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
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