Academic degrees have been awarded for centuries. The University of al-Karaouine, founded in 859 in Fez, Morocco, is considered the world’s oldest continuously operating, degree granting university, while Italy’s University of Bologna, founded in 1088, is the first known to have awarded a doctorate (from the Latin docere, to teach). The University of Paris was founded shortly before 1100, followed closely by Oxford University. A dispute between Oxford students and the townspeople of Oxford led academics to leave the university 1209, and found Cambridge University. It was not until the late 13th century that the distinctive college system that characterizes both universities was initiated.
Originally, doctoral and master’s degrees were virtually synonymous and the term “bachelor” merely indicated entrance to a course of study, rather than completion of a level of work as it does today. The doctoral title, then and now, refers to the degree one holds, not to a profession or occupation, and by an ancient definition designates one sufficiently skilled in a branch of knowledge to teach it.
The academic regalia in use at American colleges and universities has its origins in the academic dress used in European universities in the 14th and 15th centuries. Caps, gowns and hoods were probably a necessity then, partly to keep warm in drafty, unheated buildings, and partly to distinguish academic persons, such as those holding doctoral, masters and bachelors degrees from other members of the population. When first used, academic regalia was both distinctive and utilitarian. Today, although still distinctive, its function is more ceremonial.
The Mortarboard (Cap)
The mortarboard is adapted from one traditionally worn at Oxford. A soft cap, resembling a tam, is a modification of one worn at Cambridge. American code of academic dress requires the mortarboard be worn by those holding bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and permits either for those holding a doctorate. The cap is almost always black. The tassel worn with the cap may be black, or of a distinctive color, but only holders of a doctoral degree may wear a gold tassel.
The gown used by most American colleges and universities is commonly black, and of three types. The major distinguishing characteristics of the gowns are the sleeves and the trimming. The bachelor’s degree gown has a closed front and long, pointed sleeves. The master’s degree gown may be worn closed or open, and has oblong sleeves open at the wrist or forearm, with the sleeve extending downward in an arc from the back. The doctoral gown may be worn open or closed, and often has three velvet bars on each full, bell-shaped sleeve. The velvet bars may be black or in a distinctive color representing the field of learning in which the degree was earned. Gowns of foreign universities and of a few American universities may be other than black, for instance red, crimson or another brilliant color.
Hoods are the most distinctive feature of American academic regalia, and are a means of identifying the level of the degree, the institution that awarded the degree and the field of knowledge in which the degree was granted. Those holding master’s, specialist’s and doctoral degrees wear hoods lined with the official colors of the college or university granting the degree. Hoods vary in length and shape to indicate the several degrees: three feet for the bachelor’s, three-and-one-half feet for master’s and four feet for the doctoral degree. The color of the velvet binding or edge of the hood, in widths of two, three and five inches for the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree respectively, is usually, but not always, of a color distinctive of the field of learning in which the degree was earned.
Used since antiquity as symbols of momentous events as well as affiliations with groups and associations, medallions were important in medieval times as symbols of membership in religious orders and guilds. As part of academic regalia, they may be struck in metal for both ceremonial and commemorative uses. Salem State’s Presidential Medallion bears the university seal which was designed and adopted in its current form in 1948. Engraved on the face of the seal are the founding date of the institution, 1854, and a clipper ship with the Latin word “Progredi” indicating progress. President Keenan’s medallion is made of pewter and the date of his inauguration is engraved on the back.
During the Middle Ages, the wood mace clad in metal was an effective weapon in battle, but as newer and more powerful military arms developed, it was transformed into a symbol of dignity and authority. The earliest ceremonial maces were borne by bodyguards of 12th century English and French kings; by the end of the 16th century, they were used widely by officials of English cities and towns.
Today the use of the ceremonial mace is found in the British Houses of Parliament, carried before ecclesiastical dignitaries and in university and college convocations. The Salem State University mace, which precedes the president in procession and traditionally is carried by the senior tenured faculty member, represents the president’s responsibility as the chief academic and administrative officer of the university. Commissioned by President James T. Amsler in 1979, the late Salem State Art Professor, Arthur W. Smith, designed the mace, which features the university’s seal on all four faces. It was first carried during the 1980 commencement exercises by Timothy F. Clifford, who was a music professor.
The Traditions of the Inauguration
The inaugural ceremony commences with an invocation, followed by greetings from many representatives of the campus community, reflecting the spirit of the collegiate family. Salutations follow by emissaries of the City of Salem, the Commonwealth, and the Federal Government. After inaugural remarks, the robing ceremony commences, and is succeeded by the induction at which time the president accepts the charge to faithfully execute the duties of the office. As part of the induction, the president is presented with the Salem State University medallion and mace. The inaugural address culminates the ceremony, and is succeeded by the academic convocation and the recessional.