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The Longest-Serving Dean

Willard C. Olson served as dean for 40 years, overseeing significant changes to the administrative structure of the school, burgeoning enrollment due to the baby boom, and a massive increase in external research funding.


On February 11, 1952, Willard C. Olson was appointed the school’s third dean. Olson had developed an international reputation as a scholar through his work as director of research in child development. He would lead the school through a period of unprecedented growth and a doubling of the number of faculty members, and he would see external research funding grow from $600,000 in 1962-63 to nearly $2 million by the time he retired in 1969.

Willard C. Olson
Willard C. Olson

The challenges facing Olson included preparing larger numbers of teachers to meet the baby boom, allowing faculty more time for research and publication, and fulfilling enlarged service demands. The School would have to adapt to these changing needs and ultimately evaluate the role of the demonstration schools in their plans. The growing complexity of the school and its mission necessitated an enlargement of its executive functions. Regental approval was sought for the establishment of an executive committee to assist in the formulation of instructional policies and budgetary and personnel decisions. The request was approved by the Regents in April 1952 and the bylaws accordingly amended.

One of the immediate issues for the new dean to address was the burgeoning summer sessions. Changes in certification caused summer enrollments in education to swell. Candidates for permanent certificates were now required to have 10 hours of graduate-level credit in addition to completing three years of successful teaching service. During the regular academic year, education students accounted for approximately a quarter of the total graduate school enrollment. In the summer sessions, the number of education students enrolled in the graduate school approached 50 percent. Fueled by the large summer enrollment, the University of Michigan ranked among the leading institutions in the United States in the number of graduate degrees awarded with specialization in education.

As part of the school’s 75th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chair of the Science and the Art of Teaching, a committee was appointed to study the School’s organization, structure, and bylaws. The increasing size of the School and the obligation to research and service required an overhaul of its previous structure. Admissions was moved out of the Dean’s Office and to the University’s central admissions office, and an assistant dean was appointed in 1955 to help with administrative tasks. The committee’s report to Olson also called for the creation of an undergraduate unit focused on preparing teachers and a graduate unit split into eight program areas. A joint doctoral program in Psychology and Education was also established.

In March 1969, an external review committee chaired by Alvin C. Eurich of the Academy for Educational Development reviewed the school once more, this time on behalf of the Regents. The controversial report contended that the school, which had grown considerably due to NDEA funding and the baby boom years, lacked well-defined goals and priorities. The external reviewers asserted that the school had become fragmented from the tensions of trying to simultaneously prepare large numbers of teachers for certification, provide unlimited service to the state, conduct research, and maintain a laboratory school. After contentious public deliberation, the Regents approved the decision to close the beloved University School. Other report recommendations were intended mainly for the consideration of the next dean, as Olson announced his intention to retire after 40 years of service to the school.