A Brief History of Arts & Sciences

The heart of the university

Arts & Sciences is the largest school on the Danforth campus and is often called the heart of the University. Over the years, it has undergone multiple transitions and transformations, stemming in spirit from the early core academic unit named the Collegiate Department to the full-fledged College of Liberal Arts to the College of Arts and Sciences*. An overview of the history of the deanship (below) exemplifies the complex origins and historically close relationship of this unit with the central administration, with deans at times concurrently serving as provost or executive vice chancellor. Today, Arts & Sciences comprises the core disciplines of the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences and includes departments ranging from English and Mathematics, to Political Science and Anthropology. In more recent years, the school has created new academic pathways for faculty and students to collaborate across the traditional academic subject areas in popular interdisciplinary initiatives such as Environmental Studies and Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology.

In terms of governance, the school has a Dean of Arts & Sciences who oversees 23 departments, 10 programs and 11 centers, as well as the educational divisions of The College (undergraduate studies) and The Graduate School (graduate studies). The senior leadership team of Arts & Sciences includes the deans of the College and the Graduate School as well as appointed members of the faculty to oversee academic planning, faculty development and research. The Dean also has senior staff to oversee the main functional areas of operation, from budget and finance to personnel policies to computing, facilities and communications. The Dean is responsible for the appointment, promotion, recommendation for tenure, and salary of all faculty members; as well as the appointments of the Deans of the College, the Graduate School, and the appointment of departmental chairs as well as program and center directors. The Dean oversees all academic, financial, and administrative aspects of Arts & Sciences, which is home to over 600 tenure-track and instructional faculty, approximately 600 staff, and 6,000 students with an annual operating budget of over $300 million.

University College, the evening and continuing education branch of the University, was a part of Arts & Sciences for a long time. It was moved into Arts & Sciences in the 1980s as part of a larger institutional reorganization, along with the successful new interdisciplinary graduate program, the Master of Liberal Arts. In 2019, as a part of Chancellor Martin's new initiatives to invigorate educational offerings to the St. Louis community, University College began a transition out of Arts & Sciences and into a new status as a university-wide unit. 

*In 1966, the College of Liberal Arts was renamed the College of Arts & Sciences. 

Deans of Arts & Sciences

1871-1912 Marshall S. Snow

1912-18 Frederic Aldrin Hall

1918-32 George Oscar James

1932-37 Frederick William Shipley

1937-39 Walter E. McCourt

1939-40 George Ware Stephens

1940-41 Walter E. McCourt

1941-42 Frank Martindale Webster

1942-46 William Glasgow Bowling

1946-48 Stuart Alfred Queen

1948-60 Thomas Steele Hall

1960-62 Thomas Hopkinson Eliot

1962-63 Marion Estel Bunch

1963-66 Robert R. Palmer

1966-69 Merle Kling

1969-73 Ira Hirsh

1973-76 Merle Kling

1976-78 Leon A. Gottfried

1978-84 Ralph E. Morrow

1984-86 Richard N. Rosett

1986-94 Marty Israel

1994-2008 Edward S. Macias

2008-9 Ralph S. Quatrano (interim)

2010-12 Gary S. Wihl

2013-20 Barbara A. Schaal 

2020-present Feng Sheng Hu

From 1963 on, a Dean of the College has served alongside the Dean of Arts & Sciences. From 1971 on, a Dean of the Graduate School has served alongside the other two deans in the overall A&S leadership structure. 

A History of the Deanship

In 1871, Chancellor Eliot created the “Office of the Dean of the Collegiate Department” to assist the chancellor in the following areas:

  • Supervise conduct and discipline
  •  Preside at chapel exercises
  •  Attend to absences & excuses
  •  Maintain discipline in the College Department
  •  Carry into effect the will of the faculty

Marshall Snow was appointed first dean, but he had the position renamed “registrar” in 1871 because Snow said it sounded more like a registrar’s job than a dean’s.  By 1876, however, he appeared in the annual reports as the “Dean of the College.” Then, from 1878 onward, he was listed as “Dean of the College Faculty”.  Snow’s tenure was quite long:  he remained the Dean until 1912. 


Later in 1871 the Board of Directors appointed a dean of the Polytechnic School—Calvin M. Woodward—which later, tortuously, became Engineering.  Here there is a parallel between the Dean of Engineering and the Dean of Arts & Sciences (the beginnings of two equal deans of two separate schools).  Thus, we need to trace the deans subsequent to Snow. In 1880 the College and Engineering united into the “Undergraduate Department”, but each kept its own dean. This decision was later reversed. Chancellor Throop designated McCourt as the “Assistant Chancellor” in order that Throop could "turn over a large part of the...responsibilities and duties that descended upon [Throop]." This might be considered the roots of the “Executive Vice Chancellor.”


Chancellor Compton created the “Dean of Faculties” as the highest academic office on campus in 1946.  Prior to this, the Chancellor was the highest-ranking academic officer. In 1962 the “Dean of Faculties” became the “Provost.”  Also in 1962, the establishment of a “Dean of Faculty (of Arts & Sciences)” created a new position to be held by Palmer; Hall was still “Dean of the College of Liberal Arts.”  The “Dean of Faculty” oversaw the College and Graduate School.


The decision of 1962 is important because it serves to separate the ultimate Liberal Arts authority from the day-to-day running of the College—an effort which both eases the duties of the incumbent(s) and demonstrates the vast scope and breadth of Arts & Sciences within Washington University.


--by Jonathan Cohen, Assistant Dean of Administration, 2001