Wesleyan University

Wasch A conversation with author David Potts May 20, 2015


Wesleyan in the late 1950s and the 1960s powerfully exemplifies the trend toward university values of specialization in teaching and research. That period is sometimes referred to as the “golden age” of faculty mobility and influence. Many professors directed their attention to issues that affected their own professional development. A wave of federal and private-foundation funding for individual research, much of it sparked by the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, fostered heady times for the professoriate. It was a trend that greatly troubled President Butterfield’s concluding years in office. Butterfield’s understanding of a liberal arts education was strongly grounded in breadth as well as depth. He championed this idea with his College Plan. He was a strong proponent for an education that, particularly in the first two of the four years, fostered a commitment to social responsibility rooted in the study of the humanities and social sciences. Influential members of the faculty, meanwhile, began to question that emphasis. They wanted an early start for student acquisition of specialized knowledge in a major. These diverging views stirred debates that were not resolved until shortly after Butterfield retired.

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