The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
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The Program in Comparative Literature was created at the University in 1937, when the Executive Board of the Horace Rackham School under Dean Clarence S. Yoakum approved a proposal submitted by a Committee consisting of Professors Hugo P. Thieme, Head of Romance Languages, as Chairman, Karl Litzenberg of the Department of English, and Norman L. Willey of the Department of German. The rationale as well as the requirements for both the Master of Arts and the Doctor of Philosophy degrees were expressed in quite general terms. The Committee followed rather closely the programs already in existence at Harvard and Columbia Universities. Influence studies and cross cultural relationships were paramount in the Committee's thinking.

Requirements for admission to the Program were rather loose, but the requirements on the other hand for the doctorate were severe and forbidding — so forbidding that in the course of the first ten years, 1937-1947, twelve MA degrees were completed but no doctoral degree programs were undertaken. The call to military service for students and faculty alike caused a hiatus. Professor Karl Litzenberg entered the military in 1942, and was replaced by Profesor Norman Nelson of the Department of English, Professor John W. Eaton of the Department of German replaced Professor Willey, and Professor Paul Spurlin was named vice Professor Thieme. In 1948 Professor Eaton met an accidental death, and Professor Otto G. Graf of the Department of German replaced him. Professor Austin Warren of the English Department also was added to the Committee. The acquisition of Professor Warren, an eminent literary critic and nationally known comparatist did much to enhance the Program and give it national visibility. As a consequence, it grew to such an extent that its Chairman, Professor Nelson, was able to report to the Graduate Executive Board that considerable gains were made in the number of students Page  2pursuing the Master of Arts and the doctoral degrees. The number prompted the Chairman to point out the anomalies which burdened the committee's efficient functioning — no logistic support, no instructional budget, no secretarial assistance; in fact, instructional activities, counseling, direction of studies were dependent on the generosity of faculty, who assumed for a number of years such essential tasks as additional duties in the interests of the Program and with a sense of obligation to the group of bright, strongly motivated, and promising graduate students which the Program attracted. The Program since its inception had somehow fallen between the Graduate School and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts whose faculty administered it and taught in it. The Graduate School in its response to Professor Nelson reported that no action had been taken on his requests and recommended that the Program should continue as constituted, subject to future reconsideration.

In 1953 a subcommittee of the Executive Board, consisting of two representatives of the language departments, reviewed the growing Program and recommended that short of departmentalization the Program should not continue and further recommended that it be abolished if the Administration were unwilling or unable to create a Department of Comparative Literature, and that doctoral candidates already in it be absorbed by the departments in which they had done the bulk of their preparation. The report, strongly parochially inspired, reflected the apprehension that a growing Program in Comparative Literature would be at the expense of the foreign language departments.

Professors Nelson and Graf appeared before Dean Robert S. Ford of the Graduate School in response to the reviewers' recommendations. It was pointed out that a program with a budget of its own operates under handicaps, most obviously in efficiency of operation. It was conveyed to the Dean that in the judgment of the Comparative Literature Committee the study of comparative literature required a discipline distinct from that provided by any one Page  3department and that only some interdepartmental body can insure proper opportunity for qualified students to elect a graduate program of this kind, and to distribute their work in accordance with the principles now widely promulgated by comparatists. It was pointed out that the orientation of comparative literature had turned from the older concerns with the influence of a French writer on an English author to the study of ideas and forms, cultural movements, and patterns without political or language restrictions. The Comparative Literature Committee had agreed with the reviewers in so far as a separate department is requisite for a fully efficient operation of a program such as this; till that was possible, the maintenance of the Program as it existed was urged. For Michigan to abandon its program would be a notable and lamentable regression just when other institutions here in Michigan and elsewhere were making rapid progress in expanding and strengthening their programs in this field. It was further recommended that the program be extended to include the study of Slavic, the oriental languages, and classical literature and that the Committee on Comparative Literature have representatives from them named to it.

Professor Otto G. Graf was appointed Chairman, replacing Professor Nelson, and in response to his request for wider representation on the Committee, the Executive Board approved the appointment of Professor Sanchez y Escribano, Department of Romance Languages, and Professor Frank Copley of the Classics Department. In recognition of the growing number of students (there were 32 registered in the Program at this point) funds were made available through the Office of the President to provide for an annual lecture by a distinguished comparatist. A series of speakers appeared under auspices of the Program.

At this point the beginnings of a core curriculum were set, required of each candidate, preferably taken in in the first year of residence. Professor Page  4Austin Warren offered a two semester sequence of seminars in "Theory of Comparison" and Professor Norman Nelson a two semester sequence in "History of Literary Criticism." With the co-operation of faculty, mainly in the foreign language departments, English, and Classics, students were enabled to prepare themselves in two major national literatures. The major discomfiture remained, however. The Program was still without a budget and a physical facility. The Chairman and his Committee were perforce required to continue to depend on the generosity of participating departments for office materials and secretarial services. Graduate students in the Program generously assisted in routine office operations.

Professor Graf held the chairmanship for fourteen years, ably and loyally assisted by the Program Committee. Four National Defense Education Act Fellowships provided support for a small number of degree candidates, supplemented by support in the form of "Block Grants," Rackham Pre-doctoral Fellowships, Woodrow Wilson Foundation Fellows, Rockefeller Foundation Fellows, and several years later, Development Funds from the Rackham School. The acquisition of inside and outside support did not, however, adequately substitute for a guaranteed appointment for our graduate students to Teaching Fellowships, since we had no jurisdiction over assignment to teaching duties.

During the period 1958 to 1965, 34 students completed the Masters degree and 23 doctoral degree programs were completed. The Masters readily obtained teaching positions in the growing number of Junior and Community Colleges in Michigan. Our Ph.D.s were all placed throughout the United States, but the Program also has our representation in Kyoto, Tokyo, Sri Lanka, Bangkok, Egypt, Switzerland and Germany.

In 1968 Professor Robert Niess of the Department of Romance Languages assumed the Chairmanship which he held until called to Duke University. During his incumbency the numbers in the Program grew steadily and by 1970 Page  5there were 92 degree candidates. By 1975 44 additional doctoral degrees were conferred on our candidates. Upon Professor Niess's departure Professor Graf was named Interim Chairman and served in that capacity for an academic year. A Joint Committee consisting of students in the Program and faculty associated with it planned a series of seminars, each with a roster of lecturers presenting multidisciplinary aspects and approaches to problems and concerns common to all literatures. The student members of the Committee completed a Comparative Literature Bibliography with the cost of printing defrayed by the Rackham School. The publication received wide-spread attention and commendations from all quarters. Our students were also instrumental in launching the "Rackham Literary Studies," an annual publication devoted to matters of literary interest.

Associate Professor Peter Bauland of the English Department served as Acting Chairman for a year, while a search committee chaired by Professor Frank Copley of the Classics Department explored the field for a prospective Director of the Program. Professor Charles Witke of SUNY, Binghamton, had precisely the combination of qualifications which the Program needed — a Ph.D. (Harvard) in Comparative Literature, considerable administrative experience, and a definite interest in both graduate and undergraduate instruction. He was the unanimous choice of the search committee, and as a distinguished Latinist was enthusiastically endorsed by the Classics Department. Professor Witke began his initial five year tenure as Director of the Program in 1971, and shortly after assuming this charge was induced by Dean Frank Rhodes to occupy the Newly created post of Associate Dean for Curricular Affairs in the College.

With exemplary efficiency Professor Witke brought order into both of his charges. A rationale for Comparative Literature was prepared by him and a revision of degree requirements was codified. The acquisition of a part-time Page  6secretary, somewhat later a full-time appointment, and the naming of Associate Professor Ilene Olken of Romance Languages as Associate Director enabled the Director to address himself to the problem of establishing a curriculum of some permanence, one that the Program could count on offering with regularity. He achieved some successes in this effort, but the lack of an instructional budget enabling the Program to compensate a department for the services of a staff member proved frustrating. He was very successful, however, in borrowing faculty from departments willing to release them, also successful in procuring Teaching Assistantships for degree candidates in departments appropriate to their fields of major preparation. German, French, Spanish, Great Books regularly ear-marked some sections to be assigned to Comparative Literature. Development funds from the Rackham School were increased and continued to be a valuable supplement in providing some support for those for whom no teaching assignments were available. During the first four years of Professor Witke's tenure as Director, the Program became stabilized; students were acquiring a sense of direction, and a sense of community of interest, however disparate their literary concerns, became apparent. A spacious office complex with conference room, private offices, and a reading room was assigned to the Program together with all the appurtenances and appointments associated with a departmental office. At long last, the University of Michigan had evidently made a strong commitment to the field by establishing a Director with supporting services.

In the number of degrees completed the Program continued to flourish, and our candidates upon completion of the doctorate all obtained academic posts, either in Departments of Comparative Literature or in a department of foreign or classical languages. The status of Comparative Literature at Michigan was by no means ideal, but at long last it had ground under it, a budget providing for administrative and office services. The Director continued quite Page  7tirelessly to strengthen and enhance the Program to give it greater viability and a greater degree of national visibility.