Institute for Social Research (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

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Institute for Social Research (University of Michigan) records and publications

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Institute for Social Research (University of Michigan) record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the online finding aids for the:

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The Institute for Social Research (ISR), an interdisciplinary center for social science research, was created in 1949 when the Research Center for Group Dynamics (founded at Massachusetts Institute of Technology) joined the Survey Research Center. ISR houses the Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) and the Center for Political Studies (CPS). Records of founding and development of ISR and related centers include minutes, correspondence, topical files, reports, and proposals. Administrative records include governance committees and director's files. Records of the Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA) contain grant proposals, survey instruments, focus group transcriptions, correspondence, bulletins, and internal governance records created under the auspices of PRBA and its various projects. Records of the Research Center for Group Dynamics are primarily the papers of director Kurt Lewin, including manuscripts and talks, 1936-1947. Survey Research Center records consist largely of proposal and project files

The ISR Publications contains publications of the Institute for Social Research and several sub-units, especially the Survey Research Center. The publications include annual reports, histories, bibliographies, newsletters, brochures and research reports.


The Survey Research Center, forerunner of the Institute for Social Research, was established at the University of Michigan in 1946, under the direction of Rensis Likert, as a center for interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. Fifty years after its founding, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) had become the nation's longest-standing laboratory for interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. ISR surveys are a national resource and have set the standard for research design across the country. Findings from ISR studies have contributed to policy and practice on issues ranging from racial prejudice and drug abuse to health, retirement and welfare. Largely self-supporting through grants and external contracts, ISR has a budget of approximately $80 million.

The Survey Research Center and the Research Center for Group Dynamics

Prior to coming to the University of Michigan, Likert worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture developing a survey facility to provide data on the problems of farmers and their reactions to federal farm policies. During World War II, Likert's survey work expanded to provide data for several federal agencies. Studies focused on public finance, morale, and government policies, among other topics. After the war, Likert and others sought a university setting that would provide a facility for large-scale sample survey research and greater opportunities for teaching and research in the social sciences. The University of Michigan was selected and Likert was appointed as director. Likert brought with him Angus Campbell, George Katona, Charles Cannell, and Leslie Kish. Initially skeptical of the establishment of a research institute not closely connected with a teaching department, the executive officers of the university stipulated that the Survey Research Center (SRC) was to operate through outside grants. The university would provide office space and general university services. Those working for the Center originally were not eligible for tenure. To promote its interdisciplinary nature, the Center was administratively separate from other schools and colleges, and its executive committee was made up of members from a variety of relevant disciplines.

From the outset, Likert and Campbell, working together, provided excellent leadership. Committed to the delegation of authority and group involvement in major decisions, Likert promoted the Center's contributions to national life and Campbell provided superior administrative skills. The senior staff met weekly as a group to discuss and decide upon a wide range of issues.

In 1948, the Research Center for Group Dynamics (RCGD) moved from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where it was founded in February 1945, after the death of its founder Kurt Lewin. Dorwin Cartwright continued as the director of RCGD in its new location. In 1948, an umbrella organization for SRC and RCGD was created and named the Institute of Social Research.

Administratively, ISR is composed of several centers, each emly autonomous in their research and administration. The development, design, administration and reports of research are center functions. The history of ISR is best understood through each of its research centers. Although the centers have undergone significant change, the core center remains the SRC.

The Survey Research Center (SRC)

Structurally, the SRC consisted of several research programs, as well as four technical sections which were involved in most research projects and conducted their own methodological investigations. The sections included: sampling, field office, coding, and computer support group. Sampling selected national household samples and consulted on sample design and other statistical questions with research from ISR, the university, and other places outside the university. The field office managed the data collection operations of SRC and provided technical assistance to the research staff in preparing data gathering instruments, developing study designs, and analyzing various modes of data collection. The coding section converted the survey data to numeric codes for use in data processing. The computer support group developed and maintained hardware and software for computerized data processing and analysis.

One of the earliest integrated research programs of the SRC was the Economic Behavior Program, which was related to economic decisions made by consumers and businessmen. Initially, under the direction of George Katona who was trained in economics and psychology, the program included annual national surveys undertaken for the Federal Reserve Board from 1946 to 1971. The Program also utilized the annual Survey of Consumer Attitudes, which was conducted from the early 1950s several times a year until it became a monthly survey vehicle in 1978. The Panel Study of Income Dynamics was initiated in 1968. A panel study on consumer's debt behavior, it involved interviewing a national sample of 5,000 families to be followed annually over a five-year period. Continuing to the present day, the study has had significant implications for the study of poverty.

A second major sphere of activity within the SRC, initially known as the Human Relations Program, focused on leadership, motivation and organizational structure, and effectiveness in formal organizations. Under the direction of Daniel Katz, the program was renamed the Organizational Behavior Program in the late 1950s. It continued through the 1980s and was a national resource for organizational research. New programs in SRC evolved over time. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, members of SRC's Organizational Behavior Program and members of the Research Center for Group Dynamics established the Social Environment and Mental Health program. From 1960 to 1970, research in the program focused on the assessment of stress in work settings and its effects on health. By the 1970s, research in the Social Environment and Mental Health unit focused on job-related transitions, the study of social support as a buffer against the effects of stress, and off-the-job factors that enter into the management of stress. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the Program’s focus had extended to assessing the development of intervention programs to alleviate stress and adverse mental health consequences, the role of psychosocial factors in the determination and maintenance of health in middle and older age populations, and the source of inequalities in health, especially by race and socioeconomic status. The staff included psychologists, sociologists, and epidemiologists with joint appointments in their departments.

A nationwide longitudinal study, "Youth in Transition," was launched in 1965 under the direction of Gerald Bachman to study young men as they entered tenth grade and followed them until five years after most had graduated from high school. The study found that the socioeconomic level of a family had the most pervasive influence on a boy's development of any of the background characteristics measured.

A new program within the Youth and Social Issues program, "Monitoring the Future," was launched in 1975 and would sustain funding through the 1990s. "Monitoring the Future" was originally a five-year series of national surveys to collect data on senior classes and the use of drugs. Eighth and tenth graders were added to the survey in 1991 and in 1992 the survey received an $18 million federal grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The survey has had a major impact on national policies of public health and education, especially regarding the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, which have helped set the agenda for national drug control policies.

SRC organized a summer session beginning in 1948 to offer courses in survey methods. A special program for training survey sampling statisticians was initiated under the direction of Leslie Kish in the 1960s in conjunction with the summer session.

Currently, SRC faculty focuses its theory and research on key social questions, which include: aging, life course development, the role of education, fertility and families, retirement, health disparities, poverty, income and wealth, health measures and behaviors, substance abuse, development and evaluation of interventions, and the role of social networks and environment over the life course. These topics then provide the framework for some of the most cited and influential studies in the world, for example, Health and Retirement Study (HRS), Monitoring the Future, Panel Study of Income Dynamics, University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Attitudes, National Survey of Family Growth, and the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members. Through its international unit, the SRC also partners with various countries to develop survey data collection and analysis infrastructure.

The Center for Political Studies (CPS)

Another early and continuing interest of the SRC was the study of political attitudes and behavior. The first national election study was conducted after the 1948 election, and the program expanded into other areas of political behavior. The program became the Center for Political Studies (CPS) in 1970 under the direction of Warren Miller. Research expanded to include political socialization of young adults in the mid-sixties, as well as studies of political structures and comparative politics. Between 1948 and 1976, national studies of the American electorate were conducted in 1948, 1952, 1956, and biennially thereafter. These studies were formalized in 1977 as the National Election Studies (NES) and funded by the National Science Foundation. Established in 1977 through the National Science Foundation, the National Election Study (NES) formally established a national resource to sustain and enhance the diversified data that support basic research on voting behavior and public opinion. By the mid-1980s, most of the senior staff had joint appointments in political science. Currently, CPS emphasizes interdisciplinary research, with scholars holding appointments in the fields of communications, complex systems, history, natural resources, political science, psychology, public policy, social work, and statistics. The Center is also very international, experts coming together from different geographic areas, such as Africa, China, Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Scholars at CPS use a variety of research tools: advanced computing, datasets, experiments, formal modeling, spatial analysis (Geographic Information Systems/GIS), statistical modeling, and surveys. Over its three-decade history, the CPS has expanded its focus, exploring institutions and their effects on policies and individual behavior. The CPS also builds links between comparative, world, and American politics.

The Research Center for Group Dynamics (RCGD)

The original goals of the RCGD were to conduct research on group behavior and on the relationship of the individual to the group, and to apply research findings as solutions to different social problems. Early projects of the RCGD included research on fraternities, communities and schools, and group functioning. Research for the Office of Naval Research was conducted on various aspects of leadership and authority in the 1950s. Research on the formal structure of groups received attention in the 1960s. In subsequent decades, research included group processes, interpersonal coping and control, and social cognition. By the mid-1980s, the major focus within the RCGD was the study of social cognition, the processes whereby individuals deal with information about themselves and others, and how such information influences social behavior. During this period, almost the entire research staff had joint appointments in the psychology department, specifically social psychology. The RCGD’s overarching goals are not much different than they were when the Center was established at MIT. Researchers continue to highlight the importance of “theory-driven” social science research, one that is supported by a human and physical environment.

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR)

In 1962, in cooperation with twenty-one other universities, the Inter-university Consortium for Political Research (ICPR) was established. The Consortium's goal was to work toward external collaboration in research on political behavior. The aims of the Consortium included joint planning of new surveys, data gathering and sharing of the common pool of data, as well as coordinating analysis plans to minimize duplication of effort and encourage exchange of current theory and results. After the establishment of the CPS in 1970, ICPR was housed within CPS, although decisions about acquisitions are made by the ICPR Board. In 1975, the name was changed to Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), which reflected its increasingly multidisciplinary nature. Since its inception, ICPSR has maintained an annual summer training program in methods of quantitative political and social research. Courses carry university credit and attract hundreds of research scholars and students each year.

Currently, ICPSR focuses on newly emerging challenges in digital curation and data science, particularly with the paradigm shift towards open access. ICPSR recognizes the importance of data stewardship in the research world, as it encourages information-sharing and scholarly collaboration. In 2014, ICPSR released openICPSR, a research data sharing service that highlights the new role of technology in public-use social and behavioral science research.

The Center for Research on the Utilization of Scientific Knowledge (CRUSK)

In 1961, Ronald Lippitt and other ISR staff members began exploring questions concerning knowledge utilization as a coherent and viable domain of inquiry. In the fall of 1962, with the aid of funds provided by the Ford Foundation, Vice President Roger Heyns appointed a university-wide committee to study the need for the development of a new university activity focused on the more effective, practical utilization of scientific knowledge. As a result of the committee's recommendations, the Center for Research on the Utilization of Scientific Knowledge (CRUSK) was established in 1964. Its charge was to research the processes by which scientific knowledge is disseminated and utilized, bridging the gap between the creation of new knowledge and the use of knowledge. Floyd Mann was the first director of CRUSK. Early work at CRUSK focused on how scientific knowledge and innovations were used by different entities, and how other programs generated social research designed to be of use to policy makers. In the first 15 years, CRUSK also included action-oriented staff interested in changing organizations. In later years, CRUSK research focused on health and education policy. By 1971, CRUSK was at its peak in terms of number of programs and size of staff, with seven senior staff. By the mid-1970s, much of the staff had left, including Mann and Lippitt. A large component of CRUSK, which had been concerned with making improvements in elementary and secondary education was dispersed. In 1986, with many vacant staff positions and a financial struggle, a decision was made to dissolve the center.

The Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA)

The Program for Research on Black Americans (PRBA) of the Institution for Social Research at the University of Michigan was established in 1976 and represented the first significant assembly of black students to conduct research across social and political sciences. The program is an ongoing collaboration between an interdisciplinary team of social scientists dedicated to collecting, analyzing and interpreting high quality national data on African Americans and international data on people of African descent in order to inform the creation of effective public policy. Another key goal of the program is to offer research and training opportunities to social scientists and students of color.

James S. Jackson

ISR faculty associate James S. Jackson was instrumental in establishing PRBA in 1976. In 1979, Jackson helped launch the National Survey of Black Americans. This survey pioneered the concept of non-comparative racial research.

Jackson, who served as the ISR Director between 2005 and 2015, is a Daniel Katz Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, Professor of Health Behavior and Health Education, School of Public Health, and former Director of the Institute for Social Research. His research focuses on racial and ethnic influences on life course development, attitude change, reciprocity, social support, and coping and health among blacks in the Diaspora. He was also former Director of the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies and National President of the Black Students Psychological Association and Association of Black Psychologists. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Career Contributions to Research Award, Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues, American Psychological Association, and recently received the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award for Distinguished Career Contributions in Applied Psychology from the Association for Psychological Sciences. He is an elected a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences.

He directed the most extensive social, political behavior, and mental and physical health surveys on the African American and Black Caribbean populations ever conducted: “The National Survey of American Life,” “The Family Survey across Generations and Nations,” and the “National Study of Ethnic Pluralism and Politics.” Jackson also served on several Boards for the National Research Council and the National Academies of Science and is a founding member of the new “Aging Society Research Network” of the MacArthur Foundation.

In August 2014, Jackson was sworn in to serve a six-year term on the National Science Board, the advisory board of the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Board oversees the NSF, as well as provides the president and Congress with policy-related advice regarding science, engineering, and education in those fields.

The Institute for Social Research (ISR)

Throughout its history, funding sources and staff compensation have been important issues. In the mid-1960s, research expanded in many different directions and new research techniques were explored. ISR staff expressed concern regarding the direction of research, fiscal constraints, and the ability to attract new senior staff members. The University of Michigan Board of Regents granted tenure privileges to senior members of the professional staff of ISR on November 15, 1968, although as early as 1952, a report to the president requested tenure be extended to Institute personnel.

By the early 1950s, the staff of ISR had grown from a dozen to over 200. After a series of temporary locations, which included the basement of the University Elementary School and space in Old University Hall, ISR moved into its own building on Thompson Street in 1965 with a second wing added in 1976. Construction on a third wing began in 1988 and was completed the following year.

Early support from the psychology and sociology departments was crucial in the decision to establish ISR at the university, and ties between those units were strengthened and enlarged over the years. ISR staff have taught in a variety of disciplines, including economics, journalism, mathematics, political science, psychology, sociology, education, public health, law, social work, business administration, and engineering. Staff have also collaborated with different schools, colleges and departments on various research projects, or made available the sampling, coding, interviewing, and data processing to staff. Over the years, ISR members have become increasingly involved in departmental activities.

ISR was characterized in its early years by rapid growth; in the 1950s research volume increased from an annual rate of less than $1 million to about $2 million. Annual volume in the 1960s increased from about $2 million to $7 million, and in the 1970s from about $7 million to $14 million. In 1981, ISR confronted a severe loss of revenue due to decreased support at the federal level, which forced ISR to look for support from local and state governments, and private industry. In 1982/83 the Institute's Computer Service Facility was dismantled and its IBM 360/40 given to the Computing Center, in an effort to reduce administrative and support services. In the late 1970s, a computer-assisted telephone interviewing and direct-data entry system was developed at the SRC, and is still in use.

Rensis Likert retired as director of ISR in 1970 and was succeeded by Angus Campbell from 1970 to 1976. Thomas Juster became director in 1976, and completed his second five-year term as director in mid-1986. He returned to the Economic Behavior Program within the SRC. Philip Converse assumed the role of director in 1986 and stepped down from that position in January 1989. Robert B. Zajonc was director from 1989 to 1994, when Harold K. Jacobson became acting director, in addition to his role as director of CPS. David Featherman assumed the role of director in 1995. James Jackson was his successor, serving from 2005 to 2015. David Lam, chair of the Department of Economics, succeeded James Jackson in 2015.

In 1986, at the suggestion of President Shapiro and Vice President Frye, an outside committee was asked to review ISR. Chaired by Professor James Tobin of Yale University, its report made a number of recommendations regarding possible directions and developments, some of which were subsequently implemented. As of 1997, ISR was the nation's longest-standing laboratory for interdisciplinary research in the social sciences. Its professional and administrative staff numbered over 350 and the research staff represent the disciplines of psychology, political science, economics, and sociology, among others. Currently, ISR’s mission is threefold: to plan and conduct rigorous social science research, to disseminate the findings of this research, and to train future generations of social scientists. The Institute’s scientific method is supported by organizational diversity. In doing so, ISR promotes core values of equal protection, equal opportunity, equal access, and inclusion in all its actions and initiatives.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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