Dean Albert H. Van Vleet
The first dean of the Graduate College, Albert Heald Van Vleet, was a man of great erudition. When Van Vleet was brought to the University by David Ross Boyd in 1899, he was the only member of the faculty to have earned a doctoral degree. He earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin, the University of Leipzig, and Johns Hopkins University. This personal experience in the first graduate programs in America along with a premier German University made Van Vleet extremely valuable in establishing graduate studies in Oklahoma.
Although founded in 1892, the University of Oklahoma was still little more than a glorified high school in 1898. The first Bachelor of Arts degree was not actually conferred until 1898 and the first Bachelor of Science degree was not granted until 1900. One measure requested by the school’s board of regents to move towards improving the university’s image was to develop a biology department, to ensure that the best students in the state did not emigrate for better education. The university’s first president President David Ross Boyd hired Van Vleet to head the nascent program. Considered a genius by many of his peers, Van Vleet founded the departments of biology, botany, and forestry at OU; oversaw the first years of the Graduate School; established the Oklahoma Geological Survey; and introduced the State Intercollegiate Track Meets. It was said of Van Vleet,
"He took supreme satisfaction in the growth of plants, boys and girls, his associates, departments, the university, and the town. All his teaching activities were devoted to helping people and things grow. Delight in growth is a good philosophy of life."
In addition to his field and administrative work for the university, Van Vleet was extremely active in the community during this time. In 1900, he presented a paper before the Oklahoma Teachers Association advocating medical examinations be administered in grammar schools. Having written to superintendents of schools in fourteen large cities, Van Vleet found that only Boston was currently administering such exams. Oklahoma adopted many of the measures he suggested, becoming a leader in what would later grow to a nationwide medical reform movement.
During the 1908-1909 school year, the university’s departments and schools were restructured. By the end of the year, there was a Graduate School; a College of Arts and Sciences; Schools of Fine Arts, Medicine, and Pharmacy; and the College of Engineering made up of schools of chemical, civil, electrical and mechanical Engineering, in addition to mining and geology. A new array of deans was promoted, primarily from department heads, although the creation or merging of some schools made this controversial. Albert Heald Van Vleet was chosen as dean of the newly-formed Graduate School, having served as chair of the undergraduate council since 1900.
Graduate studies had existed at the university since 1899 and the first graduate degree was awarded in 1900 to Carlton Ross Hume (also the first recipient of a university bachelor of arts in 1898). By the time of the founding of the Graduate School, six Master of Arts degrees had been awarded along with two Master of Science degrees. Having previously looked to a graduate council chaired by future university president James Buchanan, six graduate students now reported to Van Vleet as their advisor and mentor. From the beginning, Van Vleet maintained extremely high standards for the awarding of degrees and refused to grant honorary degrees to faculty or state politicians. He was also an advocate for those who worked hard and sought to ensure the value and validity of the graduate degrees award by the university. He attended every oral exam and made sure each was a just “test of the candidate’s power to think, organize his knowledge, and discover the relation of his special knowledge to the general field.” Van Vleet helped organize programs for professional degrees and the system of major and minor studies. He made admission, graduation and residence policies. He was active in every commencement from 1908 through 1925.
Dorothy Gittinger Wardner. The Territorial University of Oklahoma. Master’s Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1939.
Regents’ “Minutes,” June 20, 1898, pp.55.
In Memory pp. 26.
Jeffs, pp. 381-382.
Wardner, Appendix D.
University Catalog 1908/09.
In Memory, pp. 24.