The Faculty of Arts and Science stands at the core of the history of Queen’s University. The royal charter issued by Queen Victoria in 1841, which declared that the university would both train students as Presbyterian ministers and instruct youth “in the various branches in Science and Literature”, laid the Faculty’s foundations, and — even though Theology seemed predominant for many years — made it possible for Queen’s to emerge at last as a full-grown university with faculties of medicine and applied science.
Queen’s opened its doors on March 7, 1842, making it the Dominion’s first active university in all the 1860 kilometers between Fredericton, New Brunswick and the Pacific Ocean. Thirteen students enrolled in the first courses, which were offered in a small, wood-frame house on the edge of Kingston where the Reverends Peter Colin Campbell and J.A. Williamson as well as the University’s first Principal, Thomas Liddell taught Classics, Mathematics and Natural Philosophy.
Twenty years later, the student body had swelled to 200 young men — an enrolment comparable to the universities of McGill, Toronto and Victoria that had come into being in the meantime. The faculty grew as well and its complement of five professors — including its first professor in History, a part-time lecturer without salary! — offered a broader range of subjects in the arts and sciences. Since the professoriate hailed predominantly from Britain, great care was taken to recruit faculty members under the age of 40 who, it was thought, would have less difficulty “adjusting to Canadian conditions”.
By the end of the 19th century, Queen’s had built a national reputation for having recruited some of the ablest minds in the country. With a curriculum that had grown to include the subjects of Chemistry, English, French, German, Philosophy, Physics, Political and Economic Science, and Psychology, students could earn a variety of bachelor degrees in the arts and sciences. Not only were many courses compulsory to ensure the formation of a properly educated mind but too was proper attire. Decorum prevailed. In the classroom, professors appeared in tasselled cap and gown, and students appeared in proper academic dress as well or paid a 25 cent fine!
Much has changed since then. Tasselled caps and gowns appear only at convocation and no Dean would dare fine a student for improper dress. But other things have not. The Faculty still offers one of the nation’s premier liberal arts educations. Indeed, Queen’s high standing and excellent reputation rest largely on the standards that the University’s largest faculty sets and meets. We successfully combine the best of long-established traditions with the freshness, originality and independence of a progressive liberal arts faculty.
Evidence of the Faculty’s early years can be found everywhere as students move between the original, ivy-covered limestone buildings and contemporary, state-of-the art facilities, such as the Stauffer Library, the Biosciences Complex and Chernoff Hall, the award-winning home of the Department of Chemistry. Today, the Faculty of Arts and Science is the largest faculty at Queen's, with approximately 8,500 full- and 1,000 part-time undergraduate students, 1,500 graduate students, and 450 faculty. It offers a broad range of undergraduate degree programs in the sciences, social sciences, humanities, fine arts, and languages. The Faculty also offers correspondence, spring and summer courses through its Division of Continuing and Distance Studies; runs the Writing Centre; and administers Queen’s School of English, which offers non-credit courses in English as a second language.
Students studying for a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) or a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree have a particularly broad range of choices: they can take either a "major" in one discipline, a "medial" in two disciplines, an interdisciplinary "special field concentration" (in arts) or a focussed "subject of specialization" (in science). Within such degree combinations students may pursue the specialist’s deep engagement within their chosen discipline or they may decide to undertake a program that draws together a broad sweep of courses and disciplines that meets today’s demand for interdisciplinary solutions to complex problems.