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Appointed Dean

Gordon J. Van Wylen
The Michigan Technic 15-16



Just a few days before classes began this fall, Professor 
Gordon J. Van Wylen was named Dean of the University 
of Michigan College of Engineering. He succeeds the late
 Stephen S. Attwood, who died June 8, 1965, three weeks 
before his scheduled retirement. 

Dr. Van Wylen was formerly chairman of the Univer
sity's Department of Mechanical Engineering. He as
sumed that position just seven years after joining the
 University faculty as an assistant professor in 1951. Prior 
to that, Dr. Van Wylen served as an industrial engineer 
for the E. 1. du Pont Company, 1942; as an instructor at 
Pennsylvania State College, 1946-48; and as a research 
assistant at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 
 1950-51. During World War If, he served as an officer 
on submarine duty with the LT. S. Navy in the Southwest 
Pacific, 1943-46. 

Since joining the faculty, Dr. Van Wylen has been ac
tive both as a researcher at the University and as a consultant to industry and government. He has participated 
in several research projects supported by the Michigan 
Memorial Phoenix Project, the National Science Founda
tion, and the National Aeronautics and Space Adminis
tration, among others. Formerly, he was a consultant to the General Motors Research Institute and to the Cryo
genic Engineering Laboratory of the National Bureau of
 Standards. At the present time Dr. Van Wylen is con
sultant to the Office of Institutional Programs of the
 National Science Foundation. 

In announcing the appointment of Professor Van
Wylen, Executive Vice-President Marvin Niehuss said: 
"Dr. Van Wylen has demonstrated genuine leadership as a department chairman. He is outstanding both as a 
scholar and a teacher, and he has the enthusiastic en
dorsement of his associates in the College of Engineering. 

He has a keen understanding of the need for a strong 
relationship between the industrial community of Mich
igan and the education of future engineers and scientists. 

"We are confident," Niehuss said, "that the College of 
Engineering will receive distinguished leadership from 

In an attempt to get a truly close picture of our new 
Dean, Managing Editor Richard Donnelly interviewed
 Dr. Van Wylen during his first few weeks in office. His
 comments follow.

In answer to a question about the central purpose of 
the Dean's job in the engineering college, Dr. Van Wylen 
was quick to state that the Dean has two primary areas
 of responsibility to his faculty and student body: service 
and leadership. The Dean's office, he believes, should 
serve the faculty by enabling them to carry on their
 teaching and their research effectively. Similarly, the
 Dean's office should serve students by enabling them to 
effectively acquire the knowledge the faculty try to impart 
and to actively participate in faculty research efforts. 

Closely related to service is the Dean's second major 
area of responsibility: leadership. The essence of the
 Dean's leadership, as Dr. Van Wylen sees it, is his cre
ation of a framework for many kinds of interactions, both
 within the University and between the University and
the economic community. Most notably, there must be 
the obvious interactions within the college; i.e. inter
actions between students and faculty, and interactions 
between the faculties of the various engineering college
 departments. No less important are the close ties neces
sary between faculty members engaged in research and
 teaching in the pure sciences and the engineering college
 faculty engaged in research and teaching in the applica
tion of science. Finally, there is a much needed and presently limited interaction between members of the aca
demic community and members of the industrial com-
munity. The Dean's effectiveness as a leader lies in his
 ability to provide several points of contact at which inter-
actions of the above kinds may take place. 

Dr. Van Wylen emphasized that one of his most im
portant functions, as Dean would be to listen a great
 deal—to both students and faculty. Only in this way does 
he feel that he can provide the leadership required of 
him. (This should be welcome news for students who
 feel that their education at the University of Michigan 
is not all that it could be. It should be especially welcome 
news for those students who have some suggestions for 
improving their engineering education.)

Dean Van Wylen did not propose any specific forum 
for interaction between the student body and the college 
administration. However, he did indicate a direction 
that proposals in the near future may follow. Dr. Van
Wylen believes that student opinion is best sampled, and 
most effectively reacted to first at the department level, 
 and then at the college level. He foresees the formation of 
committees within the various departments, consisting of 
undergraduate and graduate students and faculty mem
bers. Whether the student representatives would be
 appointed by the faculty or elected by their classmates
 is a matter for future decision. 

Some questions must, of course, be left for the faculty 
to answer. Others, however, can and should be considered
 by students, Dr. Van Wylen believes. Such matters as the 
effectiveness of teaching, the value of laboratory exercises, 
 the availability of counseling, and the quality of math, 
 physics and chemistry courses may well be discussed in
 student faculty committees at the department level. 

In response to a question about the present position 
of the college, Dr. Van Wylen said that he saw no glaring
 deficiencies in the undergraduate program as it now 
exists. He noted that the college at present is comprised 
of strong and relatively independent departments. Once
 again he stressed that his function as Dean would be to 
provide opportunity for interplay between the departments. Specifically relating to this matter of interplay, 
 Dr. Van Wylen feels that one of the questions the college 
will wish to ask itself in the near future is this: Are there too many different undergraduate degree programs?

Dr. Van Wylen mentioned briefly one of the most immediate problems the engineering college must face: the move of engineering facilities to North Campus. Professor Donald L. Katz of the Department of Chemical Engineering has agreed to direct a study of the move to North Campus. By next spring, Dr. Katz and his committee will have a site plan and will have formulated 
the general concept and requirements for the engineering 
college complex on North Campus.

Dr. Van Wylen talked for a short time on his phi
losophy of engineering education. Industry, he feels, is 
looking for the engineer who has made some accomplishments during his college years. Industry is looking for the
 engineer whose broad background enables him to apply
 himself to many different kinds of problems—economic 
and administrative as well as engineering problems. Dr.
 Van Wylen noted that the engineer operates in a large
 corporation, in a social organization really. In this he
 differs from the doctor or lawyer, who works quite inde
pendently. Thus, the engineer must be able to get along 
with other people; he must be able to communicate 
effectively and to debate articulately. The engineer's
 education, then, must prepare him to do all these things. 

In line with a general recognition of the above as 
goals of an engineering education, Dr. Van Wylen cites 
some current trends in engineering education in the 
United States. The American Society of Engineering Edu
cation has advocated the following: 1) a unified under
graduate program in engineering, giving only a single
 degree; and 2) a reduction in the number of credit hours 
required for the first degree. Dr. Van Wylen thinks that 
the college must take a close look at these trends and ask 
whether they are right for engineering at the University
 of Michigan. 

In order to answer that question, he feels that the 
college must author a clear statement of its objectives and 
then abide by that statement. He cautions against a
 "jump on the bandwagon" attitude for the University 
in dealing with new trends in engineering education. 
 True leadership is not exhibited by a college which is
 blown about by every little wind of change, he believes. 

Dean Van Wylen's answer to one final question reveals
 as much about his sincere devotion to engineering as 
anything yet written. The final question: Do you intend 
to keep your hand in the science part of engineering
 now that your position requires you to be away from
 the classroom and laboratory? Dr. Van Wylen's answer 
was an emphatic "Yes!" To be an effective administrator, 
 he believes, one must be up-to-date and technically alive. 
In order to help him remain alive, Dr. Van Wylen has 
expressed to his colleagues in the Department of Me
chanical Engineering a willingness to lecture their classes 
in thermodynamics whenever they are absent. He does 
confess that he wants to try teaching from his newly-
revised book. But one senses more than that slightly 
selfish motive in his desire. One senses the kind of devo
tion to the science that undergraduates can only hope
 some day to have.