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History of the University of Michigan

Institute of Public & Social Administration

The Institute of Public and Social Administration was established in 1936 as an integral part of the Graduate School of the University, to provide professional curriculums in social work and public administration, to co-ordinate technical offerings in these and in other closely related fields, and to provide facilities for research in them. Its special objectives were to equip men and women for professional service in social work and public administration and to train investigators. The Institute aimed to foster study and investigation and thus contribute to a better understanding of human nature and behavior as exhibited in our complex social and economic life.

The first of the developments that led to the establishment of the Institute began about 1914. The two phases of the present program developed more or less independently of each other. In 1914-15 a graduate program, which led to a master's degree in municipal administration was developed in connection with the Department of Political Science. The program included a minimum of one year of graduate work and at least three months of specified fieldwork. The courses listed were drawn from various departments, Political Science, Economics, Landscape Design, and Mathematics, and from the Law School and the College of Engineering. The first degree was granted in 1917. Sixty degrees had been conferred by 1935, when the program was discontinued. For most of this period the work had been conducted under the direction of Robert Treat Crane (Johns Hopkins '02, Ph.D. ibid. '07, LL.B. Maryland '07), Professor of Political Science.

Interest was shown, as early as 1916, in the establishment of a curriculum for the training of social workers. At that time the Department of Economics, which also included the Department of Sociology, requested the appointment of an instructor especially trained in city welfare work. The Regents, however, declined to make the appointment. Later in the same year, the Department of Economics requested that an instructor be appointed to give technical courses in methods of social betterment, but the Regents again declined because of the financial condition of the University.

It was not until 1921 that the adoption of a curriculum in social work was authorized (R.P., 1920-23, pp. 197-98). The curriculum was set up for the purpose of combining a broad training in the social sciences with work of a more specialized nature. An earlier resolution provided "that the President in co-operation with the Deans and other persons concerned make a careful study of the needs for the training of social workers in the state, … and the best methods by which the University could undertake to meet those needs, …" (R.P., 1920-23, p. 99).

In May, 1921, the Board of Regents adopted a plan for such training, and Arthur Evans Wood (Harvard '06, S.T.B. ibid. '11, Ph.D. Pennsylvania '20), Professor of Sociology, was appointed Director of the Curriculum for the Training of Social Workers. He was to be advised by the teaching staff of the Department of Sociology. Included in the new curriculum were such courses as Social Statistics, Case Work, Community Problems, Criminology, Social Psychology, Cultural Evolution, the Family, and Poverty and Dependency. The program was largely undergraduate and did not provide for any special degree, but in 1927 the Regents authorized the issuance of a special certificate to social-service workers after the completion of their course work and of two months of field work.

It was natural that this type of training should have been of interest to the Detroit communities, where certain social problems characteristic of a large city were acute. Most of the field training of graduates from the social-service curriculum had been provided by Detroit. Those who were interested in improving social work in the metropolitan area hoped that a center for the training of social workers on a graduate basis might be established there as a unit of the University.

Meanwhile, the American Association of Social Workers came to the conclusion that the amount of maturity required in social work could not be attained through undergraduate study alone and decided that schools which desired to remain members of the Association must conduct the work on a graduate basis. In January 1935, the Regents authorized the organization in Detroit of a graduate unit of the University, to be known as the Institute of the Health and the Social Sciences (R.P., 1932-36, p. 531). The Dean of the Graduate School and the Chairman of the Division of the Health Sciences were charged with the duty of perfecting the organization. The purpose of the venture was to co-ordinate the work of the University in the two fields, within the city of Detroit, and to co-operate more advantageously with the existing educational and research agencies of the city. Robert Wilson Kelso (Harvard '04, LL.B. ibid. '07), Professor of Social Service, who had had wide experience in social service work, was selected to head the Institute, which was under the direction of an executive committee of which the President of the University was chairman.

The original idea was to experiment with a new approach in social work training different from that sponsored by other American Association schools in the field. This procedure did not receive any general approval, and the venture led to difficulties in obtaining recognition of the work done, and also to difficulties in establishing relationships with other institutions of a similar kind.

By 1935 a demand had arisen for a program of training for various administrative functions in the state. Requests had come from the Department of Political Science for training in public administration, and from the Department of Forestry and Conservation and the Department of Geography for training in the field of land utilization. It was decided, therefore, to assemble these diversified training programs under the general scheme of an Institute of Public and Social Administration.

Since a course already existed for training in public health, this part of the program was omitted from the proposed curriculum. It was under these circumstances that the Institute of the Health and the Social Sciences was changed early in 1936 to the Institute of Public and Social Administration. The executive committee in charge was to be responsible to the Executive Board of the Graduate School. The Bureau of Reference and Research in Government was also placed under the jurisdiction of the Institute, and the program of research in land utilization and land-use planning was instituted at this time.

The curriculums in 1940 provided for a two-year program both in public administration and in social work and led to the professional degrees, respectively, of master of public administration, and master of social work. The purpose of the reorganized Institute was to expand activities in research, training, and service in those social and governmental fields, which require technical knowledge and skills based on the formal social sciences and related disciplines. It also endeavored to co-ordinate the curriculums and to supplement them where necessary, so that students might gain a more adequate understanding of the nature of voluntary and governmental organization and thus be better prepared to act as citizens and to fill responsible public and social positions.

It was hoped at the outset that the work in Detroit would be supported by private donations and contributions from interested organizations, but most of the support thus far has come from the McGregor Foundation and from the Horace H. Rackham and Mary A. Rackham Fund.

The work in Ann Arbor has been closely correlated with that in Detroit. In public administration the principal part of the work has been conducted in Ann Arbor, under the direction of Professor George Charles Sumner Benson (Pomona '28, Ph.D. Harvard '31), who resigned to become a member of the staff of Northwestern University in 1941. The social work curriculum has been conducted principally in Detroit.

Peter Okkelberg


Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1914-15.

Proceedings of the Board of Regents …1914-36

The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey

Volume III, Page 1057