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Collection Overview

Princeton University. Commission on the Future of the College
Commission on the Future of the College Records
Princeton University Archives
Permanent URL:
3 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-3


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.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the records of Commission chairman Marvin Bressler. Included are correspondence, Commission meeting minutes, reports and statistics, reactions to the Commission's interim report, and surveys of undergraduates.

The minutes are from November 20, 1970 to October 1, 1972. Included in the minutes is the scheduling of six public meetings covering three broad topics: undergraduate education at Princeton: achievements, problems and prospects; the transition between levels of education; and education and economics. Each meeting began with a presentation that described the current situation, identified existing problems and offered resolutions. A synopsis of the presentations is given in the minutes. The March 9, 1971 minutes refer to admissions, curriculum, economic and creative arts subcommittees and their status. The curriculum subcommittee noted they were awaiting survey results from undergraduate representatives of each department.

In 1971 a survey of undergraduates was conducted by associate professor of sociology Robert A. Scott. Initiated by ten juniors in the Department of Sociology, the purpose of the survey was to allow these students to complete their junior papers and senior theses while also providing information for three faculty reports. The collection does not contain results or interpretations of this survey. Another survey, the Bressler Undergraduate Survey Project, questioned members of each class about future plans and solicited their opinions regarding examinations. Again, while there are questionnaires in the collection, there are no results. Newell Brown of Career Services conducted a third survey from 1964-1969. It focused on career plans of seniors but contains quantitative results only.


The collection is arranged in alphabetical order by topic: correspondence, Commission meeting minutes, reports and statistics, reactions to the interim report, and surveys of undergraduates.

Collection Creator Biography:

Princeton University. Commission on the Future of the College

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.

Collection History


Donated to the Archives by Marvin Bressler. The final report of 1973 was added in 2010 (AR.2010.010).


The Commission's final report is not included in the collection, however it can be found in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library under call number LD4582.9.P743 1973.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Carol Burke in November 2002. Finding aid written by Carol Burke in November 2002.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. The Trustees of Princeton University hold copyright to all materials generated by Princeton University employees in the course of their work. For instances beyond Fair Use, if copyright is held by Princeton University, researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of materials from the Princeton University Archives.

For instances beyond Fair Use where the copyright is not held by the University, while permission from the Library is not required, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Researchers are responsible for meeting the technical requirements needed to access these materials, including any and all hardware and software.

Credit this material:

Commission on the Future of the College Records; Princeton University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library
65 Olden Street
Princeton, NJ 08540, USA
(609) 258-6345
Storage Note:
  • Mudd Manuscript Library (scamudd): Box 1-3

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Related Materials

More information on the activities of the Commission on the Future of the College can be found in the Historic Subject Files under Committees: Commission on the Future of the College, and the Office of the President Records: Robert F. Goheen, 1957-1972. Please note: President Goheen's records are restricted until 2012.

Subject Terms:
College students -- Education -- 20th century.
Curriculum-based assessment -- United States -- Education.
Education -- United States -- Curricula -- Evaluation.
Educational change -- United States.
Princeton University
Princeton University. Commission on the Future of the College
Princeton university. Department of sociology
Bressler, Marvin