The 11th installment of our seminar series on “Beyond the Log: Williams Presidents in the Gentleman’s Era” (pdf).

Fred Rudolph: He [President Garfiled] deserves credit for important curricular reform. He delegated leadership on that front to Professor T.C. Smith of the history department. A case can be made that Garfield’s style was to delegate. That’s one way to get things done. When he went to Washington he turned the running of the College over to Professor Carroll Maxcy, giving rise to the student ditty “Maxcy of Hoxsey, prexy by proxy.”

Great ditty! Longtime readers will recall that I quoted Professor Maxcy here, perhaps the best of my 5,000+ posts at EphBlog.

To our faculty readers: Professor Maxcy is still being read and quoted 50 years after his death. Will Williams students and alumni be quoting you in 2060? If not, why not?

The 1911 curriculum that Garfield and T.C. Smith created was a significant moment in the history of higher education, because it packaged subject matter into divisions, it created the requisites and sequences and made room for new subjects without obliterating the old ones. The departmental major of sequence courses was topped with a unique double-credit senior seminar. The Garfield curriculum was an effort to make clear that if you came to Williams you could get an education. You didn’t have to. You could come to Williams and concentrate on being a fraternity member, and some students did. In conjunction with the new curriculum was an honors program, so the best students could define themselves on a higher level of intellectual activity than had been true earlier. Interestingly, the 1911 curriculum and the honors program (which Garfield proposed in his inaugural address) were still operating when I entered in 1938. It was still there after World War II, and indeed even into Jack Sawyer’s administration. That curriculum never got the PR that it should have had.

Indeed. There are two separate (I think) issues here:

First, the honors program. Faculty often complain that students do not progress to a “higher level of intellectual activity.” I agree. The Swarthmore Honors program is widely effective and popular. Why not institute something like that at Williams as an optional track for the most intellectually serious students?

Second, the curriculum. In retrospect, it is easy to see how Garfield’s reforms were part of the leading edge of higher education, that almost all elite schools now have similar programs (leaving aside outliers like St. John’s and Olin). But the future is far less clear. What changes will the next 100 years bring? What movements should Williams try to lead, or at least try not to get left behind by? My guess would involve a curriculum in which almost all student work is public and which involves a much closer engagement with the outside world. (Read Swarthmore Professor Tim Burke for related ideas.) More on that some other day. What is your guess?

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