• U.S.

Colleges: Coming of Age at Six

3 minute read

A college that has grown from vacant lot to excellence in just six years last week won full accreditation. At the earliest opportunity that its rules permit, the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools accredited Florida Presbyterian College, a school that has not only set bright students to working with bright professors in new ways but has also embellished the concept of the church-connected school.

Florida Presbyterian began as a dream in the head of William Kadel, pastor of Orlando’s First Presbyterian Church. Assigned by the Board of Christian Education of the Southern Presbyterian to study the feasibility of starting a new denominational college, he had to ignore some discouraging history: no Presbyterian college had been founded since 1904, and the trend has been to cut loose from churches.

To Judge Values. With the help of Psychologist John Bevan, who left his associate professorship at Davidson, Kadel got 281 acres of seashore land from the city of St. Petersburg. Two fund-raising drives in St. Petersburg netted $4,000,000; the Presbyterians chipped in with $3,300,000. Florida Presbyterian opened in 1960, now has 810 students and a campus of functional modern buildings worth $14 million.

Kadel and Bevan hired teachers from established universities with the promise that they would come in on a genuinely creative experiment in education. Now F.P.C.’s faculty numbers 61, three-fourths of them Ph.D.s earning an average of $12,549 a year. Under the guidance of Bevan, who became dean, the school developed a liberal-arts curriculum anchored to a four-year core program focusing in successive years on world developments, Western civilization, Asian culture and the Christian heritage. The objective of the core program and its related science, language and elective courses is to form students who can make knowledgeable value judgments within the broad framework of Christian ethics—students who can find answers to the central questions of a liberal-arts education: “Who am I? Where am I going?”

Premium on Maturity. Another innovation, mandatory for all students at Florida Presbyterian and already adopted by such established colleges as Bard, Colgate and Colby, is the “winter semester” of open-end independent study. Spliced in between the two regular semesters, it gives the students a month each year to pursue a sweep of projects ranging from the study of nonthermal radio emissions of Jupiter and digging up the Mayan past in Yucatán to working with migrant workers in Florida’s orange groves.

Florida Presbyterian has done away with such college conventional musts as compulsory class attendance and grading. Instead, whenever students feel ready, they take two weeks of grueling comprehensives required for graduation. For guidance purposes only, they are given H for honors, S for satisfactory, U for unsatisfactory.

Though most of the college’s trustees are Presbyterians, as are two-thirds of the faculty and 46% of the students, chapel attendance is voluntary, and Christianity, in so far as it comes up in the core program, is taught in an ecumenical spirit. “Our task is not to make Presbyterians, or even Christians,” says President Kadel. The only guarantee the college makes is that the “Christian faith will have a forthright hearing.”

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