The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


IN a letter addressed to the president of the University and to the Senate Council of the University Senate under date of March 20, 1919, Louis A. Strauss, Professor of English and chairman of the committee on student affairs, recommended the creation of the office of dean of men. This was the first time that such an office in the University of Michigan had been suggested. In his letter Strauss mentioned the growth of extracurricular student activities and of the accompanying problems, and pointed out the committee's "inadequacy to the needs of the situation." He also called attention to the fact that "the need of such an official has already been felt by the state universities to which we are nearest akin, namely, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and Iowa."

In the annual report of the committee to the University Senate, made in May, 1919, Strauss again emphasized the need of a dean. The Senate Council, the University Senate, and the Board of Regents successively approved during the following year a resolution calling for the appointment of a full-time officer to attend especially to student interests. Because negotiations for a new president were then in process, it was deemed wise to postpone the establishment of such a position until the new executive's attitude toward it could be known, so that if he should favor the plan the first incumbent could be one chosen by him.

President Marion L. Burton took office in the fall of 1920. He came from the University of Minnesota, where for some time there had been a dean of student affairs, and consequently he was familiar with the need for such an officer and his duties. The result was the creation at the University of Michigan of the position of dean of students and the appointment, on February 1, 1921, of Joseph A. Bursley ('99e), Professor of Mechanical Engineering, to fill the place.

When the office was established the entire personnel consisted of Dean Bursley and a secretary. The duties were undefined, except that in making the appointment the Regents had provided that the dean of students was to act as "friend, counselor and guide to the student body and to have the general oversight of its welfare and of its several activities."

Within six months the work had grown so that an assistant dean of students had been appointed on a half-time basis to supervise the housing of men students, and a secretary had been added to the personnel to take charge of student employment. Duties later assigned to the dean of students and his staff included the inspection of rooming-houses for men, the administration of the automobile regulation imposed by the Regents, Page  282the auditing of the accounts of student organizations, the supervision of the financial affairs of fraternities, the issuing of student identification cards, the administration of the rules relative to student social affairs and of the rules of eligibility for participation in extracurricular affairs other than athletic, and the maintenance of a personal record card for each student.

The dean of students is the directing head of all of these activities and is concerned with many of the details. In addition, he has many other duties which bring him into intimate contact with individual students and student organizations. He is not, as is sometimes assumed, primarily a disciplinary officer of the University. On the contrary, he is more interested in keeping students out of trouble than in seeing that they are punished for violations of University rules and regulations. Visiting students who are sick in the Health Service or in the University Hospital; trying, from time to time, to locate students who disappear; interviewing anxious parents; consulting with students about all their manifold problems — scholastic, financial, moral, and otherwise — and intervening for them when they are in difficulties with the local police — these are a few of the duties of the dean of students.

The various personal problems of individual students, upon which so much of the time of this office is spent, include those of finances. The dean of students, as chairman of the committee on student loans, interviews every year fifteen hundred to two thousand students who wish to borrow from the loan funds amounts varying from five to five hundred dollars (see Part IX: Student Loan Funds). He is also ex officio chairman of the committee on student affairs and of the committees on student conduct and on the Honors Convocation; he is an ex officio member of the University Senate, the University Council, the deans' conference, the Board of Directors of the Michigan Union, the Board in Control of Student Publications, the committee on theater policy and practice, the executive committee of the Interfraternity Council, and the Orientation-Period committee. These are his official positions. Between meetings, at all hours of the day or night, he is the friend and father confessor of the student body.

The increased duties of the office have necessitated an increased personnel; in 1940 the staff included, in addition to the dean, two assistant deans, a housing inspector, a police officer to assist in enforcing the automobile regulation, six secretarial and clerical assistants, and three student assistants. Even with this help, there are many times when at least a part of the staff is forced to work late at night in order to meet the demands made by the larger extracurricular student affairs.

In an institution of the size of the University of Michigan, such an office must be constantly occupied with the ever changing and ever increasing duties which it performs for the student body, for the faculty, and for the community at large.


MS, "Minutes of the Senate Council," May, 1919. Univ. Mich.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1920-23, pp. 120-21, 157, 250.
Strauss, Louis A. MS, letter addressed to president and Senate Council as chairman of committee on student affairs, Mar. 20, 1919. Univ. Mich.