The Faculty History Project documents faculty members who have been associated with the University of Michigan since 1837. Key in this effort is to celebrate the intellectual life of the University. This Faculty History Website is intended as a component of the effort to document the extraordinary academic achievements of Michigan’s faculty in building and sustaining one of the world’s great universities. It provides access to a comprehensive database of information concerning the thousands of faculty members who have served the University of Michigan.
Find out more.

The Bentley Historical Library serves as the official archives for the University.


Eric L. Dey
The Chronicle of Higher Education

Star Scholar Who Studies Diversity’s Impact of Students Dies at 47
By Peter Schmidt

Some people's lives can be measured by the appointments they couldn't keep.

Eric L. Dey, a professor of higher education at the University of Virginia, did not get back to the University of Michigan, where he had worked for many years, to give a speech last month on college students' use of social technologies. Nor did Mr. Dey—himself a very social person—make the planned trip from Ann Arbor to Vancouver for a conference of his fellow higher-education researchers, many of whom were looking forward to seeing someone they regarded as a young star in their field and a cherished friend.

One by one, researchers at the conference took others aside to gently break the bad news: Mr. Dey, 47, had died November 4 in the Atlanta hotel where he was staying en route from Charlottesville to Detroit. He was apparently claimed by dilated cardiomyopathy, a weakened, enlarged heart.

In the days since, some of the best-known figures in higher-education research have reacted to Mr. Dey's death with expressions of profound loss—both for their profession and, in many cases, for themselves.
"He was just a very amiable guy, a very generous guy, a very smart guy," said Jeffrey F. Milem, a professor of higher education and associate dean of the College of Education at the University of Arizona.

Born in Pullman, Wash., Eric Dey moved to Kansas as a child when his father, Glenn, a professor of counseling psychology, took a job at Wichita State University. His father recalls that young Eric "showed his brightness fairly early," enjoying visits to the local library and taking an interest in computers. After graduating from Wichita State in 1984, Eric earned a master's in educational administration from Wichita State in 1986 and a Ph.D. in higher education from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1991.

Mr. Dey's doctoral dissertation was on students' perceptions of their college environment, and he would remain interested in how colleges shape students' lives throughout his career.

The Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA respected him enough that, almost immediately upon his graduation, it tapped him to direct its Cooperative Institutional Research Program, a national study of American higher education that tracks the progress of students over time.

In 1993, Mr. Dey became an associate professor of higher education and director of student-affairs research at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He remained at Michigan until this past summer, teaching, holding several administrative and advisory positions, and undertaking various research projects within the university's Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

At Michigan, Mr. Dey was prolific, generating studies dealing with student diversity, instructional technology, student performance, and faculty concerns. He continued to work with UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, and he served as research director for the Association of American Colleges and Universities' national Core Commitments program, an effort to help colleges teach students personal and social responsibility.

The Association for the Study of Higher Education—the group that held the recent conference in Vancouver, where he had been scheduled to give a talk about students' spirituality—gave him its Early Career Award, for promising young scholars, in 1996.

Mr. Dey found himself on the front lines of history in the late 1990s, when he was one of four scholars enlisted to help the University of Michigan try to prove to the federal courts that its race-conscious admissions policies were justified by their educational benefits.

Patricia Y. Gurin, a professor of psychology and women's studies who aided the effort, recalls Mr. Dey's working around the clock to analyze national student data on the long-term impact of diversity on students. The U.S. Supreme Court was swayed enough by such research to uphold the consideration of applicants' race by Michigan's law school in its 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger. Mr. Dey subsequently became a co-author of Defending Diversity: Affirmative Action at the University of Michigan (University of Michigan Press, 2004).
In teaching his classes and presenting his research to his colleagues or to policy makers, Mr. Dey had a knack for making complex topics easily understood.

The same held true for what he published. "He wrote beautifully, his speech was articulate and unaffected," said a joint statement from Alexander W. (Sandy) Astin, founding director of the Higher Education Research Institute, and Helen S. (Lena) Astin, his wife and a senior scholar at the institute. "We will miss him terribly," they said.

Those who worked with Mr. Dey say they will especially miss his endearing personality traits, especially his sense of humor. Bearish in build, he once caused a roomful of education researchers to roar with laughter by demonstrating that he was a faster bicyclist than his hero, Lance Armstrong—if, that is, he statistically controlled for body weight.

Friends say Mr. Dey appeared to take on a renewed zest for life about nine years ago, after successful surgery for a brain tumor. He moved to the University of Virginia this fall, describing his new position as a professor and associate director of the university's Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning as "the job of a lifetime."

Mr. Dey continues to have an influence on higher education. The AAC&U plans to release two new reports he wrote—one on how campus climates affect students' moral and ethical development, the other on how campus climates affect students' appreciation of diverse viewpoints—in the coming year.