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1970s

These were the years when Michigan truly earned its reputation for dissent in the service of social justice and societal change. While the student protests gained national attention, of more significance in the long term are the responses on the part of U-M and the Graduate School that resulted in immediate, long-term changes in graduate education and culture of graduate school. By the end of the 1970s, national economic decline resulted in a substantial cut in the financial support for graduate education; this required the leadership at Rackham to respond creatively while still maintaining the value of equal access to higher education and the opportunities it brings.

Center for the Continuing Education of Women scholarship winners, 1971

Center for the Continuing Education of Women scholarship winners, 1971

During the second half of the 1960s there was increasing campus unrest as faculty, graduate and undergraduate students expressed their frustration over the underrepresentation of minorities in every sector of the campus community. Students formed the Black Action Movement (BAM) and in 1970 they led a campus-wide strike, demanding that the university provide whatever funding was needed to increase the percentage of blacks on campus. Rackham responded by creating an Office of Graduate Minority Affairs in 1971 which in turn was responsible for implementing recommendations for recruiting and other services. Rackham also rapidly expanded the existing Opportunity Program and it quickly became one of the largest of its kind in the country. This program worked in conjunction with departments to select suitable faculty, allocate funding, and provide other means of support. By 1975 the percentage of doctoral degrees awarded to African Americans increased to 9.8%.

GEO rally 1970s

GEO rally 1970s

In 1960 11% of graduate students were women and a decade later that had almost doubled. Yet greater numbers did not result in equal treatment. In 1970 a group of women at U-M filed a complaint with U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare against the university. This cited inequality of opportunity in applications for admission, funding, salaries and a host of other areas. As a result, the government withheld federal grant money during investigation and the university created the Commission for Women that same year. This commission went on to uncover the extent of the problem in the Graduate School. Men were far more likely to receive the best research funding, women were discouraged from many fields, particularly in STEM. As a result of these and many other findings graduate departments were obliged to set affirmative action goals and processes to meet them. Rackham’s Dean Donald Stokes formed a panel in 1972 to consider the status of women and to recommend steps to consider guaranteeing equal access to graduate education. In 1974, the Committee on the Status of Women in Graduate Study and Later Careers issued a report, The Higher, the Fewer. As a result of the findings, the Board of Governors established a new fellowship program for nontraditional students.

Earth Day demonstration, 1970

Earth Day demonstration, 1970

These rapid changes occurred in the context of abrupt economic downturn. Nationally, problems such as the oil embargo, inflation, and reduced federal funding disrupted both the general fund and research budgets. When U-M announced a 24% increase in tuition in 1973, with no increase in Teaching Fellow salaries, graduate students intensified their efforts to organize a union. The next year they successfully voted to form the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO). Eventually they emerged with a contract that had a 10% tuition waiver, and a stipulation that future contracts would be applied without regard to non-relevant factors such as sex, race, creed, color, religion, national origin, age, handicap, or sexual preference.

The struggling job market resulted in the need to find jobs in the non-academic arena. During the second half of the 1970s Rackham took leadership on numerous fronts. For example, Rackham sponsored the Conference on Alternative Careers for Ph.D.s in the Humanities and Social Sciences; initiated a study of Ph.D. employment, supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor; established the Ph.D. Review Committee to determine how to evaluate the quality of programs and suggest the future direction of graduate education; convened an international conference on the future of graduate education, supported by the NEH; hosted a conference with the National Association of Manufacturers to explore common interests and problems in industry and the university; joined General Motors in sponsoring a Conference on Business Careers for Ph.D.s in the Humanities.

Last updated: December 6, 2016 - 11:14am