Ira M. Smith Papers, 1919-1969
Using These Materials
- The collection is open for research.
- Smith, Ira Melville, 1885-1977
- Registrar of the University of Michigan. Files concerning University admissions policy, the work of the registrar as liaison between the University and secondary schools, the relationship of the University to other educational associations, and the maintenance of student records at the University; and files relating to his work with University, community, and other social organizations; also photographs.
- 19 linear feet
- Call Number:
- 861108 Aa 2
- Finding aid prepared by: Jennifer Zukowski
- Scope and Content:
The Ira M. Smith papers document his career as Registrar at the University of Michigan, his reform of the admissions process, his involvement in general university affairs, and activities with various community organizations. The collection has largely been retained in its original order. Groups of files were given series title. These are Biographical materials, Correspondence; University of Michigan; Community Activities, and Photographs. The great bulk of the collection relates to University of Michigan affairs and to his community involvements.
- Biographical / Historical:
Ira Smith, Registrar of the University of Michigan from 1925 to 1955, was born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1885. After graduating from Indiana University in 1909, he served as Assistant to the Registrar at the University of Illinois and then as Assistant Examiner at the University of Chicago until 1925.
The Office of the Registrar of the University of Michigan was founded in 1846. From its founding until 1925, the Registrar's duties were primarily clerical. In 1925, the year in which both Ira Smith and President Clarence C. Little came to the University, the office was redefined as a responsible administrative position. In addition to the traditional responsibilities of record-keeping, the new Registrar was to direct undergraduate admissions and to serve as the University's liaison with the secondary schools and educational associations.
In 1870, the University had been the first major institution to adopt the Certificate Plan of Admissions. By this plan, students who had successfully completed college preparatory programs at accredited state high schools and who had received their principals recommendations were automatically eligible for admission. Under the old system of Admission by Examination, the University had administered vigorous examinations to evaluate academic achievement. The new system encouraged flexibility and individuality in high school curricula, but sacrificed the absolute standards of the examinations.
The new program was initially successful, but had deteriorated by the time Smith came to the University. Communications between the University and the secondary schools had suffered as the number of applicants had grown.; academic standards in high schools had grown lax, and principals were unknowingly recommending unqualified students. As a result, by 1925 almost one-third of all freshmen failed to return for their sophomore years. The new Registrar and the new President were both appalled at the system's inefficiency and inhumanity.
The University in 1925 was outdated. The curriculum, the administrative organization and the admissions requirements had all renamed virtually untouched since the massive revisions of the 1890's. Throughout the 1920's committees and studies to remedy the situation abounded. The papers of some are included in this collection. In the near chaos of revision, which was complicated by the advent of the undiplomatic C.C. Little, the newly defined Registrar's Office proved to be an indispensable organizational aid.
From an evaluation of the causes of the high freshman failure rate, two basic solutions emerged. First, the University had to screen its applicants more carefully in order to eliminate unqualified students. Second, the University had to develop counseling programs to help its students adapt socially and academically to college life. These responsibilities fell in large part to the Registrar.
To improve the admissions process itself, Smith devised a new application form which provided more personal and relevant information. He initiated a more extensive interviewing program and expanded programs for alumni participation in admissions work. Smith worked with the Educational Testing Service in the development of diagnostic tests to predict academic success. Then, as today, the tests were controversial; many felt that they discriminated against minorities, and tested only a certain kind of intelligence. Smith also met with professional organizations to restore the intended cooperation among academic institutions.
To ease the transition from high school to college, the University developed counseling and orientation programs and issued more extensive information to incoming students. In 1927, he began the successful Principal-Freshman Conferences which encouraged an exchange of ideas between the student and his former principal concerning both the student's college work and his academic preparation.
While Smith was refining the admissions process, he continued to perform the traditional work of the Registrar--the keeping of student records. Smith did more than simply record grades and issue transcripts. He recognized in the statistics a wealth of information which had only to be gathered together and interpreted. Smith was an avid committeeman and used the resources of his office for statistical studies of problems under discussion. For the studies of freshman failure, he produced statistics relating measured intelligence to academic achievement. For other committees, he compared the academic performance of World War II Veterans to the overall standard, and analyzed the University's grading patterns.
When Smith's own records failed to yield answers, he turned to other institutions. In periodic surveys of practices elsewhere, he studied entrance requirements, high school examination policies, war-time education programs and a number of questions about the technicalities and ethics of maintaining and disclosing records.
Smith thought it important that his work be responsive to the changing moods of the University. In a retrospective evaluation of his career, he observed three major changes in that mood. The high spirits and confidence of the 1920's decayed into the dissatisfaction and depression of the 1930's. The new decade brought new scholarship and housing programs and a more practical education. World War II created a demand for military education and veterans' programs. The Japanese-American and foreign students posed unique problems for the Registrar and the University. After the war, Smith faced a marked rise in the number of applicants. Science and technology invaded the University with new strength and admission became more competitive than ever before.
For many of these changes, the Registrar's Office served as a clearinghouse for information, and as the unit ultimately responsible for enacting new programs. Although Smith often lacked the authority or imagination to initiate policy, he sat on committees with and corresponded with men who did.
Smith always felt in his work a tension between the of statistics and the individual needs of students. If the definition of the office emphasized impersonal matters, Smith himself emphasized the personal matters. He once wrote that he derived his greatest pleasures at the University of Michigan from his informal contacts with students. He believed that successful adaptation to college depended upon a student's sense of a continuing life style. He participated in many activities which contributed to the moral and social well-being of his students. Included in this collection are papers from his work with the University's International Center, the Student Christian Association, the student fraternities and sororities, and the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics. In the community, he worked with the YMCA and the Boy Scouts. Other interests involved him with the Michigan and Ann Arbor Councils of Churches, the Red Cross, the Community Fund, the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club. Smith was a talented fund-raiser and his papers in many cases include extensive financial records of these groups. The papers about the Rotary Club are perhaps particularly interesting because they describe from a businessman's perspective many of the issues Smith confronted within the University.
Ira Smith died in July 1977 at the age of ninety-two. He had worked at essentially the same job, in three universities, for forty-six years. At the University of Michigan, he worked under three presidents and one acting president. His career, like the office he held, was a mirror of events far beyond the scope of any one individual.
- Acquisition Information:
- The collection was the gift of Ira M. Smith (donor no. 1389 ) and family, and was given to the library in 1977.
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Education -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
Greek letter societies -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
Students -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
Universities and colleges -- Michigan.
Eating and drinking.
Schools -- Michigan -- Ann Arbor.
American National Red Cross. Washtenaw County Chapter.
Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce.
Ann Arbor Federal Savings.
Ann Arbor Rotary Club.
Boy Scouts of America.
Michigan College Association.
Michigan Council of Churches and Christian Education.
University of Michigan -- Administration.
University of Michigan -- Admission.
University of Michigan. Alumni Association.
University of Michigan. Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics.
University of Michigan. Bureau of Appointments and Occupational Information.
University of Michigan -- Faculty.
University of Michigan. International Center.
University of Michigan. Office of the Registrar.
University of Michigan -- Students.
University of Michigan. Student Religious Association.
University of Michigan -- Students -- Societies, etc.
University of Michigan. University College.
Young Men's Christian Association (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
University Elementary School (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Smith, Ira Melville, 1885-1977.
Ann Arbor (Mich.) -- Schools.
Camp Birkett (Dexter, Mich.)
Camp Newkirk (Webster, Mich.)
Using These Materials
The collection is open for research.
- USE & PERMISSIONS:
Copyright is held by the Regents of the University of Michigan but the collection may contain third-party materials for which copyright is not held. Patrons are responsible for determining the appropriate use or reuse of materials.
- PREFERRED CITATION:
item, folder title, box no., Ira M. Smith Papers, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan