History of the Doctoral Degree at Eastern Michigan University

Published In:
Ypsilanti Gleanings, Spring 2008,
Spring 2008
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Author: Dr. Jack D. Minzey

There is an old proverb about three blind men trying to describe an elephant. Each man describes the elephant in terms of the part that he is touching, and thus, no two descriptions are the same. In a like manner, the description and history of the doctoral degree at Eastern Michigan University is told in many diverse ways, depending on when the person telling the story became involved and to what degree. There are certainly many persons currently involved with the doctoral degree who can describe its present status better than I, but there is not one who has had a long term involvement or a more intimate association with the degree it its formative stage than I, and so I feel well qualified to tell its history. In fact, I feel compelled to do so, since I am not aware that anyone else has recorded the events and circumstances leading up to the implementation of this degree.

My first association with the degree was in 1967. In a conversation with Harold Sponberg, President of Eastern Michigan University, he described three goals which he hoped to achieve at Eastern: 1) a center for community education; 2) a new college of Education building called the Charles Stewart Mott/ Frank J. Manley Building; and 3) a doctoral degree in school administration (Educational Leadership). In the early 1970's, the Department of Educational Leadership was undergoing an external evaluation, and our consultant was the Department Head of School Administration at Arizona State University. In his final report, he assessed our Educational Specialist's Degree, which was a 32 hour degree above the Master's Degree and was our terminal degree for school administrators. At that time, about one third of our master's graduates continued on into the Specialist's Degree plus we had a large number of students from other universities who came to Eastern for that degree. Our consultant was gratified with the quality of the degree and stated that it exceeded most of the course requirements of other universities in their doctoral program. He suggested that we consider adding a research component and offer a doctoral degree.

Two years after that recommendation, Dr. Clyde Letarte, a member of the Educational Leadership Department, was appointed Associate Dean of the Graduate School. One of his first efforts was to attempt to develop a doctoral degree at Eastern. He first requested the Educational Leadership Department to submit a proposal for such a degree. A proposal was written, but it was rejected by the Graduate School because it lacked substance and quality. Dr. Letarte then wrote his own proposal. This proposal was to create a Doctor of Art's Degree for teachers at the Community College level. This plan was submitted to the North Central Association, but it was discouraged because it was felt that there was no demand for such a degree.

Dr. Jack Minzey was intimately involved with the development and approval of the first doctoral degree at EMU from 1967 until it was finally approved and implemented in 1991.

In 1981 former Vice President for Instruction Bruce Nelson was given released time to write the initial doctoral degree proposal.

President Harold Sponberg in 1967 proposed that a doctoral program in Educational Leadership be developed at EMU.

In 1989 Provost Collins took the doctoral degree proposal to a meeting of the Michigan University Vice Presidents where the Council voted eight to seven to approve the program.

Assuming that we might not get our own doctoral degree, it was proposed that we contact another university to see if we might offer a joint doctoral program. The one university which seemed interested was the University of Michigan. The Graduate Dean and I met several times with representatives from the U. of M., but we were unable to come to a satisfactory agreement. The University of Michigan was willing to use our faculty to teach some of their courses, but they insisted that the degree must carry their name, the tuition be paid to them, and the curricula be overseen by their faculty. In short, they were willing to employ our staff as visiting professors to teach their classes. This did not meet the needs we felt we had, and so we did not pursue this idea further.

During the following years, Dr. Gary Keller became the Graduate Dean, and he was extremely interested in developing a doctoral degree at Eastern. In 1981, he got the Board of Regents to approve the offering of a doctoral degree, and he solicited proposals from the various departments. Ten proposals were submitted, and the choice came down to two proposals, Educational Leadership and Psychology.

“When Harold Sponberg promoted the idea of a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership, he was really looking for a way to move Eastern Michigan University into the realm of being a doctoral granting university, and he saw Educational Leadership as the most promising way to get there.”

There were several reasons why the Educational Leadership proposal was finally selected. One reason was that the Psychology program was submitted with an extremely high budget, and funds were not available to support such a program. In addition, however, the Educational Leadership proposal was extremely well written. Our department had spent a great deal of time researching our discipline, and we were able to show that there was a great need for such a degree and that the existing doctoral programs were unable to keep up with this demand. We were able to show that by 1990, there would be a need for 3,600 new doctoral degrees in school administration, and that at the current rate of graduation, there would only be 850 degrees awarded by that year. We had also obtained 300 students' signatures on a petition and 200 alumni signatures of support for such a degree at Eastern as well as having support from our Department Advisory Committee and 13 other administrative organizations in the State of Michigan. In addition, all the course work for the proposal was already in place, and the program would not require new faculty.

The nature of our proposal was also unique. We had given Dr. Bruce Nelson released time to write the proposal. He had been the former Vice President for Instruction at Eastern, and he had proved to be a quality writer. Further, he was able to grasp the uniqueness of our plan and compose it into a scholarly document. The essence of our proposed degree was that it was to be a post Specialist's Degree built upon our existing specialist's program, just as our Specialist's Degree was built upon the Master's Degree. The specialist's program consisted of 32 hours above the masters. The core of the program consisted of classes in Leadership Theory, Analysis of Research, Organizational Theory, a field based research project (thesis), and an internship. In addition, there were 16 hours of electives in specialist level classes in Educational Leadership. There were also six cognate hours in graduate work from other departments. At the doctoral level experience, there were to be an additional 24 hours. These hours consisted of Ethics and Policy Analysis, a doctoral seminar, statistics (inferential, analysis of variance), a cognate in Guidance and Counseling or Curriculum, and a dissertation. Our plan was to take 10 students per year from persons who were graduates of our specialist's program and who were also currently employed administrators. Residency was to be accomplished through summer sessions so that students would not have to quit their jobs to be in our program. Another advantage which we saw in this plan was that we would already have students who had completed the specialist degree and thus would be able to start immediately on the doctoral part of the program. We believed that since all of our graduates would already have positions in school administration, placement would not be a problem. We also perceived that all of our students who did not finish our doctoral program would still have a Specialist's Degree and thus would minimize the impact of the “all but the dissertation” syndrome which often happens at other doctoral degree granting institutions.

Our plan was written in 1981 and accepted by the university input system and the Board of Regents in 1982. Since we had just completed a North Central evaluation in 1981, it was felt that we could include our degree under the previous visit. However, what appeared to be a positive move toward the doctoral degree soon ran into trouble. It was at this time that the State of Michigan began to encounter massive financial problems. To alleviate part of the problem, all higher education was scrutinized. Major cutbacks in university funding took place, and there was even talk of eliminating some of the duplication in higher education by closing some of the state universities. Eastern became a prime target for such action due to its proximity to the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. In regards to our specific doctoral proposal, Governor Blanchard refused to give it support. This in turn caused our state representative and Speaker of the House, Gary Owen, to also oppose this degree. As a result, Dr. John Porter, President of Eastern, withdrew the proposal rather than risk any impact on Eastern's state funding. In addition, in order to placate the state government, the university president's created a system in which all new programs in higher education had to be approved by a state wide board consisting of the vice presidents from each state university. Our plan was submitted to them, and as anticipated, they turned it down.

“However, another three years went by without any action… there was not a positive response to a request for reactivating the efforts toward a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. Then in 1989, Provost Collins contacted me and said that Dr. Porter wanted us to move ahead immediately with the doctoral degree and that it needed to be rewritten and updated in two days.”

During the ensuing years, there was little discussion of the doctoral degree. As the Department Head, I did regularly send memos to the Dean, the Provost and the Graduate Dean requesting that we reinstitute our request. However, there was no movement, and it appeared that the issue was dead. Then in 1986, new interest was sparked regarding the degree. Two Regents (Dr. Genevieve Titsworth and Dr. William Simmons) resurrected interest in the degree. Both of these Regents were active administrators in Education, and they produced a document entitled “Creative Strategies-A Time for Action”. This document had several plans for improving the College of Education, and proposal number 11 was a Doctoral Degree in Leadership (Interdisciplinary). This plan was accepted by the Board of Regents in August, 1986, and while it did not result in much in the way of action, it did remind the university community of the need for a doctoral degree.

However, another three years went by without any action, and although my memos to the various administrators continued, there was not a positive response to a request for reactivating the efforts toward a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. Then in 1989, Provost Collins contacted me and said that Dr. Porter wanted us to move ahead immediately with the doctoral degree and that it needed to be rewritten and updated in two days. I rewrote the document over the weekend, and Dr. Collins took the proposal to a meeting of the Michigan University Vice Presidents. Dean Scott Westerman and I attended the meeting, but Dr. Collins made the presentation. He was very persuasive in his comments, and the Vice Presidents Council voted eight to seven to approve our request. It was notable that all the institutions who had a doctoral degree voted against us. It was also interesting that during the intervening years since we had begun our request for a doctoral degree, several of the doctoral level institutions had implemented parts of our proposal into their existing programs.

We now proceeded with a plan for implementation. We assumed that the North Central Association would approve us as had been previously discussed, and so we spent our time on the details of admitting students. We developed and oversight committee consisting of Dr. Ron Goldenberg (Graduate Dean), Dr. Don Benion (Vice President for Instruction), Dr. Scott Westerman, (Dean of the College of Education), Dr. Jack Minzey (Department Head of Leadership and Counseling), and Dr. Donna Schmitt (Professor of Educational Leadership). There were some attempts by members of this committee to make significant changes in the program and to make it more traditional in nature. However, through this committee's efforts, we were able to justify the content of the program, develop admission standards, prepare exams, and develop a selection process for admitting candidates to the program.

It was at this time that we were informed by the North Central Association that too much time had elapsed since our last visit by them and that we would have to have a special visit for approval of our program. In March, 1989, such a visit took place. It turned out to be another setback for our proposal. The visitation team consisted of two people. One was the President of the University of Dayton. He was a history major, and his institution did not have a teacher education program. The second was a woman who was the Dean of the College of Education at the University of South Dakota. She was a home economics major, and her institution had no doctoral programs. They had two problems with our proposal. First, the president was somewhat of an elitist and had difficultly dealing with a program that gave doctoral degrees to school administrators. The second problem was that both of them could not seem to deal with a doctoral program that had some non traditional aspects to it. Since neither of them had any experience with a Specialist's Degree, they could not comprehend the connection which we were making in our program. As a result, they at first denied our request. Our committee members reacted quite aggressively, and they finally agreed to grant us probationary status for a period of five years. Five years later, we did have another evaluation of the status of our doctoral degree and due to the achievements we had made and the influence of Dean Jerry Robbins, we did receive final approval.

Once we had probationary approval from the North Central Association, we were now ready to put the plan into operation. Because we had no one on our staff who had extensive work in a department with a doctoral degree, it was decided that we needed to obtain more credibility by bringing in some experienced doctoral faculty. Since I was in the process of retiring, a new department head, Dr. Martha Tack was employed and she brought with her experiences related to working with a doctoral program. In addition, a doctoral coordinator, Dr William Hetrick, was hired to give professional direction to our degree. Our budget was increased to provide more supplies and materials, each faculty member was given a computer, and travel budgets were increased. There was also more released time given to faculty for research, and the faculty was increased by four professors.

In the fall of 1991, ten students were selected for the first doctoral level class at Eastern. This was to be the beginning of the first doctoral program at Eastern Michigan University. It had sufficient resources and above all, a dedicated staff which was committed to the success of its students. The program does appear to have lost much of its uniqueness, but that was to be expected since the professionals employed to give direction to the program were not a part of the original planning and were inclined to implement a program which mirrored their own experiences at other institutions. However, the program has blossomed into a quality program. This was apparent when the program successfully received final approval from the North Central Association during their focus visit in 1996. Even more important is that since the faculty in the Educational Leadership Program created and maintained such an excellent doctoral program, Eastern Michigan University was recognized as a bona fide doctoral level granting institution, and made possible the creation and addition of other doctoral level programs.

To fully appreciate the impact of this degree on Eastern Michigan University, one needs to know how degree status is determined in higher education. Higher education institutions are limited to a particular degree level. For example, community colleges, by law, are only allowed to award associate degrees. Private colleges and universities are granted a specific degree status according to the articles of incorporation. Any exception to this must be achieved through a set of regulations governed by the Michigan Department of Education. Public colleges and universities are limited to the degree status identified in their original charters and again, changes must go through procedures established by the Michigan Department of Education as well as approval by various professional accrediting agencies.

When Eastern Michigan was first approved as Michigan State Normal College, it was given the right to award bachelor's degrees. Also, in 1889, they were actually given permission to award a master's degree in pedagogy. During the tenure of President Charles McKenny, that degree was eliminated, but they obtained permission for again granting the master's degree in 1938 through a joint program with the University of Michigan in the training of teachers. The specialist's degree came about in 1966 when Eastern was able to obtain permission for awarding a degree above the master's degree. The point is that it is usually very difficult for an institution to move to another level of degree status, but once that permission is given, additional degrees can be offered without going through the rigorous process of an outside evaluation.

When Harold Sponberg promoted the idea of a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership, he was really looking for a way to move Eastern Michigan University into the realm of being a doctoral granting university, and he saw Educational Leadership as the most promising way to get there. Now, his dream has come true, and several departments at Eastern are either offering or in the process of offering doctoral degrees based on internal criteria and procedures.