William H. GlassonDean William H. Glasson Directs Growth in Graduate Studies

The signing of the Duke Indenture in 1924 marked a dramatic departure for Trinity College but in some cases it simply greatly accelerated commitments already made. In graduate education the college had awarded masters degrees for decades but the nineteenth century MA. was almost honorary in comparison to the twentieth century research based degree. The commitment to modern graduate education was formalized in 1916 with the appointment of the first permanent faculty committee on graduate instruction. Unfortunately World War I erupted as the committee's recommendations were being implemented. Demand, however, was accelerated with the influx of postwar students. Thirty-five graduate students in 1923 represented a three fold increase over prewar enrollment.

A 1923 report of the committee on graduate instruction established a master of education degree in addition to the master of arts degree, required a written thesis for each with a defense before a faculty committee, and more clearly differentiated between undergraduate and graduate level instruction. The move toward graduate instruction with high standards was well underway when Trinity College became Duke University.

President William P. Few formally recognized the graduate program as a constituent part of the new university in 1926 with the appointment of William H. Glasson (right) as Dean of the new Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Glasson, trained at Cornell and Columbia, had been at Trinity as Professor of Political Economy and Social Sciences since 1902. Few and Glasson believed that, more than anything else, the Graduate School would determine the standing of the university in the educational world.

The two administrators were not disappointed by the spectacular growth in graduate enrollment. In the 1927-28 academic year, the Graduate School enrolled 128 students representing 48 undergraduate institutions and 20 states plus China. Glasson proudly proclaimed that "the Graduate School has a spirit and background far different from a merely local institution." He felt very strongly that the varied background of the students and the research emphasis of the graduate school contributed vitally to the academic atmosphere of the new university.

Perhaps more than anyone except Few, Glasson understood the importance of the interrelation of the component parts of the new institution. He had almost single-handedly achieved the awarding of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to Trinity College in 1919. He also constantly emphasized that the professional schools of the university would be vitalized and enriched by a research centered graduate school. To that end Glasson won approval for students in the medical school and departments of biology, chemistry and psychology to take each other's advanced courses.

The Graduate School experienced growth despite the deepening economic depression. In the spring of 1931 there were over 600 applicants for 27 fellowships and 21 scholarships and assistantships. Working closely with the Director of the Summer Session, Glasson scheduled graduate offerings in the summer term equal in quality to the winter academic courses. Such an arrangement employed faculty year around, enhanced choice by offering courses like travel abroad or field experience through botanical stations in the mountains or on the coast, and enabled students to earn credits faster, thus incurring less financial debt. In the summer of 1930, 447 of the 1,212 students enrolled, or 37 per cent, were degree candidates in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The institution awarded its first doctor of philosophy degrees in 1928 to Frederick Holl and Dean Rumbold in zoology. In 1929 Rose May Davis became the first woman to earn a doctorate when she was awarded the Ph.D. degree in chemistry. In the 1990s, Duke began awarding more graduate and professional than undergraduate degrees.

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© 1992. William E. King, University Archivist, 1972-2002.
This article is reprinted from If Gargoyles Could Talk: Sketches of Duke University by William E. King. Carolina Academic Press, 1997.