About Us: ExCollege History

Forty Years and Counting. What seems clear after nearly forty-five years is that, along with being a center for academic innovation, the Ex College is best known as a place where students and faculty work together on an equal footing. At present, the Experimental College offers over seventy credit-bearing undergraduate electives enrolling more than 1500 students annually. These courses are the result of a unique collaboration between faculty and student volunteers who interview all applicants and review course materials, thus playing a major part in the selection of a curriculum that, each semester, broadens and deepens the offerings in Arts and Sciences.

Establishment, 1964-1968. The first board of the Experimental College was composed of faculty members representing four different fields: engineering, social science, natural science, and humanities, with one member-at-large. Almost immediately after convening, the board broke from Tufts' tradition by including students in the decision-making process of the college. By the spring of 1966, the board unanimously agreed that its four student members be given full voting rights and that a two-thirds majority be required for all major decisions.

Among the students' contributions were a movement toward the inclusion of ad hoc "problem oriented" courses in the curriculum, and the restructuring of the traditional classroom to include peer teaching. It was also at the suggestion of a student board member that the Ex College invited its first visiting lecturer to teach at Tufts.

Student Activism, 1969-1973. "Relevance" in the classroom, a key demand in the student rhetoric of the sixties, conjures images of gradeless classes, courses on consciousness, and open classrooms. In the Ex College, "relevance" in the classroom was funneled into an explosion of peer-led classes and courses on contemporary political issues. Its flexibility and openness made it an ideal place to absorb students' political activity and demand for academic alternatives. The university's African American Studies and Women's Studies programs were started in the Experimental College during this period, as was one of its most successful innovations, Explorations, a student-led seminar program that combines advising and academics for entering students, initiated in 1972.

The Struggle for a Permanent Charter, 1974-1979. By 1974, the Experimental College continued to display a capacity for growth and innovation. From its first course on the contemporary European novel to interdisciplinary science courses, to women's studies classes, to seminars on communications and law, the Ex College was able to adapt to a changing student culture. It was through this strength that the Ex College won a permanent charter in 1979. An outside evaluating committee reached the conclusion that for the Experimental College "to have survived and flourished as an innovative, undergraduate educational enterprise was nothing short of remarkable."

Growth and Change, 1979-1993. Along with continuing to emphasize Tufts' commitment to undergraduate education through the testing of new ideas and courses, after 1979 the mission of the college took an important turn: developing and housing programs that did not fit well in the regular curriculum. Thus, the new charter meant that the Ex College -- along with testing such courses as American Sign Language, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, ethnomusicology, and jazz -- was now viewed as the appropriate venue for housing curricular innovations. This led to a decision on the part of the board to offer a special course intended to promote honest dialogue on campus, Race Awareness Within American Society. Moreover, the first two of a number of multidisciplinary programs, Peace and Justice Studies and Communications and Media Studies, were established as satellite programs. In 1990 the faculty approved independent status for Peace and Justice Studies, and it is now a major.

The attempt to have a positive impact on campus culture energized a group of student-friends of the Ex College who formed ACOIL (Advisory Committee on Intellectual Life), intended to foster the ideal of challenging oneself. Out of ACOIL grew EPIIC (Education for Public Inquiry and International Citizenship), yet another successful program, and now part of the Institute for Global Leadership.

The direction the Ex College embarked upon after 1979 hearkened back to the theme of its original charter: enhancing the undergraduate curriculum. In this spirit, the Ex College expanded its first-year programming during 1988 to include Perspectives, an alternative to the award-winning Explorations program. In 1991, the Ex College Board approved a proposal to make the program full-credit and base it on a survey of "the movies" as business and art.

Media, Technology, and the Future. In 1996, the Communications and Media Studies program, while continuing to be housed in the Ex College, won approval as an interdisciplinary minor. At almost the same time, the university embarked on a wiring project in the residence halls which, in turn, opened up the opportunity for educational access television on campus. After a three-year process of negotiation and study by the faculty, TUTV, the student-run, campus TV station, became another member of the Ex College family.

As we look toward the future, the Experimental College has assumed the mantle of being the oldest innovative center in the country within an established university setting. Does this mean we can afford to rest on our laurels? Hardly. We are at work on a number of projects that should help keep Tufts at the cutting edge of higher education.

In particular, the Ex College is taking the lead in the area of media technology on campus. TUTV, Perspectives, TuftsFilmWorks (our "digital cinema" production center), pilot versions of online courses in genetics and cultural history, and a new partnership with the Multimedia Arts program are all part of an initiative dedicated to providing students with the tools of both media literacy and practice as the digital revolution continues to change the way we live.

All in all, after forty-plus years, we know that the Ex College will "survive and flourish" as long as there are administrators, faculty, and students who truly care about the teaching and learning that happens at Tufts.

Download historical timeline of ExCollege courses and programs.

 

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