course, or in handing Freshman Studies over to the English Department. Since, however, the Freshman Studies staff is doing very little at present, to see what measures can be taken to improve the language skills of FS students, I feel that those who think this way are giving up to easily . . . . A united effort in English on the part of FS teachers might have surprisingly good results. (16)

Such beliefs led to much experimentation to help members of the staff to deal better with student writing. At one early point in the program, the administrative committee even recommended that the chair appoint one member of the staff to serve as "consultant in English" whose task it was "to assist and coordinate the teaching of reading and writing." The consultant was enjoined to prepare lists of "reading exercises and writing projects" geared to the works studied as well as to draw up a manual describing "the general criteria on which Freshman Studies themes are to be judged"(17) Though a consultant did not become a permanent feature of the course, the hand-outs were developed as recommended, providing the first of many such materials devised to serve as models and set common standards. Yet, as late as 1969 no less a figure than the then Dean of the college, Marshall Hulbert, was forced to admit that "the one problem which we have always found it difficult to solve completely in the Freshman Studies Program is the problem of writing." (18)

There were also from almost the start a number of more philosophical problems. Some of the faculty in the sciences apparently felt that the course did not adequately introduce students to their approach to knowledge. Professor Waples must have had such feelings in mind when she prepared her second evaluation of the course in 1947, for she wrote:

    A report on the changes in the reading made last spring may interest new members of the staff .... A chapter by Galileo, and Whitehead's Science and the Modern World were exchanged for the chapters by Thompson, and Jones' Life on Other Worlds. This change was made with great hesitation, and from time to time teachers express doubt of its wisdom. Galileo was dropped because some teachers said they were unable to teach through it the principles of science. Whitehead's book was probably dropped because it is very difficult .... Then the course seemed by the end of the year too largely philosophical, and a section that dealt with observation and concrete matter seemed desireable; Whitehead, in discussion, provoked philosophy rather than science.(19)

The difficulties with science reflected what was probably but one aspect of an even larger issue -- the tension between faculty who advocated general education and those who argued for a strictly disciplinary approach to learning. Even in the early days, the latter seen to have denounced Freshman Studies. Thus Margaret Gilbert, who directed the program in the late 1950s, complained to Dean Hulbert about "the anti-FS faculty," whom, she said, hurt efforts to recruit new personnel. She thus noted that "several pro-FS faculty members have said one major problem is to somehow 'get to' the new faculty with the enthusiast [sic] view of the value of FS before these people were on campus and talked to by some of the anti-FS faculty people." (20)

Dean Hulbert, for his part, freely acknowledged the difficulties recruitment posed for the course, and once quipped: "One of its greatest problems is the one that falls to the Dean -- its staffing . " In his diplomatic way he thus noted several principles that he felt had to be observed in recruiting instructors. The first was that participation had to be rotated among the faculty; beyond that, he felt that new faculty should be excused from enlistment in their first year and that no one should ever be forced to teach in the course. Finally, observing a close connection between faculty discontent and the burdens imposed by overly large classes, he warned that section should be kept "within the 15 to 18 range." (21)

Despite these problems, the course on the whole continued to meet general expectations into the early 1960s. In 1962 Dean Hulbert could still claim that: "There is no reason to believe that the course as it stands today is in less need of change--or more for that matter--than it was in its early history." He had to admit that questions continued to be raised over the lack of thematic focus and what some felt was a lessened need for work on writing. But, the only major concern he expressed was over the course's waning "glamour" among the faculty. Thus he mused:

    In the early days of the course many senior members of the faculty taught the course, and today the percentage is much lower. This may be accounted for by the fact that the course has lost some of its original "glamour" or prestige, that people who teach it have found it too great a burden in time and energy, that many who would like to teach it find themselves loaded with other academic responsibilities or that research and study in specialized areas has taken so such time and interest that little is left for Freshman Studies. (22)

Dismantling of Freshman Studies

As Dean Hulbert's remarks indicate, the prestige of the course was beginning to wane, despite its apparent health under a new, second generation of able directors and supporters. By the mid-1960s, therefore, it proved vulnerable as changes in the whole educational context called into question many of its basic premises and encouraged an equally able new generation of opponents to take the offensive against it. As late as 1968 incoming freshmen were still being told that "in an age where there are strong pressures toward specialization Freshman Studies helps to achieve the balance between depth and breadth so essential to the tradition of liberal education." (23) But, already such pressures had undermined important assumptions and commonalities at Lawrence without which the course could not survive.

The reasons for the changes were manifold. Lawrence, of course, grew rapidly following the merger with Downer in 1964, and the rapid increase of the faculty, curriculum, and student body severely strained traditional collegiality. A radical change of the calendar in 1963, a quick succession of new presidents, and a shift to Deans hired externally all appear to have reinforced institutional discontinuity. Furthermore, the general academic unrest and expansiveness of the decade--and particularly the great concern for immediate political and social issues --diminished interest in the classics and traditional themes that were fundamental to Freshman Studies. At the same time. changes in the academic community encouraged a new generation of faculty to prize specialization over general education and to prefer the ways of the big universities over those of small colleges. Reinforced by the experimental mood of the decade, these circumstances encouraged a thorough revision of the college that saw the curriculum as well as traditional rules and regulations totally altered. The mood of the era was clearly reflected in the prefatory remarks of the report of a special Select Committee on Planning which in 1969 systematically charted new directions for the college.

    Briefly stated, the following themes dominate curricular reform about the country: a reduction or the outright elimination of the number of courses students are required to take; greater student involvement in determining course offerings; the de-emphasizing of grades; more individualized education through tutorials, honors projects, etc.; off-campus experiences; attempts to make better students through newer and better freshman year programs; and the introduction of specific courses -- e.g. Black Studies -- to meet students demands for "relevance." Many, though not all, of the Committee's recommendations move in these general directions. (24)

Like the traditional distribution requirements, Freshman Studies fared badly within this new educational context. For one thing, it was philosophically at odds with many of the new educational beliefs. Already, beginning in the mid- 1960s, the course came under mounting criticism from a number of theoretical quarters. The members of one whole department, for example, criticized the course in a formal memo to Dean Hulbert in the spring of 1965 in which they protested what they termed its "humanistic bias" and Western "provincialism." At the same time, they reiterated doubts about its adequacy as a vehicle for teaching good writing and analytical thinking and voiced anew the long-standing discontent over its demands on faculty time. Claiming frustration in their attempts to change the course from within its structures, the members of the department collectively appealed to the Committee on Instruction "to recommend to the faculty of the college that persons who object to this course in principle be allowed to refuse to participate in it." And they further proposed that they be allowed to substitute some other form of "interdisciplinary work" for it. (25)

Staffing, which had always been a problem, became increasingly difficult in the face of such criticism. For much of the faculty expansion during the 1960s came in disciplines where feelings about the inadequacy of Freshman Studies ran high, and the program was hard put to recruit enough new faculty to offset the retirement or withdrawal of many of its early supporters. Speaking over a decade later, another director of the program, J. Michael Hittle, would thus note:

    The most significant problem such a course faces is finding a willing and capable instructional staff. Most Lawrence instructors generally support the notion of liberal education, but they are also closely tied to their own disciplines. To participate in Freshman Studies is to depart from the security of one's area of confidence; and participation almost always diminishes one's departmental offerings. Young faculty, the product of increasingly specialized educations and threatened by an intensely competitive job market, seem most reluctant to participate in the course--though its future success depends upon their ultimate commitment to it. (26)

Amid the climate of growing criticism, problems with staffing encouraged consideration of the program's abandonment. As early as the winter of 1966, the Committee on Instruction entertained a formal proposal to this end. Ultimately, the committee recommended that the program be continued with only slight modification, largely because of the favorable response it received on a questionnaire which it circulated among faculty and students. Nonetheless, the committee openly admitted that there were serious problems of morale which adversely affected the staffing of Freshman Studies:

    There is no question that the interdisciplinary nature of FS makes very great demands of time and energy on those engaged in the course. Most faculty feel the rewards justify the sacrifices. However, both faculty and student replies to FS questionnaires emphasis the crucial aspect of the instructor's attitude toward the course. We urge that great care be exercised in the selection of faculty to teach FS. No person should be permitted to teach FS unless he chooses to do so, and, of course, no one should be forced to participate. On the other hand, if the faculty supports FS as an integral part of the liberal education offered at Lawrence, then a receptive attitude toward FS on the part of candidates for positions on the faculty at Lawrence must be included with other criteria in choosing new faculty. In order to insure the best possible staff, teaching in FS must be made more attractive than it is at present. (27)

Unfortunately, the committee had to admit that it had "no immediate suggestions to accomplish this end," though it did attempt to address some of the more pressing issues of the time. Despite its recognition of the need to "deal with ideas important either in contemporary culture or in understanding the growth and development of that culture," the committee reaffirmed the traditional nature of the course and declared that "its success in introducing a field should not be a criterion for designing or evaluating the course." And yet, the committee had to concede that there was still a problem with science in the course. It thus warned: "it is essential that there be increased participation by science and mathematics teachers in FS If the course is to accomplish its interdisciplinary objectives." And, it further declared that "we should consider again the special problems posed by finding appropriate science material for FS." (28)

Thus began efforts to make the program more attractive to a wider selection of instructors . To reduce demands on faculty time, the extra lecture hour was dropped, and the staff luncheons, originally weekly affairs, were restricted to those occasions when lectures occurred. The content of the course was also adjusted in response to mounting faculty complaints about the difficulty of teaching outside of areas of expertise. Beginning in 1967, for example, instructors ceased to adhere fully to a common reading list; they were then allowed to select a final work of their own choice from a long list of alternatives. By 1968 a specially convened Committee on Interdisciplinary Studies recommended even more radical changes in the reading. According to its proposal, one third of the works would remain as before, one third would be "untried or controversial," and the final third would be the instructor's choice. It also proposed an elaborate scheme of shifting instructors between sections to ensure that only those from certain disciplines would have to deal with the traditional portion of the course. Even had these measures been tried, it is doubtful that they would have solved the underlying problem: faculty disaffection with the ideal of liberal education as it had previously been understood. Thus in the end, this committee, too, was left to lament the fact that "the large majority of the faculty ... if approached to serve in the course ... voice a desire to do so but sometimes find that other demands on their time prohibit them from participation on a regular basis." (29)

As a result, the Freshman Program was among the items evaluated by the Select Committee on Planning when it began its general review of the college in 1969. By then opponents of the traditional Freshman courses had grown too strong for the program to remain intact. Rather than abolish it outright, however, the Select Committee recommended a compromise in which what were called "Topics of Inquiry" (the name was borrowed from Amherst College) were to substitute for one term of Freshman Studies. As the Committee freely noted these Topics of Inquiry were a concession to the disciplinary approach to education:

    What distinguishes the Topics of Inquiry program from Freshman Studies is its strictly disciplinary orientation. As such, the Topics of Inquiry serve a number of goals. Within the context of the freshman core program, they are a needed counterpart to the interdisciplinary character of Freshman Studies. However enjoyable and stimulating it may be for students to read books under the guidance of non- specialists, in view of their overall educational experience they must find out that more answers and even more questions can be had in a disciplined approach. Moreover, the Committee frankly hopes that many faculty members who now object to the nature of Freshman Studies will find it possible to contribute both their time and talent to the education of freshmen. (30)

After the completion of a few pilot sections of Topics of Inquiry in the fall of 1969 the faculty agreed to implement the proposed change on a permanent basis in the following year. It also approved the committee's recommendation to supplant traditional letter grades with simple grades of satisfactory or unsatisfactory in what was now renamed the "freshman core program." Even this compromise, however, proved insupportable. Continued discontent with the one remaining term of Freshman Studies led to an effort in 1972 to rekindle faculty interest in it by devising four sections, each with a different thematic and disciplinary focus, to be offered in all three terms. This stratagem led a Lawrentian reporter to lament the "lasting dilemma" created by the conflict between student needs and faculty aspirations. "In terms of its students, the University seeks to provide both academic tools of the trade and exposure to a liberal range of stimulating ideas," she exclaimed, "however, this objective appears to collide with that of satisfying the desires of the faculty as intellectual elites in their respective fields." Thus she warned:

    Some students voiced the belief that Lawrence is the Great Pretender, professing its liberal arts atmosphere but in actuality only displaying small sparks of excellences in certain specialties. If so, then it is no wonder that a Freshman Core program must tackle with lack of enthusiasm from the faculty. This antipathy naturally carries over to the students in "studs" classes though, illustrating the dilemma of liberal education vs. specialization. (31)

In the end, even this expedient failed to preserve the one remanent of Freshman Studies. Actually, of course, the changes implemented in 1972 eliminated traditional Freshman Studies in all but name. And, the hybrid version. which reflected more of a disciplinary than general character, could not be justified in terms of the course's original goals. Total abandonment, therefore, came soon after, beginning with a recommendation to that effect in 1974 from a special Subcommittee on the Freshman Program. Claiming that the freshman program "is no longer an appropriate vehicle for the 'common experience'" the Committee called for the substitution of "two freshman seminars, one with a humanistic orientation and the other with a scientific orientation," for the existing freshman core program. (32)

Since the seminars were but retitled versions of the Topics of Inquiry, the recommendation was primarily aimed at eliminating the last vestiges of the old Freshman Program. And, the committee's rationale left no doubt that staffing problems arising from the increased importance of specialization among the faculty greatly influenced this decision. "The committee firmly believes that most faculty members endorse the fundamental objectives of the [new] program and would be willing to do their share of teaching in it; and, with the freedom to design a seminar around materials within their own competence, they will provide enthusiastic teaching and communicate their enthusiasm to the freshman." (33) After only an hour's debate, the faculty concurred with the committee at a special faculty meeting held on January 10, 1974. Thus by a vote of forty-four in favor and eighteen opposed, the faculty completed the dismantling of Freshman Studies. Beginning in the fall of 1975, new students simply had to take two of a long list of seminars. A thirty-year old tradition had come to an end!

Revival of Freshman Studies

The old Freshman Studies course did not die easily, however, for some of the older faculty kept a version of it alive in the guise of a group of Freshman Seminars called "Basic Questions: Classic Answers." Nor did all of the newer faculty approve of the abolition of the old program. The costs of the shift to first the split program and then to the seminars failed to satisfy a number of individuals, who were open in voicing their views.

Already in 1971, the recently installed new Dean, Thomas Headrick, complained that "the Topics of Inquiry have missed the mark established for them by the Povolny Committee." He added that "the fault lies not only with those that slop around in unfamiliar disciplines, but also with some who observe disciplinary boundaries meticulously," explaining that freshman were not yet ready to explore "the frontier of a discipline" such less emulate a "scholarly mind at work." Thus he called for a return to that collegiate tradition of the small liberal arts schools represented by more interdisciplinary programs. "If we become but miniature, and second-rate, replicas of large universities," he warned," we will get swallowed up." (34)

Faculty too, expressed a concern for the loss of the collegiality which had been associated with the old Freshman Program, but they expressed even more concern over what they deemed the chief pedagogical inadequacy of the new system: its failure to deal with the long-standing issue of poor student writing. "We still need a solid course that teaches reading and expository writing," observed one member of the faculty in the spring of 1974. "I have heard too much from advisees and other freshmen in the last years about the great discrepancies in T.I.'s [Topics of Inquiry]," she continued, adding that "under the new F.S. dispensation they see more discrepancies." Not unlike the dean, she, too, saw the need for "some overall framework, with visible consistency." (35)

Perhaps concern over such "discrepancies" contributed to the faculty decision to return to regular grades in Freshman Seminars in April of 1975. Ostensibly, the changed in grading was made because many of the faculty believed that the abolition of Freshman Studies rendered it unnecessary; for many assumed that this measure had been instituted only to counter flagging student motivation in the one surviving term of Freshman Studies. But, an editorial in The Lawrentian, which was prompted by this decision, provided a different view and, in fact, revealed student uneasiness with the new freshman program. Entitled "Imperfect faculty," this editorial of April 25, 1975 used the occasion to reflect upon the demise of the old Freshman Studies course and concluded that it was a failure of faculty, not student, interest that destroyed the course. Quipping that "stories among students are a dime a dozen about a Studs professor who cut a class short because he or she was neither an expert or a fan of this author or field and hence had nothing to say," the editorial declared, the fear of the faculty to attack new fields is sad." And it went on to note:

    The program was designed to cause students as well as faculty to openly explore and discuss the meaning of the. material presented. It was to be a sharing experience for all, theoretically fruitful because the professors would provide the formal training for thinking in a clear, organized way. That was to be their contribution, to show how strange ideas could be approached and hopefully mastered. But, it didn't work because they were either not interested or afraid. (36)

Enough faculty, however, were also beginning to question the wisdom of what they had done that pressure began to build for a return to the old program. No doubt the changing academic circumstances, which saw the college begin a contraction back toward its former size and the dawn of a new, more conservative age, contributed to this trend, as did the arrival of a new Dean, Richard Warch, in the late 1970s. By 1978, at any rate, discontent with the seminars was sufficiently widespread to force yet another review of the freshman program, and in the spring of that year, the faculty reversed its decision of 1974 (with only one dissenting vote) in order to reinstitute one term of the old Freshman Studies together with the post of a director to co- ordinate its sections. Fears that staffing would again be a problem were allayed by the results of an informal poll of the faculty which suggested that adequate teaching support would be forthcoming.

Success with this limited revival, ably orchestrated by a series of third generation directors, beginning with J. Michael Hittle, encouraged interest in the full revival of the course. This interest, which benefitted from a slow return to more comprehensive and traditional requirements, emerged into public discussion during the review of requirements conducted by the Committee on Academic Planning in 1985. In its report to the faculty, the committee recommended "in light of widespread concerns raised during the course of its deliberations, that the Committee on Instruction review and assess the freshman program." By way of clarification the committee went on to say that this evaluation "should focus primarily on the effectiveness of the courses in developing skills of close reading, writing, and speaking" as well as "investigate the effectiveness of the program in providing students with intellectual experiences on which further study can be based." (37) The perennial concerns over the quality of student skills and the awakening of students to the excitement of intellectual life thus promoted faculty interest in reviving the course even as they had originally prompted its birth.

In the fall of 1985, the Committee on Instruction responded to this recommendation by launching a major review of the Freshman Program. Rather quickly a subcommittee of this body concluded that "the present program seems to lack the kind of extended coherence which the subcommittee believes is necessary" and determined that it would recommend a return to an integrated, two-term freshman course. "At a minimum," the subcommittee said, "such a two- term program should...involve an extended and more systematic effort to improve students abilities to write precise, coherent, grammatically standard prose; a rededication to the analysis and discussion of representative classic texts; and an effort to provide students with some basic historical and cultural contexts in which to place and consider those texts." (38)

The subcommittee's final recommendations, of course, led to the faculty decision on May 7, 1986 to restore a full two-term version of the original Freshman Program. In spite of the fact that the revived course retains many features from the past, it clearly marks a new stage in the evolution of the course. For in addition to the traditional goals of awakening student interest in intellectual life and fostering student skills, the restored two-term version is also expected to provide a contextual background or foundation for liberal education. The course description as adopted by the faculty leaves no doubt about this intention. For, after noting that "the course introduces students to ideas of abiding concern," "probes the nature of knowledge," and "cultivates the skills of analysis and expression," it declares: "Most importantly, Freshman Studies builds intellectual foundations that serve Lawrence students during their college years and beyond." More specifically, the new version of the course seems intended to convey to students how the Western intellectual tradition provides a context for their own education. For as the course description states:

    Great books and great works of art -- the defining achievements of culture and civilization -- stand at the center of Freshman Studies. Course readings and materials emphasize the Western heritage, in particular the diversity of conception within that heritage; but they also include select classics from non-Western civilizations. Through the careful examination of these works, students and faculty engage ... issues at once timeless and immediate. (39)

In conclusion then, the revived Freshman Program is not entirely identical with the old version. Yet, its retention of the central commitment to an exploration of ideas clearly links it with the original conception of Freshman Studies. And, in an age noted for rapid change, surely the simple fact that the course has survived over forty years (as no other course in the current curriculum has) attests to its success. Perhaps it will even endure into the next century, serving then as it has throughout the last half of this one as a central focus for the Lawrence curriculum.

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  1. Contained in a memo to the faculty from the Committee on Instruction dated February 5, 1945 and entitled "A Proposed Change in the Curriculum for Freshmen."
  2. From a letter by F. Theodore Cloak to the Freshman class dated September, 1970, during the time he chaired the Freshman Program.
  3. Quoted by Anne Prioleau Jones in her article "Freshman Studies, an Experimental Course at Lawrence College," The Educational Record (July 1954),p. 209,
  4. "A Proposed Change in the Curriculum for Freshmen."
  5. Jones, p. 210.
  6. Jones, p. 213.
  7.  Announcement of Courses 1945-46 . The nature of these branches had been earlier clarified in the memo entitled "A Proposed Change in the Curriculum for Freshmen" in which the course was said to be intended 'to introduce the student... to the four great human enterprises--philosophy, science, art, and religion.
  8. This document, which is simply titled "Freshman Studies," seems to have been prepared as a general introduction to the course; one version, at least, is dated September, 1953. It provides an excellent description of the operation and philosophy of the course.,as it existed in the 150s, complete with sections on "The Teacher's Business" and "The Student's Business" which function as a kind of credo.
  9. "The Freshman Studies Course at Lawrence College. Report of Professor Waples, Chairman of the course, at the conclusion of its first year, 1945- 46," p.l. Originally the program was supervised by an Administrative Committee, but eventually this practice was abandoned in favor of a single director.
  10. "The Freshman Studies Course at Lawrence College," p.2.
  11. Jones, p.208.
  12. Jones, pp. 211 and 220.
  13. "The Freshman Studies Course at Lawrence College," p.6.
  14. Jones, p. 214.
  15. Jones, p. 211.
  16. From an undated draft memo signed by Ben Schneider.
  17. From an undated "Report of the Freshman Studies Committee on Freshman Studies."
  18. Remark contained in a letter dated February 6, 1969 which Dean Hulbert sent to Professor John E. Schrader of East Tennessee State University to explain the course.
  19. From a document called "The Purposes and Methods of Freshman Studies" on which some later editor has penciled: "Report of Miss Waples" and the date January, 1947.
  20. Contained in an undated memo, probably of 1958, sent to Dean Hulbert by Margaret Gilbert. Professor Gilbert suggested sending new faculty copies of Anne Jones' article to win their support to the course!
  21. From a paper called "Freshman Studies at Lawrence College" which Dean Hulbert presented at a Stillwater Conference in August, 1959.
  22. Dean Hulbert's remarks occur in a paper called "Freshman Studies Revisited" which he wrote for a Stillwater Conference in November, 1962.
  23. Statement contained In a covering note entitled "Some Remarks about Freshman Studies for the Freshmen" sent with the reading list to new students in 1968. An earlier version dated 1967 was signed and apparently written by Bruce Brackenridge.
  24. Liberal Education at Lawrence. Report of the Select Committee on Planning, September, 1969, p.20.
  25. From a memo to the Committee on Instruction dated March 2, 1965 on the subject of "The Withdrawal from Freshman Studies of Persons who Object on Principle to it."
  26. Remarks included in a letter of 1980 sent to Professor Michael B. Lukens of St. Norbert College in an effort to explain the Freshman Program of that time to him.
  27. From a report of January 23, 1966, entitled "Required Course for Freshmen" submitted to the Committee on Instruction by a special Subcommittee on College Requirements, p.2.
  28. Report on "Required Course for Freshman," p.3.
  29. Memo to the faculty from the Committee on Interdisciplinary Studies on "Freshman Studies" dated March 14, 1968.
  30. From "Liberal Education at Lawrence. Report of the Select Committee on Planning" (dated September, 1969), p. 34.
  31. Freshman Studies: Specialization vs. the Liberal outlook" by Helen Eckardt from The Lawrentian, May 19, 1972.
  32. Memo to the Committee on Instruction from the Subcommittee on the Freshman Program, dated November 6, 1974, and titled "Freshman Program Proposal."
  33. "Freshman Program Proposal" of November 6, 1974.
  34. Draft memo of November 4, 1971 from Dean Thomas Headrick, apparently to the head of the Committee on Instruction.
  35. Memo on "Freshman Studies" dated April 23, 1974 sent to Dean Headrick by Professor Elizabeth Forter.
  36. Lead editorial in The Lawrentian, April 25, 1975, p.2.
  37. Memo from the Committee on Academic Planning to the Faculty dated April 12, 1985 and entitled "General Education Requirements," pp. 5-6.
  38. From the "Proceedings of the Subcommittee on the Freshman Program" dated December 4, 1985, p.6, a memo made public by the committee chair, Professor Peter Fritzell.
  39. "Minutes of the Lawrence University Faculty Meeting, May 16, 1986," p.2.

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