Not so “NEW” College: A history of BACCs


Theses by Sydney
A picture of a student browsing books at the Jane Bancroft Library in the 1966-1967 New College Student Handbook.

With BACC Week having just ended, most graduating students can finally decompress as the infamous theses are printed, bound and placed to rest on the bookshelves of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library.

Since 1967, the Senior Thesis Project has been “a capstone worthy of an honors college” according to the New College website. In its early days, a New College education was three years long, and scheduled in trimesters: fall, summer and spring. Due to this scheduling, many theses were defended in May, June and July, during what librarians Sarah Norris and Ana McGrath believe to be the “Comprehensive College Tests” on the 1966-1967 New College academic calendar.

“This is the earliest calendar that I could find that could represent something like a BACC week,” McGrath said. “In 1968 there was news about three students graduating early, or doing their exams early with a month long of BACC exams daily.”

Thesis procedures have not changed much. According to a news release by New College to the Herald Tribune in 1968, a committee of four or more members of the faculty met with a candidate for graduation and questioned them primarily about their specialized field of study, on the content of their thesis, and on other studies for which the student was held responsible. The examinations were an hour-long and “generally the cause for considerable foreboding among students.” Beginning in May, orals were given several times daily through the rest of the month to other members of their class. Furthermore, thesis students also had to take a written baccalaureate.

Although the thesis format has not changed much since then, there are only 34 theses from 1967 bound in the library out of a graduating class of about 100.

“To our knowledge, again this is sort of what we’ve been passed on informationally, they were not required to write a thesis,” Norris said. “They were also not required to turn said thesis in. Some alum said they did a thesis but it never came to the library. I don’t know when they formalized the requirement that you did have to write a thesis, but there were certainly students early on who, it seems like, from what we know, did not write a thesis.”

However, there were other requirements in order to graduate.

“From 1969 of September, they kind of offered two ways to graduate: contractually or non-contractually,” McGrath added. “Contractually kind of has what we have now where you have a thesis and a BACC exam. Then non-contractually was like a fifth [Independent Study Project] kind of thing. So there would be the same nine terms because they were still shooting for the three years, but by then they had a four-year option as well. So the students with the contracts had the oral BACC defense, but the non-contractual students had a BACC exam.”

In 1970, a deadline was marked for all theses to be finished on April 30, and a BACC week officially showed up on the New College academic calendar designating May 17-21 as Baccalaureate Examinations.

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