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Creating the Vanderbilt Scholar

What classes did the first students take at Vanderbilt? The curriculum embodied what its founders’ vision for Vanderbilt: a prestigious university offering a variety of classes on the academic, medical, law, and biblical paths. As a university, Vanderbilt would offer a breadth of courses throughout the four schools, so students could study whatever they pleased. For such a young institution, this was impressive, as Chancellor Landon Garland pushed for his “educational utopia” to rival top institutions like Harvard and Yale. However, Vanderbilt administrators also had to address what a 1875 New England Journal of Education article termed the “sick man” of southern education. Few students were prepared to handle the curriculum, as exemplified by their performance on the rigorous exams and underwhelming graduation rates. Yet, we will see how the curriculum was integral in developing Vanderbilt as a higher-education institution for Southern Methodist students.