Home > Departmental History at UND, Grand Forks Notes, North Dakotiana > History of and History in the University of North Dakota

History of and History in the University of North Dakota

Next fall, the University of North Dakota will host the Northern Great Plains History Conference. This regional conference was originally organized by members of the History Department in the late 1960 and has continued almost every year since then being hosted by various school across the Northern Plains.

It seems fitting then, that there be at least one panel that focuses on the history of the University of North Dakota and the Department of History. So, I have organized a panel of three papers for the event.

Here it is:

History of and History in the University of North Dakota

“History before Libby: University before Disciplines”
W. Caraher, Department of History, University of North Dakota

It is commonplace to imagine now that disciplinary divisions are traditional and neatly contemporary with the creation of the American university system in the late 19th and early 20th century. In reality, of course, this was not necessarily the case. Nor was it the case that the development of disciplines, such as history, took place at only an institutional level. This paper will examine the career of Horace B. Woodworth who served the University of North Dakota from 1885-1904. During the same decades when the discipline of history was reaching its professional maturity through the work of H. B. Adams at Johns Hopkins and his students like Frederick Jackson Turn at Wisconsin, Woodworth underwent his own professional development migrating from the Professor of Mathematics, Physics, and Astronomy to the Professor of Moral and Mental Science to the University of North Dakota’s first Professor of History. At his retirement in 1904, he was the first University faculty member to earn a Carnegie Pension and from 1910 – 1949 the Education Building on campus bore the name Woodworth Hall in his honor. The lack of a clear disciplinary home, however, has consigned his name to obscurity and overwritten a valuable, transdisciplinary, precedent in the history the university and its faculty.

“Dr. Orin G. Libby: Campus Gadfly”

G. Iseminger, Department of History, University of North Dakota

The word “gadfly” comes from the words “sting” + “fly” and a dictionary describes the “pest” as “a purposely annoying or provoking person who criticizes others to get them to reform themselves or their institutions.” In the long history of the University of North Dakota, a period of 125 years, many faculty members aspired to be the campus gadfly. Few succeeded as well as Dr. Orin G. Libby whose tenure in the university’s history department spanned the period 1902-1945. Nothing was so insignificant that it escaped his attention nor so important that he dared not criticize it and urge that it be changed or eliminated. He chided the administration for not clearing campus walks of snow, forcing women students to drag their long skirts over the drifts and then sitting all day in class with wet skirts around their ankles. He criticize Dr. William G. Bek, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, for compromising graduation standards be eliminating the foreign language requirement for the Ph.B. degree. He was the unofficial leader of a group that attempted to remove Dr. Thomas F. Kane from his position as university president on the grounds that he was “irresponsible, inefficient, negligent, intellectually weak, morally vacillating, and wholly incompetent.” Although many felt Libby’s “sting,” he was a respected member of the faculty when he retired in 1945 at the age of eighty-one.

“History of Social Work at UND: 1983-2009”

B. Weber, Department of Social Work, University of North Dakota

In 2008 I took up the task of writing the history of the Social Work Department at the University of North Dakota: my small contribution to a larger project surrounding the school’s 125th anniversary. My work built upon Louis Geiger’s University of the Northern Plains and former department chair Professor Ken Dawes’ work covering the department up till 1982. My argument concerning the recent twenty-five years is that department chairs—despite no real managerial authority—shaped the major events.

In 1982 UND’s Social Work Department was a modestly sized undergraduate program. By 2007 it also housed the University’s third largest graduate program outside the Medical School and was administering several quasi-independent service units helping both Social Workers and the general population of North Dakota. This growth was due to multiple interdependent factors, but in the final tally the Department Chairs provided the nexus of change. More precisely, five and a half chairs operated in contexts beyond their control, dealt with controversies and dysfunction, lawsuits and investigations, and the troubling combination of academic freedom and the loose knit process of faculty governance. Yet, through example, cajoling, leadership, and luck they deserve the credit for the accumulated changes—good and bad.

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