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The Department of Statistics at the University of Michigan was founded in 1969. However, Statistics at Michigan has a long history and tradition dating back to the 1920's. The University of Michigan was one of the first two American universities (along with University of Iowa) to offer academic programs in mathematical statistics. Harry C. Carver, who started this program, also founded and funded a new journal called the Annals of Mathematical Statistics in 1933. This journal developed into the premiere journal in Mathematical Statistics. It was split into two journals, Annals of Statistics and Annals of Probability, in 1973 and they constitute the most prestigious journals in the profession on theoretical statistics and probability. Professor Carver also played a major role in the founding of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics (IMS). The IMS was founded at a meeting in Ann Arbor in September of 1935. The institute subsequently adopted the Annals of Mathematical Statistics as its official journal.

An increasing number of major universities in the US started to establish separate departments of statistics during the 1950's and 1960's. There were several efforts in the 1960's by statistics faculty in Department of Mathematics at Michigan to start a separate department. An agreement was finally reached in Spring of 1968, and a new Department of Statistics was founded within the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts (LSA) in September 1, 1969. There were about ten faculty members with Bill Ericson as the first Chair. The department was located in Mason Hall (its home for the next 30 years).

The period 1969–1976 was one of growth. The graduate program was developed, and many new graduate courses were introduced. The number of graduate students increased from five to forty and total course enrollments almost doubled. The first Master's degree was awarded in 1971 and the first Ph.D. in 1972. During this period, 13 students received their Ph.D. while about 50 earned their master's degrees. Popular courses in applied statistics were introduced and a Master's degree program was developed jointly with several departments. The size of the faculty remained constant at about ten FTE's.

Starting in the late 1970's, the department has had primary responsibility for teaching undergraduate statistics courses within LSA. Since that time, the department has developed and offered many new introductory courses for students in other departments. These include currently popular courses such as STATS 100 and STATS 250. The department also jointly developed and offered courses with other departments such as Industrial & Operations Engineering, Mathematics, Biostatistics, and Ross School of Business.

The department's undergraduate major in Statistics was established in 1977. A new Master's degree in Applied Statistics was created in 1985. Starting in 1999, we offered an undergraduate minors programs in Applied Statistics and one in Statistics. The program averages graduates of between 10–15 each year.

Faculty research interests cover a broad range of areas. We have traditionally had strong interests in several areas of theoretical statistics and methodology. Recent faculty additions have broadened the department's research interests substantially. The department also has substantial cross-disciplinary research activities in several major areas, including engineering, social sciences, and life sciences.

The following have served as department Chairs: 

  • Bill Ericson (1969–1977)
  • Michael Woodroofe (1977–1983)
  • Ed Rothman (1983–1989)
  • Robb Muirhead (1989–1995)
  • Jeff Wu (1995–1998)
  • Vijay Nair (1998–2003)
  • Julian Faraway (2003–2004)
  • Vijay Nair (2004–2010)
  • Tailen Hsing (2010–2015)
  • Xuming He (2015-present)