At the time that it gained land grant status in 1868, Oregon State University (then Corvallis College) was a typical liberal arts college of the day. As the college's curriculum expanded into the sciences and technology in the early 20th century, the liberal arts were de-emphasized; they were grouped in to the Division of Service Departments. In 1919, the division was renamed the School of Basic Arts and Sciences. With the reorganization of Oregon's public higher education in 1932, the liberal arts at OSU were de-emphasized further. The ensuing Lower Division was limited to freshman and sophomore level courses.
After World War II, President A. L. Strand pushed to expand the liberal arts at the college. In 1959, divisional majors in humanities and social sciences were offered for the first time, and in 1961 the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was established. Various degree programs were developed in the 1960s. In 1973, the school became the College of Liberal Arts.
Gordon Gilkey served as the first Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, a position he held until his retirement in 1978; David J. King was Dean of the College from 1978 until 1982; Bill Wilkins served as Dean from 1982 until his retirement in 1994. Kay Schaffer joined the Oregon State faculty as Dean of Liberal Arts in 1994, a position she held until her retirement in 2007.
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