THE first degrees which the University of Michigan was authorized to give were those of bachelor of arts and master of arts, the original requirements for which were drawn up by the Regents in April, 1845. The former was first conferred when the class which had entered in 1841 was graduated in 1845, and the latter in 1849 upon Merchant H. Goodrich ('45) and Winfield Smith ('46).
These degrees still are given by the University, but the character of the degree master of arts has been entirely changed. Originally it was conferred upon holders of the bachelor of arts degree who had "preserved a good moral character" and had made application to the faculty, and whom the faculty had recommended. In other words, the English custom was substantially followed. The original regulations did not specify how long a candidate must wait after receiving his first degree, but a reference in the requirements as modified in December, 1859, shows that the interval was to be at least three years.
On the latter occasion President Tappan reported a series of regulations for the conferring of master's degrees on examination, which ultimately became the sole method of obtaining these and the other higher degrees, although the older system of granting the master's degree "in course," as it was called, was not formally abandoned until, on June 22, 1874, the Regents adopted a faculty recommendation to that effect, which became operative in 1877.
The master's degree "in course" was opened by the Regents in August, 1847, even to graduates of other colleges, and at the same time the faculty was permitted to recommend from time to time persons to receive the honorary degree of master of arts — the first honorary degree to be authorized. Alvah Bradish, Professor of Fine Arts, and Abram Sager, Professor of Obstetrics and the Diseases of Women and Children and also Professor Page 288of Botany and Zoology, were the first actually to receive it, in 1852. The Regents refused, however, in June, 1856, to vote master's degrees ad eundem to graduates of other institutions, saying that this had not been and should not be the practice. In March, 1858, the Board authorized the statement that "no honorary degrees are conferred here," and until the rescinding of this action in June, 1866, this was the policy of the University.
As it would be a very lengthy and complicated task to give a narrative account of the establishment, modification, and discontinuance of the dozens of degrees given now or formerly by the University, the essential facts have been sought out and are presented in tabular form. The sources (chiefly the Proceedings of the Board of Regents … and the annual Catalogues, Calendars, and Registers) have been consulted for each detail, and references are given in most instances.
It should be borne in mind that in the earlier and more informal days not so much attention was paid as at present to uniformity and precision in referring to these matters. In February, 1937 (R.P., 1936-39, pp. 175-77), the Regents for the first time approved an official list of the titles and abbreviations of degrees, which had for several years previously been used as a style sheet in the editorial offices. Earlier editors, however, had no such guides, and inconsistencies were bound to occur. Uniformity in the use of parentheses was especially hard to secure. One may, for example, find in the printed records alternatively "Bachelor of Science (in Pharmacy)" and "Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy." The rule covering the use of parentheses is now the following:
In general, parentheses are used when a qualification is added to the degree without altering the fundamental character of the degree thus qualified (as for example, the citation of "diploma departments" in engineering and architecture). Parentheses are not used to set off any part of the name of a degree which is distinctly independent and not merely a modification of another degree brought about by specialization.
With regard to honorary degrees, it should be stated that the University's present practice is not ordinarily to confer, honoris causa, degrees which may also be taken in course and upon examination. Exception is made in the cases of the master's degree in arts, science, and laws and the doctorate in science, in accordance with the practice of most institutions of comparable standing; today, however, the degrees doctor of medicine and doctor of philosophy, for example, would not be conferred as honorary degrees by the University of Michigan. No written rule on this matter exists, but there is a definite understanding which practically has the force of a regulation. Honorary degrees, also, are no longer conferred on active members of the University faculties or staff.