Graduate Education

by Henry S. Stroupe
Wake Forest Magazine, November 1966

(Convocation Address September 20, 1966)

In his memorable Phi Beta Kappa oration at Harvard in 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson declared hopefully, "Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to close." Emerson spoke eloquently and prophetically but not factually. For several more decades the young American nation looked abroad for new educational ideals. They were found, not in the British Isles or France, but in Germany. Throughout the nineteenth century and on into the twentieth, many young Americans, ten thousand in all by 1914, trekked to Germany for advanced instruction and inspiration.

Graduate Education in the Nineteenth Century

Although the critical year for graduate education in the United States is 1876, the date Johns Hopkins was founded, the story begins before that. The previous half-century was the age of the "supremacy of the master's degree" — an unearned degree which was awarded only to the institution's own alumni, who qualified for it, as historian Richard Storr says in The Beginnings of Graduate Education in America, "by staying alive and out of trouble for three years after graduation from college."

In the years before 1876 there were several efforts, all unsuccessful, to establish graduate education in American institutions The name university first came into American thinking and planning during the period of the Revolution, but its use expressed hopes rather than accomplishments. The so-called universities of the time lacked the prerequisites of graduate training and research facilities. At a "convention of literary and scientific gentlemen'' held New York in 1830, George Bancroft, a Ph.D. of the University of Gottingen, popularized the slogan "The University Idea"; and Henry Dwight, son of the President of Yale, exclaimed: "We need university like those of Germany." Henry P. Tappan's statement in 1851 that there were no American universities continued to be true for another quarter of a century. He wrote: "Whatever may be the names by which we choose to call our institutions of learning, still they are not universities. They have neither libraries and material of learning generally, nor the number of professors and courses of lectures, nor the large and free organization which go to make up universities."

Finally, in 1876, John Hopkins University the nation's first graduate school, opened under the leadership of president Daniel Coit Gilman. The flood gates behind which power for change had long been gathering had at last opened, and universities sprang up all over the land. Because of the unique American governmental structure, each of the fifty states defines its own educational standards and terminology, and so the name university has no commonly accepted meaning throughout the country. In general, however, academic people think of universities as having three major characteristics: a commitment both to research and to teaching, professional schools, and graduate curriculums leading beyond the bachelor's and master's degrees to the Ph.D.

The promoters of American universities comparable to those of Germany faced a major problem, namely, should the new functions of advanced instruction and research be performed within existing colleges or should they be handled by new post-collegiate institutions. Educational leaders disagreed among themselves as to what was best, and in attempting to find the answer they experimented with three courses of action.

Some, led by Gilman insisted upon the creation of graduate universities apart from undergraduate colleges, which should, he suggested, become three-year institutions. Others, led by Tappan of Michigan and William Rainey Harper of Chicago, proposed to turn over the first two years of the colleges' programs to the secondary schools, thereby having the universities begin with the traditional junior year. Still others, led by Charles W. Eliot of Harvard, moved to expand the existing colleges into comprehensive universities which would undertake both undergraduate and graduate instruction.

Of these three types, the comprehensive university sponsored by Eliot soon became standard. According to W. H. Cowley in his Short History of American Higher Education, Gilman, Tappan and Harper failed because of the stubborn will-to-live of the colleges and also because the combination of undergraduate and graduate instruction within a single institution had clear economic advantages.

In a history-making reorganization in 1890, Eliot and his Harvard associates made the Faculty of Arts and Sciences responsible for all non-professional education from the beginning of the freshman year through the Ph.D. The other eastern colleges, concurrently remodeling themselves into universities, adopted comparable plans, and the state universities followed. Most important of all, the comprehensive university thus established engaged in both teaching and research.

Opposition to Change

The controversy involved in getting graduate study under way exhibited the resistance to change which has traditional characterized educational institutions Bernard Berelson in his Graduate Education in the United States points out that most of the arguments used today against innovations in graduate study were used in the nineteenth century against starting it at all: for example, the always applicable position that scarce resources should not be put into new ventures when existing undertakings need to be improved; or that young men must not be detained from active life longer than now; nor may the expenses of education be much increased.

Berelson observes that, "The tension between undergraduate education and the proposed graduate variety was strong and pervasive.... The natural hostility of college faculties was only sharpened by the recognition that the new institution represented science and professionalism whereas they represented the classical curriculum...."

Proponents of graduate education spoke of the "needs of the times," pointing out that America was rapidly becoming urbanized and industrialized. The "spirit of the age" ultimately won out, as it always does. Today's "need of the times" that so strongly influences graduate study is, of course, the national security.

Research has now become so firmly established that everyone takes it for granted, forgetting that it had no status at all a century ago in the colleges of either the United States or England. Indeed except for the beginnings made in Germany the universities of the world played little, if any, part until late in the nineteenth century in the momentous progress of science.

Controlled by the classicists, Oxford and Cambridge looked with disdain upon what they considered to be the spiritually unprofitable and potentially heretical grubbings of the scientists. At the peak of his career, Benjamin Jowett, the famous master of Balliol College, Oxford, exclaimed: "Research! A mere excuse for idleness it has never achieved, and will never achieve, any results of the slightest value."

In America, the academic world never seriously sponsored scientific research until well after the Civil War. Even President Eliot in the earlier days had his doubts about its value. Professor C. L. Jackson relates that when he was a young teacher of chemistry in the seventies he asked Eliot if he might be relieved of the duty of teaching one class in order to prosecute certain investigations. The president, in his stately manner, propounded a question to which an answer can seldom be given — "What will be the results of these investigations?" They would be published, was the reply. The president wanted to know where. Mr. Jackson named a German chemical journal. "I can't see that that will serve any useful purpose here," said Eliot and therewith dismissed the matter.

Within a few years after the opening of Hopkins, Gilman's success there had convinced Eliot and other administrators that the research function could no longer be neglected. By 1892 Clark, Stanford, and Chicago had been founded and they were headed by men who had no doubts at all about the importance of research. Harper of Chicago wrote: "It is not enough that instructors in a university should do the class and lecture work assigned them. This is important, but the university will in no sense deserve the name, if time and labor are not also expended in the work of producing that which will directly or indirectly influence thought and life outside the university." David Starr Jordan at Stanford asserted that teaching and research must be completely intermingled. "Investigation," he said, "is the basis of all good instruction. No second hand man was ever a great teacher, and I very much doubt if any really great investigator was ever a poor teacher."

The reformers also began to send their students to the college libraries and to insist that book collections he improved. In 1858 the trustees of Columbia voted to open the library for ten rather than nine hours a week; and about the same time librarians began to be concerned with the circulation of their books rather than merely protecting them. Some librarians, among them John Langdon Sibley of Harvard, gave up their custodial responsibilities reluctantly. A friend of Sibley's meeting him on the street one day asked him why he looked so happy. He replied, so the story goes, "All the books are in excepting two. Professor Agassiz has those and I am going after them."

By the turn of the century the significance of the library in a graduate institution had been fully recognized and the building up of the great book collections of today was under way.

Research VERSUS Teaching

The growing importance attached to research led early in the twentieth century to a conflict between the teaching and research functions of American educational institutions. To get ahead in the academic world it has been necessary for a long time for professors to give their attention to productive scholarship. The American Association of University Professors, for example, declared in a 1933 report: "The good teacher, even though he be conspicuously good, often has to wait his turn for promotion in order of seniority, because there is no systematic way of singling him out and recognizing him by an early advancement. Success in research, on the other hand, is bound to be observed and rewarded."

Because of their belief that researchers were by nature good teachers, administrators of the early graduate schools went about the business of steering their institutions into the policy of training all graduate students to be researchers and of completely ignoring their training as teachers. When during the nineteen twenties the nation's colleges began to protest that the graduate schools were sending them inadequately trained and disinterested teachers, a dozen or so national committees arose to study the problem.

The Great Depression and World War I diverted the attention of educators to other problems, but after 1945 interest in the relationship of research to teaching again came to the fore. Howard Mumford Jones, who served during the war as dean of the Harvard Graduate School, helped revive the question with his 1946 book, Education and World Tragedy. In this volume he came out unequivocally for a complete reformation of the graduate schools and for direct attention to the training of college teachers as teachers. A year later Dean Harry Carman of Columbia expressed a similar view. President Truman's commission to study the problem asserted: "The failure of individuals to learn how to teach is largely the failure of the present graduate school system."

Professor Cowley maintains that the difficulty arises from the failure to realize that different types of teachers require different types of research training. He declared recently that, "Ever since the end of the nineteenth century the leaders of American higher education have almost universally affirmed that one cannot be a good teacher unless he does research. This conception has wisely come to dominate academic thinking in all countries because it embodies the great truths that out-of-date facts and ideas foist upon society out-moded people, that only growing minds can arouse and hold the interest of students, that creativity begets creativity....

"Practically everyone agrees, to repeat, that no one can be a good teacher unless he does research; but to this generally accepted dictum must be added another to wit, that each individual's research should be relevant to the category of teaching in which he specializes."

The long debate on teaching versus research is at last producing results. In the Spring. 1966 issue of The Educational Record, Keith Spalding deals with the matter in an article entitled "The relevance of Federal Programs to the Purpose of the Institutions.'' He tells that a noted mathematician visiting his campus said, ". . . in all seriousness and with telling effect, that he had observed a strange phenomenon in his travels: Suddenly all the universities are preoccupied with teaching and all the colleges are concerned with research." In view of everything that has been written on the subject. perhaps it should not he surprising that each type of institution is trying to meet the criticism which has been leveled against it.

There is a definable distinction between the purposes of a university and those of a liberal arts college. Both kinds of institutions must be engaged in the preservation, dissemination, and extension of knowledge, but not in each of those three functions to the same degree. The liberal arts college should seek to develop its traditional strengths — the cultivation of taste and intellect in a relatively gracious and leisurely environment, and the nurturing of civilized discourse and broad curiosity.

"Yet," wrote Spalding, "no bright and eager student wants to go to a college in which his teachers are dated and dull. No college which aspires to excellence can afford to resist improvements aimed at permitting, and even encouraging, intellectual alertness and significant scholarship on the part of its-faculty members. No foresighted educator who wants to improve his institution can avoid the logic of reducing over-heavy teaching loads, of encouraging efforts to involve students in personal investigation.... But if it is true that the job of a president is to pour gasoline on sparks, it must also be recognized that the results are predictable. These trends, once set in motion, make more and more demands on the resources of the institution. Society makes more demands on education. And even fiercely independent private institutions recognize that they carry a public trust. Quantitative and qualitative needs converge—and the only solid answer is that modern higher education of good quality is expensive. . . Faced with inexorable demands to renovate its facilities as well as its programs, the liberal arts college may have no alternative but to rely more and more heavily upon the government grant to make ends meet."

Educational institutions have three possible source, of income — student fees, private and corporate philanthropy, and denominational and governmental support. Historically, ever since Hopkins began enticing students from other institutions with fellowships because she had no undergraduates of her own, student fees have borne only a small fraction of the cost of graduate education. This leaves graduate schools almost entirely dependent upon the other two sources of income for all of their needs.

The Early Days of Wake Forest

As in other American educational institutions, proposed curricular and administrative changes have been resisted at Wake Forest. There was, for example, the celebrated controversy over whether theories of evolution should he taught, and a less stormy one over whether coeds ought to be admitted as resident students.

During the first three years of operation, the institution and its approximately 75 students were housed in a farm dwelling, seven slave cabins, a carriage house, and a tent. A letter written in the spring of 1835 by a student named George Washington described a typical day.

"I will begin," said he, "at the dawn of day, when the loud peals of the bell arouse us from our sweet repose. We are allowed about fifteen minutes to dress ourselves . . . when the bell summons us to prayers. . . Just as the sun raises his head from behind the distant forest, the Virgil class to which I belong commences recitation.... At half past seven, the bell rings for breakfast." Study and recitations alternated "until three o'clock, when the bell rings long and loud for the toils of the field.... We students engage in everything here that an honest farmer is not ashamed to do....

"Blistered hands we consider as scars of honor, and we show them with as much pride as Marius exhibited his scars to the wondering multitude.... A little bell calls from the field—we enter the chapel for prayers, and immediately take supper. We now have half an hour for amusement when the bell again calls to study. There is no place like Wake Forest at night. The stillness of the graveyard possesses the whole outdoor establishment . . . save when a solitary student is heard winding his way with a pitcher in his hand to the well . . . O what a place for meditation! — how calm, how still.... But hark there sounds the deep notes of the bell — 'tis nine o'clock and time for bed.... Moonlight and music! . . . There's no place like Wake Forest."

A Graduate Program Evolves

The process of change got underway immediately and has continued at a steady pace ever since. In 1838 the Manual Labor Institute was granted a new charter as Wake Forest College. As was the practice in most colleges at that time, from the founding until the Civil War, Wake Forest conferred bachelor's degrees based on four years of study and master's degrees based on good behavior.

However, in the 1866 post-war reopening and reorganization, a program of study leading to an earned M. A. distinguished from the "in course" degree was announced. Between 1871, when the first degrees earned under the new plan were awarded, and 1951, 383 persons received master's degrees. Until 1887 the candidate for the M. A. had to complete successfully all the courses of all the "Schools" in the college. The catalogue of 1888 for the first time prescribed certain of the courses leading to the B. A. degree as basic for the master's degree; and for the latter required thirty additional semester hours of work.

George W. Paschal's History of Wake Forest College points out that the requirements were so loosely stated that some students succeeded by selecting easy courses in earning both degrees in four years. To correct this abuse, the 1892 catalogue required the completion of the bachelor's first, and a grade of 90 or more on each course in a year of post-baccalaureate study for the M. A. A faculty committee on graduate studies was also established and a thesis requirement introduced. This was done, it may be noted, two years after the reorganization of Harvard's program on the basis of research-oriented degrees and in imitation of it. In 1919 a final examination by a faculty committee appeared as an additional requirement.

The effects of the Civil War and World War I on graduate study at Wake Forest have now been briefly noted. World War II had an even more significant effect. Between the spring of 1944 and the fall of 1949, the total college enrollment increased from the wartime low of 328 to a high of 2,171. This human flood so heavily overloaded the faculty and so taxed the institution's resources that graduate work had to be discontinued. By this date, the medical school had already been moved from the town of Wake Forest to Winston-Salem, where it became the Bowman Gray School of Medicine of Wake Forest College and continued to offer the Master of Science degree.

The Division of Graduate Studies

In 1946 the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation offered an annual grant in perpetuity on condition that the entire College move to Winston-Salem. The Faculty Self-Study Report adopted immediately prior to the removal recommended that graduate study in the School of Arts and Sciences be resumed as soon as practicable. On January 13, 1961, the Trustees established the Division of Graduate Studies and authorized it to award the Master of Arts degree in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy degrees in the Bowman Gray School of Medicine. Thus the Division of Graduate Studies is a joint enterprise of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, and is administered by a Graduate Council composed of two ex officio administrative officials and seven faculty members representing the combined graduate faculties.

In 1961 M.A. degree programs were announced in six departments. Two additional departments now have ongoing programs and two more have been authorized. Bowman Gray awards the Ph.D. degree in five departments and the M.S. in all of the basic medical sciences. Expansion has been slow because of costs and the desire to be thorough. It is, however, the policy of the Trustees and administration to continue to add graduate programs until advanced degrees are offered in virtually all of the academic departments.

Candidates for the master's degree must complete at least thirty semester hours of work, including a thesis, pass a reading examination in one modern foreign language, and pass a final examination on the field of the thesis.

Candidates for the Ph.D. complete two or more additional years of study, have French and German examinations, pass a preliminary written examination. submit an acceptable dissertation based on original investigation, and pass a final oral examination.

In the fall of 1961, 82 graduate students were enrolled in all of the departments on both campuses offering graduate programs. Each year since then about 15 or 20 additional students have been enrolled. The total number this semester is 190, of whom 48 are on the Bowman Gray campus.

Since 1961 the degree has been awarded to 8 students, the M.A. to 88, and the Ph.D. to 3. Thus Wake Forest College is taking part in the educational growth which constitutes one of the most amazing developments in American history.

Recent National Developments

By 1900 about 150 American institutions were committed to graduate study. In that year they awarded the master's degrees to 1,600 candidates and the Ph.D. to 250. The total number of graduate degrees was about 6% of the bachelor's degrees. In 1900 only 4% of the college age population attended college. By 1940 this figure had increased to 15% and 16% of those who received baccalaureate degrees also earned graduate degrees.

As rapid as this expansion seems, the truly spectacular growth was yet to come. More doctorates were granted in this country in the past decade than in all the years up to then. United States Office of Education reports show that during 1964-65 doctor's degrees were conferred on 16,467 persons. The University of California (including all branches) led with 1,048; Columbia stood second with 616; and Wisconsin's 531 came third. At the other extreme, 78 of [1]45 institutions which award the doctorate had fewer than five to complete the degree last year. Despite the enormous increase, the Office of Education predicts that there will be a "deficit" of some 120,000 Ph.D.'s. in college faculties by 1973.

The latest figures also show the master's degree to be in a flourishing condition. In the fall of 1964, the 704 U.S. institutions which award the degree enrolled 478,000 candidates. During the year ending in June 1964, master's degrees were conferred on 99,046 candidates. In the fall of 1965, the total college and university enrollment, undergraduate and graduate, reached 5,967,411, or 33.52% of the college age population (18-24). According to preliminary figures, over 600,000 are now enrolled for master's and higher degrees.

Allan M. Cartter notes in An Assessment of Quality in Graduate Education that, "By whatever measuring rod one chooses, the expansion of graduate education has been and continues to be dramatic, matched only by the rapidly expanding demand for teachers. researchers, and qualified specialists in private industry, government, and the professions who have attained the highest educational levels." Like Whitehead, he believes that "the future . . . lies with the nation which values and fosters education at the highest creative levels."

"Are Colleges Out of Touch"

Conrad Hillberry, writing in Antioch College Notes on the present state of higher education in America, asked the provocative question, "Are Colleges Out of Touch?" and concluded with the following: "As the educational level of the country moves up — as the bachelor's degree becomes the 'normal' stopping place for a majority of American students, and postdoctoral fellowships become an accepted part of a researcher's training — the private colleges are in serious danger of getting out of touch, further removed from research and from what is happening in the world.

"It is the universities that are conducting the laser research and the research on the genetic code. It is the universities that staff the AID programs . . . supply the men for the council of economic advisers, and organize centers for research in learning. Even poets and painters gravitate to the universities, though they are unpredictable sorts and may turn up anywhere.

"I am aware that wisdom has not grown old, that the most profound ideas are not necessarily the latest ones. I am also aware that for most university students the inside of the psychology laboratory or the workings of the university program in Puerto Rico are as remote as the inside of the CIA.... Still, there is a tension about the universities, a feeling that there or somewhere people are discovering things or propounding theories or drafting proposals or influencing legislation that we will eventually hear about.

"Few colleges, I believe, have this sense of excitement. And this, in my opinion, should be the first concern of the colleges; not bankruptcy, not the downward encroachment of the graduate schools nor the upward encroachment of the high schools, not even the difficulty of finding faculty members, but a sense of separation from the world's stir."

Friends of Wake Forest College both inside and outside these walls are striving to keep her in touch with the "spirit of the times," and it is my firm belief that this will be done. All of us, working together can make our venerable institution a still stronger and more influential center of learning.


1. Numbers unclear on original. (return)]


Main | Publications | Articles | Images | Biographies | Citations | Syllabus