95 years of service

September 16, 2009

This year, we celebrate the Ford School’s 95th anniversary. We're proud of the school's contributions to public policy research and education – proud that through our program, the University of Michigan has trained so many generations of committed public servants. Here is our story.

The University of Michigan benefits from an original

In 1913, Jesse S. Reeves, chairman of the University of Michigan political science department, proposed an academic program dedicated to training future leaders in city government.

In a letter to U-M President Hutchins, Reeves wrote: "I believe that the University has a distinct opportunity, not only in offering a public service to the people of the state…but in leading the way in the training of municipal experts."

A year later, the political science department launched a program leading to a Master of Arts in Municipal Administration — the nation's first systematic public service training program with a municipality focus.


Angell Hall - Photo: U-M Bentley Library

The program required coursework in economics, law, civil engineering, and landscape design as well as 3 months of fieldwork. It started small, with just two students enrolled in each of its first ten years. By the time Michigan Stadium opened its doors in 1927, the fledgling program set a record high of eight enrolled students.

The IPA era

Teaching was suspended temporarily by the Great Depression and, later, by the scattering of faculty and students during World War II. But the program reached a key turning point in 1945 as the end of the war brought new demand for trained public servants. In September 1945, the Regents approved a plan to establish the Institute of Public Administration (IPA), officially launched in 1946.

Core IPA courses included fiscal administration, public personnel, intergovernmental relations, and techniques for research and reporting in public administration. Michigan residents paid $65 per term to attend.

Most IPA graduates entered into public service. Between 1949 and 1963, just over a third went to work for municipal governments, including graduates who became the city managers of Bloomington, Howell, and Jackson.

IPA-trained public service professionals were in high demand. "During the whole period since World War II, placement of our graduates has been a minor problem at most," recalled Ferrel Heady, director of IPA from 1960 to 1967.

"Even as the number of graduates per year rises, the number of available positions grows at a fast rate," he said at the IPA's 50th anniversary celebration.

The IPA era saw faculty research expand into active engagement with state issues, including constitutional topics, taxes, expenditures, state-local fiscal relations, and information disclosure. In 1954, the faculty-led Bureau of Government published A Study Kit on Michigan Local Government, a top seller with 15,000 copies sold at 40 cents each.

Bringing social science to bear

The scope and nature of the school's mission continued to expand. In the late 1960s, Pat Crecine, a young, newly tenured associate professor, wrote an influential article for the Policy Science Journal, calling for a new, interdisciplinary way of bringing the analytic tools of contemporary social science to bear on social problems.

Dominick's: An unofficial tradition

Crecine's approach marked a revolutionary milestone in the development of today's Ford School and in the broader field of public service training. Under Crecine's leadership, the Institute of Public Policy Studies (IPPS) was established in 1968 to award a new degree, the Master of Public Policy. Similar programs sprang up at Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Berkeley, Texas, and Duke, eventually joined by dozens more around the country.

The new IPPS curriculum was designed to provide students the analytical skills to deal with challenging problems in an increasingly complex environment. First-year MPP core courses built basic knowledge in economics, the political environment, operations research, and quantitative methods. Students then applied their new skills to a summer internship and spent most of their second year developing a specialty.

Faculty research interests broadened as well. Nearly all IPPS faculty were jointly appointed with other top-rated schools and departments at the U-M, fostering an interdisciplinary approach that enriched research and teaching. Jack Walker, IPPS director from 1974 to 1979, studied political and administrative decision processes around the U.S. Defense Department budget and evaluated the effects of the 1967 Detroit riots. Other research projects investigated relations between market power and racial discrimination, the diffusion of innovations among American states, and theories of organizational behavior.

Three directors celebrating IPPS becoming a school

Ned Gramlich became the director of IPPS in 1979 and for the next two decades he, Paul Courant, Edie Goldenberg, and John Chamberlin each served one or more terms as director. The remarkably smooth transitions among them reflected IPPS's collegial culture, as well as the leadership abilities of the directors. Courant went on to serve as Provost and recently, Dean of Libraries for the University. Goldenberg later had a very successful 9-year run as Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. And Chamberlin became founding director of both the school's groundbreaking undergraduate program and the U-M Center for Ethics in Public Life.

From the late 1970s through the early 1990s, IPPS saw a steady expansion and diversification of the student body. The class size was 33 in 1974, with just 7 women. By 1994, it had doubled and over half were women. The percentage of minorities more than doubled, from 10% in 1974 to 24% in 1984.

As in the past, many graduates went to work in local and state government, but increasingly, IPPS alumni found excellent matches for their skills within the federal government. IPPS engaged with the Presidential Management Internship (now called the Presidential Management Fellows) from the program's start in 1977, affording graduates opportunities with agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget, Department of Energy, and NASA.

Paul Courant led the IPPS move to the 4th floor of Lorch Hall in 1985. The program's entire faculty and staff were under one roof for the first time since the early years, a happy circumstance despite some aesthetic quibbles (student David Baruch, quoted in the May '86 IPPS News: "The furniture clashes with the carpeting. Hold it — the furniture clashes with the furniture.")

The school formally began to offer international coursework in 1978, including International Economic Policy, World Politics, and International Security Affairs. By 1988, Goldenberg reported to alumni that fully 40 percent of incoming classes were interested in the international program.

Named for a president

Led by the tireless efforts of Ned Gramlich and others, in 1995 IPPS became an independent school within the University of Michigan, the School of Public Policy (SPP).

Students and faculty in the 1950s - Photo: U-M Bentley Library

Gramlich left Ann Arbor in 1997 to serve on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. In 1999, Rebecca M. Blank, a professor at Northwestern and a Member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, took the reins, with a clear mandate to grow the program and raise its visibility as one of the country's top policy schools.

In 1999, the U-M renamed the school to honor President Gerald R. Ford — a 1935 graduate of the University of Michigan. First proposed back in 1977 by then-director Jack Walker, the naming of the school for President Ford was an excellent fit given his Michigan ties and his life-long commitment to public service.

"The school represents so many of the exemplary qualities by which my father aspired to live his life: professional excellence, integrity, moral purpose, and service for the greater good of humanity," notes President Ford's son, Mike. "Gerald Ford loved his alma mater, the University of Michigan, and he was deeply honored and humbled to have the School of Public Policy bear his name."

New space for new programs

The school had again outgrown its space. In 2002, the University approved its ambitious goal: construction of a new building on the corner of State and Hill, the southern gateway to central campus.

Between the naming ceremony in 2000 and December 2008, friends, donors, alumni, and foundations contributed a total of $51.4 million. Those generous gifts and grants funded construction of the new building and continue to provide support for students, faculty research, and programming.

In 2006, the school moved into its new home, Joan and Sanford Weill Hall. The beautiful, state-of-the-art space has enhanced the school's role as a central venue for public policy discussion and helped attract top students and faculty.

Under Blank's leadership, the school established two new degree programs. In 2001, it launched an innovative joint PhD program with the departments of economics, sociology, and political science. And since 2007, a new BA program allows some of the best U-M students to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Public Policy in their junior and senior years. The school also founded three vital, engaged research centers: the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy; the National Poverty Center; and the International Policy Center.

The four corners of the globe

Blank stepped down in 2006 and was later appointed Undersecretary of Economic Affairs in the Commerce Department. In 2007, the University appointed international economist Susan M. Collins from Georgetown University and Brookings as dean. With her leadership, the school will enhance its international activities — continuing to expand student opportunities to study and work abroad and in the U.S. on international issues and integrating cross-national issues more fully into the curriculum and the research programs. The newly-launched center on policy in diverse societies will also have international dimensions.

Former dean Ned Gramlich with graduates

"We will continue to build on strengths that have distinguished the school for decades —" Collins notes, "a commitment to the importance of analytic and quantitative social science to improve policy, a top-notch multi-disciplinary faculty, high-quality and diverse students, the ability to leverage connections throughout the world-class University of Michigan, demonstrated success as teachers and mentors, and our community's collegial and cohesive spirit."

During this anniversary year, the Ford School looks back with pride at the program's growth and impact: a 95-year history of training effective, committed policy leaders and breaking new intellectual ground. From the program's early focus on local government, the decades brought a widened lens and increasing engagement with state, regional, national, and international policy issues.

We look forward to the next century of service, from our corner to the four corners of the globe.

Below is a formatted version of this article from State & Hill, the magazine of the Ford School. View the entire Fall 2009 State & Hill here.

Open publication