You are here: History of the College

History of the College of Arts and Sciences

A global outlook, practical idealism, a passion for public service: They're part of American University today, and they were in the air in 1893, when AU was chartered by Congress.

George Washington had dreamed of a "national university" in the nation's capital. But it took John Fletcher Hurst to found a university that, in many ways, embodies that dream.

President Woodrow Wilson officially dedicated the university on May 27, 1914 and the first graduate students were admitted.

The College of Liberal Arts was established in 1925, with the first 75 undergraduate students admitted that fall.

Throughout the history of American University, the College of Arts and Sciences has changed its name several times.

At first known as the "College of Liberal Arts," the name was changed to the "College of Arts and Sciences" in 1939. For a brief period it was known simply as the "Undergraduate College" until the name was converted back to the "College of Arts and Sciences" in 1956.

The largest school or college at American University, the College of Arts and Sciences currently has 2,931 students, 339 full-time faculty, and more than 150 degrees offered.

While the College is continually growing, the commitment to promoting free and rational discourse, fostering an understanding of the diversity of human experience, providing the critical intellectual skills necessary to navigate a rapidly changing world, and integrating knowledge across disciplinary boundaries never changes.

Important Dates

  • 1890
    Methodist bishop John Fletcher Hurst buys some 90 acres of farmland on which to build a nonsectarian national university.
  • 1891
    The university incorporates as The American University under laws of the District of Columbia. Bishop Hurst is elected chancellor.
  • 1893
    AU is chartered by Act of Congress.
  • 1896
    Bishop Hurst breaks ground for College of History (Hurst Hall).
  • 1902
    McKinley Building cornerstone is laid by President Theodore Roosevelt.
  • 1914
    First class is admitted (28 students, including 4 women).
  • 1916
    First class graduates.
  • 1925
    College of Liberal Arts is established; 75 students enroll.
  • 1927
    First undergraduate class of the College of Liberal Arts graduates.
  • 1960
    Asbury Building is completed, the current home for the Department of Psychology.
  • 1962
    Watkins Art Building opens.
  • 1966
    Kreeger Music Building opens.
  • 1967
    Beeghly Chemistry Building opens.
  • 1975
    School of Education is established.
  • 1984
    Department of Communication becomes School of Communication under the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • 1993
    School of Communication becomes independent.
  • 2002
    Battelle Building is renovated and becomes the new home of the College of Arts and Sciences.
  • 2003
    Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre opens.
  • 2005
    The Katzen Arts Center, housing the visual and performing arts departments, opens.
  • 2006
    The American University Museum, housed in the Katzen Arts Center, hosts 18,000 visitors its first year.
  • 2010
    New, state-of-the-art studios were opened in the Kreeger Building for the Audio Technology Program.
  • 2011
    The building housing the Department of Language and Foreign Studies was dedicated as Jack Child Hall to recognize Professor Jack Child's commitment to the department.
  • 2012
    The Department of Language and Foreign Studies is now the Department of World Languages and Cultures.

Deans of the College

1925-1944 George B. Dennis, Dean (College Of Liberal Arts)

1944-1945 Earl A. Dennis, Dean

1945-1946 Thomas Marshall, Dean

1946-1947 John W. Manning(elected, did not serve)

1946-1953 John E. Bentley, Dean

1953-1959 Harold E. Davis, Dean (Undergraduate College)

1959-1964 Ralph C. John, Dean (1964, College of Arts & Sciences)

1964-1965 David G. Mobberly, Dean (College of Arts & Sciences)

1965-1969 W. Donald Bowles, Dean

1969-1970 William M. Wiebenga, Acting Dean

1970-1973 William M. Wiebenga, Dean

1973-1974 Harvey C. Moore, Acting Dean

1974-1976 Richard Berendzen, Dean

1976-1977 Frank Turaj, Acting Dean

1977-1985 Frank Turaj, Dean

1985-1997 Betty T. Bennett, Dean

1997-1999 Howard M. Wachtel, Acting Dean

1999-2000 Kay J. Mussell, Acting Dean

2000-2009 Kay J. Mussell, Dean

2009- Peter Starr, Dean