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An Abbreviated History of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

Dr. Chauncey D. LeakeIn 1920 a professor of biological chemistry at the University of Texas Medical Branch asked the President of the University of Texas at Austin to form a committee to develop graduate courses at UTMB for a Master's degree program. The UTMB Dean supported this proposal because he believed that graduate students could serve as research and teaching assistants to the faculty, thereby easing the teaching burden and increasing research productivity. In the spring of 1921, the Regents authorized the departments of Biochemistry, Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine, and Physiology to supervise the work of students who could earn master's degrees awarded by the University of Texas at Austin; and graduate education at UTMB began.

The first graduate degree based on work done at the Galveston campus was awarded in 1922. This was an important step in institutionalizing research degree programs at UTMB, although only 10 more students earned master's degrees between 1922 and 1941. Throughout the 1920's and 1930's, UTMB made steady increases in the number of pre-clinical faculty with PhD degrees, and in the provision of laboratory facilities and equipment for the conduct of experimental studies. This period of steady growth in research at UTMB was followed by the appointment in 1942 of Dr. Chauncey Leake, an internationally known pharmacologist and philosopher as Executive Vice President of UTMB.

Leake was a strong supporter of research and spurred the expansion of academic programs on the campus. Attracting new basic science and clinical faculty who needed laboratory space, Leake was able to persuade the Regents to build a building specifically for research. He encouraged faculty to apply for federal and private funds to support research (which was quite successful). He was also strongly supportive of the development of graduate programs in the basic sciences.

Between 1944 and 1948, administrators and faculty developed guidelines for graduate study at UTMB and agreed on a list of faculty who would be authorized to direct PhD work in their departments. However, the central administration at UT-Austin would not approve graduate degree-granting authority for UTMB. In the 1950's the faculty became more aggressive in recruiting graduate students and expanded the areas of graduate study. By 1955, 35 graduate students were working on advanced degrees in various basic science departments at UTMB, although the degrees were still awarded by the University of Texas at Austin.

From 1942, the time at which Chauncey Leake became UTMB Executive Vice President, until 1969, long after Dr. Leake's retirement, the basic science departments at UTMB produced 124 Master's degrees and 77 PhD degrees, all awarded by the Austin institution. In 1969 the University of Texas Board of Regents adopted amendments to their Rules and Regulations that permitted the establishment of a degree-granting Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) on the UTMB campus.

Since its establishment, the GSBS has had four Deans, Dr. Edward J. Brandt, Jr., Dr. J. Palmer Saunders, Dr. K. Lemone Yielding, Dr. Cary W. Cooper, and the current Dean, Dr. David Niesel. The Graduate Faculty has grown from 4 in 1922 to 35 in 1964 to 352 in 1997. The student body has grown to 266, and the opportunities for research training have expanded from 3 basic science departments to 12 graduate programs, 3 institutes, and 7 research centers. GSBS graduates are currently found in prestigious and influential positions in universities, government and industry in the U.S, and the world. The faculty members are enthusiastic teachers and highly successful researchers. From its humble beginnings, the GSBS at UTMB has become one of the leading institutions of higher education in the biomedical sciences community in the country.

Today, the GSBS is addressing the challenges to graduate education. To respond to the demand for more broadly trained biomedical scientists, the GSBS has initiated a review of the graduate curriculum to consider a more integrated approach to scientific education.

The GSBS is dedicated to training the next generation of biomedical scientists and to maintaining U.S. leadership in biomedical investigation.

Historical information drawn from “A Brief History of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston”, written by Chester R. Burns, MD, PhD, James Wade Rockwell Professor of Medical History, Institute for the Medical Humanities. This document was produced as a part of the 25th Anniversary Celebration of the GSBS (1994-95). A full copy of this history is available on request.