1908 to 2003: A brief history of the Department of Biological Sciences at WMU

Prepared by Dr. Alexander Enyedi and Emily Freeman

The first regular school year for Western Michigan University, which at the time was named the Western State Normal School, commenced on Sept. 26, 1904. Two faculty members, Dr. Leslie H. Wood and Charlotte Waite, were hired by President Waldo to provide courses in the natural sciences (Wood) and domestic sciences (Waite). During the next four years, all of the biology classes at Western State Normal School would be taught in the Administration Building under the direction of the Department of Science.

In 1908, the Department of Biology was formally established and Dr. LeRoy H. Harvey was hired and appointed chair of the new department. According to the 1908-09 Western State Normal School Bulletin, the biology department was accumulating “good working” equipment for this branch of science. In addition to Harvey, Catharine Koch was hired to serve as the assistant to the rural school courses. Between these two individuals, a total of nine courses were offered in the areas of botany, zoology, nature study, bacteriology, physiology and the elements of agriculture. In 1909, a request by Western for $100,000 to build a new science building was made to the Michigan legislature, but was turned down.

In 1913, a bill granting $75,000 for a new science building was passed by the Michigan legislature. In that same year, the school bulletin described the biology department as “rapidly developed” and that “working equipment was accumulating” in classrooms and labs. However, Harvey and Koch were still the only faculty members in the biology department. During 1914, ground was broken for the new science building and it was completed during the spring of 1915. The building was formally dedicated and named West Hall during spring commencement. The Department of Biology was housed on the second floor. The science building contained laboratories and classrooms for several fields of science, including education, psychology, geography, chemistry and physics.

On Nov. 22, 1922, Harvey suffered a fatal heart attack. The leadership of the biology department was passed to Dr. Leslie A. Kenoyer, a new biology faculty member at Western State Normal School. Kenoyer would continue to serve as the chair of the biology department until 1953. In addition to Kenoyer, Place and Theodosia H. Hadley also joined the biology department faculty. The number of course offerings stood at 18. By 1933 the Department of Biology had grown to five faculty members and was composed of Kenoyer (chair), LaVerne Argabright, Harold B. Cook, Henry N. Goddard and Hadley. According to the 1933-35 Western State Teachers College Bulletin, the biology department possessed laboratories for special work in physiology, hygiene, general biology, botany, zoology, nature study and agriculture. The department was described as being very thoroughly equipped with the instruments and apparatus necessary for high-grade work in the various phases of biological study.

By 1943, the number of faculty members had doubled to 10 and included Kenoyer (chair), LaVerne Argabright, Wallace Borgman, Julian Greenlee, Hadley, Frank J. Hinds, Roy E. Joyce, Edwin B. Steen, Leonard P. Wienier and Merrill R. Wiseman. A total of 31 biology courses were offered during 1943. A greenhouse had been built three years earlier in 1940 and housed more than 200 plant species.

In 1953, after 30 years of service, Kenoyer stepped down as chair and Dr. William C. VanDeventer became the third chair of the biology department. In addition to Greenlee, Joyce, Steen and Wiseman, the faculty included Harriette V. Bartoo, A. Verne Fuller, George Mallinson, Myrtle M. Powers, Edward E. Reynolds and Caroline H. Sleep. Thirty-three classes were now offered along with special field courses in conservation, botany, ornithology and mammalogy.

In 1963, Dr. VanDeventer vacated the chair position and was followed by Dr. Edwin B. Steen, who served as a one-year interim replacement. In 1964, Dr. Clarence J. Goodnight was appointed chair of the biology department. At this time the faculty numbered 20 and consisted of Bartoo, Richard Brewer, W. Jackson Davis, Joseph G. Engemann, Fuller, Frank J. Hinds, Imy Vincent Holt, Elaine Hurst, Dee LaBatt, Jean M. Lawrence, Wendell L. Minckley, Myrtle M. Powers, Richard Pippen, Thane S. Robinson, Beth Schultz, Donna N. Schumann, Edwin B. Steen, Leo C. Vander Beek and Wiseman. Fifty-two courses were now offered.

In 1973, the department was composed of the following 24 faculty members; Goodnight (chair), Leonard J. Beuving, Brewer, Darwin A. Buthala, Raymond C. Deur, Robert C. Eisenberg, Engemann, Gyula Ficsor, Donna J. Fowler, Stephen B. Friedman, Holt, Edgar Inselberg, Walter Johnson, Lawrence, Ronald W. Olsen, Pippen, Phoebe Rutherford, Schultz, Schumann, Marjory A. Spradling, Gian C. Sud, Vander Beek, William C. VanDeventer and Jack S. Wood. The department offered 81 courses and some new technologies. The Clarence R. Hanes Herbarium contained thousands of vascular plant specimens which were available for research. Also, the department had a laboratory equipped with radioactive tracers and X-ray technology for teaching and research. By this time the biology department had moved into Wood Hall.

In 1975, Pippen was appointed chair of the biology department—a position he held until 1991.

In 1977, the WMU administration split biology into two separate departments: biology (Pippen, chair) in Wood Hall and biomedical sciences (Buthala, chair) in McCracken Hall. In 1983, the Department of Biology was composed of Pippen, Brewer, David P. Cowan, Elwood B. Ehrle, Engemann, Fowler, Goodnight, Holt, Inselberg, Schumann and Vander Beek. The Department of Biomedical Sciences was composed of Buthala, Beuving, Eisenberg, Ficsor, Friedman, Leonard C. Ginsberg, Cecil McIntire and Wood. There were 51 courses in biology and 36 courses in biomedical sciences offered in 1983. In 1985, the departments of Biology and Biomedical Sciences were recombined to form the new Department of Biology and Biomedical Sciences (Pippen, chair). In 1987, the department name changed to the Department of Biological Sciences.

By 1993, the Department of Biological Sciences consisted of Ginsberg (chari), Beuving, Brewer, Cowan, Ehrle, Eisenberg, Engemann, Alexander J. Enyedi, Karim Essani, Ficsor, Friedman, Cindy Hoorn, Inselberg, William F. Jackson, Stephen B. Malcolm, Cecil McIntire and Pippen. In 1996, Ginsberg was appointed associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences. As a result, Beuving became the eighth chair of the Department of Biological Sciences—a position he held until 2001. In 1997, ground was broken for a new $42 million science building adjacent to Wood Hall. The building was formally dedicated in April of 1999 and named Haenicke Hall in honor of former WMU President Diether H. Haenicke.

In 2005, the Department of Biological Sciences was composed of Cowan (interim chair), Enyedi, Todd Barkman, Bruce Bejcek, Christine Byrd, Bill Cobern, Karim Essani, Rob Eversole, John Geiser, Pamela Hoppe, John Jellies, Donald Kane, David Karowe, Cindy Linn, Malcolm, Kathy Onderlinde, Wendy Ransom-Hodgkins, Silvia Rossbach, David Rudge, Renee Schwartz, Maria Scott, John Spitsbergen, Brian Tripp and Maarten Vonhof.

Today the department offers three major undergraduate programs of study (biology, biomedical science and secondary education), a master's degree program and a doctoral degree program. The department serves approximately 800 undergraduate majors, 300 minors and 54 graduate students.