The Bureau of Alumni Relations is an agency developed by the University of Michigan to stimulate and maintain a co-operative relationship between the institution and its alumni on the basis of their educational and intellectual interests. It is designed as a means of continuing into postcollege years the educational experience and interests of the undergraduate period.
The history of the Bureau began with a plan for a postcollegiate, or alumni, educational venture to be denominated the "Alumni University," which was devised by President Clarence Cook Little of the University and Elmer J. Ottaway, President of the Alumni Association from 1927 to 1930. For some years the officers of the Alumni Association had recognized the need of a program in adult education as it concerned the college alumnus. It was gradually becoming recognized that there was a deeper implication in alumni relations than that comprised in the editorial, organizing, and financial activities of the usual alumni organization. Many discussions of this new conception appeared in the Michigan Alumnus during the years 1925-29. The object of the plan was described in 1928, in a sixteen-page supplement to the Alumnus, as "active participation by individual alumni in individual activities of the University in which they have a special and personal interest." This supplement carried the description of a rather elaborate plan of organization, as well as statements by University department heads with regard to the many opportunities which interested alumni had for co-operation and study in various university subjects.
In October, 1928, the Regents appropriated $24,000 for a two-year period "for the expenses of carrying on extension work through alumni fellows and other activities of the movement known as the Alumni University." At the next meeting, in November, a communication was received from the directors of the Alumni Association expressing their appreciation of the Regents' action and their readiness to co-operate in every possible way, and authorizing the appointment of a committee "to meet with the representatives of the Regents and Faculties in formulating plans for its establishment." The specific plan, as outlined by President Little, included the appointment of four officers, to be called Page 338"alumni fellows," who were to act as liaison officers between the University and the alumni in developing the program, and in accordance with his recommendation Wilfred B. Shaw was appointed as the first alumni fellow charged with the development of the plan.
President Little's resignation at just this time, however, left the details of its actual inauguration with Alexander G. Ruthven, at that time Dean of Administration. When the plan as outlined received more mature consideration, it seemed impracticable in certain respects, since the appropriation included $12,000 annually for the salaries of the four fellows, but made no provision for the equally important office personnel which would necessarily have been involved in such an effort. The result was a resurvey, which in turn resulted in the creation of the University Bureau of Alumni Relations, with a director and office staff and financial means to carry out the program. An advisory committee of five was also authorized, to be appointed from the faculty by the President.
To the position thus created Wilfred Byron Shaw ('04), who for twenty-five years had been General Secretary of the Alumni Association, was appointed by the Regents in the spring of 1929. For some years he had been interested in the concept of alumni education, and at the time of his appointment was engaged in a six-month investigation of the entire field for the American Association for Adult Education, under a grant from the Carnegie Corporation. His published study, The Alumni and Adult Education, revealed that many university executives were interested in a comprehensive program of adult education as it refers to the college graduate, but that few specific measures had been taken. He returned in September, 1929, to set up the new program in the University of Michigan — a pioneering effort in that field.
Bulletins. — One of the first projects undertaken by the University was the issuing of a series of sixteen-page bulletins addressed to all its eighty thousand alumni, giving information upon such of the institution's fundamental concerns as would be of interest to them. These bulletins have been issued periodically and have formed the first regular message ever sent to the alumni on the part of the University. The first one bore the date of November 16, 1929, and contained the statement of President Ruthven upon his acceptance of the presidency on October 4, 1929. By the end of June, 1940, thirty-one of these bulletins had been issued.
An appropriation from the Carnegie Corporation in 1929 enabled the University also to finance an investigation of the possibilities of alumni group educational programs, lecture courses, and discussion groups in centers near the University. This resulted in the establishment of courses of lectures in Detroit and elsewhere held for a number of years under the auspices of the University of Michigan clubs.
The Alumni University. — There was also established on the campus throughout the week immediately following Commencement and before the opening of the summer session an annual program of classes and lectures known as the Alumni University. This week of study for alumni has preserved the name of President Little's original conception and has become an important part of the University's alumni program. The ten sessions since its establishment in 1930 have been attended by an average of about one hundred alumni students, a large proportion of them graduates of the University of Michigan.
Reading lists. — It became evident soon after the program was established that the University's great alumni body, being scattered all over the world, constituted a special problem in any extended program in alumni education, and it became Page 339increasingly clear that the ultimate objective must be, not specific educational efforts, which could by their very nature reach only a limited number of alumni, but rather, the creation of sympathetic understanding of the University's program and co-operative interest in the specific educational efforts and problems of the University.
Thus, a program of reading lists was developed in co-operation with the Extension Service of the University Library >(see Part II: Library Extension Service). Over a period of years about six hundred lists have been compiled in answer to specific requests from some five thousand alumni, who have learned of the service through announcements in the bulletins. In response to alumni letters, the Bureau of Alumni Relations has furnished help and suggestions in many different fields, and the co-operation of other University agencies — such as the Extension Service and the Bureau of Appointments and Occupational Information — has been enlisted. The Bureau of Appointments has found satisfactory positions for many alumni. By these means a closer fellowship between the University and the alumni is encouraged.
The scholarly, scientific, and literary interests of the University have been interpreted through the Michigan Alumnus Quarterly Review, edited by the director of alumni relations. This special publication was established in 1934.
To meet the constant demand of alumni for more detailed information regarding the University, the University News Service has also been located in the office of the Bureau and under the general charge of the director, although it is a separate University division and is not directly a part of the program in alumni relations (see Part II: University News Service).
The result of the efforts of the Bureau over the ten years of its existence up to 1940 have been positive, and there has been a constructive development in the relationship between the University and the alumni. No concrete assessment of its accomplishments, however, is practicable. Nevertheless, it is clear that the alumni, on the whole, have become increasingly aware of the University's desire to keep in communication with them on some basis more constructive than its need for financial support or their interest in athletics, and their response to that policy has become increasingly effective.