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1980s

The economic troubles of the prior decade extended into this one. Declining state support for higher education, inflation, and federal regulations continued to take a toll on education in the state of Michigan. In fact, in 1982 the state of Michigan ranked 50th in terms of the growth rate for the support of higher education. One outcome was that U-M no longer was a truly public university as private funds were required to support the majority of operations. Another was that for access to graduate education grants and fellowships were increasingly essential.

People’s Rights Rally on the Diag, 1981

People’s Rights Rally on the Diag, 1981

Rackham leadership was at the forefront of the national fight against federal budget cutbacks of loan and fellowship funds that seriously jeopardized the future of graduate education and at the same time sought to increase resources for students on campus. For example, The One Term Fellowship was created, giving a term of support to students who were able to complete their dissertations within that span of time. Similar recognition was given to the need to support faculty research. The Faculty Fellowship Enhancement Award program was created by Rackham and OVPR with the purpose of providing modest grants to faculty who have been awarded prestigious national fellowships in the hope that more U-M faculty would apply for such fellowships.

President Fleming and demonstrators, 1988

President Fleming and demonstrators, 1988

The challenges to the access of women and minorities to higher education endured. Although 9.8 percent of Rackham doctorate degrees had been awarded to African Americans in 1975, by 1987 that number had plummeted to 4.6 percent. The Graduate School responded with innovation. The Rackham Merit Fellowship (RMF) was created in 1983 as a multi-year funding package for students historically underrepresented in graduate education. To increase the potential pipeline of applicants, the Summer Research Opportunity Program (SROP) was offered to promising minority undergraduate students. The first Summer Institute was in 1989, providing the opportunity for an accelerated introduction to graduate school to all incoming RMF recipients.

Pushed by the student strike in 1987 known as Black Action Movement (BAM) III, the administration negotiated with students. The outcome was a six point action plan that set the foundation for what became known as the Michigan Mandate. Its strategies for increasing diversity on campus coupled academic excellence with social diversity and fell under four rubrics: student recruitment, achievement and outreach; improving the environment for diversity; faculty recruitment and development; staff recruitment and development. As a result of the Rackham initiatives stemming from the Michigan Mandate, for the period of 1986 to 1992, successful candidacy for students of color rose to 73 percent (candidacy for white students was 70 percent during this same period).

The energy and resources devoted by Rackham during this time did not come at the expense of its multifaceted mission. In 1981 Rackham held the first grant competition for research opportunities for U-M faculty members in the People’s Republic of China. The Wallenberg Endowment was established at Rackham in 1985 to commemorate Raoul Wallenberg and to recognize annually those whose own courageous actions echo his extraordinary values and achievements. The interdisciplinary Institute for the Humanities was developed by Rackham in 1987. In the fall of 1988 Rackham aptly honored the 50th anniversary of the building’s construction with a national symposium on “Intellectual History and Academic Culture at the University of Michigan.” The key role played by the Graduate School at U-M is reflected in the move in 1984 to expand the Dean’s role with the additional designation of Vice Provost for Academic Affairs.