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Our History

The University of Michigan has long been known for its strength in the study of organizations. From the founding of the Institute for Social Research in the 1940s, through the Quality of Work Life Program in the 1970s and the founding of the Interdisciplinary Committee on Organizational Studies (ICOS) in the 1980s, Michigan has been a world-renowned center for interdisciplinary research and scholarship on organizations. The Organizational Studies Program, established in 2001, provides to Michigan students an intensive study of organizations at the undergraduate level. However, the OS program's history pre-dates the year of its founding, and is critical to understanding its imprint to this day.

The undergraduate study of organizations at the University was driven and continues to be guided to a great extent by student initiative, ambition and creativity. Before the Program was created, a large number of students chose to study organizations within the College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LSA) by pursuing an independent concentration pathway (ICP). The ICP allowed undergraduates to invent their own major, subject to approval by a faculty member. It was designed to encourage creativity and independence for undergraduates and was especially useful for students interested in interdisciplinary study. Although some long-term faculty believe that students were pursuing ICP degrees in organizational studies as far back as the 1970s, University records indicate that the first ICP in organizational studies was awarded in 1989. During the early 1990s only a handful of students chose this option. In the mid-1990s, however, the number increased, and more than 40 students were completing this degree program every year. With the help of LSA advisor Toni Morales, students could select from a broad range of courses that allowed for an interdisciplinary study of organizations. Students even founded an organizational studies student association and created a website to establish a small community. This led to the emergence of an “underground” movement of students studying organizations.

By the late 1990s, more than 80 degrees per year were being awarded. This caught the attention of the LSA dean’s office and led to an inquiry regarding the rigor of the program. Initial conversations between the dean and an organizations scholar on campus, Richard (Rick) Price of the Department of Psychology, resulted in an informal review of samples of the students’ self-designed curricula. Each ICP required the support of a faculty member, and this review confirmed that the degrees being offered in organizational studies were meeting LSA standards. As recipients of the ICP organizational studies degree ballooned to 174 in 2000 and became one of the top half-dozen majors in LSA, however, the administration believed a program with such high demand required greater scrutiny and administrative oversight to ensure a level of quality consistent with the University’s standards.

As students began to fear that the ICP program was in jeopardy, and rumors of dismantling the program surfaced, one student, Jay Salliott, together with Morales, sought Price’s assistance in helping to justify the existence of the program. Price met with Shirley Neuman, then dean of LSA, and shortly afterward several organizational scholars on campus convened to review the possibility of launching an organizational studies program. Michael Cohen (Professor of Complex Systems, Information, and Public Policy), Jane Dutton (Professor of Business Administration and Psychology), Patricia Gurin (Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies) and Mark Mizruchi (Professor of Sociology and Business Administration) met with Price to determine the merits of launching such a program. In January 2000, Price submitted a proposal for the establishment of the Interdisciplinary Program in Organizational Studies, based on the discussions of the ad hoc faculty committee. Subsequent conversations with the dean’s office helped to cement what became two of its most notable aspects — ensuring the quality and controlling the size of the program by creating an admissions process; and allowing the program to be a tenure-granting unit reporting directly to the dean and grouped with the other social science departments.

Just as Price and Cohen were utilizing the LSA advisor’s template to draft a formal curriculum, the dean convened a meeting with Price, student leaders of the organizational studies student association, and other LSA deans to officially declare her acceptance of the program. Throughout the following year, Price and his colleagues labored through extensive proposals to the LSA curriculum committee to formalize a list of acceptable courses across the campus with organizational content. The ICP in organizational studies was discontinued. Permissions were requested from the various departments offering the courses that would become a part of the curriculum. After approval by the Association of University Presidents, which ensured that the nascent program would not compete with other state universities in Michigan, the Interdisciplinary Program in Organizational Studies (OS) was declared as a new major, effective September 2001.

Rick Price laughing with OS student

Price was appointed director in 2001 and 38 juniors signed on as majors. Because the program had not yet hired any regular teaching faculty, it was supported instead by a number of affiliated faculty members from other departments. During that first year no courses were offered under an ORGSTUDY course number. Instead, OS majors selected from the extensive list of courses with organizational content created by Price and Cohen. Although organizational studies-specific courses were subsequently developed over time, the leaders recognized the importance of maintaining the interdisciplinary character of the program. The spirit of freedom exercised by those who had pursued an ICP degree has been maintained to this day. Majors continue to place organizational courses from other departments alongside OS courses in their curriculum, which allows OS students to play a primary role in devising their academic program.

In July 2012, Mark Mizruchi, professor of sociology and business administration, became the Barger Family Professor and director of the OS Program. Mizruchi had served on the OS Advisory Committee since its inception. His initiatives focused on planning for the renovation of Dennison into the new academic building of the future (now Weiser Hall), a restructuring of the OS Advisory Committee, the development of new funding opportunities within OS for students (such as the Research Encouragement and Development Award), and the development of the International Education Initiative, a program designed to provide OS students with opportunities to study abroad. Working with the OS faculty, the LSA administration, and the program’s Leadership Committee, Mizruchi also began plans to expand the size of the program, to ensure that more U-M students would have an opportunity to earn an Organizational Studies degree. As part of this effort, the program added three new faculty members—Jeremy Levine, Ashley Harrell, and Steven Samford—and prepared to hire additional faculty to accommodate the growth of students. Mark served as director for 10 years, and in July 2022, Elizabeth Popp Berman, who joined OS as an associate professor in 2019, became the program's first female director.

Organizational Studies continues to thrive as an intellectually rigorous interdisciplinary program dedicated to the intensive theoretical, empirical, and experiential study of organizations in society. It has maintained its commitment to an engaged community of undergraduate learning and is dedicated to preparing its students to participate as leaders in the complex organizational world. Organizational Studies and the Barger Leadership Institute have found new ways to reach out to broader populations on the campus as it educates global citizens of the future.

Amended from the Bentley Historical Library. Read more about the history of OS here.