Summer learning

Summer school at Tufts a relatively 'new' endeavor

The first serious consideration to conducting a summer school under the auspices of Tufts College was given in 1902, when faculty opinion was solicited.

As early as 1898, some departments, most notably chemistry and biology, were conducting successful summer programs on their own. The biology department's early summer sessions, headed by Tufts biologist John Kingsley, were held at a marine biology laboratory that Tufts operated in South Harpswell, Maine, on the shore of Casco Bay. The bay yielded great quantities of marine life and the opportunity for students and faculty to conduct field research. During the first summer session in 1898, nearly 100 specimens were collected for the Barnum Museum back in Medford. The biology department operated the summer lab program through 1913.

Tufts biologist Fred Dayton Lambert, shown here with his wife, also a biologist, at the Harpswell, Maine, laboratory. Tents were used to provide additional accommodations for students and faculty during the busy summer months. Photo courtesy of University Archives

However, the initial consensus for a formal college-wide summer session was negative. But before the decision was made to continue the practice of allowing individual departments to offer courses (with the approval of the president and the chairman of the Executive Committee), almost every argument for and against summer school was aired.

On the plus side were "advertising the college, attracting to it teachers and others who might thus learn what we are trying to do and our facilities for doing it;" using a plant that ordinarily lay idle for a quarter of the year and helping "some of the instructors to add a few dimesĐpossibly dollars, to their incomes."

Among the arguments on the negative side were the extra expenses required by an augmented teaching force and the opening of the library and possibly the dormitories.

The most basic objection centered on the quality of the instruction. College credit had been allowed for degree candidates by precedent rather than by any formal vote. But if summer school courses were developed to any great extent, this policy might lead to trouble, "for there would be a tendency to lower the standards to the level of the non-matriculated students who might form the majority of the summer attendance." (It was pointed out that at the time, Harvard gave no credit for summer courses.)

After weighing the pros and cons, it was decided to continue the existing policy whereby those departments offering summer school courses assumed all financial responsibility and "quietly pocketed the profits."

It was not until World War II that Tufts went to a year-round academic calendar and not until 1945 that a regular summer school program was offered.

Editor's note: As the university celebrates its sesquicentennial this year, the Journal looks back at some of the history and traditions of Tufts. Material for this story was excerpted from Light on the Hill: A History of Tufts College, 1852-1952.