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Sixty years after completing his undergraduate coursework at Columbia University, the educator and philosopher Mortimer J. Adler has received the B.A. degree denied him because he failed a swimming test as an undergraduate.

Mr. Adler, who holds a Ph.D. from Columbia, is the author of more than 40 books, and is now able to swim, wrote to the school at the end of last year that he would be pleased to accept the degree if Columbia officials could see their way clear to granting it. "While it is a trifle extraordinary to receive a B.A. 55 years after receiving a Ph.D.,'' Mr. Adler wrote, "I think the time order is less important than the or-der of values. In my scale of values, the B.A. is the higher degree, so far as signifying a start in the process of becoming an educated person."

Along with the other graduating seniors, Mr. Adler was scheduled to receive his diploma last week. Of his earlier failure, he said, "I didn't know how to swim. I was very poor on the parallel bars and my phys-ed class came at the wrong hour."

Columbia officials are pleased by Mr. Adler's decision. The college is "touched by this sincere request from someone who has received so many other degrees," said William E. Oliver, director of college relations. "Of course, we're also glad that he has learned to swim."

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