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Founded in 1851 as the College of Arts and Sciences of the North-Western University, what is now named the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences is the oldest, largest, and most comprehensive of Northwestern’s undergraduate schools. Today the College enrolls more than half of all Northwestern undergraduates. The inaugural class, which met for the first time in November 1855, consisted of ten young men, each of whom was required to be at least fifteen years of age. While women were not admitted to the University until 1869, by 1900 women represented fully one-half of Northwestern’s undergraduate student body.
In the 1850s the College offered two courses of study: a classically-oriented Bachelor of Arts degree and a more practically-focused Bachelor of Science degree. The curriculum for a Bachelor of Arts degree followed the English collegiate model of the time, consisting primarily of courses in ancient history and literature, mathematics, and Greek and Latin. Candidates for the Bachelor of Science degree studied courses such as French and German, chemistry, physics, anatomy, and an even larger dose of mathematics.
From 1851 to 1900, the College evolved under the growing influence of coeducation, public land-grant institutions, the German research model of university education, and the introduction, in the early 1880s, of elective courses. In the first half of the 20th century, the period of social, political, and economic upheaval punctuated by the Great Depression and the two World Wars also had a profound impact on the College. The most important change was a shift away from the freedom of electives to a more prescribed “core” curriculum that reaffirmed the values of liberal western democracy as taught in increasingly popular courses in Western Civilization.
The imperatives of the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik promoted the view that the natural sciences were of vital importance to the nation and resulted in increased attention to these subjects within the College’s curriculum. In the 1970s, the emphasis on interdisciplinary study that distinguishes the College today took shape in response to changing conceptions of human knowledge. Three examples of such interdisciplinary courses include the American Studies program founded in 1974, the Integrated Science Program, which began in 1976, and the Mathematical Methods in the Social Sciences program, which was introduced in 1978.
In 1991, as the 20th century neared its close, the College confirmed its sense of purpose through a strategic plan that stated that the College’s mission was to “provide a superior undergraduate liberal arts education” characterized by both breadth and depth of learning. Today, in the 21st century, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences remains true to this mission, with students choosing majors from among 25 departments and 28 academic programs across the humanities and fine arts, social sciences, and natural sciences and mathematics.
Drawn from a three-article series on the history of Weinberg College by William N. Haarlow titled “What Students Studied and Why: The College Curriculum,” which appeared in three editions of Crosscurrents magazine: Spring, 2004; Fall/Winter, 2005-2006; and Fall/Winter, 2008-2009.
At Weinberg College, we prepare our students to lead lives of significance—whole lives well-lived through which our graduates realize their fullest human potential. Such lives are characterized by intellectual curiosity, professional success, a commitment to social justice and equity, and a love of life-long learning.
Ask a Weinberg student what makes a Weinberg education distinctive, and she will typically point to the College’s robust arts and sciences curriculum, the opportunity to take applied courses through the University’s professional schools, cultural values that emphasize a balance between action and reflection, and the College’s deep commitment to undergraduate research and experiential learning.
The College aims to help our students understand the world and the variety of ways they might engage it. Our students learn how to think logically, speak and write persuasively, analyze and weigh data from a variety of sources, and organize their ideas into innovative solutions. They come to appreciate the value of listening with an open mind, which helps them collaborate more creatively with others. Finally, they learn how to influence others and assess the risks and opportunities that come with assuming leadership responsibilities in their professional lives.
As graduates of Northwestern University’s largest and most diverse undergraduate school, Weinberg alumni pursue careers as varied as entrepreneurs, actors, physicians, playwrights, scientists, lawyers, scholars, social activists and executives—in other words, individuals who excel in the creative arts as well as in academic, for-profit, not-for-profit and government enterprises.