The poor economy and rapidly dwindling state support for higher education through the prior two decades took a toll on research universities. Nonetheless, the Rackham Graduate School remained one of largest at any research university in the U.S. with a notable number and variety of programs in every field of learning. And the number who graduated each year remained high. For example, during the academic year 1990-91, there were 652 doctoral and 1,560 master’s degrees awarded. Rackham was able to remain in the forefront as a result of innovations that prepared students for the challenges of the next century as this one drew to a close.
A longtime friend and colleague of Raoul Wallenberg, Ambassador Per Anger (seated in front of a portrait of Raoul Wallenberg) worked closely with him in Budapest to save the lives of thousands of Hungarian Jews. He received the Wallenberg Award in 1995.
Nancy Cantor became the first woman to be selected as Dean of the Rackham Graduate School in 1996.
Earl Lewis, professor of history and of Afroamerican and African Studies, was appointed the eleventh dean of the Graduate School in 1999.
Obstacles faced by women and underrepresented group were slowly being removed, in part because of Rackham’s forceful engagement with the values behind the Michigan Mandate, the university’s strategic plan created in the prior decade. Equal access to the highest levels of training and study depended in a large part on making the financial resources available for those without the means. One of the significant ways in which this was achieved was by awarding fellowships to historically underrepresented groups. By fall of 1991, Rackham provided 625 fellowships for academically talented students in these groups; this was an increase of 86 percent compared to 1987. Another way to ensure equitable distribution of funding was through teaching assistantships. By the early years of this decade, when women represented about 40 percent of all graduate students, women held approximately the same proportion of these assistantships as men. And this was the decade when first there was a female Dean, Nancy Cantor, professor of psychology, as well as the first African-American to be Dean of the Graduate School, Earl Lewis.
Rackham’s leadership engaged in a concentrated effort to secure additional funding for graduate students through grants from private foundations and federal sponsors, then amplifying the value of those awards with matching funds from the Rackham endowment. In 1991, the Mellon Foundation selected Rackham for participation in their Graduate Education Initiative. This had the goal of reducing student financial burden and attrition rates. At that time it was the largest effort ever undertaken by a private funder to support graduate training in the humanities. To expand the impact of the Mellon Fellowships, the Graduate School created Dean’s Fellowships to provide similar support to a set of programs in the arts and humanities. Similarly, Rackham continued to partner in successful proposals to the NSF’s highly competitive Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT). The scarcity of minorities in the sciences and academia became the focus of federal efforts to ensure that the future workforce in the sciences was diverse. In 1998 the Graduate School successfully applied to the NSF with a consortium of other Michigan research universities for a grant from the Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP). Rackham received six million dollars to develop innovative models for recruiting, mentoring, and retaining minority students in science and engineering doctoral programs.
Innovations by the Rackham administration and the quality of its programs are seen especially in the prominence of interdisciplinary studies available in U-M graduate programs. Rackham provided both the financial and administrative support required for a culture of interdisciplinarity to flourish. In 1995 Rackham’s personnel structure was changed to provide an associate dean for each of the four divisions into which Rackham groups the academic disciplines. This encouraged work within the divisions and across disciplines. The Graduate School encouraged flexibility by creating innovative certificate programs which allowed graduate students to receive credit for specialized coursework outside their home disciplines in a wide range of topics. This decade saw development of the International Institute with its area studies centers, the Rackham Interdisciplinary Seminars, the annual Summer Interdisciplinary Institute, and the Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshops created and lead by students.
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Published in: Rackham Centennial