Encyclopedia Brunoniana

University Extension

University Extension, the offering of courses to the community outside the walls of the University, began two hundred years ago. Well before a formal program began, in 1785 Professor Benjamin Waterhouse gave a public lecture on natural history at the State House, and Professor Perez Fobes gave lectures on natural philosophy in 1790. Professor George Ide Chace gave lectures to Providence metal workers in 1853. The extension division was established in 1890-1891 with the appointment of Professor Wilfred Harold Munro as Director of University Extension. Munro, who was traveling in Europe at the time of his appointment, first made a study of the methods used in England. The next year the extension program began, and the people of Providence were offered without charge a series of 42 lectures on art, literature, religion, and science. Courses were also given in outlying areas such as Bristol, Newport, Woonsocket, and North Attleboro and Uxbridge in Massachusetts. These “centres” paid a fee of $100 for twelve lectures and the traveling expenses of the lecturer. One course, in practical physics, was held in Wilson Hall for the workmen of Brown and Sharpe Manufacturing Company. Two courses, one in political economy and the other in English literature, were given to the Irving Literary Club, an organization composed of young men mostly of foreign parentage in the north of Providence. About two thousand persons bought tickets for the 35 courses of lectures delivered by fourteen lecturers in sixteen cities. In his report for 1892 President Andrews set forth the purpose of the program:

“The Extension teaching lifts – this is perhaps its chief justification – lifts and enriches the mental life of teachers in academic, high, grammar and primary schools, who nearly everywhere form a large proportion of its recipients. It enables graduates and other educated people, young or old, to keep up their studies, and it does much to tempt them to do so. In many it arouses intellectual aspiration for the first time, and prompts them to gratify this by seeking a liberal education.... It is believed that neither in England nor elsewhere in this country has the Extension found such acceptance among the industrial classes as it has found in Rhode Island.”
If the lectures won acceptance, the examinations did not. In his 1893 report Munro stated that “except in the Laboratory Courses, the examination is not likely to play a very conspicuous part in University Extension in America.... the great American public has no desire again to undergo these afflictions of student days. It is quite willing to work but it does not care to be examined upon that work.” An exception was a young Providence woman, Mary Louise Brown, who that year was awarded a certificate, having passed seven examinations, which were said to be equal in severity to the regular University examinations.

During the academic year 1896-97 Arthur E. Watson delivered a series of night lectures on electrical engineering to “a class of practical men” in the electrical laboratory. The next year courses in pharmaceutical chemistry by Edwin E. Calder and pharmaceutical botany by Haven Metcalf were given in response to a suggestion by local pharmacists that a department of pharmacy be established in the University. Interest in the extension courses began to wane, and Munro, who had served as director for eight years without compensation, resigned, “convinced that the demand for University Extension Teaching in this region has been satisfied in so far as such a demand can be satisfied without a large (and of course at present impossible) endowment.” In 1906-07 university extension was reorganized under Professor Walter B. Jacobs with four courses, English, French, German, and history. Enrollment in the extension courses varied. In 1910-11, when nine courses of ten lectures each were given, registration which had been 250 the year before increased to 567. Jacobs was appointed Director of University Extension in 1915. In the fall of 1920 there were 811 registrations, with 132 enrolled for the new extension certificate conferring “associate in university extension” for sixty credits of extension work, estimated to be the equivalent of two years of regular college work. In 1923, 1,552 persons enrolled. A new feature that year, a university lecture course on topics of the day by well known faculty members held in the auditorium of the new Metcalf Chemical Laboratory, claimed the largest registration. In 1928 there was an extension course specifically for local dentists. When Jacobs retired as director in 1931, the courses had grown to sixty in a single semester, with an attendance of 3,500 persons. A large registration of Rhode Island teachers was attracted to a series of lecture-discussion courses sponsored jointly by Brown and the Rhode Island State Department of Education from 1950 to 1952. The series dealt with modern science, anthropology, international relations, civic education, and Russian patterns of conquest. The regular schedule of extension courses came to an end in 1971. The directors of University Extension who followed Jacobs were C. Emanuel Ekstrom in 1931, Gilbert E. Case in 1950, Hazel M. Woodmansee in 1960, and Charlotte Lowney Tomas ’57 in 1971.

Alumni College, a program designed to give the alumni a chance to return to the University and attend courses for a week in the summer, was first held in 1962. It was repeated in 1963 with great success, but was then discontinued apparently because the low fees had caused the University to operate the program at a loss. Instead Alumni College went “on the road,” bringing faculty members and lectures to the Brown Clubs across the country. The campus program was revived in 1972 under the name, “The Summer of ’72,” and has developed into the Continuing College, which offers a variety of programs designed to cultivate the alumni education. An annual Summer College for alumni is held on the campus for one week in June. Other one-day programs are presented in locations around the country, and during Commencement and Parents Weekends. Another offering of the Continuing College is the Brown Travelers series, which sponsors tours to other countries under the leadership of a member of the faculty.

Even though there were 1,213 people enrolled in 65 extension courses in 1974-75, University Extension was suspended in 1975 as part of the University’s solution to the fiscal emergency at that time. In 1982-83 evening courses were reinstated, and a limited number of classes were offered, all taught by Brown faculty, but the relatively high fees discouraged applicants and the program was not a financial success. In 1983 a new non-credit program, the “Brown Learning Community,” directed by Mark Curran, Dean of Special Studies, was begun. About eighty courses of public interest taught by Brown staff and other specialists were offered. A feature of the new program was the opportunity for interested persons to become a member of the Brown Learning Community for an annual fee and to receive in return a reduction in course fees, as well as access to libraries and lectures and a discount on the use of athletic facilities. The Brown Community for Learning in Retirement (BCLIR, sometimes called “Be Clear”) began as an offering of the Brown Learning Community, intended to give persons who would not be able to attend evening classes the alternative of collaborative education seminars during the day. The program is run by the participants, who recruit new members, decide what to study and act as teachers of the classes. The Brown Humanities Institute was established in 1985 to provide monthly seminars led by Brown faculty for the benefit of local senior executives from business, government, and non-profit organizations.