Skip to:

1950s

International conflict continued to have a significant influence on graduate education at the U-M in this decade, just as it had in the preceding ten years. As the Second World War gave way to the Korean War and then the Cold War, our campus saw both a familiar fluctuation in enrollment and an even more intensified engagement in research and amount of funding available for research. The rapid expansion of interdisciplinary fields, a hallmark of the University by mid-century, allowed us to compete on a global as well as a national scale. Because Rackham provided oversight for graduate programs and was not part of another office, school or college, it took on the responsibility for managing research funding for the entire University.

nuclear engineering students

Nuclear engineering students attend class at the Ford Nuclear Reactor.

When the Korean War ended in 1953, graduate enrollment leapt to 4,042. Rackham was third among the nation’s graduate schools in the number of master’s degrees conferred (1,423), and seventh in the number of doctorates (265) that year. However, rising enrollment and demand for larger faculty resulted in 20% of instructors being Teaching Fellows (ABDs) by 1957. Political and labor movements emerging in the U.S. two decades earlier made their mark of our campus. For example, in 1954 graduate students formed their own organization, the Graduate Student Council (later known as the Rackham Student Government). That same year, three U-M professors were called before the House Subcommittee on Un-American activities, refused to answer some questions, and were suspended by President Hatcher.

Dr. Donald Glazer

Magnetic spectrograph. Dr. Donald Glazer, physics instructor, in charge. March, 1951

The Graduate School continued to serve as an incubator for innovative projects. Many had their beginning when they were housed in and partially supported by Rackham. These included, Gerontology Research, Michigan Historical Collections, the Linguistic Atlas, and the English Language Institute. The Research Laboratory installed an IBM 650 computer in 1955 and the explosive demand for computing services resulted in a new division of the Statistical Research Laboratory, called the Computing Center, created in 1959. Between 1955-1958 12 new doctoral programs in interdepartmental efforts: Aeronautics and Astronautics, Engineering Materials, Nuclear Science, Social Work and Social Science, American Culture, Communication Sciences, Far Eastern Studies, and Industrial Health were among the new graduate degree programs.

Alex Veliko, Bruce Arden, and Bernard Galler

Alex Veliko (computer operator), Bruce Arden (research associate) and Bernard Galler (assistant professor of math) at work with the printer that transcribed computer results from tape to paper.

The American response to the launching of Sputnik in 1957 spurred the most notable expansion of scientific and engineering fields, markedly expanding defense-oriented research. This was accompanied by a parallel influx of monies that supported student researchers through the projects. Over the next decade the availability of funding helped to double enrollment and number of doctorates awarded. It’s significant that the Graduate School did not choose to withdraw support for social sciences and humanities. Rather, the Executive Board distributed the bulk of its quarter million in General Funds and Rackham monies to students and research in these fields in effort to preserve the excellent programs in which U-M held national prominence.

By the close of this decade the amount of financial support for research ran to the millions of dollars and University leadership saw the Graduate School as the logical and most suitable place in which to establish the Office of Research Administration. Ralph Sawyer, Dean of Rackham, was appointed as the University’s first Vice President for Research while simultaneously remaining Dean as the roles had parallel missions. Of course, having dedicated leadership and staff for this office served in turn to facilitate successful grant-seeking from federal and corporate concerns.

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