|Columbia University Archives|
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Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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At a Glance
This collection is arranged in five series: Series I: Records of the School of General Studies, 1949-1998; Series II: Alumni Programs Office Records on General Studies, 1946-1969; Series III: Press Releases, 1946-1994; Series IV: Newspaper Articles & Publications, 1947-2004; Series V: Student Applications to G.S. Writing Courses, 1949-1954; Series VI: School of General Studies 1995 Reorganization, 1973-1999.
These records consist of a wide range of documents: reports, copies of speeches and articles by the Deans, university publications about the academic programs, history, and mission of the School and student publications, alumni office correspondence concerning General Studies and Alumni Association mailings, press releases, newspaper clippings, and student applications to writing courses. These records formed part of the Historical Subject Files, acquired or aggregated at unknown dates. Much of the material in the Subject Files—correspondence, newspaper clippings, invitations, press releases, and publications about the School of General Studies—was collected by the office of Harold Emerson, Assistant to the President and Vice President for Alumni Programs. The Alumni Affairs Office similarly collected materials about alumni programs, events, mailings to alumni, and publications, and the Office of Public Affairs compiled both Columbia press releases and newspaper clippings relating to General Studies news or new programs. This collection thus represents an assemblage from different sources.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.
This collection is located offsite. You will need to request this material at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
All administrative records of the University are restricted for 25 years from the date of creation.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); School of General Studies records; Box and Folder; University Archives, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.
See also the School of General Studies: General Studies Announcement (CX61), School of General Studies Bulletin (CX61 Ill), "General Studies Newsletter" (CX61 Q), "The General View" student publication (CX61 P14), In General, a student yearbook (CX61.P15), "Report to the Dean" (CXC C723), "Class Information" (CX61 I3). 80 Years of Education for Adults (CX61 EI44) outlines the history of adult education programs at Columbia. Adult Education at Columbia (CE1954 G286), part of the 1954 Bicentennial History of Columbia, places the first few years of the School of General Studies in the broader context of the University Extension. The Educational Future of Columbia (CE C7293)—the 1957 report of the President's Committee on the Educational Future of the University (often cited as the "Macmahon Report")—critiques the School of General Studies and outlines a different vision of it that led to important changes in its structure and programs.
Additions are expected.
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
This collection was arranged and described during Spring 2002, by Jeffrey Barton as part of an internship for the M.S.L.S. at Long Island University's Palmer School of Library Service.
Series VI was processed in 2018 by Rachel Klepper, consisting of files transferred from the Reid Hall Records (UA#0256) that were not related to the administration of Reid Hall. These files from the office of Frank Wolf, Associate Dean of the School of General Studies 1979-2006, pertain to the reorganization of the School in 1995.
2020-05-07 EAD finding aid (JR)
2022-02-11 Access note changed. Collection now stored offsite. (JR)
History / Biographical Note
The School of General Studies serves as the liberal arts division of Columbia for adults "dedicated to the belief that highly motivated [adult] students should have full access to the quality of instruction offered by the University," in the words of its 1992-1993 Bulletin. It was established as a separate degree-granting school of the University on July 1, 1947, in accordance with a vote of the Trustees on Dec. 2, 1946. General Studies was thus founded in part as a response to the post-World War II influx of returning veterans into the higher education system as "mature students" and it is one example of a broad expansion in educational opportunities that opened to them—and to others—during this period.
As first set up, the School of General Studies was administered by a director, Prof. Harry Morgan Ayres, and a board comprised of the deans of Columbia College and Barnard and representatives of other university faculties. In 1951, Columbia Trustees reorganized the School of General Studies as a college with its own faculty and dean; Louis M. Hacker was appointed as the school's first dean, having served as General Studies' director since 1949. Hacker had himself attended the University Extension—the predecessor of the School of General Studies— as a so-called "subway student."
The School of General Studies indeed traces its origins back to University Extension, which in 1904 began offering courses to part-time students, teachers and other professionals, and non-credit "extramural" courses to the general public. The early emphasis was on practical courses and vocational training, areas which did not conflict with the course offerings and liberal arts mission of Columbia College. In 1911, University Extension began offering courses on business-related subjects, and in 1916, the School of Business was organized with Extension Director James C. Egbert as its head. (From 1924 to 1955, the offices of the University Extension were actually housed in the School of Business.) In terms of attracting students, University Extension was a striking success by most accounts, and by 1926, it claimed some 10,000 students in its various courses and programs, including its "Home Study" courses—essentially correspondence courses—on a wide range of subjects.
While no longer offering extramural and correspondence courses, the School of General Studies continued this history of educational innovation at Columbia. From the beginning, General Studies programs were open to both men and women. Under its "validation" program, students without a high school degree or GED were admitted as matriculated students upon passage of a GS entrance exam. The American Language Program—a descendant of the University Extension's "English for Foreigners" program—continues as one of the country's oldest ESL programs. The School offered evening and weekend courses, geared to fit the schedules of adult students with full-time jobs or family commitments. While accommodations for the realities of "mature" students' non-academic lives are now seen as a given, they represent significant efforts at a democratization of learning at a time when higher educational opportunities were less widely available, especially to those with jobs or those simply older than "traditional" college students.
The mission of the School of General Studies has not always been regarded with complete consensus at Columbia. Different visions of its role in the University collided in 1957 with the publication of the Macmahon Report, which articulated the "proper function" of the School as one providing a "college education for adults" who had "missed" this chance "at a normal college age," rather than providing "adult education" per se and community outreach. The Macmahon Report called for drastic changes in the role of the School of General Studies and in its policies; among these: institution of more rigorous admissions standards and elimination of non-matriculated students, elimination of "narrowly vocational" courses, raising the minimum age of admitted students (to keep General Studies students distinct from those at Columbia and Barnard), and curtailment of many extra-curricular activities. In response, Louis Hacker resigned as dean, citing Columbia's "duty to serve" adults in its metropolitan community. (Among Hacker's other concerns: the large number of special students was seen a necessary source of revenue for General Studies, which derived its income entirely from student fees at this point.)
While not all the Macmahon Report's recommendations were implemented, it did cause significant changes in the School of General Studies, and the School continued to change and evolve in the following years. While Columbia continued to allow non-matriculated students in General Studies, the numbers declined considerably—from over 5,000 in 1957 to about 1,300 by the mid-1980s—and there were other changes too. In 1968, General Studies received the right to award the B.A. degree after much debate, having previously been limited to the B.S., and in 1986, it received permission to award an M.A. in Liberal Studies. Throughout its history, the School of General Studies has represented an important educational opportunity for many adults who might have otherwise been denied higher educational opportunities
Deans: Harry Morgan Ayres, 1946-1948; John A. Krout, 1948-1949; Louis Hacker, 1949-1958; Clifford Lord, 1958-1964; Clarence C. Walton, 1964-1969; Aaron W. Warner, 1969-1976; Ward H. Dennis, 1976-1992; Frank Wolf, 1992-1993; Caroline W. Bynum, 1993-1994; Gillian Lindt, 1994-1997; Peter J. Awn, 1997-2018; Lisa Rosen-Metsch, 2018-.