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1960s

This is a decade known to Americans as a time of radical social change. Yet the focus in public memory on emerging civil rights, Johnson’s Great Society, and then the war in Viet Nam can distract from the realities of continuing intensive corporate and federal investment in advanced research. This is evident in the funding available for research and new fields of study at U-M. Early in the decade there were 220 research projects for industry on campus in addition to a flood of government contracts and foundation grants. And Rackham was the center of activity for it all. More important, perhaps, than campus unrest for the history of graduate education at U-M are the underlying institutional changes that positioned Rackham to address social needs.

Chihiro Kikuchi

Chihiro Kikuchi, professor of nuclear engineering, with graduate student in the mid 1960s.

The expansion of research contracts and new interdisciplinary programs that had begun after the war continued to accelerate at U-M. Not surprisingly, the development of new areas of graduate study continued to mirror national interests. For example, new programs within the Rackham family included Computer, Information and Control Engineering, Bioengineering, Toxicology, Natural Resources Economics, Public Health Administration, Social Work and Political Science, Water Resources Engineering, Ecology, and Urban and Regional Planning. Graduate study at U-M expanded not only to new fields but also new locations: a program in Mechanical Engineering was initiated on Michigan’s Dearborn campus. Despite size of enrollment and number of graduate degree programs, Michigan remained as always in the national forefront when it came to offering excellent graduate education. A study by the American Council on Education in 1969 rated U-M’s graduate degree programs within the top ten and often within the top five out of all in the country.

Rackham Building during U-M sesquicentennial events, 1967

In front of the Rackham Building during U-M sesquicentennial events, 1967.

Other facets of institutional change at the Graduate School during the 1960s resulted in practices considered long the norm at U-M by the end of the century. Some changes turned the degree-earning process into the familiar model we have now. Such was the Executive Board’s decision in 1966 to use the term Candidate in Philosophy to indicate those who had passed a comprehensive exam and completed all requirements except submission of a doctoral dissertation. The following year language requirements were modified so that departments could set their own guidelines and opt not to require a reading knowledge of French and German.

campus protest, 1960s

Campus protest in the late 1960s looking across the Diag toward Rackham.

A far more significant change took place in the policies determining the nature and use of the Rackham endowment. By a vote of the Rackham Board of Governors in 1964, the separate funds making up the Rackham endowment were joined into one. At the same time the Board determined that the Rackham Dean and Executive Board each year would decide how to use the annual allocations for graduate fellowships, faculty research grants and faculty subventions for publication. As a result of these changes, there was an astounding growth in the distribution of pre-doctoral fellowships: in 1961 there were 836 awarded and by 1967 there were 4,106 awarded.

Demonstration in support of 150 black students, April 1968.

Demonstration in support of 150 black students in sit-in at the Administration Building, April 1968.

Similarly, in 1967 these changes to the Rackham endowment resulted in the initiative known as the Opportunity Program. This focused on funding designated specifically for minority students with the goal of increasing their numbers among the graduate students. In only a few short years the demands for access to higher education and the efforts to institute rapid advances in diversifying U-M exploded on this campus.