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


THE International Center, which is charged with the supervision of all the intercultural and international relations of the University of Michigan, developed as an expression of the University's interest in students from other lands. Michigan has had a special interest in foreign students ever since President James B. Angell went to China as Minister Plenipotentiary in 1880-81. Their presence on the Michigan campus has always been evidence of the broad liberal conception of the University's purpose. From Angell's time to the present, there has been a rising tide of students from all over the world until by 1956-57 the enrollment of foreign students reached 1,315, from eighty-two countries.

It early became apparent that these students require special guidance in adjusting to new conditions. The development of the program for foreign students closely parallels the professional career of Professor J. Raleigh Nelson, the first Counselor to Foreign Students, who established the International Center and, in 1936, became its first Director. In 1908, at the invitation of Dean Cooley of the Engineering College, Nelson came to Page  1844the University to develop English courses for engineering students. He had had fourteen successful years as a teacher of Latin in Chicago.

Nelson was not slow in discovering that most foreign students had had so little experience in the use of English that they were unprepared to do university work. For this reason he inaugurated a noncredit course in English to give them the preparation they so obviously needed if they were to compete with American students. In addition to the classroom work in this course, he took them, once a week, on a tour of the campus — the Library, the Dental College, and so on. Later, they visited Greenfield Village, the Ford factory, and other points of special interest to prospective engineers. The reports of these excursions were read and discussed in class. In this way instruction in report writing began under Nelson, who became a pioneer in the field. The informality of these trips and the interest they had for the students, in addition to the constant necessity for mastering the complexities of the English language, were effective and stimulating. In its intent and even in its method of procedure, English 1a was the direct antecedent of the English Language Service of the International Center and, later, indirectly, of the English Language Institute.

Within three years after Nelson's arrival, the faculty of the College of Engineering, on a motion by Professor Henry E. Riggs, authorized the establishment of a Committee on Foreign Students. Under the title of Counselor to Foreign Students in the College of Engineering, Nelson was made permanent chairman of this committee, which was very active in discovering those who needed special guidance and in providing help for them.

Until 1933 foreign students in other colleges of the University had no special counselor. In the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Professor Jonathan A. C. Hildner, because of his personal interest and his understanding of their problems, had served as adviser without compensation, and Joseph Bursley, Dean of Students from 1921 to 1947, was always helpful in emergencies. One of Nelson's Chinese students once asked him, as a special favor, if he would advise his roommate, who was in a state of hysteria because he had been given a program which included beginning French. To quote Nelson's own words: "I put on my hat, and marched indignantly across the Campus to Dean Bursley's office, to discuss with him the crying need of a special counselor for foreign students."

Enrollment of foreign students was increasing, and both Bursley and Ruthven were agreed that a special University adviser for them was necessary. Nelson had the qualifications, the experience, and the interest in the problem which made him obviously "the man for the job." He was already chairman of the Engineering English Department, Editor of Publications in the new Department of Engineering Research, and permanent chairman of the Committee on Foreign Students in Engineering. He accepted the post of University Counselor to Foreign Students in 1933 with some reluctance. As he said ruefully: "You have now loaded me with all the troubles of the world!" — a comment prophetic, indeed, as the future proved. In agreeing to undertake the work, Nelson asked for an office centrally located where he would be easily accessible to all foreign students, and then solved his own problem by discovering a small room — a mere "cubbyhole," as he described it — on the first floor of Angell Hall. This was simply furnished, and on the door, conspicuously displayed, was the sign "Counselor to Foreign Students." By Page  18451934 space in old University Hall had been made ready for a group of counselors. Professor Nelson, Dr. Edward Blakeman, Counselor on Religion, and Professor W. Carl Rufus, Secretary of the Committee on Barbour Scholarships, all had offices there. Miss Wilma A. Gwinner (later Mrs. A. L. Nye) was secretary for Professor Nelson and Dr. Blakeman.

The reports on foreign students required by the Immigration Act of 1924 had become burdensome to the Registrar's Office, and as soon as the new office was established, Professor Nelson was asked to take charge of them. Thus began the long satisfactory relationship, which still continues, with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Professor Nelson was, nominally, still chairman of the Engineering English Department and Editor of Publications in the Department of Engineering Research. For a year and a half, he continued to teach both sections of English 1a and also read and edited the reports for each of his fifty senior engineers. He offered his course in English for foreign students to all who cared to attend and made himself constantly available to those who desired counsel. President Ruthven was greatly interested in the rapidly developing program and therefore asked Professor Nelson to resign all other activities in order to devote full time to it.

Thus far, in the evolution of the International Center, there had been no provision for social contact, either with the American community or within the foreign groups, although the foreign students had always been welcome in certain private homes. Nelson turned to the Michigan Union, which had been built as a social center for all students, for a solution to this problem. The Union rose to the occasion, and a regular Sunday-night supper hour was arranged. After the meal a speaker, chosen from the foreign group, gave a brief talk, which led to a free discussion of topics of mutual interest. These evenings were so informal and so friendly that the members of the group gradually came to feel that they belonged together. This was the beginning — faint and vague — of the International Center. The need of a more adequate meeting place was apparent, however. Professor Nelson took the problem to Dr. Ruthven, and within a week new quarters were found. Owing to lack of funds, when the South Wing had been added to the Union, the ground floor had been left unfinished. This was now to become the home of the International Center.

In order to study the experiences of other student centers, Professor Nelson made a tour of the eastern and midwestern states, visiting international houses in Chicago, New York, and Washington, and student centers at the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State University. He returned better prepared, he felt, to solve his own problems at the University of Michigan.

During the summer, while the builders were at work, Professor and Mrs. Nelson selected all the furnishings for the Center: carpets, drapes, upholstered chairs and davenports, many of which, after fifteen years of use, are still in good condition. They also gave the students a grand piano, an indispensable feature of any student gathering place.

On August 31, 1938, Nelson, with the added title of Director of the International Center, and his faithful secretary, Miss Gwinner, moved into the Union. At the time the Center was opened, the space available seemed ample for the activities planned and for the handling of foreign student problems. Later, some of the guestrooms were also taken over. These quarters, however, have long since been outgrown. Nevertheless, the International Page  1846Center in its Michigan Union home has been beloved by young people from all over the world, and in its friendly atmosphere, many international friendships have been formed.

Although the new Center now had a permanent home, Nelson was still faced by many problems. By the time college opened six weeks later, he had a staff of paid and volunteer student assistants, who were enthusiastic and eager to begin and proud to be a part of the experiment. Among them was M. Robert B. Klinger, a graduate student, who became a special counselor on immigration and other problems having to do with foreign students. Klinger's service to the International Center has extended through all the years since it opened its doors.

One of the first programs at the Center was a social hour, held on Thursday of Orientation Week. The occasion was so successful that these Thursday teas are still continued, thus giving the foreign students and their American friends an opportunity to know each other. Within the next five years gathering war clouds intensified the problems of counseling. In this difficult period students from other countries gradually became stranded as their homelands were involved.

Emphasis on the Good Neighbor Policy of Secretary of State Cordell Hull and Co-ordinator Nelson Rockefeller led to a large increase in the enrollment of Latin American students. The need of a committee to aid in handling the University's relations with Latin America became apparent. Authorized by the University Council and appointed by President Ruthven in November, 1941, the Committee on Latin American Affairs included Dean Bursley, Dr. Lowell T. Coggeshall, Dr. Louis A. Hopkins, and Professors Irving A. Leonard, Raleigh Schorling, and J. Raleigh Nelson, chairman. Four other members of the faculty assisted during that year: Dean Henry F. Vaughan and Professors Nathan Sinai, Robert B. Hall, and Dudley M. Phelps.

Two years later, in November, 1943, the Committee on Latin American Relations was reorganized as the Committee on Intercultural Relations. Its functions were as follows:

  • 1. To make a survey of the active projects within the University affecting its permanent intercultural relations, and, with a view to a continuing service, to keep informed of the development of such projects or of new proposals that might in any way influence those relations.
  • 2. To secure, if possible, a proper correlation of all approved projects in order to prevent duplication, overlapping, and conflict of interests.
  • 3. To lend encouragement and active co-operation in the development of all such approved projects.
  • 4. To formulate a general plan for the systematic extension of scholarships and fellowships.
  • 5. To develop ways and means for co-operating with all governmental and other agencies working for closer permanent intercultural relations. (Letter, L. A. Hopkins to J. R. Nelson.)

From the beginning of J. R. Nelson's service to the University, he had been vitally concerned with developing means to help foreign students adjust to new environments. He continued to regard the teaching of English as the problem of primary importance in planning the program. English 1a and 1b became the model for the English Language Service of the Center and the progenitor of the English Language Institute. During the Center's first two years the Department of Speech and the Department of Linguistics co-operated with Nelson in organizing this instruction. In the first year, Professors John H. Muyskens and Charles C. Fries, on several occasions, addressed the foreign student assembly Page  1847in their Sunday evening programs, and upon occasion lent members of their staffs for work with individual students or with study groups.

In 1940 Nelson discovered Miss Sarah E. Grollman, of the University's Department of Speech, who at the time was engaged in graduate study under Professors Muyskens and Fries. Nelson felt that her background and her training fitted her to carry out the English language program. She was appointed Language Assistant in the Center in 1941, and Nelson turned over to her all his material developed in English 1a and 1b. Since that date, Miss Grollman has headed the English Language Service. She has, in these years, won wide recognition, both here and abroad, for the results which she has achieved.

In the spring of 1940, the State Department, in carrying out the Good Neighbor Policy, brought a large contingent of Turkish officers, with their wives, for a year's advanced training in engineering. Another project of the State Department, planned in co-operation with the Grace Lines, was carried out with the countries of South America as a gesture of good will. The International Center was host, during the summer, to a group of students from Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Lectures on American life by members of the faculty, tours to various points of interest in the community, and an intensive course in English were offered the visitors. Meanwhile, a student-exchange program had been negotiated with Brazil. For several years this project gave us the opportunity to send some of our graduate students to Brazil and to receive, in return, advanced students from that country. Similar direct University exchanges were arranged with Lingnan University in Canton and with the American University in Beirut, Lebanon.

One of the most revealing demonstrations of the interest of the Ann Arbor community in its foreign students was the annual Thanksgiving dinner. At the last of these dinners, at the close of Nelson's term of service, 550 foreign students, their hosts, and other friends sat down to Thanksgiving dinner in the elaborately decorated Union ballroom. The custom began, in a simple way, as a project of the Ann Arbor Rotary Club, of which Nelson was an active member. Professor Edwin C. Goddard of the International Committee suggested that the Club sponsor a typical New England Thanksgiving dinner for foreign students. The members of the Rotary Committee and others who were interested agreed to act as hosts, each paying for ten foreign students. The experiment proved so successful that the Thanksgiving dinner became a part of the International Center program.

In 1942, as Nelson approached retirement, in order to give continuity to the work of the International Center, he recommended the establishment of a Board of Governors. A committee, which included George E. Carrothers, Arthur S. Aiton, and Joseph A. Bursley, was appointed by the Board in the same year. Nelson retired in June, 1943, after thirty-five years of devoted service to the University. At the farewell dinner in his honor were assembled not only many friends, associates, and foreign students, but also representatives of the governmental agencies with which he had worked in the course of his career. The Regents announced that a bronze tablet in his honor would be hung in the Center, and the Committee of the State Department, to which he had been appointed by President Roosevelt, came in a body and held their annual meeting in Ann Arbor, on the day preceding the dinner. The Philippine Student Club presented a life-size portrait of Professor Nelson, painted by the distinguished Page  1848Filipino artist Eduardo Salgado, which now hangs in the Lounge.

Dr. Esson M. Gale succeeded Nelson in 1943. Dr. Gale, after more than thirty years of service in China, first as a foreign student and later in various important capacities in United States international and Chinese civil service, was no stranger to Ann Arbor. He had taught at the University in 1927-28 and was Acting James Orin Murfin Professor of Political Science in 1942-43.

Gale built on the foundations laid by Nelson. The enrollment of foreign students continued to grow, and the complexity of services to them grew even faster owing to the strains of the war and postwar period. Moreover, the large migration of leaders and specialists from abroad began in earnest at that time, and the services of the International Center were expanded to care for them. Gale found himself increasingly absorbed in co-ordinating the diverse activities of his office, which, in addition to the foreign student program, included more and more of the University's farflung international interests. During the eleven years that he was Counselor-Director, the International Center, with an orientation program similar to the pattern of the Latin-American Summer Session of 1941, serviced two groups, one a group of Chilean engineers and the other a group of students sponsored by the government of Thailand.

Mrs. Kathleen M. Mead, who joined the staff in 1947 as Administrative Assistant, has had charge of teas, social programs, room assignments, and the entire plant operation. When difficulties in finding rooms for foreign students became a problem for the Center, Mrs. Mead also undertook this work. In 1955, under the supervision of Dr. James M. Davis, a housing survey was made to determine where the foreign students were living and how they felt about their accommodations. This survey is the basis for determining present operations and future policy. In the meantime, Mrs. Mead, in co-operation with community committees, attempts to find additional housing for foreign students.

The rapid surge of the Communist army over China left many students from that land stranded in our midst. The University of Michigan had much to do with the national program for the alleviation of their distress through the services of Gale, whose lifelong interest in China was well known. In addition, he was director of the newly formed National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (organized at a national convention in Ann Arbor in April, 1948), and a member of the Advisory Board for Emergency Aid to Chinese Students of the Department of State. For several years the China Aid program was a large factor in the operation of the Center. National interest in the educational exchange program as a part of our foreign policy became focused in legislation by Congress year after year, resulting in a larger and larger enrollment of foreign students. The services of the Center were continuously expanded to take care of visitors and to meet the needs of the University in educational matters of international importance.

The Board of Governors grew in numbers during the years; two additional members were added by action of the Board of Regents on December 29, 1944. The Director of the Office of Student Affairs was made an ex-officio member in February, 1947, the Dean of Women in July, 1949, and in 1954 the Vice-President for Student Affairs was designated ex-officio chairman, and three student members were added.

Gale retired June 30, 1954, and was succeeded by James McCoy Davis, who had had experience in Southeast Asia during the war, had served in the Institute Page  1849of International Education, and came directly from the University of Washington, where he had been Counselor to Foreign Students and Executive Director of the Foundation for International Understanding Through Students. Since his appointment, the most significant developments have been the delegation of program work to the International Student Association formed under Gale, continued expansion of staff, an ever-increasing attention to the international and intercultural interests of the University beyond the foreign student program, increased emphasis on University-wide service through hospitality and local program arrangements for visiting foreign leaders, and evaluation in the foreign student field.

In 1954-55 a new credit program of English for Foreign Students was instituted in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. Miss Grollman joined the staff of the English Department in September, 1955, on a part-time basis to teach the English 1 and 2 sections composed of foreign students, but still continued the English Language Service in the Center. Davis early recognized the need for additional counseling staff. Klinger was promoted to Counselor in 1955, and Gaston J. Sigur transferred to the counseling service with the same title. When Sigur accepted a post in Tokyo, another change was made by the appointment of two assistant counselors to assist Klinger.

Before Nelson's retirement and throughout Gale's tenure, and ever present today, is the need for larger quarters for the Center's work. In 1950 Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Pound gave the University the funds to remodel a large home at 1024 Hill Street, which later became known as the Madelon Pound House. This relieved some of the more pressing need for space, and has served as another homelike meeting place for the University's foreign students. However, the need for one building in which all of the Center's activities can be localized still exists, and plans are being studied for a new building which will be adequate as the International Center of the future.