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Add-on administrators

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Sociology professor and Cornell almnus Hamline Freer became the first dean of the college exactly 100 years ago.

Most of the college's administrative offices familiar to contemporary Cornellians were not established until the 1920s or thereafter. Originally the school had only two administrators: the president (previously principal) and the preceptress. The number was increased in 1875 when mathematics professor James Harlan, class of 1869, was appointed registrar. In 1881 he was made vice president, then became president in 1908. He retained the title of registrar, however, until he retired from his presidency in 1914. In addition to performing their administrative duties, Harlan and the preceptresses also taught several courses each term. There is no record of any secretarial staff before 1916. Faculty members seemed to have lent a hand
when clerical assistance was needed.

In 1902, sociology professor Hamline Freer, class of 1869, became Cornell's first dean of the faculty. The teachers seemed not to have liked having a "boss" other than the president, and when Dean Freer retired in 1919, an administrative committee replaced him. The deanship was resurrected in 1924, but the new dean stayed only two years. A relieved faculty empaneled another committee, which held power from 1926 to 1931. The next dean lasted five years and the succeeding committee only one. Thereafter the deanship was never again imperiled.

In 1969 another sociology professor, Winston Ehrmann, became dean. A year later he added the newly created title of provost and assumed the thankless and daunting responsibility for supervising the offices of student affairs and admissions. The heads of these hitherto independent departments resented no longer reporting directly to the president, and their opposition led to the appointment of a new dean in June 1975. Ehrmann continued as provost, but his role was redefined as head of institutional research. After he retired in May 1977, the provostship was never restored. In 1994, the incumbent was made vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college.

The preceptress (dean of women from 1903) was charged with safeguarding the virtue of women students, some as young as 14, and instructing them in ladylike deportment and moral rectitude. Until 1912, she was required to room and dine in the women's residence hall. Music professor Delinda Roggensack recalled the day her dean of women spotted a student wearing a red dress in chapel and admonished the girl with the precept that if she continued to wear red she would come to a bad end.
A quaint theory held that if a school policed its women, its men would behave. Whatever the reason, the college did not appoint a dean of men until 1932 although the admissions director had the additional title in 1926-27 of dean of freshman men. In 1957 the autonomous deans of men and women became subordinate to a dean of students and in 1970 were recreated as non-gendered associate deans.

In the 19th century, Cornell relied upon its network of Methodist ministers to recruit students and assist in fund raising. As an inducement to excel in these labors, the college promised an honorary doctorate of divinity for surpassing results. The number of ministers requesting this earthly reward eventually proved an embarrassment to the college. When an administrator tried to deny claims from non-alumni clergy on the fabricated ground that it had always been the college's policy to award such degrees only to Cornellians, the president received some very unchristian complaints of betrayal.

Charles Milhauser is classics professor and registrar emeritus.

Calling student janitors
For years, student janitors received tuition, room, and board to keep college buildings clean. Charles Milhauser is researching this aspect of college history and asks that you contact him if you were a student janitor. He may be reached at
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