In 1921, Franklin S. Harris was appointed president of Brigham Young University. During his first visit to campus, Harris articulated his vision for the future of the young institution. He said, “The President of the Church Commission of Education, and all who have anything to do with Church schools are determined to make this ‘the great Church University.’”President Harris had a different vision about what it meant to be “the great Church University” than did his predecessors. While they had focused on the importance of teacher education, Harris believed that the institution needed to equip students with the skills to become leaders in the academy, the government, civic organizations, and the Church. This was a radical reconceptualization of the role of Brigham Young University that would have a far-reaching impact.
President Harris recognized that if Brigham Young University were to truly become “the great Church University,” several things had to occur. He told the student body and faculty during his initial visit to campus, “We want to make this institution the greatest on earth. . . . We want more buildings, more equipment and a greater faculty; but first of all, we want to establish pre-eminent scholarship and leadership.”It is evident from his focus on scholarship and leadership that Harris was already envisioning the steps necessary for Brigham Young University to be recognized by the fraternity of colleges and universities.
As the first president of the university to hold a doctorate, Franklin S. Harris understood better than his predecessors what it meant to be officially recognized as a college or university. He had experienced firsthand the difference in quality between BYU and accredited schools in terms of the faculty, research opportunities, laboratory equipment, and physical plant. He had also experienced the importance of being able to transfer credit from one institution to another—something not easily done by unaccredited schools such as Brigham Young University. Harris had completed his collegiate studies at Brigham Young University in 1907, and, after working at the Utah State Agricultural College for a year, had matriculated at Cornell University in 1908 to pursue a doctorate in agronomy. Upon completion of his doctoral degree, Harris had returned to the Utah State Agricultural College as a professor of agronomy. He quickly assumed leadership roles at the college and was even considered for the presidency of the Agricultural College in 1916.
Accepting the presidency of Brigham Young University had not been an easy decision for Harris. He was well respected by his colleagues at the Agricultural College, and he enjoyed the work he was doing in agronomy. He was also concerned about the fact that BYU was a university in name only. Harris discussed the nature of the university with John A. Widtsoe and other trusted colleagues before deciding that Brigham Young University had the potential to become a real university.Harris came to BYU understanding that much needed to be done to realize this goal.
Harris spent the first few months of his presidency developing a plan to help the university achieve its potential and articulating the importance of leadership in this plan. Harris’s focus on leadership resonated with Church leaders, including James E. Talmage, Heber J. Grant, and John A. Widtsoe.The importance of their support for Harris’s vision was recognized by members of the Brigham Young University Board of Trustees. Susa Young Gates, a board member, commented in a letter to Harris, “I joy in the knowledge that you have Dr. Widtsoe, that great-visioned man, and President Heber J. Grant, the inspired Prophet of the Lord, behind you in all your plans and developements.” Harris’s educational ideas also found resonance with Elder David O. McKay. Harris didn’t just articulate his vision of Brigham Young University’s potential to Church leaders, but he also consulted with prominent Latter-day Saint scholars about how to improve scholarship on campus and how to create an academic structure that would meet the needs of a growing university. Toward the end of May, Harris began publicizing his plan with an article in the student newspaper, White and Blue, and explained the steps needed to enable BYU to reach its full potential. They included creating a strong library, improving the caliber of the faculty, establishing a research division to aid faculty with their scholarship, and developing an extension division to expand the services of the university. Harris was careful to point out that the growth of the university needed to be slow and steady so that it would last.
President Harris had recognized early that in order to reach his vision Brigham Young University needed to be accredited. In 1921, the university still resembled its immediate predecessor, Brigham Young Academy, in structure and course offerings. The academy had been founded in 1875 as an educational institution dedicated primarily to elementary and secondary education. It had begun offering college-level courses in 1892 under the direction of President Benjamin Cluff Jr.Although the academy changed its name to Brigham Young University in 1903, by 1921 the institution still had a heavy focus on elementary and secondary education. For the 1920–21 school year, there were only 438 college students enrolled at the university. The college enrollment for 1921–22 was slightly higher at 666.
The Development of Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary activity in the United States and has its roots in the Progressive Era’s urge to associate. To this day, cooperative and voluntary relationships between institutions are an important part of the American higher education landscape. John R. Mayor has defined accreditation as “the recognition accorded to an institution that meets the standards or criteria established by a competent agency or association.”The major purpose of accreditation is to ensure that institutions claiming to be colleges and universities meet accepted academic standards. The formation of accrediting associations was an attempt by colleges and universities to form cooperative relationships. The first national association of higher education was the Association of American Agricultural Colleges and Experiment Stations, and it was formed in 1887 to help the land-grant schools established by the Morrill Act of 1862 to obtain federal funding. Although the purpose of this association was limited, the potential of banding together as institutions was quickly recognized. Associations with the express purpose of establishing standards for admission to and the transfer of credit between colleges and universities soon began to develop.
Institutions voluntarily chose to participate in the accreditation activities of these new associations because “there [was] a large price to pay for those who [did] not [participate] in areas such as recognition by other organizations, public perception, and funding support.”The way accreditation developed in the United States is a direct result of how American higher education itself developed.
American higher education can trace its history to European predecessors. A brief discussion of some of the characteristics of those European predecessors is helpful in understanding how the voluntary nature of accreditation developed. The earliest known institutions of higher education emerged in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Europe. These institutions featured “that machinery of instruction represented by faculties and colleges and courses of study, examinations and commencements and academic degrees.”These early universities were “meeting places of students and masters drawn together by a common desire for learning.” To a remarkable degree, these early universities were “self-governing as well as self-respecting.” As these institutions matured and developed across Europe over the next several centuries, the concept of self-governance became extremely important. This model of self-governance was eventually transplanted to the New World and complicated the development of standards for measuring the educational offerings of colleges and universities in America.
From its inception in the seventeenth century, “American higher education has never been forced to conform to any one uniform pattern of organization, administration, or support.”Each college and university established its own criteria for admission and graduation. These criteria were often direct reflections of the missions and purposes of their founders—typically religious organizations. Religious organizations were one of the major driving forces in the expansion of higher education in the United States.
Following the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783, the higher education system in the United States experienced phenomenal growth. The number of colleges grew from nine at war’s end to thirty-three in 1815. Twenty years later there were sixty-eight colleges, and by 1848 there were one hundred thirteen.This tremendous growth would only accelerate toward the end of the nineteenth century and resulted in the formation of accrediting associations in an effort to help standardize entrance requirements for colleges and universities and to facilitate admissions decisions.
These efforts were a direct response to the growing number of institutions calling themselves “colleges.” As early as 1870, the United States Office of Education had undertaken the task of publishing a list of recognized colleges. They defined a college as “any institution that was authorized to grant degrees and that had college students in attendance.”The first list produced included 369 institutions. This was an astonishing number considering that the United States was less than one hundred years old. It also represented nearly a tripling of the number of institutions of higher education in a little over twenty years. The report clearly demonstrated that there was little regulation of the institutions and that any institution wishing to call itself a college or university could do so. Accrediting associations, particularly regional ones, developed to fill this regulatory gap. They aimed “to promote good relations between secondary schools and higher institutions and to improve college admission standards and requirements.” The first association to develop procedures for accrediting colleges and universities was the North Central Association in 1895. It was followed by the first national association, the Association of American Universities, in 1900.
The Association of American Universities consisted of fourteen institutions that offered advanced or graduate studies.Its major focus was “the conditions under which students might become candidates for higher degrees in American universities or might receive advanced credit in one institution for work done in other institutions.” It was also interested in ensuring that American students hoping to study in German universities would be able to have the work they completed in American institutions recognized overseas. The association achieved this aim in 1905 when the faculty of philosophy at the University of Berlin agreed to “recognize the bachelor’s degree of American universities as the equivalent of the German Gymnasium’s Maturitätszeugnis, but only if taken at a member institution of the association.”
The Association of American Universities was further interested in defining, and defending, what it meant to be a university. The founders of the association agreed with most academics, who felt that a university was “a complex institution including liberal studies for the bachelor’s degree, a faculty committed to research, and training of advanced students in research and preparation for the professions.”They believed “it was not simply the doctorate and graduate study that needed protection. The very name university was at risk. Under the multiple chartering practices of states, territories, and (notoriously) the District of Columbia, that name had been given in response to nothing more than considerations of convenience or high institutional ambition. Now interested persons could at least inquire whether or not a certain university belonged to the AAU.” The Association of American Universities was the only accrediting association that operated nationally, and it continued to accredit undergraduate institutions into the 1940s. In 1948, a proposal was made to the organization to expand its accrediting function to graduate institutions. This proposal was considered by the organization’s governing body and soundly rejected. By early 1949, the decision was made to get out of the business of accreditation entirely.
Other associations also began developing accrediting procedures in the early twentieth century. These associations typically had a regional geographic focus. These regional associations had similar aims to the Association of American Universities and the North Central Association. They fully intended to define and defend what it meant to be a college or a university according to their constituencies. These associations included the Southern Association in 1917, the Middle States Association in 1919, and the Northwest Association in 1923.
All of these associations developed accrediting procedures that had four major components: (1) the establishment of accreditation criteria, (2) the inspection of candidate institutions by authorities to ensure that they met these criteria, (3) the publication of a list of institutions passing inspection, and (4) the periodic review of member institutions to ensure that they continued to meet the accrediting criteria over time.Institutions listed on the accredited lists of the regional associations and the Association of American Universities were recognized as peers of other accredited institutions, with the same rights and privileges. Accreditation helped define whether an institution was a college or a university and facilitated the transfer of students between institutions—particularly for the purpose of graduate study.
Harris Pursues Accreditation
Franklin S. Harris and the faculty of Brigham Young University understood that the first step to becoming the “great Church University” was for BYU to be accredited by the Association of American Universities or one of the regional associations. In August 1922, with the blessing of the university community, President Harris began a letter-writing campaign to four accrediting associations. They were the American Council on Education, the University of California, the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools, and the Association of American Universities.
American Council on Education
President Harris began his campaign with a letter to the American Council on Education. In his letter, Harris asked about “the steps that must be taken by an institution such as ours to be considered for a place on the accredited list.”The director of the American Council on Education, Samuel P. Capen, wasted little time in responding to Harris’s request for information. Capen explained to Harris that the American Council on Education was not a formal accrediting body and that it served to coordinate the activities of institutions of higher education. He also informed Harris that “Brigham Young University could not, unless the Council should change its rules, become an institutional member until it is accredited by the University of California or by some regional association functioning in the area in which the University is situated, as the North Central Association does in its part of the country.” Brigham Young University needed to be accredited by one of the regional associations before it could be placed on the American Council on Education’s list of accredited schools.
University of California
Acting on Samuel Capen’s suggestion to seek accreditation from the University of California, President Harris’s secretary, Kiefer Sauls, sought contact information by writing to Wilford J. Merrill of the Utah State Agricultural College. He noted, “The papers of a few days ago reported the placing of the Utah Agricultural College on the University of California’s accredited list. I wonder if you could give me the name of the official in California to whom correspondence should be addressed regarding the accrediting of this institution.”Upon receiving the desired information, President Harris wrote to A. O. Leuschner in April 1923. He asked for “information as to what it is necessary for an institution to do in order to become accredited, since I wish to make application on behalf of the Brigham Young University.”
President Harris’s letter was forwarded to Charles B. Lipman, Dean of the Graduate Division at the University of California, who responded in early August 1923. Lipman’s response was far from positive. Lipman wrote, “There being so few students who come here from your institution as graduate students we do not feel that we are in a position to go to the considerable cost, financial and otherwise, of a full review of the conditions for study and the curricula at the Brigham Young University. We deem it best to consider every case on its own merits and, therefore, shall continue to do so until other arrangements can be made.”Harris was not pleased with Lipman’s response and wrote to Adam S. Bennion, superintendent of Church schools and then a student at the University of California, asking him to “stop over and see Dr. Lipman, as there is really no sense in the world in their not putting us on their list. The work that we do for the undergraduate is so much better than that done in the mammoth universities that this holding of us up seems to be without rhyme or reason.” Harris was convinced that “there would be no doubt about our being put on their list” if Dr. Lipman “understood the situation here.” Harris fired off another letter to Dr. Lipman on September 8, in which he wondered why “our students should be given a lot of unnecessary inconvenience in taking up graduate work at the University of California.” Harris even offered to pay for any costs associated with reviewing Brigham Young University for accreditation. Dr. Lipman replied to President Harris’s letter in late September with a long list of reasons why the University of California would not accredit Brigham Young University. He pointed out that Brigham Young University’s admission requirements were not as stringent as the University of California’s; that the library was extremely limited; that credit was offered for theology for missionary work, which was “contrary to anything which we have at this institution”; that there wasn’t a clear distinction between upper-level undergraduate courses and master’s degree courses; and that the number of freshmen on campus did not create the “proper atmosphere in which to prepare students for graduate work.” Dr. Lipman closed his letter by assuring Harris, “I will do everything I can to give a full measure of recognition to all the work which is done at your institution.”
Dr. Lipman’s criticisms hit home. Harris was most concerned by the references to admissions requirements and the caliber of the library. Brigham Young University did have less stringent admissions requirements than the University of California—particularly with regard to conditional students. Students could be admitted to the university as conditional students if they could “present . . . an official transcript of credits that they [had] completed 13 units of approved high school work,” and if they registered for sufficient secondary work, they could become regular students within one year.This was one of the things that had concerned Harris when he was asked to become president of the university. Lipman’s criticism of the library was also accurate. The library was housed in an overcrowded room in the Education Building and contained less than twenty thousand volumes. Early in Harris’s presidential tenure, the Library Committee had complained that “the librarian and her assistants are embarrassed because of insufficiency in library space and insufficient shelf room to place the books that the institution is daily receiving.” Lipman was also correct that there was no clear distinction between upper-level undergraduate and master’s degree courses.
Harris recognized that the points Dr. Lipman had made were accurate, and the matter seemed dead. In spite of his efforts, the University of California continued to decline to accredit Brigham Young University and continued to cause “unnecessary inconvenience” to those students who desired to pursue graduate work in the University of California system.
In January 1924, Harris received a letter from Dr. Lipman indicating that a representative of the Association of American Universities would be coming west in the next several months and suggesting that Harris contact the association about having Brigham Young University inspected.Harris was pleased to respond to Dr. Lipman, saying, “I wish to thank you for your letter of January 16, in which you call attention to the committee on inspection of the Association of American Universities. Several months ago the committee wrote saying they would like to send a representative here and we arranged for this at the time so we expect Dr. Robertson of the University of Chicago to be here for the Association as soon as he can make the rounds.” Harris also pointed out that Brigham Young University had successfully been accredited by the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools and that it was now on the accredited list of the American Council on Education.
Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools
Following the rejection by the University of California, Harris turned his full attention to receiving accreditation from the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools (hereafter the Northwest Association). Harris struggled to find someone who could give him information on becoming accredited by the Northwest Association.His original letter requesting information about accreditation was directed to Leonard V. Koos, who referred him to W. M. Kern. On September 5, 1922, Harris wrote W. M. Kern and was told to contact Philip Soulen. Harris then wrote Philip Soulen on September 8, 1922, and was relieved when Soulen replied on September 11, 1922. He informed Harris that he was indeed the secretary for the Northwest Association and that Harris’s request for information had “been forwarded to Dr. Frederick Bolton of the University of Washington, Seattle, who is our examiner of colleges applying for affiliation.” Not wanting to take any chances, President Harris decided to write directly to Frederick Bolton. His mid-September letter included a request for information on becoming accredited by the Northwest Association as well as copies of Brigham Young University’s annual catalog.
Brigham Young University’s initial movement toward accreditation began with Frederick Bolton’s September 19 response to President Harris. Bolton stated that he would “be glad to take steps to have the University inspected for the purpose of becoming accredited.” However, Bolton also stated, “Just when it will be possible to inspect your institution I cannot say.”Harris conveniently ignored this statement in his reply, expressing enthusiasm that the Northwest Association was willing to consider accrediting Brigham Young University. Harris wrote, “We shall be glad to have you come at any time that is most convenient for you, either next week or the period in October you spoke of.” Harris and Bolton eventually agreed that Bolton would come to examine the university in early October.
Bolton’s decision to apply the Northwest Association’s accreditation procedures to Brigham Young University pushed the organization outside of its geographic boundaries. The Northwest Association had been established to serve the states of Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Realizing that the Northwest Association’s bylaws did not preclude admitting institutions from outside the Northwest region, Bolton decided to review Brigham Young University’s application to be accredited.
On October 7, 1922, Harris received a Western Union telegram informing the campus community that Frederick Bolton would “arrive about nine thirty [and] remain today only.”Harris and the faculty would have one day to convince Dr. Bolton that Brigham Young University deserved to be accredited as a college. They were successful in their efforts. President Harris was able to report to Adam S. Bennion, superintendent of Church schools, in late October, “Several weeks ago we were visited by an inspector, Dean Bolton of the University of Washington, representing the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools. He was very highly pleased with the institution and said he would unqualifiedly recommend us for entrance into the Northwest Association.” In early November, this impression was confirmed when Bolton wrote, “I assure you that I enjoyed the day with you very much and I appreciate the many courtesies extended me by yourself and Mrs. Harris and members of your faculty.” He further stated, “I shall recommend that your institution be placed on the accredited list of the North West Association. Of course, I cannot guarantee that my recommendation will be followed but there is every probability that it will.” In the same letter, Bolton enclosed an application for Harris to complete.
The application that Harris submitted to the Northwest Association was for accreditation as a college, not a university.The association defined a college as an institution “with a four-year curriculum with a tendency to differentiate its parts in such a way that the first two years are a continuation of, and a supplement to, the work of secondary instruction as given in the high school, while the last two years are shaped more or less distinctly in the direction of special, professional, or university instruction.” To meet the requirements for accreditation by the Northwest Association, Brigham Young University had to demonstrate that it met the following criteria:
1. A college should demand for graduation the completion of a minimum quantitative requirement of 120 semester hours of credit (or the equivalent in term hours, quarter hours, points, majors, or courses), with further scholastic qualitative requirements adapted by each institution to its conditions.
2. The size of the faculty should bear a definite relation to the type of institution, the number of students and the number of courses offered. For a college of approximately 100 students in a single curriculum the faculty should consist of at least 8 heads of departments devoting full time to college work. With the growth of the student body the number of full time teachers should be correspondingly increased. The development of varied curricula should involve the addition to further heads of departments.
3. The training of the members of the faculty of professorial rank should include at least two years of study in their respective fields of teaching in a recognized graduate school. It is desirable that the training of the head of a department should be equivalent to that required for the doctor’s degree, or should represent a corresponding professional or technical training. A college should be judged in large part by the ratio which the number of persons of professorial rank with sound training, scholarly achievement and successful experience as teachers bears to the total number of the teaching staff. Teaching schedules exceeding 16 hours per week per instructor or classes (exclusive of lectures) of more than thirty students should be interpreted as endangering educational efficiency.
4. The minimum annual operating income for an accredited college should be $50,000, of which not less than $25,000 should be derived from stable sources, other than students, preferably from permanent endowments. Increase in faculty, student body and scope of instruction should be accompanied by increase in endowment. The financial status of each college should be judged in relation to its educational program.
5. The material equipment and upkeep of a college, its buildings, lands, laboratories, apparatus and libraries and their efficient operation in relation to its educational progress, should also be considered when judging an institution.
6. A college should have a live, well-distributed professionally administered library of at least 8,000 volumes, exclusive of public documents, bearing specifically upon the subjects taught and with a definite annual appropriation for the purchase of new books.
7. A college should not maintain a preparatory school as part of its collegiate organization. If such a school is maintained under the college charter it should be kept rigidly distinct and separate from the college in students, faculty, buildings and discipline.
8. In determining the standing of a college emphasis should be placed upon the character of the curriculum, the efficiency of instruction, the standard for regular degrees, the conservatism in granting honorary degrees, the tone of the institution and its success in stimulating and preparing students to do satisfactory work in recognized graduate, professional, or research institutions.
9. No college should be accredited until it has been inspected and reported upon by an agent or agents regularly appointed by the accrediting organization.
These standards were regarded as “ideals stated as objectively as possible. They were considered as guides rather than inflexible rules no one of which could be violated without invalidating the entire set of regulations.”Of these criteria, only three were firm. The institution had to “require for entrance, graduation from a secondary school of four years beyond the eighth grade,” it had to require “four years (120 semester hours or 180 quarter hours for graduation),” and it could not allow “secondary school students in the same classes with college students.”
Brigham Young University had little difficulty in meeting the majority of the requirements for accreditation. The school required 183 quarter hours of credit for graduation,and the course catalog for 1922–23 lists over thirty departments. The university received an appropriation of $167,700 for the 1922–23 school year from the Church School Commission, and it owned around $30,000 of laboratory equipment, which was adequate for instructional needs. It also had about 30,000 bound volumes in the library. The major issue for both the Northwest Association and Frederick Bolton was the quality of the faculty. In 1922, the majority of the faculty held only a bachelor’s degree. Only seven faculty members held a doctorate, and five of those faculty members had been recruited to the university by Harris during the previous year. Harris had recognized early that strengthening the university’s faculty was one of his most important tasks. He encouraged faculty to take sabbatical leaves to upgrade their educational qualifications, stipulated that all new hires needed to have at least a master’s degree, and initiated a campaign to hire faculty who held doctoral degrees.
Frederick Bolton recognized the potential of Brigham Young University and understood that Franklin Harris had put into place a plan that would enable the university to reach its potential. Bolton wrote to Harris, “You are already accomplishing excellent things and the vision that you have of the future augurs well for the development of still better things.”It was on the basis of this potential that Bolton recommended that Brigham Young University receive accreditation from the Northwest Association.
Franklin S. Harris and the faculty of Brigham Young University had to wait five months to find out if the board of the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools would accept Frederick Bolton’s recommendation. Word finally came on April 7, 1923, that the board had unanimously approved Bolton’s recommendation and that Brigham Young University was now an accredited member of the Northwest Association. Bolton wrote to Harris, “It is with especial pleasure that I write you that the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools approved my recommendation that Brigham Young University be placed on our accredited list. I am sure that your University merits the recognition and will be a creditable institution in our group of approved institutions.”
Association of American Universities
At the same time that Harris was waging a successful campaign to become accredited by the Northwest Association, he continued his efforts to get Brigham Young University accredited by the Association of American Universities (AAU).Harris was aware of the fact that the University of Utah had received accreditation from the Association of American Universities in 1922, and he understood that the AAU had a very strict definition of what it meant to be a university. In 1908, the Association of American Universities had defined a university as having “a creditable graduate school and, at a minimum, one professional school that required at least a year of collegiate work for admission, with the professional degree taking not under five years.” They had adopted the Carnegie Foundation’s list of colleges in 1913, “including colleges barred from the Carnegie pension program only because of religious connections.” Harris was confident that Brigham Young University would meet the requirements for being accredited as a college by the Association of American Universities and hopeful that the institution would meet the requirements for a university.
On September 5, 1922, Harris wrote Kendrick C. Babcock, chair of the association’s executive committee, asking for information on how Brigham Young University could become accredited by the AAU.Babcock replied in late September by sending Harris a “memorandum of procedure advised for institutions seeking inclusion in the accepted list of the Association of American Universities.” In late October, Harris sent Babcock a packet of information to “assist your committee in adequately evaluating the work of the Brigham Young University.” Harris also mentioned that Frederick Bolton had visited campus earlier in the month representing the Northwest Association and that the visit had been very positive.
Harris waited six months for a reply from Babcock. In April 1923, Harris wrote, stating, “On October 30 I sent you facts regarding the Brigham Young University together with a letter of application to be included in the Association’s list of accredited institutions. . . . I am wondering if it reached you and if there is anything further that should be done by the institution here.”He further informed Babcock that BYU had been accredited by the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools. Babcock replied to Harris’s request for information, stating, “The application of Brigham Young University for inclusion in the accepted list of the Association of American Universities is still pending. No final decision was reached at the meeting in Baltimore in November.” He also informed President Harris that he was no longer chair of the Committee on Classification and that future correspondence should be directed to Adam LeRoy Jones.
In November 1923, Adam LeRoy Jones wrote President Harris to inform him that the Committee on Classification had recently decided to send David A. Robertson of the University of Chicago to visit Brigham Young University.Jones also informed Harris that BYU would be responsible for the costs of the visit. Harris replied in early December that the institution was “glad to have Dean Robertson of Chicago inspect the Brigham Young University” and that he had already sent the check covering the costs to A. H. Lloyd of the University of Michigan.
Dean Robertson visited BYU in April 1924 and issued his report to the Association of American Universities on May 1, 1924.Robertson’s report was extremely thorough. It reviewed admission requirements and their administration, graduation requirements and their administration, the faculty and their educational qualifications, the finances of the institution, the physical facilities, the library, the laboratory equipment, the curriculum, and the graduates and their accomplishments (particularly as related to graduate education). Given the positive tenor of Robertson’s report, Harris was cautiously optimistic that the Committee on Classification would accredit Brigham Young University.
President Harris and the BYU community were deeply disappointed to receive Adam LeRoy Jones’s letter in late May indicating that “the Committee decided to postpone action for the present.” Jones listed several reasons why the committee was not prepared to accredit the institution. They included the facts that the course catalog listed “a good many courses which were not actually given,” that the number of conditional students was too great, that the faculty’s qualifications were inadequate, and that “the laboratory expenditures were hardly adequate to the number of students receiving laboratory instruction.”These were some of the same criticisms that had been leveled by Charles Lipman of the University of California and Frederick Bolton of the Northwest Association, and the university was already working to correct them. Harris responded vigorously to the Committee on Classification’s decision. He wrote Jones in June, explaining that the course catalog had been adjusted to reflect only the courses offered, that the issue of conditional students had been dealt with, that the issue of faculty qualifications was “gradually being cared for,” and that the institution was working to improve its laboratory expenditures. Harris also stated, “We have here a much better institution than it is thought to be by people who are not acquainted with the real service it renders.” Harris clearly felt that the Committee on Classification had not taken the true measure of Brigham Young University. He was mollified a little by Jones’s response to his letter. Jones wrote, “The Committee will, I am sure, be interested to know of the progress which you are making and will hope, at some no distant date, to be able to consider favorably a renewed application from Brigham Young University.”
After taking his time to digest Robertson’s report and to carefully consider the Committee on Classification’s decision as well as Jones’s response to his letter, Harris wrote David A. Robertson in July 1924 to commend him “on the very comprehensive statements which you have made. I believe it to be absolutely fair in every respect and to explain our situation here in a clear way.” Harris also took the opportunity to argue that Brigham Young University should receive accreditation from the Association of American Universities. He wrote, “I feel we have the things necessary for giving first class under-graduate courses,” and “our under graduates should not be in any sense penalized. As a matter of fact our individual students are receiving the fullest consideration and after they attend an advanced institution all their credits are being accepted.”Harris clearly was not ready to concede defeat. His letter to Robertson sparked an interesting conversation about how Brigham Young University was attempting to meet the accreditation standards of the Association of American Universities.
Robertson wrote Harris in September, asking for more information to use in strengthening his report to the Committee on Classification. “Will you be good enough to let me know of any improvement in library, laboratory or personnel? I shall present my report finally to the Committee on Classification at its meeting early in November.”Harris was more than happy to comply with Robertson’s request. He wrote back stating, “In August the Church Board of Education appropriated money for the construction of a thoroughly modern library building on University Hill. . . . The building will not only house the library but will furnish additional class and office room.” He further informed Robertson that the university had become the new home of the Deseret Museum and its natural history collections, that the catalog had been adjusted to reflect the courses actually offered, that several faculty members were working to improve their qualifications, that the university’s entrance requirements had been strengthened, and that the physical facilities of the institution had been improved. He also mentioned that the university’s financial position was stronger than had been stated in the first draft of Robertson’s report due to the fact that an endowment given to the university by Jesse Knight had not been included. Harris hoped that this additional information would tip the scales in favor of Brigham Young University. Unfortunately, it was not enough for the Committee on Classification to take immediate action.
Harris would spend the next several years working vigorously to improve the qualifications of Brigham Young University. In the late fall of 1925, four years into his presidency, Harris put together a report entitled “A Program for the Brigham Young University.” The report was prepared at the request of Adam S. Bennion, superintendent of Church schools, and outlined the steps that President Harris felt needed to be taken to put the university on a more solid footing. It also reflected the inadequacies that had been highlighted by the Association of American Universities’ decision to not accredit Brigham Young University. The report highlighted the progress made in improving the university and enunciated a plan for future development. It underscored what Harris recognized as the university’s greatest needs—needs that had to be met before his goal of having the institution accredited by the Association of American Universities could be realized. Those needs were “(1) An improved faculty, (2) More adequate scientific equipment, and (3) More books in the library.”
The most pressing problem was improving the quality of the faculty—a problem Harris had recognized in 1921 and had already begun to deal with. Harris targeted faculty recruitment as the best place to start and initiated efforts to ensure that new faculty would meet the standards of the accrediting associations. This meant that all new faculty members should “hold at least a master’s degree.”As mentioned previously, Harris realized that the qualifications of the existing faculty needed to improve as well, and he established a sabbatical program to allow them to upgrade their educational qualifications. Both of these programs proved very successful in raising the caliber and educational background of the faculty.
The problem of adequate scientific equipment was one felt keenly by President Harris, a scientist himself. Although Dean Robertson had declared that “the equipment is adequate,”Harris worked diligently and creatively to improve the quantity and quality of scientific equipment available to students and faculty. In his “Program for Brigham Young University,” Harris pointed out that “the modern institution must have the apparatus of the modern world.” He strongly suggested, “The next half dozen years should see large sums spent to bring the departmental equipment up to standard.” Later in the report he pled with the Church Board of Education to increase the university’s annual appropriation to the institution from $200,000 a year to $300,000 a year in a gradual manner over six years. Harris felt that an “increase of this magnitude would make it possible gradually to bring the department equipment up to where it should be” as well as ensure that the university could continue to improve its physical facilities and the quality of its faculty. Unfortunately, the Church’s poor financial position did not permit an increase to the university’s appropriation for most of the 1920s and 1930s. This meant that President Harris had to scrounge for additional funding for laboratory equipment—which remained “adequate” rather than improving.
Strengthening the library had been one of the main goals of the university from the beginning of Franklin S. Harris’s administration. Harris felt “the library is the heart of a University,”and he realized that Brigham Young University would never be successfully accredited as a college, let alone as a university, without a strong library. Harris began his efforts by petitioning the Church Board of Education for funds to build a library building. He was delighted to learn in August 1924 that funding for the new building had been approved. The new library building was completed in October 1925 and named after Church President Heber J. Grant. The building was two stories high and contained office space and classrooms as well as the closed stacks housing the library collections and a large reading room.
Simultaneously, President Harris worked to improve the collection that would be housed in the new library building. In November 1921, the faculty library committee reported that they would make a concerted effort “to increase the number of volumes to 20,000 during the year.”By February 1924, they had exceeded their goal, and the library boasted over 35,000 volumes and around the same number of pamphlets. Harris and the university community both agreed that the improved library collection and the new library building were a successful addition to the campus. They also agreed that the enhanced library was bearing fruit as the scholarship of students and faculty steadily improved.
With the new library and its improved collections, the upgraded educational qualifications of the faculty, and the slowly improving quality of the laboratory equipment, President Harris was ready to re-apply: in November 1927, Harris announced to the university faculty that “application for the accrediting of the Brigham Young University would be made to the Association of American Universities.”
Harris put together a report on the university, which he submitted along with an application for accreditation to the Association of American Universities. The report detailed the history of Brigham Young University, its organization, its admission requirements, its graduation requirements, the faculty qualifications, information on the student body, financial information, details about students who had pursued graduate work, the caliber of the library, and the quality of scientific equipment as well as other things.The report was clearly designed to show that Brigham Young University met the accreditation requirements of the Association of American Universities.
The approval process proved to be as painfully slow as it had been before. It was not until October 1928 that E. B. Stouffer, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kansas, made his inspection tour of Brigham Young University. Prior to his visit, Stouffer sent Harris a list of questions that he wanted addressed. He asked for information on the student body, the degrees granted by the institution, the qualifications of the faculty and their salaries, the financial statements for several years, information on expenditures on laboratory equipment, and information on students who had left Brigham Young University for graduate schools.Following his inspection visit, Stouffer wrote Harris requesting additional information on the library. He was particularly interested in the usage of the collection and the qualifications of the library staff. Harris was more than happy to furnish this information and replied, “The records of the library show that during the past year the circulation of books in the library itself, including the reserve books, was something over 100,000 volumes.” He also detailed the qualifications of the library staff.
Finally, in late November, Harris received notification from Adam LeRoy Jones that the Association of American Universities had placed “Brigham Young University on its approved list of colleges.”All of the campus community’s hard work had paid off. BYU was finally recognized as a full-fledged member of the academic community. Harris had successfully achieved one of his most pressing goals, and Brigham Young University’s graduates would now be treated equally with graduates of institutions such as the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Harvard University, and, significantly, the University of California. However, there was still work to do. Both the Northwest Association and the Association of American Universities had recognized Brigham Young University as a college, not a university. Graduate work at the institution would need to be strengthened and improved significantly before the accrediting associations would grant recognition as a university.
Impact of Accreditation Today
Franklin S. Harris did not recognize the lasting impact that his successful bid to bring Brigham Young University into the fraternity of colleges and universities would have. He was simply meeting a perceived problem in pragmatic and practical ways. However, Harris’s decision to seek accreditation has had two important long-term effects on the history of Brigham Young University. First, Harris proved to Church leadership that they could run a first-rate educational institution on a limited budget and that it would yield tremendous benefits to the Church. Second, he established a pattern through which the Church could measure the success of its experiment in higher education—particularly as the institution advanced from academy to college to university.
Franklin S. Harris’s efforts to achieve accreditation for Brigham Young University demonstrated that the institution could be successful academically and still remain true to its spiritual roots. Harris understood well that the institution’s principal concern was the spiritual well-being of the students attending Brigham Young University. As he had stated in his inaugural address, “It is our purpose therefore not only to train our students in the useful arts and sciences of the day, but also to fit them to lead in various civic, religious, and industrial problems that arise out of the complex conditions of modern life.”He envisioned the institution as a place where students would come to be trained as leaders—leaders in academia as well as leaders in the Church.
Nearly sixty years after Franklin S. Harris demonstrated that Brigham Young University could be accredited and recognized by the fraternity of colleges and universities while maintaining its spiritual moorings, Harris’s vision of the institution’s potential had become the expectation of Church leadership as well as Church members. In 1992, Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, told students at a campus devotional about the expectations that the leadership of the Church had for BYU. He said, “This institution is unique. It is remarkable. It is a continuing experiment on a great premise that a large and complex university can be first-class academically while nurturing an environment of faith in God and the practice of Christian principles. You are testing whether academic excellence and belief in the Divine can walk hand in hand.”At the inauguration of President Cecil O. Samuelson in 2003, President Hinckley, then President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, again addressed the importance of Brigham Young University to the Church. He stated, “Here we are doing what is not done in any other major university of which I am aware. We are demonstrating that faith in the Almighty can accompany and enrich scholarship in the secular. It is more than an experiment. It is an accomplishment.”
Brigham Young University maintained accreditation with the Association of American Universities until 1949 when that organization divested itself of its accrediting functions. It has also successfully maintained accreditation with the Northwest Association of Secondary and Higher Schools and its successors for over eighty years. Franklin S. Harris’s decision to seek accreditation from the Northwest Association has become one of the most important decisions that he made. According to the Accreditation Handbook for the Northwest Association, “Accreditation by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities means that an institution’s own goals are soundly conceived, that its educational programs have been intelligently devised, that its purposes are being accomplished, and that the institution is so organized, staffed, and supported to merit confidence in the quality and effectiveness of the institution in achieving its mission.”The focus on institutional mission is a critical part of the Northwest Association accreditation standards and is one of the reasons why Brigham Young University continues to maintain accreditation with them. The Northwest Association is committed to considering “institutional missions and characteristics when evaluating institutions for accreditation.” This allows Brigham Young University to maintain its dual mission of promoting the spiritual growth of students while still being recognized as a first-class university.
The accreditation process will continue to remain relevant and important to Brigham Young University as it strives to reach the prophetic goal established for it by President Spencer W. Kimball during the university’s 1975 centennial celebrations. President Kimball stated, “The faculty have a double heritage which they must pass along: the secular knowledge that history has washed to the feet of mankind with the new knowledge brought by scholarly research—but also the vital and revealed truths that have been sent to us from heaven.”The periodic self-evaluations prompted by the accreditation process continue to allow Brigham Young University to maintain its course and preserve its unique mission to intermingle the sacred and the secular.