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.