History of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

A Brief History of the Arts and Sciences

Elements of the Arts and Sciences have been part of Columbia University since its founding, and today Arts and Sciences is the University’s second-largest component.

  • Columbia College, originally established as King’s College, enrolled its first class in 1754.
  • Antecedents of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences can be traced to 1857, when the University began offering a curriculum leading to a master’s degree in letters, science, or jurisprudence.
  • The School of General Studies began as Extension Teaching, offering classes to non-degree students as early as 1891. It was restructured and designated the School of General Studies in 1947, in part to meet the needs of returning GIs following World War II.
  • The School of the Arts, established in 1965, has roots in Columbia’s first drawing classes offered in 1881, and the creation of the Department of Fine Arts (1921), School of Painting and Sculpture, and School of Dramatic Arts (1947).
  • The School of Professional Studies, founded as the School of Continuing Education in 2002 and renamed in 2015, has programs originally offered as early as 1900.

The Faculty of Arts and Sciences

In 1991, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was formally established as the organizational framework that unified the faculty across six schools. It was formed to be an administrative body to bring together the faculty of Columbia College, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of General Studies, School of the Arts, School of Professional Studies and until 2010, the School of International and Public Affairs under one roof.

During the late 19th century, the university advanced as a structure of separate schools and faculties defined respectively by the composition of the student body and the methodology or subject matter of scholarship. The structure we have today—an Executive Vice President who oversees the operation of five schools and is also Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences—is the result of decades of steps.

With the establishment of Columbia College in 1754, the university was built on a track of distinctions in academics with each faculty body advancing along individualized paths. Over many years, as departments of instruction and separate faculties multiplied, a struggle of deliberation on policy grew. For over a century, decentralization was the focal point of problems until a number of reports and committees were commissioned that recommended various structural changes. These recommendations bore not only a single faculty but also a shared leadership and governing committees that comprise the Faculty of Arts and Sciences today.