History of the College of Arts & Science

Singers on a Christmas TV set

The University Singers, directed by Tom Mills, perform for a CBS Christmas special. Photo from the 1970 Savitar, page 292. 

The College of Arts and Science is the oldest and largest college of Missouri's flagship university.

From the very establishment of the University of Missouri in 1839, its administrators considered the liberal arts and sciences to be the foundation of higher education. Those early units functioned as a college beginning in 1841 and were officially collected under the title of the College of Arts and Science in 1907.

Students entering the university in the 1800s selected courses from a plan that outlined the classics, mathematics, science, philosophy, ethics, government and political economy. Classes were small. In 1842, student enrollment was 74, and at the first commencement in 1843, two students completed requirements for a bachelor of arts degree.

By 1891, the arts-and-science curriculum encompassed 13 units, called academic schools, with 20 faculty members and 334 students, who selected classes in English, Latin, Greek, modern languages, Hebrew, Sanskrit, comparative philology, metaphysics, mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology and mineralogy, and biology. From 1891 to 1908, several new departments expanded the curriculum to areas such as philosophy, history, economics, political science, sociology, graphics (art) and music. By 1938, the college had grown to 129 faculty members and 2,010 students.

Today the College of Arts and Science is the largest college in the state of Missouri. More than 450 tenured and tenure-track faculty members teach and mentor 9,000 undergraduate and graduate majors. Students choose courses from 32 departments, programs and schools that offer a vast array of studies leading to baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees. Deans have guided the policies and growth of the arts and sciences since J.C. Jones took the position in 1896. Michael O’Brien is the current dean.

Graduating classes have grown from that class of two in 1843 to 1,533 in 2009 and have produced more than 52,000 Arts and Science alumni who live around the world.