Douglass Scholars - Academic Reorganization at Douglass College: New Perspectives for a New Era - Suzanne Boyle, Douglass College '03

Libraries & Collections at Rutgers: Special Collections and University Archives: Towards a New History of Douglass College:
Academic Reorganization at Douglass College:
New Perspectives for a New Era

The 1981 academic reorganization of Rutgers University-New Brunswick was the climax of two decades marked by change. For Douglass College, especially, reorganization was the final hurdle in its tireless campaign to fortify its image and existence. Although reorganization targeted Douglass more directly than any other change to university infrastructure, Douglass responded most resiliently. As a result of the many prior threats to its survival, Douglass had worked diligently to strengthen and redefine its mission as a women's college. When subjected to scrutiny, Douglass had learned to mobilize quickly and efficiently in order to defend the principles of its mission. Thus, Douglass' strategic preparations against the detriments of change served to mitigate the gravity of academic reorganization as a negative force. In retrospect, it was reorganization that afforded Douglass the incentive to implement some of its own innovative curricular programs, update some of its more antiquated practices, and enter a new era.

Since the early 1960s, Rutgers University was plagued by the question of how to respond to rapid change. Demographics were changing and attitudes were evolving. A new-found interest in higher education pushed university enrollment projections to burgeoning figures. With the size of the student population in New Brunswick expected to double by 1970 and triple by 1980, university administrators found it imperative to reevaluate the structure of the university and explore methods of accommodating the increased enrollment.1 Several committees formed and folded, all polarized over how to efficiently remodel the university without greatly infringing upon the identities of the long-established, independently-functioning liberal arts colleges - Douglass and the "Colleges for Men" (i.e., Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Agriculture, and Education), later to be known as Rutgers College. Along with gaining the former Camp Kilmer grounds from the federal government in 1964 and proposing to build additional colleges there, the university toyed with the idea of academic centralization. A strong contingent felt that there was danger in Rutgers University remaining a cluster of autonomous liberal arts colleges during the expansion project. Thus, there was a strong push to dissolve the segregated system and centralize the academic infrastructure university-wide. However, leading the resounding opposition to centralization efforts was Douglass College. Refusing to comply with proposals that might disrupt their cherished college autonomy, Douglass was a primary force in halting a major centralization project during the 1960s. Rather than centralizing, the university reverted back to its old ways by issuing the Federated College Plan in 1965.2 The plan called for "five independent colleges, each with a separate budget, a separate dean and faculty, and a separate campus."3

Though Douglass was able to elude the first wave of reorganization threats, it was not long before another issue placed the survival of Douglass College in jeopardy: coeducation at Rutgers College. After heated debate and several trips to the Board of Governors for approval, Rutgers College opened its doors to four-hundred and seventy-five women in the fall semester of 1972.4 This decision struck a chord of discontent with the majority of Douglass faculty and students. Douglass Dean Margery Foster denounced the decision, viewing it as an immediate threat to Douglass' enrollment, and as a long-term threat to Douglass's identity as a single-sex institution within Rutgers University. She vehemently defended the positive attributes of a women's education, citing increased opportunities for leadership and opportunities for study of the sciences and social sciences - two disciplines considered to be of a non-traditional nature for women.5

To Douglass, coeducation at Rutgers College was a subtle ultimatum to prepare a defense for its existence. Although coeducation did not directly threaten to change life at Douglass, its potential ramifications did. It brought a threat of reduced admissions, and subsequently, a slipping sense of purpose for the college within a rapidly transforming university. Choosing not to let their college flounder, the Douglass community united to strategize for the changing times. "Douglass will remain a women's college," proclaimed Jewel Plummer Cobb, a cell biologist who assumed the Douglass deanship after Margery Foster's resignation in 1975.


Jewel Cobb, undated

"Douglass is clear and unambiguous about its mission as a woman's college."6 In defining this mission, Douglass's course of action was to implement special curricular and co-curricular programs that would increase opportunities and enrich instruction in areas in which coeducational schools could not afford to cater to their women students.

In 1979, the question of academic reorganization at the university reentered the limelight. Once again, the prospect of academic centralization was under serious consideration, and thus, a careful evaluation of the Federated College Plan proved necessary. As a result, university Provost Kenneth Wheeler devised a "Committee on the Review of the Academic Organization in New Brunswick," in order to weigh the pros and cons of the Federated system.7 The committee incorporated perspectives from a diverse cross-section of current faculty and administrators. After careful analysis by the committee, Wheeler finalized a decision to implement a Faculty of Arts and Sciences in the fall semester of 1981. With the introduction of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the faculties of the individual, federated liberal arts colleges (i.e., Douglass, Livingston, and Rutgers College) were no longer affiliated with one particular college. Instead, all of the faculties were integrated into a single, large unit known as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). The dean of FAS would "oversee issues of faculty appointment, budget, curricular design (at both the graduate and undergraduate level), student advising, and teaching."8 The individual academic departments (e.g., physics, political science, and mathematics) were relocated to centralized locations across the New Brusnwick-Piscataway campuses. Wheeler's objective in establishing the FAS route was to achieve better communication and allotment of resources within the academic departments. At the same time, the implementation of FAS kept certain aspects of the Federated system intact by allowing for the individual liberal arts colleges to maintain their own campuses, admissions standards, and core curriculums and mission statements.9

Because the academic reorganization of 1981 dissolved the Douglass-specific faculty, it appeared to be the heftiest blow to Douglass's campaign to survive in the changing university climate. However, due to the complicated sequence of events that preceded the implementation of FAS, Douglass was very much prepared for the transition into its new state of existence. Both the centralization debate of the 60's and the coeducation debate of the 70's had threatened the college's autonomy, and as a result, the Douglass community had redefined its mission and tightly adhered to it. Therefore, contrary to what might be expected, Douglass responded with amazing resiliency to the reshuffling of the university infrastructure.

The best illustration of Douglass's resilient response to the implementation of FAS was the success of the Douglass Fellows. Formed in the late spring of 1981, the Douglass Fellows were comprised of voting members of the former faculty "who, as a group, (constituted) the governing body of the college."10 It was the responsibility of the fellows to make executive decisions involving Douglass-specific academic programs, requirements for general honors, requirements for graduation, advising and student life, and curriculum for college mission-related courses.11 One-hundred and fifty members strong, Provost Wheeler cited Douglass as being "on the forefront of the collegiate units designing their organization, establishing standards and directions for the college, and initiating selected activities."12 The Douglass Fellows provided a means for faculty members, who were truly dedicated to the Douglass cause, to remain active contributors in helping shape the Douglass mission, despite the dissolution of the Douglass-specific faculty. One of the most successful endeavors by the Douglass Fellows was the further development of the Douglass Scholars Program. Instituted in 1979, the program was an opportunity unique to Douglass students. Its prominence was noted in the Douglass College Planning/Allocation/ Accountability Report for 1978-1979:

Douglass College has led Rutgers University, New Brunswick in the establishment of the first Scholars Program. It is a four-year program, giving four-year, full, no-need tuition scholarships to ten candidates. The program establishes a freshman independent seminar for two semesters, sophomore tutorials, junior and senior honors projects.13

Fellows improved the Scholars Program by offering to teach special seminars, and by "supervising sophomore tutorials and junior independent study projects."14 They also organized a series of co- curricular lectures for the college, including one entitled "Women Achieving in the Eighties."15

In addition to the immense success of the Douglass Scholars Program, Douglass implemented numerous other programs with the goal of offering special advantages to its women. Many of these programs contained a career-oriented component that gave students experience within a desired career field. They included a Federal Summer Intern Program, a science management program, a journalism and urban communications intern program, and the Associate Alumnae Externship Program, a program that allowed current Douglass students to shadow a Douglass alumna in her place of work for a week during winter or spring break.16

Not only did reorganization promote strong curricular programs within the internal structure of Douglass, it also promoted academic improvements that were external to Douglass. Under FAS, Douglass students, and Rutgers University students at large, were offered a richer selection of academic courses. As indicated by associate professor of mathematics Amy Cohen, "the new FAS catalogue (provided) impressive evidence of the breadth and depth of instruction available (at Rutgers)." Prior to the formation of FAS, Cohen, as well as many other faculty members, saw inequities in the courses offered by the individual liberal arts colleges. "The undergraduate math offerings at Douglass were impoverished by comparison with those at Rutgers College," she noted.17 Now, all Rutgers University students had a comprehensive and standardized program of studies.

In the wake of academic reorganization, frenzy had finally subsided at Douglass College. Although it was a hectic journey, Douglass truly emerged from reorganization as a stronger unit. The effects of reorganization allowed Douglass to coin the catch-phrase that crystallized its new and improved reputation: a supportive women's college within a major research university. "Douglass College (is) a place where students have the academic and career advantages of a women's school while still enjoying the opportunities for coeducation at the other divisions of Rutgers University," read a 1980 Douglass recruitment brochure. "This (life at Douglass) is having your cake and eating it too!"18 Just as the same brochure boasted the slogan "New Women for a New World," Douglass itself was beginning a new life in a new university. Ultimately, despite the ominous and stressful features of academic reorganization, it was a necessary catalyst for upgrading Douglass College to a level that has served it successfully ever since.

Suzanne Boyle
Douglass College '03

1 Richard P. McCormick, Academic Reorganization in New Brunswick, 1962-1978: the Federated College Plan (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1978), p. 2.

2 Ibid, p. 13.

3 "Reorganization - Part I: The Administration View," The Bulletin, Fall, 1983, p. 1.

4 Susan L. Poulson, "'The Uses of Women for the Education of Men': The Coeducation Debate at Rutgers, 1960-1972," New Jersey History 116 (1998): p. 73.

5 Ibid, pp. 68-69.

6 Pamela R. Lach, "The Survival of a Women's College: Douglass College and Reorganization," Mabel Smith Douglass Thesis (1998): p. 11.

7 Ibid, p. 20.

8 Ibid, p. 27

9 Ibid, p. 29.

10 "Reorganization - Part I: The Administration View," The Douglass Bulletin, Fall, 1983, p. 2.

11 Ibid,

12 Ibid,

13 Memo, Jewel Plummer Cobb to Kenneth Wheeler, September 1, 1979. Douglass College. Planning/Allocation/Accountability Report, 1978-1979. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

14 Planning/Allocation/Accountability Report, 1980-1981, p.47SC/UA

15 Ibid, p. 48.

16 Brochure, "Career-related Experiences at Douglass", 1979-1980. Douglass College. SC/UA.

17 "Reorganization - Part II: A Faculty View," The Douglass Bulletin, Fall, 1983, p. 1.

18 Brochure, "Douglass College: New Women for a New World," 1980. SC/UA

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