The names of instructional departments at UNI have changed over the years in response to a number of factors including personnel changes, institutional growth and retrenchment, curricular trends and development, and financial pressures. As areas of study expanded in the early years of the institution, and as the school hired more specialized faculty, old departments received new names and new departments were organized. When financial pressures occurred or when key faculty members left their positions, departments often merged. Radical and rapid changes were more likely to occur in the first half of UNI's history, when the faculty was small. The loss of a key faculty member could mean the loss, re-organization, or re-orientation of an entire branch of study.
From the foundation of the Iowa State Normal School in 1876 until 1891, the institution maintained five or six general purpose instructional departments. The early 1890s saw the first significant attempt at administrative expansion and re-organization of the departments. This period was coincident with, perhaps, the first feeling of confidence that the Normal School would not only survive, but grow. The school received its first "continuing appropriation" from the General Assembly: this meant that the school could count on a certain sum every year instead of starting from scratch and wondering if any money at all would be appropriated. And enrollment continued to grow. President Seerley's first attempt at department organization resulted in the addition of new elements, such as Latin and Physical Culture, and the differentiation of old departments, such as Science, into more focused departments, such at Natural Science and Physical Science. In 1891 there were six departments; in 1893 there were twelve.
The number of departments stayed in the ten to twelve range, with important shifts and additions within that range, until 1909, when they increased to twenty-one. This was the time when instructional departments took on the appearance that they retain today. That is, faculty are formally organized into departments, which are led by administratively-appointed department heads. This sudden expansion into twenty-one departments was probably a bit beyond what was necessary. For example, the Music Department split into four departments (Public School Music; Pianoforte Music; Voice; and Violin, Orchestral and Band) seems excessive. Several departments in this expanded array were very small, consisting of only one or two faculty; several seem not to have had department heads.
The number of departments showed a gradual decline during the 1920s and 1930s with a consolidation of departments in the Social Sciences and the Sciences into large, all-encompassing departments. By 1935, with enrollment declines and the financial strictures of the Depression, the number of departments was down to thirteen. Streamlining the administrative organization of the school made sense. This level of department organization remained fairly stable. Even as late as 1966, the year before UNI gained university status, there were just sixteen instructional departments.
When UNI received university status in 1967, the school was overdue for administrative re-organization that would recognize the switch from a single purpose teacher education institution to a multipurpose institution. It would also need to deal with the results of rapid increases in enrollment, and the consequent expansion of the curriculum and the faculty. The most significant changes occurred during the years just after the institution gained university status. During those years UNI organized its instructional departments into colleges; some old departments went through this re-organization unchanged, but many new departments emerged under old or new names. In 1970, when the colleges and departments were first fully arrayed, there were twenty-eight instructional departments.
As the curriculum has continued to be defined and refined in the thirty years following the organization of the colleges, new names have continued to emerge. For the school year starting in 2002, there were thirty-three instructional departments.
However, even after over 125 years of instructional department name changes, it is still fairly easy to trace the common threads of academic interest that are woven into the current array of instructional departments. The links below offer a survey of department name changes and relationships between and among departments in a number of general areas of study. These brief descriptions of lines of descent and relationships should be considered as only a general overview of UNI organizational development. Most organizational changes are the result of many factors, which cannot be treated in depth in these brief descriptive, rather than analytical, essays and tables.
- Art and Music Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Business Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Education Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Language, Literature, and Speech Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Mathematics Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Physical Education Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Science Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Social Science Department Name Changes (1876-present)
- Vocational Department Name Changes (1876-present)