Picturing our Past

Commencement 1907
Photo courtey of WUSTL archives

Every year, including 1907 (above), the University follows the pattern of degree-granting developed at the University of Paris, which was founded in about 1100. In the early days of the University of Paris, the discipline of students fell under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Paris, who was responsible for local educational matters. In an attempt to perform his office, the bishop claimed supervision of curriculum and degree-granting. Here he ran into trouble from the teachers, who felt they were the proper judges of the qualifications of their students. They demanded the right to grant degrees. The modern commencement ceremony represents a compromise between the bishop and the teaching masters. By 1200, the masters judged the merits of the student and then recommended that person to the bishop, who conferred the degree. Commencement at Washington University is the successor to this medieval compromise. The faculty sits on the platform in its role as teacher and examiner. Its leaders, the deans, present the qualified candidates to the chancellor. Acting upon the recommendation of the faculty, the chancellor then formally confers the appropriate degree.

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