Episode 10: 200 years and counting, featuring Kim Clarke and Gary Krenz

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Episode 10: Kim Clark, Gary Krenz — 200 years and counting

Hi, this is Deborah Holdship the editor of Michigan today.

In this episode of Listen in Michigan we’re gonna be talking about the university’s bicentennial. You may or may not know that Michigan was founded in the year 1817, so 2017 is especially exciting. I have Kim Clark U of M’s Director of Bicentennial communications and Gary Krenz the executive director of the bicentennial office, and they’re going to tell us what we’ve got planned for all of you alumni in the year 2017.

(music playing)

The bicentennial website, bicentennial.umich.edu has a beautiful timeline with so much detail and so many stories about different things that have happened over the years. So I’m curious what have been some of the highlights for you, I mean it’s gotta be kind of a fun thing to work on right?

Gary Krenz: I think it’s been a fantastic thing to work on I mean it’s a great opportunity to kind of bring the community together, to kinda galvanize us as a community. It’s a great opportunity to not just celebrate but to turn our focus on who we are you know how did we get to where we are, where do we come from and where do we want to go in the future? We’re going to enter our third century, this is not just about the first 200 years it’s about what’s coming ahead to spend a year celebrating. And I think as President Schlissel said recently celebrating and sarabrating about the university is just a great thing.

Kim Clark: It’s important to look at those accomplishments and achievements of the past 200 years but also to examine where we didn’t necessarily do the right thing.What were the missteps, what were the absences on our campus, how do we learn from that particularly as we move forward.

Krenz: The great American philosopher John Dewey who many people don’t know spent the first part of his career at Michigan. He said the function of the university is the truth function. And we should be pursuing truth in everything that we do. That’s the ideal of the institution and we need to be doing it here with this kind of a moment as well. And it may be especially important when we’re in a situation now where you hear the word you hear it said that we are in a post truth society. This is something this institution is going to have to figure out how to approach and I think that part of the bicentennial discussion is going to be what does that mean and how do we hang on to the notion of the truth and how do we demonstrate it in the way that we celebrate.

Clark: We pride ourselves, rightfully so, on the critical thinking skills that we teach our students and that should apply to how we examine our history.

Krenz: The University of Michigan in the process of 200 years of kind of reinventing itself time and time again, really was one of a very small number of universities that created what we now think of as a university. U of M was right there at the forefront going back to people like Henry Tappan who in the 1850’s had the idea that a university was not just a place where students should come and read the classics and do a little mathematics and a little bible study that in fact it was an institution that should do research, that should advance knowledge and discover new knowledge and so forth. And that’s just one example of ways in which Michigan has shaped the modern university.

Clark: We were one of the first large public universities to enroll women. And that is definitely an achievement and a bragged point. At the same time women were treated differently as students. They were treated differently in terms of housing on campus. They were required to live on campus, the men weren’t. They had curfews the men did not have curfews. That curfew in fact didn’t end until the 1960’s which is kind of incredible when you think about it. We didn’t have women in the marching band until the 1970’s, the same with varsity athletics, and that came about because of federal legislation title nine. So here’s where you have a big plus, we are enrolling half of the population, finally, but there are still steps to be taken in the right direction to make it an equal educational experience.

Holdship: What are some of the more obscure things that people may not know that you’ve discovered some surprises some discoveries that you really got a kick out of over the course of the research you’ve been doing.

Clark: Well I don’t know of course what one person described as obscure, we describe as, gosh we’ve known this all along. As Gary alluded to the fact that John Dewey was on our faculty, such a monumental thinker. And most people associate him with the University of Chicago where he went after Michigan but it’s here at Michigan where he really started to change the way he thought about education and how the human mind works. And so we’ll be talking about John Dewey this upcoming year and sort of spreading the the Dewey faith.

Holdship: If anyone were to ever do like Michigan trivia game you guys have are the ringers for the team. I mean you must know all.

Clark: We were the first university to own its own hospital, which is really important to medical education in part because we were then able to offer what were then called internships, you would now call them residencies, to students and that changed the way people learned to be doctors.

Krenz: And of course a long history of accomplishment at U of M faculty member Francis Collins who headed the National Human Genome Project.

Holdship: We had that famous law alum. Why can I think of his name right now…

Krenz: Clarence Darrell

Holdship: has just a little known guy. Yeah his name rings a bell.

Clark: Also out of the law school, Branch Rickey, back when they were the Brooklyn Dodgers, he signed Jackie Robinson. It is impressive the times that you’re reading about the country’s history and you’ll find a U of M connection. The bicentennial website should be your starting point and then that will take you in other directions also.

Krenz: And then if people are on social media if they follow #umich200 there will be daily tweets that present interesting facts about the University over its history.

Holdship: You just had a really fun one that we were talking about before we started that a lot of people probably don’t know.

Clark: I think a lot of people have seen the movie Cool Hand Luke and the prison warden others that iconic line, “what we have here is a failure to communicate” And it’s just become part of the lexicon, that was actually uttered by Strother Martin who is a University of Michigan alumnus. He graduated in the 1940’s, he was a nationally ranked diver and he went on out to Hollywood after graduating and is now part of film lore.

Holdship: So you’re obviously both historians and philosophers. So I’m just curious if you learned anything new or if things have changed for you.

Krenz: Taking this time to look at the history of the university and to see how many people at all levels of the institution have been committed to making it a better place. That sense of Michigan as that kind of a place has really been deepened for me a lot of creative thinking going on when we were just amazed by group of students in engineering and other schools for instance who are working on this time capsule this is a remarkably ambitious project. It’s a Michigan type project and you talk to these students and of course you just blown away by their competence and by their enthusiasm and by their attitude that you know nobody knows how to get this time capsule back at this point but the idea they have is, if U of M hasn’t figured out a 100 years from now how to get it back then we don’t deserve to get it back. My prediction is we’re going to get it back that’ll be for future generations.

Clark: The planning for the tricentennial has already started terrific.

Holdship: So what kinds of fun things are going into that time capsule?

Krenz: They are looking to conduct 1,000 interviews with students faculty staff and alumni. Interviews that will be kept private, nobody will know these interviews until a 100 years from now. So people should feel free to really speak their minds. There will be some images of important U of M documents artifacts and so forth. There’s a hope that there would be a small part of the campus sent up into space that then would have to be retrieved and put back where it belongs In 2117.

Clark: This will also be a science experiment a DNA experiment to see the effects of space radiation over 100 years the time capsule is being developed so that it can be tracked and the funding that’s being generated includes an endowment so that there is always a facility or lab on campus where students and faculty will be tracking this time capsule over the next 100 years.

Holdship: That is very cool, it’s so forward thinking too I’m hopeful that the planet will still be here. Well now you just talked about how engaged the community it has been in sort of creating and producing programming that we can use for the rest of the year. How can alumni engage?

Krenz: Yeah there are three presidential bicentennial colloquia that presidential Schlissel is sponsoring the keynote event for the first of those colloquia which is on the future community of the University, January 30th and events that features Justice Sonia Sotomayor from the US Supreme Court and Justice Susanne Baer from the German federal court who happens to be an alum of Michigan, an on-stage conversation between themselves and with a group of students and this is moderated by Michele Norris from NPR. So we’re very excited about that and sort of the first big academic event of the year.

Clark: And they’ll be discussing the future university community. What might it look like, what should it look, both the justices have firsts associated with their careers in terms of breaking barriers and so they can speak authoritatively about these issues and it should be quite a conversation. Like I said a lot of programming, we have 4 festivals throughout 2017, spring, summer. We have Festival in Detroit and then we have a Fall Festival which happens to be homecoming weekend. We had this partnership with Detroit Public Television and we’ve developed a series of historical vignettes called an Uncommon Education. There are ten of them and these will air on Detroit Public Television throughout 2017. And they will also live online and they will also live on the university’s websites. They touch on a number of perspectives and facets of our history. So the history of women, writing, music, engineering, mentorship they’re really fascinating they’re educational they’re entertaining. They’re beautifully shot so you don’t have to be in southeast Michigan to see them on your television again because they will be online.

Holdship: And at Michigan Today.

Clark: And at Michigan Today.

Holdship: One of the pieces of trivia you shared with me was that we had an alumnus who worked on the Ambassador Bridge

Clark: An engineering alumnus by the name of Cornelius Henderson who was the second African-American to graduate from engineering and Michigan. And then after he left Ann Arbor he went to Detroit and was unable to find a job because of his race. And so he went across the river to Windsor, Canada and was hired became a structural engineer on the Ambassador Bridge. Just quite an accomplishment at that time he also worked on the Detroit Windsor tunnel. We’re thrilled about sharing his story. We have gallery space at the Detroit Historical Society from mid-July to mid October. And the gallery will be focused on these types of connections to between the Detroit community and the university community. And we have an aside to the Sornelius Henderson story that’s also as part of the bicentennial. We had a grants program that was open to students, faculty and staff who wanted to do some type of project to commemorate the bicentennial and a graduate student from U of M Dearborn, Rashid Feistel, who is a school principal at the Frederick Douglas International Academy in Oak Park, Michigan. He submitted a proposal where he wanted to have his students, these are elementary school students, conduct this research on Cornelius Henderson, as a way to build an academic competence to show his students so that even if you run up against walls like Cornelius Henderson did you can still achieve something, make something of yourself and make a mark. And so the students have presented at U of M Dearborn. They’re going to be presenting at the Charles Wright Museum of African-American history in Detroit on Martin Luther King Day. We will be incorporating them into our exhibit at the Detroit Historical Society. And say if you walk into their their library the room at their school where they do their research. It is maize and blue and maize and blue only. It’s penance banners ball caps jerseys posters it’s amazing.

Holdship: It is like living history like how can alumni really benefit from knowing and understanding what’s gone on here for the past 200 years why should they care?

Krenz: We know that most of our alumni leave here with a great amount of pride in the institution. And I think that the more that the alumni know about the history of this really remarkable place, it just kinda enlivens that pride even more.

Clark: Right and so for alumni, for example, who were here during the Black Action Movement for today’s students to be able to talk with those alums and that’s an invaluable experience to learn what was going on, what went right what went wrong where do we still have to make gains? There’s some programming through the LSA Semester that will address these issues. So that kind of connection that alumni have to their time on campus matters to the students who are on campus today.

Holdship: We’re looking forward as well. We talked a little bit about this but like how can this year that we’re about to embark upon sort of inform and shape what we’re doing going forward. What do you see for the third century?

Krenz: You know we know that higher education generally is in a really challenging phase right now, there are issues around accountability. People are concerned about the cost of sending their kids to college or a university big questions about what is the long-term impact of information technology on how students get educated. I mean some people have dire predictions about brick and mortar universities disappearing right and left over the next quarter century. So this is a time when the university really needs to reinvent itself in certain ways out of the discussion with the theme semesters, through the President’s colloquia is again to sort of take a step back and say okay what can we learn from the past that will help us chart our course into the into the future.

Clark: So, for example, the final colloquium that President Schlissel is hosting looks at the place of a university campus. What does the future space of a university and this is actually a competition for students to participate in to look at the form and function of a university and it may deal with accessibility, transportation, diversity and we expect some really interesting projects to come forward. So that should give us a sense of maybe what our campus will look like as we move forward. We wanted to do something to benefit future students as part of the bicentennial and so we partnered with the MDen. We have a line of bicentennial merchandise and proceeds from all those sales will go to the office of Financial Aid and its fund for students with financial need. And so we’re really excited about it, so you can wear your bicentennial ball cap but also be helping a student of tomorrow.

Holdship: That’s fantastic. Yeah that’s a great idea. Alright thanks for listening. See you next month and as always go blue!

James Tobin authored the opening segment of this story, “Back in the Day,” adapted from “Wait … when did the University start?”

Back in the day

bicentennial word mark

It was Aug. 26, 1817, in Detroit, when Lewis Cass, governor of the Michigan Territory, and the Territory’s several judges enacted a bill to establish a University of Michigania, also called a Catholepistemiad.

Augustus Woodward, one of the Territory judges, invented that little tongue twister of a word. He said it meant “system of universal science.” But nobody used it. Most people called the new school the College of Detroit.

The “college” was more like a high school before there were high schools – an academy for students to get more training before they went on to one of the few actual American colleges of the day, such as Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.

But the little University of Michigania could say one thing that Harvard couldn’t. It was a public institution, not private. It was paid for largely with public funds – mostly the proceeds from selling land given for the purpose by the federal government and three Native American tribes: the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Bodewadimi. And its sole purpose was to serve the public good.

In 1837, the year Michigan was admitted to the Union, Congregationalist minister and state legislator John Davis Pierce authored a plan for a state school system. Pierce’s plan featured a reconstituted “University of Michigan” under a board of regents appointed by the governor. On March 18, 1837, the state legislature approved the plan. A gift of 40 acres from land developers in Ann Arbor – the 40 acres we now call the Diag – sealed the decision about where the institution would live from then on.

The “truth function”

Two centuries later, U-M has expanded far beyond those 40 acres, and the coming year marks the ideal opportunity to celebrate our community’s collective history. In the podcast below, Gary Krenz, executive director of U-M’s bicentennial, and Kim Clarke, director of bicentennial communications, share some of the University’s plans to mark this auspicious occasion — not to mention some fascinating trivia that will serve you well at your next dinner party. In addition, Krenz invokes philosopher John Dewey as he questions how, in the coming century, the University will fulfill the “truth function” at its very core.

A year in the life

The variety of informative and entertaining options to celebrate the bicentennial is staggering. Planned activities across all schools and colleges range from academic colloquia and museum exhibits to outdoor festivals, concerts, and tributes. In addition, February marks the debut of “An Uncommon Education,” a video series produced in partnership with Detroit Public Television. And if that’s not enough? Students are even creating a time capsule designed to orbit the Earth until the eve of Michigan’s tricentennial!

So, let’s start at the very beginning. Visit bicentennial.umich.edu for an extensive timeline of significant moments in Michigan’s history, complete with rare archival images. This is your ideal resource for bicentennial news, events, and opportunities to get involved. Follow #UMich200 for daily tweets and updates.

A message from President Schlissel

The new year brings a monumental moment in the life of our University — our bicentennial celebration. I am excited to introduce you to what we have planned to commemorate our 200 years of achievement.

Over the course of 2017, we will be celebrating U-M’s amazing impact on society, and the people who helped shape the leading institution we are today.

We also will examine how our University will continue to shape society in the future — through the contributions of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and supporters who make this community so special. We have planned a year of public events and exhibits that demonstrate the full breadth of our great University’s influence.

As part of the bicentennial, I am honored to present a series of three Bicentennial Colloquia to deeply explore topics related to higher education’s role in our collective future.

The first takes place Jan. 30. It’s called “The Future University Community” and features two legal scholars who sit on their nation’s highest courts: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and U-M alumna Justice Susanne Baer of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany.

When we were founded 200 years ago in Detroit, the University of Michigan was an ambitious experiment, a novel and noble idea for higher education in America. Because of all of you, we are now poised for even greater accomplishments ahead, as the leaders and best. I hope you will engage with us during our bicentennial and beyond.

Thank you for being part of our community.

— President Mark Schlissel


  1. Shivi Singh - 1967

    Congratulation.. Wish all a prosperous future and a wonderful journey to greater accomplishments in the future. GO BLUE>


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