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The tradition of Summer Session at Illinois State

Students in a class in 1985

Students working hard in the classroom in 1985.

Summer school is an old tradition on campus. As the education profession grew, so did the curriculum and the student body at Illinois State Normal University. It was up to the university to figure out a way to make these increasingly packed courses available to students and to accommodate a rapidly growing student body.

The first summer session took place in 1899, mostly as an experiment to see how many students would sign up and attend courses. As the December 5, 1900, report of the Board of Education states, the experiment proved to be quite popular: “The very large attendance at the summer term of 1899, is proof that it should be made a permanent feature of our institution.” (page 16) Almost exactly one year prior, on December 6, 1899, then-President Arnold Tompkins proposed a plan for summer sessions at the university:

“The Faculty recommended that, as soon as the necessary appropriation can be made, the school hold four sessions a year of twelve weeks each; and that until such appropriation can be secured, that the school year be divided into three terms of twelve weeks each and a summer term of six weeks, with a tuition of six dollars to meet the added expense incidental to the lengthening of the school year from thirty-nine to forty-three weeks. It is further recommended that the Faculty be authorized to hold a six weeks’ session next summer, charging a fee of six dollars to defray the expenses as for as possible. The Faculty will donate their services so far as necessary.” (page 6)

The first full summer term began the 1900–1901 academic year. The term started on June 3 and ended July 13, comprising of Tompkins recommended six weeks. Though Tompkins’s proposal suggested the faculty “donate their services,” their contracts were ultimately reworked to reflect the extra six weeks of teaching, should that faculty member choose to stay over the summer.

As the University grew and slowly adopted a more liberal arts focused curriculum, the weeks for summer session expanded from six to our current 12 weeks. Sessions, which could be from three weeks to eight weeks and even the entire summer, later became terms. But the original intent of offering courses to students who needed them to graduate has always remained.

Summer is a great time to be on campus, to enjoy the Quad and take part in lots of summer outdoor activities. Enjoy these warm summer months, Redbirds.

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