60 Years of the CGS Evolution

On the occasion of CGS’s 60th anniversary, travel back in time to its opening—and take a glimpse into its future with Dean Linda Wells.

Welcome, time traveler, to 1952 and Boston University’s new school, Junior College.

Before you settle in to the fabulous fifties and life at the forerunner of the College of General Studies, you can dispense with the following unnecessary items: your laptop (the College has a typing pool), your jeans (the BU dress code suggests slacks, shirt, and tie for gentlemen and blouses and saddle shoes for ladies), and your latte and donut (eating, like smoking, is confined to the cafeteria). In the year of Ike versus Adlai, Kay Starr’s chart-topping Wheel of Fortune, and the world’s first diet soft drink, you’re promised “a new kind of college—a new concept in higher education.”

But despite your starched shirt or puffy-sleeved blouse, what happens in the classroom might not seem so alien. As founding dean, Judson R. Butler writes in the 1956–1957 Student Handbook, at Junior College, a student’s “best friends are the teachers who comprise his ‘team,’” while “you’ll discover a general education program … which captures the imagination and which is a challenge to all-out effort, no matter how gifted you may be.”

Sound familiar? In the College of General Studies’s 60th anniversary year, those principles—team-teaching structure, small classes, and a tougher-than-many-give-it-credit-for interdisciplinary liberal arts education—remain.

Back to 2012

Current Dean Linda Wells says that while the “essence” might be the same, that first college, founded for World War II and Korean War veterans taking advantage of the GI Bill’s free tuition, “closed a long time ago.” In reality, it did. The original Junior College building at 688 Boylston Street, with its gleaming marble reception, is gone—demolished for an expansion of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. The name, too, is different: in 1960, Junior College became the College of Basic Studies and, in 1992, the College of General Studies. The dress code, typing pool, and smoking-permitted signs are all preserved in memory only.

And the faculty has been transformed, too. The staff listed in that ’56–’57 handbook—complete with home addresses and marital status—were often instructors, some with just a single degree; today’s faculty all hold PhDs and teach every class (no instructors or graduate students here). Wells remembers some “crazy people on the faculty” (sadly, she doesn’t name names) when she joined in 1980: “They were quirky and eccentric, but I thought, no, these are not going to be people for the long haul that students are going to remember for anything other than their craziness. The faculty we have in place right now are just top-notch.”

From GIs to GPAs

The students sitting on the other side of the room are—on paper—also a world apart. The class joining CGS in fall 2012 has an average GPA of 3.4. No longer the seen-the-world vets of the fifties or the high school underachievers with potential who sometimes made their way into BU via CGS in the following decades, the current CGS undergraduate is already “an achiever,” says Wells—and, she adds, that’s been the way for many years.

But, grade point averages aside, in her 30 years at BU, Wells has noticed a CGS type: “I think students who come to this College, still, tend to be kind of mavericks. They like being unique, and they like meeting other kids who are. They’re definitely drawn, always have been, to the international and cosmopolitan flavor of BU; that means they’re adventuresome.”

If you talk to alums from any era, including those who weren’t thrilled with being diverted from, say, the College of Arts & Sciences (that’s now an anachronism: seniors have to check CGS when they apply to BU to be admitted), those similarities are reflected in their memories.

“I think they will say they made their best friends here—even way back when,” says Wells. “The team structure gives them a sense of belonging. Most alums remember CGS in a way that they don’t necessarily remember their junior and senior years.”

Wells thinks current and future students will add an extra dimension to that narrative: “They’ll talk about the opportunities they had: ‘I got to study abroad,’ ‘I got to do undergraduate research.’”

The Next Big Birthday

What’s next for CGS? Will it celebrate a 75-year anniversary? And, if it does, where will it be and what will it be called? Given recent renovations to the lobby, classrooms, and study centers, it’ll probably still be at 871 Comm. Ave. But the name?

“We have wanted to change the name,” reveals Wells. “We just can’t set upon what.” The College of Integrated Liberal Studies? Too vague, perhaps. The College of Interdisciplinary Studies? With a hard ‘c,’ not the best acronym. But Wells does think a name change “might be helpful” in the College’s quest to “have more national visibility.”

The first step in that push was the 2011 opening of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning. Wells likens it to a research center at a hospital—a place to study and promote improved approaches to its primary mission: “The center will allow us to do a better job of teaching first- and second-year students, and a better job of communicating nationally and internationally the value of a liberal arts general education.”

It’s a value Wells believes is universal. In fact, forget the 75th anniversary; she’s confident CGS will celebrate its 120th birthday party in fine health.

“In 70 or 75 years, I imagine this college will still be here, just because what we offer seems to resonate with students and parents,” she says. “Classically educated students who know how to analyze, research, problem solve, speak and write well, and work both independently and on a team—sounds like a winning formula for a great job or career.”

So, time travelers, are you ready to ditch the ties and saddle shoes and join us in the future? Get in touch to attend the CGS 60th event in September 2012 to celebrate the past—and see more of what’s coming next. And don’t forget to share your memories of CGS in our comments section below.

11 Comments on 60 Years of the CGS Evolution

  • Linda’s comments are so revealing—-CGS has been the most meaningful experience throughout my educational history, including business, law and further graduate studies—but one doesn’t recognize it until much later in life. It is terrific to see CGS receiving the recognition it so righly deserves!!

  • As a former Student of the College of General Studies, I have solid positive memories of the College. Back in 1963, when I first started, it was the College of Basic Studies located in Copley Square. For someone like myself, the College allowed me to blossom and grow both intellectually and emotionally. The faculty then was solid. My most memorable and favorite professor was the late Aija Zarrella. She made work hard and her “bar” of excellence was high. She pushed me and supported me to always reach the next level. Her untimely death was difficult for me but her presence was always with me. As I pursured my college career and then graduate career and earning my Doctorate, I used my experience in my own college teaching career and management consulting work. The College will forever be a source of affection. Thank you.

  • I enjoyed Dean Linda’s presentation during the video. Boy, did the memories come flooding back to me. I was in the last class to be in Copley SQ and the first to bein the new building. My greatest academic experience at CBS laid the foundation to my later years of learning at BU.
    I loved that old building. The gym was a great place to blow off steam in between classes. I was a commuter and staying ahead of the tickets at the meters was always a challenge. I attended when we were considered underachievers and the Team concept was the best teaching environment at BU and is to this day. I too got pushed by Zagarella. What a teacher. I learned more in our “Ding Dong” school the anything taught later to me at CLA. (But maybe that is because on of my classes was at the Dug Out. One of my ironic moments came in the Marble my freshman year when I signed a petition supporting our president and his efforts to spread democracy in South east asia. One year later everyone became a peacenik and kids were throwing ROTC off campus. Yes! The times ..”they were achangin!”
    Oh, my brother-in- law was also one of those Veterans that came to BU only because of CBS and it changed his life too.
    Happy 60th CBS and thank you for letting me share my memories.

  • I entered the College of Basic Studies in 1967. The friends I made there I still have today. It was a wonderful experience that has stayed with me forever. So many of the instructors and professors had a solid impact on my education.
    I always enjoy reading about fellow alumni and would love to hear from anyone.
    Happy 60th!

  • Talk about being damned by faint praise. …..“ high school underachievers with potential.”

    I was blessed to attend CBS from 1965 through 1967 and to have the company of now life-long friends who probably take umbrage with the high school underachiever characterization as they have moved on to receive advanced degrees and have had successful and rewarding careers in business, government and education. Had we only known we were underachievers!

    Personally, I have always considered my high school as something of a high water mark among my achievements. It certainly eclipsed my vaunted military career, opening and editing a newspaper, working in law enforcement and owning a financial investigative firm for over twenty – five years. Why, I recall speaking with my business partner, a former IRS Special Agent, as we prepared to consult with BU’s General Counsel on a matter of some sensitivity and importance in the 1980’s, saying to him that this may well be the pinnacle of my under achievements!

    Removing tongue from cheek, we were fortunate to be the class that closed the Copley Square CBS and opened the building on Commonwealth Avenue. We were blessed to have professors who were able to see our growth within a team-teaching structure that integrated the several disciplines into an understandable whole.

    We may not have found Utopia but we knew we were learning from a caring and distinguished faculty; Mrs. Zarrella, who was able to correct our errors in our primary language having mastered English as her own second language, Mr. Fischtrom, who held a class spellbound with his rendition of one of the folk tales he would publish…”Wonder of wonders, the speckled egg.” We benefitted from Mr. Turrisi’s guidance through Humanities and Mr. Kent’s humanity in teaching Psychology that would, no doubt, lead some into careers in Guidance

    Both Mr. Fischtrom and Mrs. Zarrella passed far too young. My friends and I remember them fondly. We appreciate this opportunity to thank them and their families for their kindness, caring and superb teaching during our freshman year. The years at CBS stood us all in good stead. Thankfully, we had not realized BU’s perception of us as we arrived there as such underachievers!

  • I attended “junior College” from Sept.1955 thru June 1957.
    The “isolated” campus,other than SPRC,made for closer inter-student communications & relations. On mild autumn & spring days,the steps and sidewalk on Boylston Street became OUR campus,and on cold & inclement days,the Hall & stairs leading to the second floor,as well as the cafeteria became our meeting places. The Christmas/Chanukkah celebrations were especially nice, as all the religions,races & nationalities participated in creating a great holiday spirit.culminating as a festive performance for family & friends gsthering in Jacob Sleeper Hall.
    Thank you for the opportunity to tell and reminisce that wonderful time of my life!

  • I started at Boston University Junior College in the fall of ’59 and graduated in June of 1961. I have an Associate in Arts Degree.

    Ah! Good, ole’ JC. That is how we students referred to Boston University Junior College that is now the Boston University College of General Studies. We were then located on the corner of Boylston Street and Exeter, and Judson Butler was our Dean.

    Although we were away from main campus, we did not feel like pariahs because we were in the heart of the City with lots to see and do, and we felt very connected to our professors and what they had to teach us. We were part of a very supportive team.

    Our building was old and crumbling and peeling, but it was not without style. It was brick with a somewhat imposing entrance, complete with large pillars. I could not now tell you if they were Ionic, Doric or Corinthian. Perhaps they were none of these. I will go and look again at the old picture. It will take me back in time to the many occasions on which I sat on those steps with fellow students.

    The main lobby had back, granite floors and a large, flowing stairway also of granite. Much of that granite was broken and some pieces were missing. I have one “missing” piece that was given to me as a memento by a fellow student, whose name I wont mention. It still stands on my bookcase today.

    On occasion during lectures in the auditorium, pieces of plaster would fall on us from the ceiling. It was not life threatening, and one would just brush them off from their notebooks and shoulders, and continue taking notes.

    In warm weather the large windows were opened, and class instruction competed with city noises and construction of the Prudential Tower nearby. We learned, and we learned well, to the honking of horns and the rhythmic pounding of construction stabilizers, as the Tower was to be the tallest building yet built in Back Bay, and there were serious questions whether the filled land there could sustain a building so tall.

    I can still remember some of my teachers names: Mr. Snyder taught art. And, even though, I must admit to often napping in the darkened lecture hall when he turned down the lights and showed art slides, I passed his course with good grades and a never to be relinquished appreciation of art. Fortunately, at those times plaster never fell on me.

    Ms. Mooreland and Mr. Fletcher taught us how to write. Well, perhaps, you think I could use a refresher course, but, nevertheless, they taught us to think about words, how to put them together and state our ideas. I can still remember the basic writing rules: Introduce your case, expand upon it, giving good cause and ease on out! Make a beginning, middle and end. Each Monday we were to deliver a 500 word essay on some given topic. I can remember Sunday night around 11:00 trying to state my case meaningfully, and then counting to make sure I had fulfilled my quota of words. Using an extra “an” or “the” helped.

    JC intended to create liberal thinkers who would have questioning minds and a love of learning. I believe the college was very successful in doing so. I imagine the College of Basic Studies does the same good job of launching its students.

    I went on graduate from the Boston University College of Liberal Arts.

    When I grew up I worked in social services for foster care services in Boston and the Health Department and Vocational Rehabilitation in the Virgin Islands.

  • Amazing, wonderful feelings come to mind thinking about my time at Boston University’s Junior College learning so much with my Utopia team, class mates and caring faculty. Gosh, even the Lenox Hotel coffee shop is gone…no more Celtic players there either. Dean Butler was an extra fine gentleman, dedicated to all achievers and those challenged. The educational experience seemed more like three years crammed into two…really getting our money’s worth. It fully prepared me for the then named BU’s College of Public Relations and Communications, graduating with my journalism degree in 1963. (I think I received the last Associates of Arts degree at the Junior College.)

    Long retired, I look back with a sense of accomplishment in such professional/vocational fields of newspaper reporting, public relations, adveritising, and all aspects of marketing communications, prior to taking up a second career in medical practice business management in both private and academic settings.

    These days, operating a home farm in the northeast corner of Oregon, I reflect back and think how wonderful it is to keep track of BU’s continued academic achievements and the new directions being set by Dean Wells…thanks to the electronic technology of this new digital world so far removed from “1984″!!! To class mates…thank you for your help and friendship back then…and stay the course.

  • I was one of the ‘underachievers’ who earned fair to middlin’ grades in high school, but was able to get decent SAT scores and be accepted by CBS (CBS ’69; COM ’71). I had great teachers who motivated me to learn, met students from all over the world from whom I learned as much as I did in the classroom, and supportive administrators and staff who helped keep me on track for success. I’m a little disappointed that CGS brags to be no longer the refuge of ‘underachievers.’ I currently teach at a California community college (Mission College in Santa Clara), and I am proud to help students who, for one reason or another, do not attend a university (although our graduates transfer to Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Santa Clara U, among others). These students need a hand up, some guidance, and an opportunity to move forward, and I’m pleased to say we provide those things – just like CBS did for me.

  • In 1962, the world was quite different. While at College of Basic Studies we entered a war, lost a President, and listened to folk music in midnight coffee houses. The Jacob Sleeper building was old even then, and carried a dark rumor that back when it belonged to Harvard, there had been a murder. Yes, we met in “the Marble” and yes, we inhabited the BPL next door; which has moved into our old space. The Prudential building was rising, the first of many tall structures. Jackhammers pounding in its foundation forms caused plaster dust to sift down from one of our upstairs classrooms. The team teaching concept was new and vastly superior to what most of the students had experiences. The instructors were all original characters with interesting foibles and innovative methods. We loved them.
    We thrived under their care and learned more about the world than ever we had suspected. This inclusive approach to knowledge should be widespread, because it enabled us to comprehend the complexity of human life and not accept simple-minded answers to complex issues. It made my life richer and I count my participation in the program as one of the lucky breaks of my life.
    Thank you CGS for remaining true to your purpose.

  • I attended the college of Basic Studies from 1968-70. Aija Zarrella truly changed my life and was due at my house for dinner on the night she died. We waited. I knew something terrible had happened when I called and the phone had been disconnected. That night, we drove there and saw the remnants of her building. We went to the hospital, but I was not allowed to see her. “Only family,” they said. Little did they know how many of her students were her family. We cleared her apartment under the watchful eye of the fire department and left a bottle of wine on the fireplace ledge in her honor. We began the Aija B. Zarrella Memorial Fund to, using her favorite expression, “pass the bucket on.” It still exists, so if you can, please donate in her memory.

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