Graduate College at 50
English Assessment Program
Graduate College at 100
Over the course of its one-hundred-year history, the Graduate College has made great contributions to both the University and State of Oklahoma. While intended as the university’s center of intellectual and industrial research from its inception, the Graduate College has succeeded in this goal while also playing a major role in the development of the broader culture of the state. From its expected leadership role in science, the humanities, and fine arts to essential contributions in politics, civil rights and the intellectual climate of Oklahoma, the Graduate College, like the state it serves, has much to celebrate as it closes its first century -- and much to anticipate as it enters its second.
The University of Oklahoma was chartered in 1890 and began its first academic school year in the fall of 1893. However, graduate studies did not begin until 1899 and were not codified under a Graduate College until 1909. The first students at the university were not deemed ready to enroll in college-level classes, so the university’s spent its first year functioning primarily as a preparatory school. The university began offering college-level classes in 1894. Students received the first bachelor’s degrees four years later. President David Ross Boyd and the faculty moved quickly to provide the opportunity for these initial graduates to pursue postgraduate studies, entering regulations for advanced study into the university bulletin for 1898.
First Graduate (Back to top)
Graduate studies began in earnest in 1899 with the return of the university’s first graduate, Carlton Ross Hume. Hume was guided in his studies for a master’s degree in English by a future Pulitzer Prize winner, Vernon L. Parrington. This first graduate student necessitated not only a graduate advisor but also a Graduate Council. This panel consisted of three faculty members and was chaired by a future university president, James Buchanan, until its dissolution in 1909. The council developed the guidelines for earning a master’s degree that appear in the 1899 university catalog. Surprisingly, statutes for earning the Philosophical Doctorate also appeared in this catalog, but the degree was not awarded during the first decade of graduate studies at OU. The guidelines were removed from the university catalog of 1908-1909 with the explanation that it was not “the present policy of the university to offer work leading to the degree of Ph.D.” Beyond these duties establishing degree guidelines, the initial Graduate Council evaluated candidates for admission to graduate studies, monitored the progress of students, and oversaw each student’s final thesis defense. By 1909, the Graduate Council had overseen the work of six students earning their Master of Arts degrees and two receiving Master of Science degrees.
Under the second president of the university, A. Grant Evans, the Graduate Council gave way to a formalized Graduate School, lead by a dean. Evans, unlike his predecessor, was no longer focused on the survival of the university but rather its transition into a nationally-recognized state university. Within the growing society of higher education in the United States, graduate studies had become established as a defining difference between a college and a full university. College presidents, along with state politicians, increasingly sought to establish their institutions as universities in order to gain the distinction required to attract students and provide constituents with the highest level of education. Western states like Oklahoma were especially concerned with keeping the brightest young minds in the state rather than losing them to universities in the eastern U.S. or Europe. Graduate studies, and more specifically an autonomous graduate school, were therefore of great importance politically, socially and economically at the turn of the twentieth century.
Albert Heald Van Vleet
At the University of Oklahoma, the newly-founded Graduate School assumed the duties of the Graduate Council and the dean assumed responsibility for supervising all post-graduate students. Albert Heald Van Vleet, originally hired for his expertise in natural science research, was a logical choice for this new post. A researcher with several publications to his name, Van Vleet sought to uphold the integrity of graduate studies by requiring the highest quality original research from his students. From his appointment in 1909 to his death in 1925, Van Vleet oversaw a vast growth in graduate studies. Van Vleet did not hire a staff; he ran the College out of his biology department office. From just 10 students in 1909 to more than 300 in 1925, Van Vleet oversaw the defense of every degree and acted as an advisor for every student.
The growth of the college, while generally steady in its first decade, was reversed by American entry into World War I. Government support of education kept undergraduate enrollment steady through the war years, but graduate students were seen as prime candidates to be officers in the armed services. Though the war ended in 1919, it was not until 1922 that the number of degrees granted by the Graduate School reached pre-war levels.
While Van Vleet ran a one-man college, his successor, Homer L. Dodge, developed the administrative capabilities of the Graduate School. From the hiring of the first secretaries and stenographers to the addition of managerial staff and assistant deans, the college grew as a bureaucratic institution. This growth in staff signaled a growth in power and prestige that shifted the Graduate School from a small sub-community within the College of Arts and Sciences into an independent campus leader in developing overarching university policies.
First Doctorate (Back to top)
Growth in the faculty and the student body, both graduate and undergraduate, increased the desire for realization of a doctoral program, originally suggested as early as 1900. In 1929, the University of Oklahoma awarded its first doctorate to Mary Jane Brown, for her studies in ecology through the Department of Zoology. The establishment of the University Press in the same year further demonstrated the university’s emphasis on original scholarly work. In his article, “With Optimism for the Morrow,” university historian Charles Long wrote:
“So the graduate school became the focal point of the University, and that meant that standards throughout the University must be kept at the parity set by such schools as Harvard or Yale. Thus, along with the development of research has gone the consistent effort to improve scholarship of students.”*
While doctoral studies were offered in six fields (chemistry, education, geology, history, physics, and zoology) during the 1930s, the university had granted only five total doctoral degrees by 1940. The majority of the master’s degrees granted by the Graduate School were in education. In many ways, OU was serving primarily as a Normal School for Oklahoma, producing teachers for the state’s grammar schools.
Research Institute (Back to top)
Seeking to stimulate the growth of scientific research at the university, Dean Dodge and President William Bizzell developed the Research Institute as a way of reaching out to industry and government sponsors. With his background in physics and engineering and ties to the War Department, Dodge reached out to state industry magnates like Lloyd Noble to develop an autonomous research clearing house to couple the man power of the university faculty with the industry resources of Oklahoma’s growing oil and agricultural industries. Despite the loss of students to the military during World War II, the university granted more than 70 doctoral degrees from 1941-1945. Defense contracts along with agricultural research funding led to the rapid growth in the physics and chemistry departments, as well as the development of doctoral programs in botany and mathematics.
Although originally intended to be directed by the Graduate Dean, management of university research was split from the Graduate College in the late 1940s. After 30 years of enormous growth, the Research Institute again came under the jurisdiction of the Graduate Dean in 1972 and was re-incorporated into the university as the Office of Research Administration. The alliance between graduate education and high-level research has been re-established through the unification of the positions of Graduate Dean and Vice President for Research Administration.
During the 1940s, the deanship of the Graduate College changed hands four times, with three different interim deans serving appointments before a permanent candidate, Victor E. Monnett, was found. University president George Lynn Cross, while serving as interim dean in 1943, noted that the person providing the Graduate College continuity and keeping it running on a daily basis in these years was the assistant to the dean, Erma Margaret Bickett. Bickett worked in the College from 1932 through 1944, a 12-year tenure that exceeds in length the terms of all but two of the deans. Her successor, Alberta McCann, stayed with the College for 25 years, the longest tenure of anyone associated with the Graduate College. During this time she worked with seven different deans. From 1932 to 1982, the College had 14 different deans or interim deans, but only three assistants to the dean. While the Graduate College deans have achieved much in representing the college and the university, it is the staff that has drafted much of the college policy and handled the daily interactions with thousands of students for the last 75 years.
Desegregation (Back to top)
One of the turning points in the history of the university, state and nation took place with one application to the Graduate College in 1946. That year, the University of Oklahoma became one of the first universities in a state with laws institutionalizing racial segregation to begin the process of ending discriminatory racial separation in higher education.
Ada Louis Sipuel Fisher earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Langston University in 1945. She subsequently applied for admission to the University of Oklahoma law school. Oklahoma state law required education at all levels to be segregated under the “separate but equal” doctrine prevailing at that time in Southern states. Sipuel Fisher filed suit, pointing to the lack of law schools in the state that were open to African Americans, denying her access to any separate accommodation, equal or not. George McLaurin, recently-retired professor from Langston University, followed Sipuel Fisher in 1948, applying for admission to the doctoral program in education at OU. The university, under the advice of state legal counsel, denied both applications, stating that while the candidates were both academically qualified, they could not be enrolled legally on the basis of their race. While Sipuel Fisher and her attorneys, including the noted NAACP lawyer and future Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, ultimately fought for three years to show the inadequacy of educational facilities for African Americans, early court decisions made it possible for the university to admit McLaurin in 1948, making him the first African American to be enrolled at a “white school” in Oklahoma. Sipuel Fisher gained admission the following year, becoming the first female African American law student at a “white” Southern law school.
Even after the successful admission of McLaurin and, later, Sipuel Fisher, each faced continued obstacles from state laws regarding racial separation at the university. President George Lynn Cross was bound by the letter of the race laws and adhered to the requirements of internal segregation. McLaurin was forced to take classes in a separate, but attached, room from his white classmates. Sipuel Fisher was required to sit in a special, roped-off section in her classrooms. The cafeteria, the library, and the football stadium were all cordoned off to create separate sections for white students and black student. McLaurin challenged this continued segregation and won his case in the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the 1950 decision, George W. McLaurin v. Oklahoma Board of Regents for Higher Education, the Court ruled that segregation "handicapped him in his pursuit of effective graduate instruction." Four years later, in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the Court found that separate is inherently unequal. While the state of Oklahoma may have been slow to overturn the segregation laws, the support of many of the university’s students and administration for desegregation is readily apparent in the pages of the student newspaper and magazines of the day, in the recollections of Sipuel Fisher, in the support of Dean Snyder and in President Cross’s first person account, Blacks in White Colleges.
Graduate College at 50 (Back to top)
At 50, the Graduate College at the University of Oklahoma could look back on its first half-century as, on the whole, a grand success. Enrollment had grown from just 10 graduate students in 1909 to more than 1200 in 1960. In that year alone, 50 doctorates, in 22 fields, were awarded along with more than 300 master’s degrees, representing 51 majors. However, enrollment in graduate studies at OU stagnated in the 1950s, despite the huge, post-War influx of undergraduate students to the university in the 1940s; increasing national recognition of the university in the fields of chemical engineering, petroleum engineering, geology, meteorology, physics and physiology; and the opening of academic opportunities to persons of color. The university saw little increase in student population from the end of World War II through 1960. The Graduate College itself had been run by a small staff of four (the dean, an associate dean, and two administrative assistants) since 1935.
Considering the lack of growth during the 1940s and 1950s, it must have seemed far-fetched to many when, in 1961, newly-installed Dean Arthur Doerr called for enrollment and degrees to quadruple over the next decade. “It is important for us to dramatically expand the education of students at the graduate level in order for us to meet the scientific, technological, human, sociological, political, aesthetic, moral and religious aspirations of man,” claimed Doerr in his “Plan for Excellence: A Report of Needs of the Graduate College.” That Doerr called for such dramatic expansion seems even more unlikely considering that many within the university were questioning the continued need for a Graduate College.
In 1961, the so-called “undergraduate deans,” led by the dean of the engineering college, proposed dividing responsibility for graduate students amongst the colleges in which they studied. Each college would assign a staff member or hire an associate dean to oversee the graduate education within the college. This plan was studied, debated, and even voted on, but eventually abandoned in 1965. It was ultimately agreed that the Graduate College dean helped ensure the high quality of graduate standards across the university. The dean’s role in negotiating research contracts and raising funds for fellowships and scholarships was also seen as a vital and complicated task, best performed by a single university representative. New funding from NASA, along with increased funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other government and private sources, increased the attractiveness of the university as a place to conduct graduate studies. The deans of the Graduate College also managed significant increases in the funding for research professors during the late 1950s and early 1960s, further increasing the regional and national recognition of the university. The deans also recruited students and represented the university at conferences and in the community. During the 1962-1963 school year, Dean Doerr attended six conferences, gave 24 speeches at community events, visited more than a dozen regional colleges, published seven articles, and taught a class each semester.
Despite the challenge to his position and the continued under-staffing of the Graduate College (the college had no more than five staff members at any time from 1935 until 1970), Dean Doerr saw enrollment double in his first two years, and by the end of the decade his goal of enrolling 5000 graduate students had been achieved. The number of departments offering master’s degree programs increased from 64 to 89 and the number of Ph.D. program offerings increased from 24 to 34. The Graduate College’s growth in the 1960s remains unmatched in any other decade, up to the present day.
During the 1970s, growth again slowed, as restrictions in funding brought tightened university budgets. Nonetheless, the Graduate College dean was kept busy by the restoration of responsibility for research administration. The Research Institute, which had been affiliated with, but officially autonomous from, the university since the 1940s, was returned in 1973 by changes in state law regarding university administration. With the merging of the two offices, much of the staff from the Institute was hired into the Office for Research Administration, which assumed many of the tasks that had been performed by the Research Institute. The dean at that time, Arthur Gentile, was given the additional title Vice Provost for Research and Administration. Later changed to Vice President for Research, this coupling of jobs in one person finally gave the Graduate Dean both academic and financial control of research, something longed for since the College’s creation. In an article entitled “The Changing Role of the Graduate Dean,” Kenneth Hoving, Dean of the Graduate College from 1979-1990, listed the increased interaction with for-profit firms as one of the new facets of the deanship. Negotiating the blending of open academic research by graduate students and the proprietary concerns of private companies required a level of business acumen that was not required in the first fifty years of the college. The need for administrative skills was also greatly increased as the Graduate College Dean was now responsible for running two separate offices: the college itself and the Office of Research Administration.
In the 1980s the Graduate College led the way for the university in computerizing applications and recruitment. Under the initiative of Associate Dean Eddie Carol Smith, the typewriters used by the College were replaced by an IBM 5520 computer system. The college developed a modern tracking system for applicants to graduate programs and an automated system for corresponding with potential graduate students from the initial contact through the entire admission process. This computerization was groundbreaking not only for the university but also represented one of the first steps in the nation to create a computerized tracking system for graduate studies.
Advanced Programs (Back to top)
Programs were also expanded during this time to deal with non-traditional students. Advanced Programs, first started in the 1960s, were set up to offer graduate education to military personnel. Though initially targeted only at troops on bases in Oklahoma, the Advanced Programs were extended to bases around the nation and throughout the world in the 1980s. Students in Advanced Programs generally are provided with material to study over the course of several weeks, as an introduction to the course. They then attend a week-long, intensive class led by OU faculty who are flown around the world to teach these classes. After several more weeks of study, the students take final examination to test their competency in the course information. By the end of the 1980s, more than a quarter of the graduate degrees awarded by the university went to military personnel around the world. Today, more than 2000 students enrolled through Advanced Programs make OU the Department of Defense’s largest provider of graduate education among public universities.
English Assessment Program (Back to top)
To meet the demands of increased graduate enrollment by international students in the 1980s, the English Assessment Program was developed to ensure the quality of classroom instruction provided by the university’s graduate teaching assistants. This program requires written and oral English language assessments, including a simulated lecture in the student's graduate teaching area. This program actually predated the State Regents’ mandate and led to the establishment of the office currently directed by Assistant Dean Janis Paul. The decade also brought redefinition to admission of unclassified graduate students, including more restricted admission and a limit to credit hours allowed in this status. Revisions in the admission process and the academic credentials required of applicants helped insure improvement in the quality of graduate students. Renewed growth in funding for research also attracted increasingly skilled students and faculty.
The renewed focus on student recruitment and education in the 1980s was in part due to a nationwide shift in philosophy on graduate education. While the 1970s had seen dramatic growth in scholarship and research at the university, the graduate dean and university presidents sought a more balanced coupling of education and research in the 1980s. Dean Hoving re-evaluated the requirements for graduate faculty during this time, to ensure that faculty teaching graduate level courses were fully qualified to teach at the more intensive level required for graduate-level instruction.
From 1980 to 1999, the Graduate College benefited from continuity in its leadership. The decade-long tenure of Dean Hoving (1980-1990) was followed by the promotion of his associate dean, Eddie Carol Smith, following a brief period of direction under Daniel J. O’Neil (1991-1993). The policies and initiatives instituted throughout the eighties were allowed to develop in the nineties, with many continuing through the present day. One of the most successful of these initiatives was the further development of graduate fellowships.
Graduate Fellowships (Back to top)
Beginning in 1988, under Assistant Dean Bill Ray, the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowship extended fellowships to underrepresented groups in departments throughout the university. By 1994, more than 25 fellowships a year were being awarded in meteorology, math, music and other fields to enhance minority representation in those disciplines. The growth of the Alumni Fellowship program in the 1990s was also a major step in recruiting top flight graduate students and enhancing the national image of the university. By the end of the century, funding for Alumni Fellows had grown to a quarter of a million dollars, and, through continued development, now approaches half a million dollars each year. The achievements of these top flight students have, in turn, increased the ability of the departments to raise additional educational and research funding. Dean T.H. Lee Williams’ program to obtain funds from the OU Foundation to match private donations for fellowships has effectively doubled the number of new fellows funded in recent years.
Interdisciplinary Degrees (Back to top)
Another development, begun in the 1980s and continuing through the present, has been the expansion of inter-disciplinary degrees. Deans Hoving and Smith sought to break away from the traditional disciplinary boundaries, decrease the time to graduation and promote degrees that help students in their professional fields – all initiatives that continue to see focus and growth under Dean Williams. Through the revision of admissions policies, new collaborations with state and private research partners and the creation of cross-disciplinary institutes and innovative degree programs, graduate students are increasingly able to step away from the Cherokee Gothic walls of OU and find they are prepared for the modern workplace.
The story of the first century of the University of Oklahoma’s Graduate College is one of growth in size, opportunity and knowledge. Students working closely with faculty have been on the forefront of groundbreaking research in physics, chemistry, meteorology, engineering and biotechnologies. Performances in the School of Music and productions by the College of Fine Arts have earned national acclaim. In the social sciences and the humanities, graduate students at OU have made contributions to scholarship and gone on from the university to successful careers with employers in every part of the state and country, as well as around the world.
The National Weather Center: Just one of the collaborative successes of the developing Research Campus
The Graduate College has a proud history of promoting diversity and advancing the cause of social justice in Oklahoma -- granting the university’s first doctorate to Mary Brown, admitting George McLaurin as the first African American student at the university and Ada Louis Sipuel Fisher as the first African American woman to attend a law school in the segregated South. Today, the Graduate College attracts international students from around the world to pursue graduate degrees in all fields, enriching the environment of the university community with new ideas, outlooks and cultures. Fellowships and scholarships open advanced studies to minority and first-generation college students.
Graduate College at 100 (Back to top)
At 100, the Graduate College has much to look back on with pride and much to look forward to with anticipation. The expanded possibilities offered through government and business partnerships at the Research Campus -- like the National Weather Center and the Stephenson Research and Technology Center -- offer ever-greater opportunities to attract and retain the best minds in the state, nation and from around the world. New, expanding and improving facilities across campus provide increased prospects for graduate exploration in all disciplines. At the start of its second century, the political, environmental and economic challenges of today point to the continuing opportunities, and the ongoing need, for the Graduate College at the University of Oklahoma.
*Charles F. Long, “With Optimism for the Morrow: A History of the University of Oklahoma,” Sooner Magazine, 38 1 (Sept. 1965), p. 51
The Graduate College history project was researched by John Stewart, a graduate research assistant working for the Graduate College. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2006 from the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in Letters and minored in the History of Science. In 2008, He also earned his master’s degree in the History of Science from OU. John’s primary research interest is in eighteenth-century chemistry. He is currently working to develop an online graduate journal in the history of science and serving as a teaching assistant.