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Historical information is adapted from the Dedication Convocation of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences program and the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences centennial celebration planner by Barbara Howe and Sylvia Torning. Special thanks to Joan Gorham, Barbara Howe and Gerald Lang for their contributions to this story.


The history of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences dates back to the beginning of West Virginia University. As early as 1867, the liberal arts and the sciences were an important and central element for a university education. The Board of Visitors created the foundation for the future College of Arts and Sciences in June 1867 when it announced a faculty consisting of a professor of mental and moral science, a professor of ancient languages, a professor of English literature, a professor of mathematics and military tactics and a professor of philosophy and natural science. In addition to serving as the governing members of the University, these individuals taught disciplines that, except for military science, would become part of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1895. Arts and sciences disciplines were part of WVU’s curriculum from the day students assembled for the first class in September 1867.

Even before the College was founded, students played a part in influencing the arts and sciences curriculum. For instance, in 1888, students argued that natural history deserved a stronger place in the curriculum because there was “no state in the Union better adapted for the study of natural history than West Virginia.” Several years later, students asked University leadership to establish a school of political science so they could learn the principles required for good citizenship. Political science became part of the curriculum by 1895. 

At the time, WVU was originally organized for instruction only and was initially comprised of eight academic schools, five technical and professional schools and four special courses. During WVU’s reorganization in 1895, the College of Arts and Sciences was created. The academic schools comprising the College of Arts and Sciences were Ancient Languages, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, English, Geology and Mineralogy, History and Political Science, Mathematics, Metaphysics, and Modern Languages, all precursors to present-day departments in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. By 1897, the College offered five undergraduate courses of study: classical, scientific, philosophical, modern literature and premedical. Course offerings continued to change over the years as WVU developed into a major university. In 1902, drawing, zoology, biblical studies and botany were added to the College’s curriculum.

WVU Vice President Powell Benton Reynolds served as the first dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Eleven students received degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1896. In 1910, the West Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest national collegiate honor society, was established. By 1912, enrollment in the College of Arts and Sciences had risen to nearly 300 students. Within the following two years, the College was expanded to include work in 20 departments. After a first year of prescribed work, students could declare a major, but they were still required to continue to take classes in languages, philosophy and sciences.

In 1901, the Board of Regents unanimously selected Daniel Boardman Purinton as the University’s president. Purinton would be the dominant personality in the College of Arts and Sciences during the first decade of the 20th century, for he served as both dean of the College and president of WVU from 1901 to 1911. Some of WVU’s best known arts and sciences faculty also arrived during this time. Among them were James Morton Callahan (history) and Frank Butler Trotter (Latin language and literature), who eventually served as deans of the College; Oliver Perry Chitwood (history); Friend Clark (chemistry); and John Arndt Eiesland (mathematics), who earned a reputation as one of the University’s most brilliant and eccentric faculty members during the first decades of the 20th century. 

Callahan became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1916. During his 12-year tenure, new courses were added to the College’s curriculum  and enrollment grew significantly. Wilson Powell Shortridge became dean in 1928 and served in that capacity for 24 years. In 1925, the construction of Clark Hall was completed. At four stories high, 254 feet long and 79 feet wide, it was the largest and most complex educational building in the state at the time. 


The origins of several current WVU colleges can be traced directly to the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1926, the West Virginia State Board of Education initiated what is today known as the College of Education and Human Services, replacing the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Education. The following year, the Board created the Department of Journalism out of the Department of English, which would eventually become known as the Reed College of Media. 

World War II contributed to a different atmosphere on the WVU campus. The University offered courses to train engineers and scientists to meet the shortage of personnel in these fields. Following the war and the subsequent passage of the G.I. Bill, enrollment in the University and the College changed significantly. This period represented unprecedented growth in WVU’s history. The University reached a record enrollment of 6,019 in fall 1946, over half of whom were veterans. This increase led to crowded classrooms, and WVU pursued a long-term growth plan, which included the acquisition of land downtown where Armstrong Hall, Brooks Hall and Hodges Hall are located today and house classroom, laboratory and office space for the departments of Communication Studies, Mathematics, Geology and Geography, among others.

Over time, the College of Arts and Sciences continued to develop courses designed to meet the changing needs of the student body in the mid-20th century. For example, interest in science and mathematics courses skyrocketed in the 1960s because of the aspiration of putting a person on the moon. The General Education Curriculum was also adopted during the postwar years, featuring a significant number of courses from the College of Arts and Sciences. 


One of the most significant changes in the 1980s and 1990s was the infusion and proliferation of computer technology throughout the academic curriculum as well as into the learning environment for students and the work environment for faculty and staff. Twenty computer labs were added, including a lab spanning the entire second floor of Armstrong Hall.  Growth occurred across all aspects of the College. About 4,000 students were enrolled, and the College awarded approximately 1,100 undergraduate and 300 graduate degrees per year. Faculty published more than 300 articles and books, and they were supported by $6 million in externally funded research. A formal program for academic minors at the graduate and undergraduate levels was developed, and doctoral programs were added in computer science, geography and mathematics. 

In 1987, the Eberly Family Charitable Trust of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, established three Eberly Family Distinguished Professorships in the College of Arts and Sciences. Nationally advertised searches identified highly talented and academically recognized leaders to be the first Eberly Professors. From 1989-1992, the Eberly family established six additional professorships in the College of Arts and Sciences. The prestige of the Eberly College’s endowed chairs and professorships helps to strengthen the College and WVU by recruiting and retaining nationally distinguished faculty and supporting the integrity of our academic mission – educating our students. 

In 1993, as part of The Campaign for West Virginia University, the Eberly Family Charitable Trust and The Eberly Foundation committed additional resources to the College of Arts and Sciences. This gift further enhanced the endowment that had been established and provided wide-ranging support for faculty, students and programmatic areas.

As a result of years of generous philanthropy, on July 1, 1993, WVU honored the Eberly family, formally dedicating the College of Arts and Sciences as the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. This naming recognized the generosity of the Eberly family, The Eberly Foundation and the Eberly Family Charitable Trust and represents the first time WVU honored a donor by naming an academic college or school. 


In the last 25 years, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences has continued to experience growth in our research, teaching and service missions, enriching education for both undergraduate and graduate students while creating a climate of discovery and innovation to address the needs of our state, nation and world. To meet this growth, the downtown area of campus experienced significant changes throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, resulting in state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research. 

In 1994, C. Eugene and Edna P. Bennett established endowments creating the C. Eugene and Edna P. Bennett Careers for Chemists Program and the C. Eugene Bennett Chair inChemistry. In fall 2003 in recognition of their ongoing philanthropy, the Department of Chemistry was renamed as the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry. The first Children’s Chemistry Show was organized in 2010, offering hands-on activities to children and families from across north-central West Virginia.

The Forensic and Investigative Science Program was established in 1998. It has since expanded to become the Department of Forensic and Investigative Science in 2014, and is the only department at a Carnegie Research 1 institution to offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in forensic and investigative science.

The $50 million Life Sciences Building opened in 2001 as home to the Department of Biology and Department of Psychology. It includes an Ecotron and greenhouse on the penthouse floor, and the WVU Herbarium is located in the basement. It is also home to the Quin Curtis Center, a psychological service, training and research center that provides innovative, time-efficient treatments for clients with a variety of problems. 

Following a $28.8 million renovation, Brooks Hall reopened in 2007 as the new home for the Department of Geology and Geography. It features smart classrooms, computer and virtual  reality labs, a 350-seat auditorium, wireless computer access and a “green” roof. In 2012, White Hall reopened after $35 million in renovations as the new home for the Department of Physics and Astronomy and WVU Planetarium.

Today, the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences remains the academic heart of WVU, providing all students with a general liberal studies education in the areas of literature and the humanities, mathematics and natural sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. Now organized into 17 departments with 30 undergraduate majors and 31 graduate degrees, the Eberly College awards degrees to over 2,000 students annually. The Eberly College’s more than 400 faculty are actively involved in research and scholarship, and many enjoy distinguished national and international reputations and have been honored for excellence in teaching, research and service. The  Eberly College is supported by 78 staff, 599 graduate assistants and 252 student workers. In the last three years, Eberly College faculty have generated over $20,000,000 on average annually in external support for research and instruction and have published approximately 17 books and over 400 articles each year, critical factors in WVU achieving the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education’s R1 Doctoral Universities ranking in 2016. 

Academic programs in the Eberly College continue to prepare students for the future by developing their communication, analytical and social skills as well as fostering an awareness of human values and needs. The nature of jobs is changing, and individuals with skills like adaptability and communication will have an advantage in the workforce in the next decade because of their ability to solve problems. Faculty continue to adapt and innovate to educate students, to produce groundbreaking research and to respond to the needs of West Virginians. The true meaning of a liberal arts education has not been forgotten and continues to be a central focus of the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Trends suggest that future academic programs will become more interdisciplinary – melding traditional fields of inquiry to improve the understanding of natural, social and cultural phenomena. The Eberly College is already developing strong interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs in energy and environment, neurosciences, data sciences, diversity and equality, crime and security, and community development, to name a few. 

Technological innovations will continue to affect the way faculty teach and convey information, ultimately allowing for both wider accessibility for students and a heightened learning experience. Courses continue to be designed to offer more opportunities and experiences outside of the traditional classroom, expanding the capacity for students to apply their education in the field, in the research laboratory and in the community through engaged, service-learning experiences. 

The Eberly College is embracing a holistic approach to education and adhering to the core tenets of WVU’s land-grant mission while preparing students for careers that don’t even exist yet.

The next 25 years and beyond will prove to be both challenging and exciting. The Eberly College is poised to prepare our students for the changing world of the 21st century. Those who serve and who are served by the College have benefited from the generosity, selflessness and hard work of many faculty, staff, administrators, students, alumni and friends. Because of their efforts and the investment of the Eberly family, the Eberly College will continue to be the heart of West Virginia University as it moves forward.