Wellesley College: The Tunicata

Broad, Liberal Education Curtails Specialization

(The Tunicata are thin, lithe animals that move about the sea in their youth, investigating their surroundings. Then one day they grow fat, settle down on the ocean floor--never to move again--and reproduce.)

Wellesley College offers perhaps the finest terminal education in America; and both its virtues and defects arise from this fact. The College is able to produce a girl with a "broadly liberal" back-ground, yet Wellesley is a very tempting target because it does this so well.

The phrase "broadly liberal" comes from the college catalogue, which itself defines the emphasis: "limitation of the amount of specialization safeguards the broadly liberal purpose of the four-year undergraduate curriculum." This is a double-edged ideal; for, despite the increasing numbers of its graduates who go on to take higher degrees, Wellesley itself gently discourages the academic. The Wellesley girl may not be narrow; but on the other hand there is the danger which Malcolm Cowley pointed out in the Harvard of 1915--that "culture was something to be acquired, like a veneer."

The lack of concentration, of independent study, is reflected in the fact that of 70 senior English majors, only three are writing theses. This statistic does not necessarily indicate preference. At Wellesley students do not apply to write theses; they are notified of their eligibility, largely based on course grades, by a committee of the College.

Wasted Aptitude


Moreover, there is no tutorial; and want of focus can bring out the worst in a Wellesley education--a fine background, but no individual discipline worth attaching it to. Now this is a problem of most women's education--not just for oft-maligned Wellesley. Yet it seems more pressing for this college: for with its wealth of material: classes with a high average on the SATs, a low faculty-student ratio and a good endowment--it is geared to turn out enlightened, intelligent, and placid students. The waste provokes the maligning.

Now independent study is not a panacea guaranteeing intellectual curiosity; and mere mechanisms, such as a Harvard-type tutorial system or more theses, would effect little change. Wellesley is a small college and can operate on different systems than can a large university. There are few lecture courses. Most of the work is done in sections, and seminar courses--common for upperclassmen--offer opportunities for individual research projects. The facilities exist for more than a spoonfed, reading-list-and-1500-word-paper education. Only the desire is absent.

Attitude is elusive; one instructor at Wellesley, a Harvard alumnus, characterized it as a "cult of gentility." It is manifested in rules, in curriculum, and in the faculty itself. Smoking is permitted in the halls of Administration buildings--for visitors. Again, a recent student request to go to the college PX shop, The Well, after 10:00 curfew until it closed at 10:45 was turned down. According to a member of the newspaper, the Dean of Students objected that Wellesley girls should not be "living a life of whim."

About the curriclum, one faculty member asserted that it was too cut-and-dried, with little encouragement of exploration or treatment of sensitive topics. "They're usually leery of any topic that doesn't have a long critical bibliography," he added. Commenting on this, Professor Ferdinand J. Denbeaux, chairman of the Bible department (Biblical history is the only specific course requirement at the college), stated that suprisingly enough his discipline was the only one in the college which studied Freud.

Limited Thesis Choice

The passive quality of this scholarship constitutes another reason why the faculty as well as the students are unenthusiastic about the-sis writing. An editor of the Wellesley News felt that faculty members were unwilling to take on the extra work "unless they know the topic thoroughly." She gave an example of a girl who wanted to write a thesis on the effectiveness of propoganda in India. Unfortunately, no one in the Political Science department felt qualified enough to direct it, and the girl had to switch majors.

Wellesley recently has moved toward more independent study. This year classes have been lengthened from fifty minutes to an hour; they are scheduled fewer times weekly; and there are no Wednesday morning or Saturday meetings.

But this has not been done in the spirit of any drastic change. One dean, perhaps the move's strongest supporter, sees the modification merely as a slight improvement in teaching method. A member of the Administration, she would admit few defects in Wellesley to outsiders.

Rebels Without Causes

--No, she did not think there existed any Wellesley stereotype.