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


During the years of the Depression, a new constituency of students began to enroll at Michigan. As scholarships and employment under NYA and WPA programs made it possible for more students to attend and for families to educate more of their children, women entered in greater numbers and the diversity of undergraduates noticeably increased. In response, the department supplemented its offerings by giving more attention to modern literature and increased its efforts, already well-advanced under the leadership of Clarence D. Thorpe and Charles C. Fries, in the preparation of secondary school teachers.

In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the Army proposed that the campus be converted to a manpower training depot, and emphasis on essential war needs led to a plan from within the University that the department be abolished to free its faculty for more martial endeavors. While this idea was not pursued, the war had a profound effect on offerings Page  149and organization. Some of the junior staff enlisted for military service, while others engaged in civilian war work. Many of those remaining in their University positions offered accelerated courses for Armed Services personnel.

Members of the department led in the formation of two new programs that responded to the changed circumstances of the war years. Joseph K. Yamagiwa directed the Army's Japanese Language School for the training of Intelligence officers and faculty of the newly-created Department of Far Eastern Languages and Literatures. Charles C. Fries organized the English Language Institute in 1941, initially to teach English as a foreign language to speakers of Spanish and later as a center for the preparation of foreign nationals as teachers in their home countries. Like Yamagiwa's program, the Institute continued after the war and eventually became an independent unit of the University. Both efforts brought new faculty to Michigan.

From the beginnings, long service had become a tradition in the department: Demmon had been head from 1881 to 1920; Louis A. Strauss from 1920 to 1938; Louis I. Bredvold from 1938 to 1947; and in 1947, Warner Grenelle Rice began two decades of leadership under which the department prospered as it grew. Rice built the Library and, in addition to his regular duties in the department, served as Director of the University Library from 1941 to 1953.

At the beginning of Rice's chairmanship in 1948, enrollment on the Ann Arbor campus stood at 21,360; by the end of his service, it had increased beyond 36,000. Such growth naturally led to a marked increase in the size of the department, and Rice seized the opportunity to enrich its staff and curriculum.

During the two decades of Rice's chairmanship, faculty were encouraged to develop organized programs of study for both undergraduates and graduates. Joe Lee Davis and Marvin Felheim established American Culture, while Austin Warren brought Comparative Literature to status as a distinct field of graduate teaching. John Arthos and H. V. S. Ogden were particularly active in College Honors and Great Books, and Marvin Felheim instituted the first film courses at the college level. In the early 1960s, Alan T. Gaylord and James Page  150H. Robertson joined a coalition whose efforts resulted in the establishment of the Residential College. In most such initiatives, faculty retained their appointments in the department, but when the Department of Linguistics was formed in 1961, Chavarria-Aguilar, Gedney, and Pike were appointed to the new administrative unit with Albert H. Marckwardt as Chairman-Designate.

Though Robert Frost and Robert Bridges had held visiting appointments for brief periods during the 1920s, creative writing came to occupy its important position at Michigan only after the mighty stimulus of the 1930 bequest that supports the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood prizes. Designated for student writers of fiction, poetry, drama, and the essay, the Hopwood awards continue to attract young writers to whom faculty within the department have devoted themselves with special energy.

The teaching of introductory composition has drawn on a substantial part of the department's energy and, from the earliest days, provided employment for graduate students pursuing doctoral studies. Though many faculty seldom teach in the freshman program, a few have given special leadership, particularly Carleton F. Wells (who devoted himself to the difficult work demanded of the Director from 1936 to 1949), John Weimer, Hubert M. English, Jr., Sheridan Baker, Walter H. Clark, and Bernard Van't Hul.

In his chairmanship Rice emphasized departmental responsibility to educate on all levels. When he joined the department in 1929, there was little question that the University should inform the thinking of secondary school teachers, both in their preparation and through regular contacts with University faculty. Though other colleges and universities in the state came to assume a larger share of this work in the postwar years, Michigan's English professors continued regular contacts with teachers through school accreditation visits, meetings of such organizations as the Michigan Schoolmasters' Club (among whose founders in 1886 was John Dewey) and the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, and, in the 1960s, sponsorship of a series of NDEA summer institutes for high school teachers. Cooperation with the School of Education was maintained through joint appointments. Rice himself was a member of the Commission on English, a national project designed to foster cooperation among school Page  151teachers and university faculties and to provide a rationally organized curriculum for students preparing for college study. Rice supported yet another effort, known as English in Every Classroom, a project aimed at youth who might never reach college.

When Fred Newton Scott surveyed the English Department at Michigan in 1894-95, twenty-one courses were taught by four regular faculty and two graduate assistants; the equivalent of 3,500 hours of credit was given that year for study in English. Eighty years later, nearly five hundred courses and sections were taught by seventy-nine staff members of professorial rank (a high in the department's history), a dozen lecturers, and nearly a hundred graduate students assigned to part-time teaching duties; 45,000 hours of credit were awarded for the year's work in the department. These figures do not include graduate teaching that serves the programs and other departments closely linked to English faculty interests, such as American Culture, Comparative Literature, and Linguistics.

With Rice's retirement in 1968, the department came under the leadership of Russell A. Fraser (1968-73). Like Rice, Fraser encouraged initiatives that led to the formation of new programs of study, among them the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies, the Medieval and Renaissance Collegium, and Women's Studies, of which Margaret A. Lourie served as Director. At Fraser's initiative, the department's teaching schedule was reduced to five from six days a week and the normal course load for faculty from six to four courses each year, thus bringing the department in line with the work load established for most departments in the College some years earlier. During the 1970s, as enrollments in the University stabilized, the number of faculty was accordingly reduced. The department found it hard to respond to an abrupt decline in the number of students preparing for careers in secondary school teaching — from 400 students in 1968-69 to 130 in 1972-73 — and the deference to renewed demands for relevance disturbed the existing balance of historical and contemporary survey courses. When Jay L. Robinson was appointed Chairman in 1975, he inherited innovation but not the growth that had made possible many of the achievements of the past. Even so, substantial funds from the Ford and Mellon foundations were secured to put the Page  152Middle English Dictionary on a sound financial footing and to begin the work of the English Composition Board. New faculty have been appointed and new programs have been instituted including the intensive annual New England Literature Program, a six-week course of study in composition, creative writing, and American literature held in rural New Hampshire.

The 1970s brought a new awareness of the need for curricular reform responsive to students' interests and the necessity of searching for new approaches, some of them interdisciplinary in conception and some responding to such neglected modes of artistic expression as film, fantasy and science fiction, and popular culture. In such new efforts and within the traditional domain of English studies — literature, language, and composition — the department has retained both continuity and the position of leadership established at Michigan more than a century ago.