History of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences

The College of Liberal Arts & Sciences has always been an integral part of Jayhawk academic life. More than half of all KU alumni have received degrees in the liberal arts and sciences, and nearly two-thirds of KU students are enrolled in the College. Over the past century, the College has provided a stimulating educational experience through a variety of changes in curriculum and programs.

A KU Original

The College has been part of KU from the beginning, in one form or another. When the University of Kansas first opened its doors on September 12, 1866, classes started with just three faculty members. They led departments whose subjects continue to be mainstays in the College: Belles Lettres (fine writing) and Mental and Moral Philosophy; Languages; and Mathematics and Natural Sciences.

By 1887, the Department of Science, Literature and the Arts had been established. A few years later, in 1891, KU reorganized and established the next configuration of liberal arts, now called the School of the Arts. In 1904, the name was changed to one that has stuck for more than a century – the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Major offerings

Since 1887, when the College first began offering majors and minors, the curriculum and programs offered have undergone many changes.

The College started with 15 majors in 1887: Biology, Chemistry, English literature, French, German, German and French Combination, Greek, Greek and Latin Combination, History, Latin, Mathematics, Mineralogy, Philosophy, Physics, and Political Science.

Students in the College still have majors very similar to many of these to choose from, plus dozens more that have been added over the past century. The College now offers degrees in more than 50 departments, programs and centers.

Innovative Instruction

Many curriculum requirements that have been familiar to students over the years originated in the College, including Western civilization; principal courses in humanities, natural sciences and mathematics, and social sciences; and non-Western civilization courses.

One of the greatest challenges for the College came after World War II, when enrollment tripled in just three years. During that time, the College added faculty and redeveloped curriculum. Among the changes were classes to reflect the “coming of peace.” Instead of “Total War and Modern Society,” students now had classes such as “Survey of Soviet Culture” and “History of American Foreign Policy, 1776 to the Present” to choose from. The Western civilization Program was also created post-war, in 1945.

Principal courses in humanities, natural sciences & mathematics, and social sciences were introduced in 1959. Students also had to take English classes, speech, laboratory science, and a foreign language. Many of these principles of a core liberal arts education remain today.

In 1987, general education requirements were altered to encourage early and continuous enrollment in English and mathematics, and to add a non-Western civilization course requirement.

Growth Patterns

As the College has expanded, it has been responsible for establishing several notable programs at KU.

  • The Honors Program has carried on the legacy of Dean George Waggoner since 1955, when it was introduced as an opportunity to challenge gifted students.
  • International studies have a long history in the College. It started with the creation of the Center for East Asian Studies in 1959, followed by the Center of Latin American Studies in 1961, the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies in 1965, the Kansas African Studies Center in 1994, and the Center for Global and International Studies in 2008. All offer crucial resources to students and the region.
  • UKanTeach was established in 2007. The program is a collaboration between the College and the School of Education to increase the number of math and science teachers. Students earn a degree in science or math as well as a teaching license in four years.
  • In 2009, the new School of the Arts joined the College after a reorganization of the former School of Fine Arts. The reorganization added two new departments, Dance and Visual Art, and split the former Theatre & Film department in the College, into separate departments, Film & Media Studies and Theatre.
  • In 2011, the top-ranked Department of Public Administration was re-established as the School of Public Affairs & Administration to further solidify its reputation among top 10 programs, all of which are typically schools or colleges, not departments.  

Notable Moments

  • The first doctoral degree at KU went to a student in the College. Arnold Emch, a Swiss student in the Department of Mathematics, received the degree in 1895 for his thesis, “Continuous Groups of Collineation in the Plane.”
  • The Rock Chalk Chant got its start in the College. Chemistry professor E.H.S. Bailey came up with the chant as a cheer for the University’s Science Club in 1886. Bailey Hall is also named after this KU legend.
  • Helium was first detected by faculty in the College. Chemistry professors Hamilton P. Cady and David F. McFarland first detected helium in 1905. Previously, the element was thought to be only on the sun and in trace amounts in the mineral clevite.
  • The Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, established in 1965, served as the only central location for Soviet and East European research from the Mississippi River to the Sierra Nevada for nearly 30 years.
  • The Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, which first began offering a major in 1977, was one of the first 50 to be established in the United States.

Connect with the College
Home to 50+ departments, centers, and programs, the School of the Arts, and the School of Public Affairs and Administration
KU offers courses in 40 languages
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One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times