Graduate study was introduced by President John M. McBryde in 1891, and the college began that year awarding financial aid to some graduate students who were selected to serve as assistants. The first master of science was awarded in 1892. A Graduate Department was established in 1907 with William E. Barlow serving as the first dean and 13 graduate students pursuing the master of science degree.
A Committee on Graduate Programs and Degrees was established in 1925 to meet the demand for more systematic instruction. In later years, the formulation of graduate policy fell to a Graduate Committee, which carried the responsibility until the birth of the Commission on Graduate Studies and Research in 1944.
In 1949 the office of the vice president—the college had only one vice president at the time—assumed the duties of director of graduate studies upon the retirement of Louis “Shag” O’Shaughnessy, who had served as director of graduate studies. The title was changed to vice president and dean of the Graduate School in 1963, when the vice president for academic affairs, Warren Brandt, assumed a two-year leadership of graduate studies following the death of Louis Pardue. A full-time Graduate School dean was named in 1965 with the appointment of Fred W. Bull to the post. In 1983 the posts of dean of the Graduate School and dean of research were combined in one position—dean of research and graduate studies—held initially by David P. Roselle (1979-83)—but the title was changed to vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School in 1990. In 1990 the university consolidated the vice provost for graduate studies and research and the dean of the Graduate School to reduce administrative costs, only to separate the position in 2001. One position would be vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School; the other, vice provost for research. The position of vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate School was filled in 2002 by Karen P. DePauw.
The first recipient of a Doctor of Philosophy degree, awarded in 1942, studied chemistry. Other graduate degrees are listed in the section on “Degrees” below. In 1979 the College of Education received approval to teach three doctoral degree programs at the Northern Virginia graduate center, making the programs the university’s first off-campus terminal degree offerings.
In 1964 the board of visitors passed a resolution calling for “greater emphasis on strengthening graduate programs and offering graduate degrees in all areas where the need is demonstrated,” and in 1969, the university began offering graduate programs in Reston, Va. (Northern Virginia).
By 1971 the university was offering 61 programs at the master’s level and 31 leading to the Ph.D. In 1975 the board approved a formal constitution for a graduate honor system. Previously, violations of the undergraduate honor code by graduate students were handled through an adaptation of the undergraduate system.
In 1980 administration of the university’s off-campus instructional programs was transferred from the Extension Division to the Graduate School, but as the university established off-campus facilities, oversight of all but the Northern Virginia graduate center fell to the vice provost for outreach and international affairs. The Northern Virginia Center remains under the purview of the dean of the Graduate School.
In December 1980 the Graduate School announced that it would began administering a program of scholarships, the Cunningham Fellowships, for graduate students.
Heads of the Graduate School: William E. Barlow — dean (1907-20); Theodorick P. Campbell – dean of the college (1920-23); Louis “Shag” O’Shaughnessy - chair, Graduate Committee (1923-36) and director (1936-49); Louis A. Pardue — director (1950-63); Warren W. Brandt — dean (1963-65); Fred W. Bull — dean (1965-78); Louis A. Zurcher Jr. - dean (1978-79); David P. Roselle — dean (1979-83); Roger Teekell — dean (1983-90); Gary R. Hooper — dean (1990-92); Leonard K. Peters — dean (1993-2001); Joseph Merola—interim dean (2001-2002); Karen P. DePauw—dean and vice provost for graduate studies (2002-08), dean and vice president (2008- ).