The AIS Master's program, established in 1982, was the first of its kind in the United States. By 1984, a minor in AIS at the doctorate level was approved by the Graduate College. Prior to 1991, AIS was operating with a half time director, 1 full-time employee assigned to the program, and a core of committed faculty from across the university whose tenuous attachment to the program was based on courtesy appointments. There was 1 staff member, $4,900 in operations and variable support for graduate students from the Graduate College and other competitive funding within the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. The program was housed in four small temporary offices borrowed from the Political Science department. Approximately 20 to 30 graduate students were enrolled in any given semester.

A phased and substantive program of enhancement of administration, curriculum, academic programming, student financial support, staff, and infrastructure was undertaken. It was felt that this serious commitment by The University of Arizona would provide the necessary momentum which would lead to the establishment of full departmental status. Although departmental status has not been pursued to date, AIS has aligned itself as an interdisciplinary program under the auspices of the Graduate College. This has greatly strengthened faculty alliance and afforded the program its unique autonomous status.

AIS over the years has been able to increase its service to graduate students and to American Indian nations. In a decade of fiscal restraint for higher education and academic program elimination at the university, AIS has commitment and support from key central administrators resulting in significant program growth. The implementation of the Ph.D. program and new faculty hires has positively impacted the quality of the program

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