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Lynch School of Education

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Looking back: The Lynch School at 60

By William Bole

In September 1952, Boston College’s newly chartered School of Education opened its doors to 176 students who brought a “new look” to the Chestnut Hill Campus, Boston College’s student newspaper The Heights reported. That is because several of them were wearing skirts. What was then simply the School of Education was the first undergraduate division at Boston College to admit women as well as men.

Sixty years ago, America and its babies were booming. Children were streaming into public and parochial schools, ramping up the demand for qualified teachers. In launching its School of Education, Boston College was responding generally to those social needs, but the exact impetus was more circumstantial.

“Prospective teachers should have their foot in an actual grade or high school all the way through their training, and this can be arranged only in a school whose schedule is tailored to the needs of future teachers,” Charles F. Donovan, S.J., founding chairman of the education department, wrote in 1951 to the University’s president, William L. Keleher, S.J. Beyond the matter of scheduling, Donovan argued: “There is no reason why in so strongly a Catholic center as Boston and Massachusetts, Boston College should not have a good and flourishing School of Education, to exercise a beneficial influence on education and educational policies in this part of the country.”

The education school opened in Gasson Hall, and the University knew from the outset it would need its own building. The main reason: “plumbing,” according to Donovan, who also wrote the History of Boston College. “The existing buildings on campus had been built with an all-male student body in mind and typically each provided one large lavatory in the basement,” Donovan wrote. Ground was broken two years later, and Campion Hall opened in time for classes in 1955.

In the decades that followed, the School of Education exerted significant influence locally, nationally, and internationally. Aside from preparing legions of teachers, the school responded to specific needs and problems. For instance, in the wake of a May 1975 judicial order to racially desegregate Boston’s public schools, the school launched the District B-Boston College Collaborative, which helped create integrated parent councils and student governments while improving other services in urban schools.

Today the enterprise that Donovan conceived long ago is the Lynch School—renamed in 2000 in honor of Carolyn and Peter Lynch, who gave $10 million to the school the year before—now a leading force in Catholic education not only at Boston College but also nationally. The school’s robust community outreach continues, most recently in the Office of Urban Outreach, which directs College Bound, a 25-year-old academic enrichment and support program that prepares students from Boston public high schools for college.  

Internationally, the school has gained stature in part through its TIMSS and PIRLS International Study Center (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, and Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, respectively), which conducts comparative studies in educational achievement. Prominent research operations have expanded to include the Roche Center for Catholic Education, the Center for Optimized Student Support, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and others. In fact, as a research institution at the graduate level, the Lynch School is ranked 18th among schools of education in the country, second in New England, and the only school at a Catholic university to be ranked in the top 50, according to U.S. News & World Report.

In 60 years, the Lynch School of Education has grown to 60 full-time faculty members, more than 35 part-time faculty, and another 60 researchers, 800 undergraduate, and 1,000 graduate students. It houses more than 25 academic programs in education, human development, and psychology. Lynch School alumni work in schools, universities, research institutes, hospitals, social service agencies, private industry, clinical settings, foundations, government agencies, and other settings throughout the world.