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University of Toronto
U of T Great Past

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Who put the "research" in Canada's most research-intensive university?

Answer U of T President James Loudon introduced the PhD degree in 1897. Today, U of T graduates more than 500 doctoral students every year.

On March 15, 1827, King's College - the precursor to the University of Toronto - was granted its royal charter by King George IV. Throughout 2002, U of T celebrated 175 years of Great Minds. As part of the celebration, the U of T website featured excerpts from The University of Toronto: A History, written by Martin Friedland, University Professor and Professor Emeritus of Law at U of T.

Despite the difficulties encountered by President James Loudon throughout his administration, he could claim success on one important front: the introduction of the PhD degree in 1897.

A. B. Macallum
A. B. Macallum

Loudon had proposed such a degree fifteen years earlier, and though it had been accepted by the senate, no regulations implementing it had been established. In 1896, however, a motion by A.B. Macallum of physiology, seconded by W.J. Alexander of English, was passed to set up a committee to study the feasibility of offering the degree - the earlier senate approval had never been revoked. A year later, regulations were approved by the senate, again on Macallum's motion. "The chief credit for this step," Loudon later observed, was "due to Professor A.B. Macallum."

W. J. Alexander
W. J. Alexander

Doctorates were already being awarded in medicine (MD - though almost all physicians were content with the lesser qualification, the MB) and dentistry (DDS), but these were professional degrees, unlike the PhD, which was a research degree requiring a thesis. Macallum and Alexander, both of whom had PhDs from Johns Hopkins University, wanted the PhD to be a research degree based on a written thesis. It is not clear, however, that Loudon saw the PhD in the same way. The 1883 proposal he had put forward permitted the awarding of the degree by either thesis or examination.

Master of arts degrees had had a long history at the University. But the degree was not highly regarded.

Master of arts degrees had had a long history at the University. They had been awarded from the first convocation of King's College and had been continued by the University of Toronto. But the degree was not highly regarded. No special courses were provided, nor was residence at the University required. In the early period, the thesis was actually written in an examination hall "without reference to books, or to other aids."

In as late as 1900, The Varsity complained about "giving a graduate the title of M.A. for work done entirely in absentia, and on the submitting of a thesis which he can construct in from one to three months, without even having done any original research worthy of mention." Mackenzie King's MA, received from the University of Toronto in 1897, fitted The Varsity's description. King produced a forty-five-page double-spaced thesis on the International Typographical Union. It can be found in the University Archives and contains James Mavor's revealing comments: "A very competent paper. The only drawback is that there are no references to authorities." The requirements were tightened in 1903, but it would not be until 1910 that a year's residence would be required for the MA degree.

Notes on  Mackenzie King's MA thesis
James Mavor's comments on
Mackenzie King's MA thesis, 1897


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