During spring term Dr. Kara Ritzheimer’s History 310 (Historian’s Craft) students researched and wrote blog posts about OSU during WWII. The sources they consulted are listed at the end of each post. Students wrote on a variety of topics and we hope you appreciate their contributions as much as the staff at SCARC does!
This post was written by Andrew Hare.
Oregon State University (OSU) today looks much different than it once did. Whereas now the university has a broad curriculum that includes the sciences, the liberal arts, engineering, and agriculture, there was a time, not long ago, when OSU did not, and federally could not, offer liberal arts curricula beyond basic services. When the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 designated Oregon State University to be one of seventy-six land-grant institutions, it did so with the intention of offering instruction in science, military tactics, agriculture, and engineering.[i] Additionally, in 1932 the State Board of Higher Education in Oregon determined that OSU, then known as Oregon State College (OSC), should focus predominantly on professional and technical curricula.[ii] This directive corresponded with the Oregon State System of Higher Education’s conviction that OSC not duplicate the liberal arts education offered at the University of Oregon.[iii]
The system of higher education in Oregon, alongside the rational of Oregon State College as a land-grant institution, is what prevailed until 1973 when the College of Liberal Arts officially began offering majors and degrees, ending the marginal status of liberal arts. Oregon State University did so despite more than 100 years of vocational and technical education. Such a shift in higher educational curriculum evokes the question: at what point did liberal arts curricula begin to become important and develop at Oregon State University?
One answer is found, in part, during World War II, a moment when liberal arts curricula increased to provide professional and technical students with supplementary coursework.[iv] A close study of wartime curricular changes at OSC reveals that increasing awareness of America’s international responsibilities and opportunities underscored the importance of the liberal arts. Oregon State College was not alone in this shift; many universities across the country found themselves implementing new liberal arts curricula likewise to prepare their students, illustrating a more dynamic concern for international preparation.[v]
This narrative centers on two key elements of archival documents: the yearly course catalogs the Registrar of Oregon State College published between the years 1941-1945 and the yearly curriculum coordination meetings that the university President, executive body, and Deans held during the years 1941-1945. The university publishes these course catalogs every year, and they provide information on numerous topics, including faculty numbers, course descriptions, and student enrollment (Figures 1 & 2).
The curriculum coordination meetings, meanwhile, document various proposals to change curriculum—either by adding or removing courses (Figures 3 & 4 below). Once each Dean had proposed their changes, the President, executive body, and each Dean would vote on whether to advance that change. The story of the liberal arts at Oregon State College in WWII begins in the catalogs during the years of 1944 and 1945 with the addition of new language and cultural survey courses.[vi] Further examination of the curriculum coordination meeting reveals that OSC administrators believed that courses would support students pursuing professional and technical majors.
On December 29, 1942, during one of the administration curriculum coordination meetings, Oregon State College Dean Ulysses DuBach, speaking for the Lower Division & Service Departments (now College of Liberal Arts), proposed Russian language and Russian culture be added to the university’s course offerings to address the “present world conditions,” noting “Russia will be of increasing importance” (Figures 3 & 4).[vii]
Only two years later in 1944, Oregon State College officially began offering Russian cultural studies and first/second-year Russian language courses.[viii] To instruct these new wartime courses, OSC hired four new faculty whose sole responsibility was to teach these new courses, a decision made partly to address the decrease in faculty as a result of the war.[ix] In another instance, Home Economics Dean Ava Milam relayed a story of a serviceman learning Chinese who had found work using his language skills, expressing the need for Mandarin language courses.[x] Dean Milam cited this example to champion the additional languages and expanded cultural studies at OSC.[xi] Administrators understood the necessity of liberal arts as a means of not only complimenting their students’ scientific and professional education but also preparing them to work within an increasingly globalizing world.
These instances of language and cultural studies at OSC during World War II highlight a much deeper conversation OSC administrators had throughout the war. Concerned with how to ensure that the college’s liberal arts curriculum did not overlap with the University of Oregon, but wanting to continue its development, President Strand debated with colleagues about the benefit of introducing a liberal arts associate degree, asking “would it be a good thing for Oregon State College?”[xii] Only months before, on November 4, 1943, each Dean in their respective college unanimously agreed that language arts remained a critical necessity for the future of their students’ success in technical and professional fields.[xiii] Two years later in 1945, President Strand addressed the College in his biennial report stating and reiterated the necessity of liberal arts education and the development of its presence at Oregon State College for its students.[xiv]
Across the United States, higher education universities and colleges followed a similar path of utilizing liberal arts curricula to prepare their students for an increasingly globalized world economy.[xv] As John W. Studebaker, U.S. Commissioner of Education, noted on February 13, 1942: “Isolation is gone for good in the United States.”[xvi] Studebaker made these comments not about the war effort, but about curriculum, predicting that the war would encourage more instruction on “world geography, economics, and foreign languages.”[xvii] Many universities added cultural surveys and courses about international organizations, foreign languages, foreign literature, and geographical analysis.[xviii] Additionally, institutions began offering courses in Japanese, Russian, and Mandarin, reflecting the increased presence of each nation-state participating in the war at the time.[xix]
Overall, the changes made to Oregon State College’s liberal arts curricula throughout World War II coincided with a national imperative to provide students with opportunities to succeed in a post-isolationist United States, now amidst an international community. Yet, Oregon State College remained unique in that it made such changes while attempting to fit within the designation of its Morrill Act and Oregon State Board of Higher Education vocational and professional education outlines.
The development of the liberal arts curriculum at Oregon State College throughout World War II and beyond illustrates a much broader connection the higher education institutions have with the events and necessities of the world. The introduction of Russian as a language course is only part of a much larger expectation that universities had during and after the war to address the beginning of a much more global world. Although administrators at Oregon State College attempted to not duplicate courses offered at the University of Oregon, they recognized and addressed the necessity for students to have an expanded curriculum available to them, one that would enable them to advance their goals and responsibilities after graduation. Since then, the importance of both a scientific and liberal arts education has been a foundational asset to higher education institutions. It is interesting to wonder how the curriculum of today will change to be the curriculum of tomorrow.
[i] William Robbins, The People’s School (Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2017), 1.
[ii] Robbins, The People’s School, 6.
[iii] Biennial Report of Oregon State College 1945–1946, 4-5, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 013, box 11, sub. 12.
[iv] “A Plan for Wartime,” April 26, 1942, item 60A-60F, Administrative Council Minutes 1941-1942 to 1945-1946, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 032, Box-Folder 2.4.
[v] Caroline J. Conner and Chara H. Bohan, “The Second World War’s impact on the progressive educational movement: Assessing its role,” Journal of Social Studies Research 38, no. 2 (2014): 7, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jssr.2013.10.003.
[vi] Oregon State College Catalog, 1943-1944, 105, 107, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Also available at https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx719v945; Oregon State College Catalog, 1944-1945, 105, 107, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Also available at https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx719v945.
[vii] “New Courses (Continued),” 1942-1943, item 1, Curriculum Committees Minutes 1933-1965, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, Microfilm RG 029, Reel-Folder 2.2.
[viii] Oregon State College Catalog, 1944-1945, 34, 43, 48, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon. Also available at https://oregondigital.org/concern/documents/fx719v945.
[ix] “Minutes of the Administrative Council Meeting,” December 15, 1943, item 56 and “Minutes of the Administrative Council Meeting,” December 15, 1941, item 9. Both available in Administrative Council Minutes 1941-1942 to 1945-1946, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 032.
[x] “Minutes of the Administrative Council,” November 4, 1943, 53, Administrative Council Minutes 1941-1942 to 1945-1946, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 032, Box-Folder 2.4.
[xii] “Minutes of the Administrative Council” February 2, 1944, 121, Administrative Council Minutes 1944-1945, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 032, Box-Folder 2.3.
[xiii] “Minutes of the Administrative Council,” November 4, 1943, 53, Administrative Council Minutes 1941-1942 to 1945-1946, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 032, Box-Folder 2.4.
[xiv] Biennial Report of Oregon State College 1945–1946, 1-2, SCARC, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, RG 013, box 11, sub. 12.
[xv] Virgus Ray Cardozier, Colleges and Universities in World War II (Westport: Praeger Press, 1997), 118-121.
[xvi] Macarena Solis, “Higher Education Adapts to the War,” World War 2.0, published February 13, 1942, https://blogs.shu.edu/ww2-0/1942/02/13/higher-education-takes-a-turn-in-result-of-war/.
[xviii] “Changing Courses: Classes and Curriculum During WWII,” CUNY Academic Commons Archives, Brooklyn College, https://countdown2030.commons.gc.cuny.edu/the-1940s/changing-course-classes-and-curriculum-during-wwii/.
[xix] Sarah Madsen, “The Impact of World War II on Baylor University’s Course and Program Offerings,” Baylor University, May 13, 1942, University Press Release; “Departments Announce New Courses,” Baylor University, February 25, 1947, The Baylor Lariat, 1https://digitalcollections-baylor.quartexcollections.com/Documents/Detail/the-baylor-lariat-waco-texas-vol.-48-no.-39-tuesday-february-25-1947/94438; “Ohio Includes Chinese in New War Curricula.” New York Times, Feb 1, 1942, https://www.nytimes.com/1942/02/01/archives/ohio-includes-chinese-in-new-war-curricula-more-than-60-courses.html.