Published November 5, 2021
If you happened to be watching “Jeopardy!” Thursday night, you would have noticed UB turned up as one of the clues.
“The OED found the University of Buffalo was the first to use this number denoting an introductory course, in 1929.”
The correct response: What is 101?
“It’s fun national exposure,” says John DellaContrada, vice president for university communications, “but it’s also a reminder that UB continues to innovate in higher education — from the creation of 101 courses in the 1920s to the creation of courses in artificial intelligence today.”
Intrigued by the amusing revelation from the beloved game show, UBNow dug deep into its archives to learn that there is a little more to the story.
According to a UB article in 2009, the question about the widely used numbering system for college courses — 100s and 200s for lower levels, 300s and 400s for upper level — came up in a story published by Slate magazine that cited as its source the universally accepted authority on English language: the Oxford English Dictionary or OED, for short.
That led a researcher at another university to contact staff in University Archives to confirm that “101” had indeed originated at UB.
“The prospect of ‘101’ having been invented at UB sent Archives’ staff scurrying to the OED,” John Edens, then the university archivist, wrote at the time.
The OED confirmed that the University of Buffalo — later changed to the University at Buffalo — was credited with introducing the course-numbering system in the University of Buffalo Bulletin dated Dec. 1, 1929.
But staff members weren’t quite satisfied with the dictionary’s claim and further research showed that the first use actually occurred five years earlier when a bulletin from 1924 also included a description of the number system, Edens wrote in 2009.
“A correction was rushed to the editors of the OED, who agreed to change the entry for ‘101’ the next time they review that section of the publication,” Edens wrote.
The need to correct “the accepted authority on the evolution of the English language over the last millennium,” as the OED refers to itself, caused some doubts among the staff of University Archives:
Did “101” actually originate at UB?
If OED had the wrong date, maybe it had the wrong institution, too?
“Thus far,” Edens wrote, “nothing has been located in the historical records of the College of Arts and Sciences, or any other collection available in the Archives, documenting that someone at UB conceived this method of distinguishing elementary courses from advanced ones.
“But,” Edens added, “neither has anything been located indicating UB copied the idea from another institution.”
And that’s still the case today, says Edens, who retired in 2012.
So, until proven otherwise, it’s UB’s recognition to own.
Besides, who’s to argue with the Oxford English Dictionary?
Nice quote: “It’s fun national exposure,” says John DellaContrada, vice president for university communications, “but it’s also a reminder that UB continues to innovate in higher education — from the creation of 101 courses in the 1920s to the creation of courses in artificial intelligence today.”
Courses in artificial intelligence also have a long history at UB. The computer science department at UB was founded in 1967, which was one of the first in the country. The first artificial intelligence courses were introduced at UB in the 1970s. Today, there are a dozen courses in artificial intelligence at UB with titles such as pattern recognition, machine learning, deep learning and reinforcement learning, with several hundred students enrolled in them.