Did You Know? – The History of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University

The History of the Graduate College at Western Michigan University
- Christine Byrd-Jacobs

Graduate education at WMU began in July 1938 with a cooperative agreement between the University of Michigan and the four State Teacher’s Colleges. This agreement made Western State Teacher’s College (later WMU) an extramural unit of the University of Michigan’s Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Dr. Manley H. Ellis was the chairman of the Graduate Council that was formed to manage this cooperative agreement. Students applied to the University of Michigan, although they were enrolled at Western State Teacher’s College. Graduate courses on Western’s campus began in 1939 and were offered by instructors from the University of Michigan or faculty from Western who were approved by the University of Michigan. Four graduate courses were offered, and 147 graduate students enrolled that first year. It was possible for students to complete all of the work for their master’s degree at Western, although their degree was conferred by the University of Michigan. Dr. Elmer H. Wilds was appointed in 1940 as chairman of the Graduate Division of Western, the precursor to the Graduate College.

A photo of the exterior of Walwood Hall where the Graduate College is currently located.

In 1950, President Paul Sangren began conversations with the Graduate Council about establishing independent graduate programs at Western, ending the affiliation with the University of Michigan. The State Board of Education authorized Western Michigan College of Education (WMU) to offer its first independent graduate program, a master of arts in education, in 1952. Dr. Elmer Wilds, Director of the Graduate Division, oversaw the transition to independent graduate programs. In the first year that Western offered graduate programs, there were 445 students enrolled. The first master’s degrees in education from Western were awarded in 1953, with 146 degrees conferred that year.

Dr. George G. Mallinson became the Director of the Graduate Division in 1955. Western Michigan College reorganized in 1956 and established five schools: School of Applied Arts & Sciences, School of Business, School of Education, School of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and School of Graduate Studies. Dr. George Mallinson was named the founding dean of the School of Graduate Studies. This was the official unit through which graduate programs were offered. These five original schools are represented in the WMU seal as the five stars. Western Michigan College became Western Michigan University in 1957. That same year, graduate degree offerings at WMU were expanded to include master’s of arts in biology, psychology, history, political science, sociology, and librarianship, with chemistry and mathematics added soon after.

WMU was a leader in the development of sixth-year programs leading to a Specialist Degree. This degree program was approved by the Board of Education in 1960, and in 1961 the North Central Association accredited two Specialist in Education programs at WMU, the first in the country to receive accreditation.

The first doctoral programs at Western Michigan College (WMU) were authorized by the Board of Trustees in 1965. The State Board of Education approved doctoral programs at WMU in educational administration, special education, and science education in December 1965, and in January 1966 they approved doctoral programs in sociology and chemistry. The first two doctoral degrees from WMU were awarded in educational administration in 1968 to BuenaFluor Mendoza and Robert Vermeulen.

In 1970, the School of Graduate Studies was renamed the Graduate College, and Dr. George Mallinson became the dean of the Graduate College. In 1971, the North Central Association granted full accreditation for doctoral programs in chemistry, mathematics, sociology, science education, and educational leadership.

Dr. Mallinson continued to lead graduate education at WMU as dean of the Graduate College until 1977. His leadership was followed by Dr. Sid Dykstra, who served as acting dean until Dr. Laurel A. Grotzinger was appointed dean of the Graduate College and chief research officer in 1979. She was the first female academic dean at WMU, and her dual appointment illustrated the increasing emphasis on research at the institution. in 1992 Dr. Grotzinger was succeeded by Dr. Rollin G. Douma, who served first as interim dean and then dean until 1997. Dr. Shirley Scott was dean of the Graduate College from 1997-1999, when the position was added to Vice President for Research Dr. Donald Thompson’s portfolio. Dr. Thompson moved the Graduate College from its former home in Seibert Administration building to Walwood Hall at East Campus. Dr. William Wiener served as dean from 2002-2005 and was followed by acting dean Dr. Ronald Davis. Dr. Lewis R. Pyenson held the position from 2005 until 2010. Dr. Gene Freudenberg served as interim dean until current dean Dr. Susan Stapleton’s appointment in 2012.

In the first year WMU had its own graduate programs (1952), graduate students made up a mere 8.3% of the student population. Graduate student numbers and graduate degree programs steadily grew throughout the years. Graduate students made up 19.6% of the student population at WMU in 1974, and they currently are 21% of the students at WMU. In 2015, there are 5025 graduate students at WMU in 167 graduate programs. We currently offer 95 master’s, 1 specialist, 13 certificate, 15 accelerated, and 42 doctoral programs.

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