1922 President Frank Aydelotte Introduces Honors

President Frank Aydelotte's nearly 20-year tenure as president is best remembered for the Honors Program he introduced in 1922.  At its inception, it provided an experience that was otherwise unknown in American undergraduate education: an intense intellectual experience in which qualified upperclassmen studied subjects in small groups, without grades, for two years until evaluated by outside scholars.

Aydelotte (1880-1956) had benefited from similar training as one of the first Rhodes Scholars, an experience that prompted him to replicate at Swarthmore the intense study and small classes he found at Oxford University. The program's success was due in large part to his emphasis on raising the intellectual level of the College as a whole - hiring faculty who were experts in their field, reducing the student-to-faculty ratio, and making acceptance to the College more competitive.

In its first year, 22 juniors enrolled in the new program in either English literature or the social sciences. Participation eventually grew to about 40 percent and, except for the years during World War II, remained there until the early 1970s. After a dip in participation in the 1980s, levels again rose. In recent years, honors graduates represent about 25 -35 percent of the senior class.

"We never had at Swarthmore to contend with the handicap of that type of academic conservatism which refuses open-minded consideration of new proposals merely because they are new, and refuses change because it is change," said Aydelotte, explaining the program's success. "Nor were we ... faced with the problem of overwhelming numbers with which only the methods of mass education can cope. ... Our plan was simple; we placed all our eggs in one basket and concentrated all the resources of the College on the task of making a success of the program we had chosen." 

Like his predecessor Joseph Swain, Aydelotte was raised in Indiana and attended Indiana University; he received a B.A. while Swain was still its president. He then earned an M.A. from Harvard University and spent the next two years at Oxford.  After teaching English at Indiana University and M.I.T., Aydelotte, on Swain's recommendation, became Swarthmore's seventh president in 1921, the first non-Quaker to hold the post. 

In addition to the curriculum, Aydelotte also brought significant changes to the more social aspects of campus life. He gradually de-emphasized the role of football on campus, and by 1932, the running of the athletic program, until then controlled by alumni, became the responsibility of the College. The coaching staff joined the faculty as well. Aydelotte also banned fraternity hazing and reduced the number of fraternity dances. To the dismay of many alumnae at the time, Aydelotte also supported the women students' decision to disband all sororities on campus.

In 1939, Aydelotte left Swarthmore to become the second director of Princeton University's Institute for Advanced Study.  He maintained his commitment to the Rhodes Scholar Program, which he administered from 1917 to 1953. Aydelotte also joined the Board of Managers in 1945 and became a member of the Joint Anglo-American Commission on Palestine. The year after his retirement, the College's faculty anonymously published a tribute, An Adventure in Education: Swarthmore College Under Frank Aydelotte.