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#WVU150: At the heart of education

Arts and sciences disciplines date back to West Virginia University’s 1867 founding. The first faculty taught mental and moral science, ancient languages, English literature, mathematics and military tactics, and philosophy and natural science, the curriculum that (except for military science) composed the College of Arts and Sciences when it was established in 1895. 

From the beginning, students played a significant role in influencing the curriculum. For instance, in 1888, students advocated for the inclusion of natural history because of its importance in West Virginia’s history. In 1895, students requested the addition of political science to learn the principles of good citizenship. During the space race of the 1950s, student demand for science and math courses skyrocketed.

When the University’s electives system, modeled after Harvard University, was created by President Jerome Hall Raymond in 1899, the College of Arts and Sciences was the primary source of the courses because of its great variety of disciplines. Raymond called this system, “the most important principle in education” because it was “based upon the proposition that no two people are alike; that any attempt to make people alike must result in total failure, and would prove a calamity to the race.”

 While Raymond had great faith that students would follow their best interests in choosing their electives, his successor, President Daniel Boardman Purinton, felt the electives system provided students too little structure. The modifications that followed returned WVU, and the College of Arts and Sciences in particular, to a stricter curriculum.

 Curriculum continued to diversify in the early 1900s, with the additions of biblical studies, botany, public speaking, and zoology. All but one of the first women faculty members were hired to teach in the College of Arts and Sciences, offering courses such as domestic science, drawing and painting, history, library science, and sociology.

 WVU replaced the electives system with a general education curriculum in the late 1950s under President Elvis Stahr, Jr. It was revamped in 2002 to emphasize clear reasoning, effective communication and contribution to society. In 2015, the GECs were replaced with the General Education Foundations, providing students with more flexibility.

 Over the years, regardless of the changes to the structure of the University’s electives systems, the Eberly College remains at the heart of general education—offering all students a foundation in the humanities, natural sciences and social sciences. Today, the Eberly College provides 60 percent of all undergraduate education at WVU. 

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