Biography and History

The Commission on the Future of the College, formed on October 19, 1970, was allotted two years to review the state of undergraduate education at Princeton. The Commission, appointed by President Robert Francis Goheen and funded by the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, was charged with examining the shifting line between formal and informal education, including learning experiences that had heretofore not been part of the curriculum.

With the recent changes to the curriculum to make it more responsive to the individual student–such as independent studies in which students could combine more than one discipline–there was a growing need to re-examine the general direction of undergraduate education. Bressler suggested the formation of a commission and was appointed its chair. Nine non-administrative faculty members served: James Billington '50, professor of history; David Bradford, assistant professor of economics; Karen Brazell, assistant professor of East Asian studies; William Hall '50, assistant professor of psychology; Daniel Seltzer '54, professor of English; Arnold Levine, assistant professor of biochemical sciences; Thomas Nagel, associate professor of philosophy; William Schowalter, professor of chemical engineering; and Sam Treiman, professor of physics. Also lending their contributions to the effort were six undergraduates (Peter Cole '72, Marion Humphrey '72, Marsha Levy '73, Jerome Raymond '73, David Schankler '72, Mark Smith '71), and rounding out the 19-member Commission were ex-officio members William Bowen, professor of economics and public affairs and provost of the University; Neil Rudenstine, associate professor of English and dean of students; and Edward Sullivan, professor of French and dean of the college.

As noted in their first meeting on November 20, 1970, the issues involved in re-evaluating the curriculum ranged from the relationship among secondary, college, and postgraduate educational plans and goals to the investigation of the teaching process itself. An April 29, 1971 memorandum from Bowen to Bressler suggested that the Commission consider a three-year degree option. This idea became a major focus of the Commission and led to their interim report. Another recommendation of the interim report was the proposal of specially designed Exploration and Discovery courses. The content would be determined by its capacity to excite the imagination, its intrinsic importance, and its utility in either the humanities or the sciences.

The final 86-page report entitled The Report of the Commission on the Future of the College, published in April 1973, stated that the normal duration of the undergraduate study would remain at four years but that the student should have the flexibility to enroll in graduate courses if qualified, or have partial advance standing through advanced placement (not to exceed the equivalent of a full year of academic work). Another recommendation was the encouragement of self-development. The Commission argued that education should be related to a student's actions, thought, and character, and stressed that interdisciplinary courses needed to be encouraged in order to enable students to attain this goal. They recommended the establishment of a Council on Arts and Sciences that would have scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences who could advise the students in interdisciplinary fields. At the beginning of the junior year, a student could opt to do upper-class work under the guidance of the Council instead of within a single department.

Source: From the finding aid for AC186

  • Commission on the Future of the College Records. 1970-1973 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC186

    The Commission on the Future of the College–known also as the Bressler Commission–was charged in October 1970 with assessing Princeton's undergraduate curriculum. The collection contains Professor Marvin Bressler's records as the chair of the Commission. The collection is comprised of internal and external correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, and student surveys. Bressler was a member of the Department of Sociology at Princeton University from 1963 to 1993, and for twenty years served as its chairman.

  • Commission on the Future of the College Records. 1970-1973 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC186

    The Commission on the Future of the College–known also as the Bressler Commission–was charged in October 1970 with assessing Princeton's undergraduate curriculum. The collection contains Professor Marvin Bressler's records as the chair of the Commission. The collection is comprised of internal and external correspondence, reports, meeting minutes, and student surveys. Bressler was a member of the Department of Sociology at Princeton University from 1963 to 1993, and for twenty years served as its chairman.