Rebel in the multiversity

Roger and the U

As Roger Rapoport said himself, “No one ever has a good word for the multiversity” — the 1960s term for universities grown too big and powerful to serve the public good.

And in 1967, one might have expected any student but Rapoport, the quintessential campus gadfly of the Vietnam era, to speak up for the University of Michigan.

But so he did, in the pages of one of the nation’s most prestigious magazines, the Atlantic Monthly.

Sure, he wrote, the University was “a government-dominated dictatorship” where the average male student might conclude he was “only being groomed for a slot at Dow Chemical, where he will build a better napalm.”

However, he continued, “In spite of all the drawbacks, I and many of my friends find ourselves enjoying rewarding and productive lives at the multiversity.”

And he meant it.

An aggressive edge

Roger Rapoport, BA '68, at his desk at the Michigan Daily. He's wearing a white button down shirt with a tie. And has a pencil tucked behind his ear.

The student editor in his natural element at the Michigan Daily. (Image: Michiganensian, 1968.)

In the early 1960s, years before Marvel Comics’ “multiverse” entered the pop culture lexicon, the “multiversity” concept spread through higher education. The term was popularized by Clark Kerr, president of the University of California system, to denote a new kind of university dominating the landscape of higher education since World War II — huge and powerful, serving society’s needs from government to business to agriculture, with classroom teaching almost an afterthought.

To student radicals, the term signified higher ed’s complicity in “the military-industrial complex.” To the average student, it symbolized the feeling of being a tiny cog in an impersonal machine. The multiversity was the local version of George Orwell’s “Big Brother,” an all-powerful and pervasive force beyond one’s control.

If any Michigan student had cause to feel victimized by the University’s heavy hand, it was Roger Rapoport, BA ’68.

As a fledging reporter at The Michigan Daily in 1965, he had made himself persona non grata to the University’s power structure. While still a sophomore, Rapoport published articles showing that Eugene Power, a U-M Regent and a significant benefactor of the University, had benefited from a commercial relationship between his private company, University Microfilms, and the University Library. Michigan’s attorney-general declared a conflict of interest, and Power stepped down from the Board.

Rapoport continued to cover the University with an aggressive edge and a tart tongue. As his senior year approached, he was the obvious choice to become the Daily’s editor-in-chief.

But not so fast.

In those days, the newspaper’s outgoing editors nominated their successors. But their choices had to be ratified by professors and administrators on the Board in Control of Student Publications, chaired by Professor Luke K. Cooperrider of the Law School.

In February 1967, the Daily’s editors chose Rapoport to become editor-in-chief by a unanimous vote. U-M President Harlan Hatcher, a frequent target of Daily editorials, then summoned Professor Cooperrider to advise about the Board’s decision on Rapoport.

In a private talk with the Regents — leaked to the Daily by a sympathetic insider — Hatcher reported what he had said to Professor Cooperrider.

‘Irresponsible and unacceptable’

Michigan Daily, Page One, Feb. 21, 1967, reads: "Board Rejects New Editors" -- i.e., Roger Rapoport

(Image: Michigan Daily Digital Archive.) Access the Feb. 21, 1967, edition to read the full story.

“I was not my usual sweet, lovable self,” Hatcher told the Regents. “I was very stern with [Cooperrider]. I told him that I consider Rapoport irresponsible and unacceptable for editor because he would continue The Daily’s present policies.”

The Board in Control then voted 7-4 to reject the new slate of editors. Rapoport was “unacceptable,” the Board decreed.

But the Daily’s editors refused to nominate anyone but Rapoport.

The story of a university trying to strong-arm student journalists then jumped from Ann Arbor to the Detroit newspapers to Lansing, where some 35 state legislators signed a telegram to Hatcher saying they were “appalled” by the Board’s action. Newspapers around the U.S. picked up the story.`

Opinion trended in Rapoport’s favor.

Robert P. Weeks, a U-M English professor and Daily veteran of the 1930s, wrote to say he had read hundreds of Daily articles as a judge of the newspaper’s annual writing contest. The staff, he said, “are probably the most alert, vital group of students on this campus, year in and year out. But even among these unusually able students, Roger Rapoport has stood out.” He wrote with “an admirable combination of wit, understanding, and responsibility.”

Three days after rejecting Rapoport, the Board reversed itself. In his first column as editor-in-chief, headlined “Introducing ‘Irresponsible Unacceptable,'” Rapoport began: “First, I want to thank the Board in Control of Student Publications for making it possible for me to be here today.”

‘Make bigness work’

Yet, Rapoport never became the full-blown radical haunting President Hatcher’s nightmares.

He had grown up in Detroit, Los Angeles, and Muskegon. He enrolled at Michigan with a definite intention to become a journalist, and his timing was good. The campus was teeming with news. Student activists were working for civil rights and opposing the war in Vietnam. And the Daily’s staff covered it all with a vow to serve as “the New York Times of Ann Arbor.”

Rapoport read the radical critiques of “multiversities” like Michigan — their bureaucracies were overgrown and inhumane; their scientists supported the Pentagon’s war-making; their curricula churned out cogs for America’s corporate economy.

And to a degree, he sympathized.

But he also spotted weaknesses in the radical position. Ever alert for a new angle on the news, Rapoport realized that his experience as a college student contained the seeds of a saleable essay. He tried out a version in the Daily, then revised it and pitched it to the Atlantic Monthly. The article, “In Defense of the Multiversity,” appeared in June 1967, between his junior and senior years.

His message, in essence, was this: Hey, I’m against The Man, too. But I’m still getting a good education.

Students just had to “shun the anti-multiversity cliches,” adopt an “enterprising” mindset, and “make bigness work in their own interests,” the young writer advised. Take his case, he said. He had realized the University employed 3,000 instructors offering thousands of courses. Surely he could discover a few who suited his needs.

When he found himself drowning in “a frightful 100-student economics lecture,” he dropped it, then signed up to be one of 15 students working with Allan Seager, a respected novelist in the English Department. The switch took a few minutes of paperwork.

As Rapoport soon discovered, professors thrived among students who wanted to learn. “No one ever comes to the office to talk,” one told him. “I guess the students don’t have the time. They’re too busy protesting alienation and anomie.”

If you were smart, Rapoport learned, you could use the system to fight the system, like the grad students using U-M computers to trace interlocking directorates among U.S. corporations. Or the students who protested for a more intimate education and wound up helping to found the Residential College.

He’d seen students conclude that “school is hopeless.” But, he wrote, “I can’t share their pessimism. It’s been too exciting tangling with the multiversity establishment to give up so early in the game… And the hope is that the innovations rebellious students are now prompting will lead to humanizing the multiversity into a place where any student would feel welcome.”

Sixty years later

In 2017, Rapoport co-wrote and produced the film Coming up for Air about student-athletes and mental health. He worked with Michigan-based talent and used Canham Natatorium for one location. (Image: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.)

Upon graduation, Rapoport spent a year researching and writing Is the Library Burning?, a book about student power at universities and colleges nationwide. (His co-author was Larry Kirshbaum, BA ’66, another former Daily editor, who became CEO of the Time Warner book group and head of Amazon Publishing.)

Rapoport went on to a multifaceted career as a journalist, author of several books, playwright, filmmaker, editor, and publisher. In 2004, after many years in California, he returned to live in Muskegon, where he writes, edits, and makes films.

As for his view that students at a giant university like Michigan can find the education they want, he said recently: “I think that’s still true.

“There’s no question that the environment itself — the struggles and the conflict that is inherent in everything from academics to athletics and beyond — is a great opportunity to chart your own path.

“The classroom experience was great. The administrative battles that we wrote about endlessly [at the Daily] — that was a real primer.

“I would say it this way: There’s never a day when I am doing something that doesn’t have some connection [to U-M]. It’s my entire life’s connective tissue — before, during, and after. It’s like a mural that never ends. We’re part of this never-ending story.”
(Lead Image: Michigan Daily staff — Roger Rapoport, right, with other leaders of the Michigan Daily, circa 1967, whom one professor called “probably the most alert, vital group of students on this campus, year in and year out.” Standing at left: Harvey Wasserman, who became a prominent environmental journalist and anti-nuclear advocate; standing at center, Bruce Wasserstein, who became a major investment banker and philanthropist. Image credit: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images.)


  1. Steven Schwartz - 1969, 1972

    I believe I was on the Board during this period with Stephen Berkowitiz. Rapport, Wasserman & Wasserstein where a great team of journalists.


  2. gerald Rogan - 1968

    I remember Roger Rapoport’s work. I never met him. He published my petiton against the War in Vietnam in 1969. We had 1000 signatures from University students and teachers, many from the medical school where I was a student. I sent a copy to Senator Philip Hart. Thanks for publishing it. Your help made me feel I had a voice in national affairs, albeit small.


    • Roger Rapoport - 1968

      Happy to oblige.


  3. James Manley - 1959,1964, 1972

    is Tom Copi related in any way to Irv Copi a famous philosophy professor at UM?


    • Roger Rapoport - 1968

      Tom is his son.


    • James Tobin - 1978, 1986

      Good question. I’ll try to find out. Tom Copi became a professional photographer, celebrated especially for his photos of jazz and rock musicians.


  4. Barbara Alexander (Reid) - 1968

    Yes, I found that my options, experiences, and valuable education in 1964-1968 were in part due to the vastness and incredible options. I changed majors several times. I used my experience and education to work in the public interest sphere my entire professional life. This was an exciting time to be a student at U of M.


  5. Jane Myers - 1960

    I graduated from the University of Michigan in 1960. Very bad timing.
    I never joined the Michigan Daily, even though I has graduated from Redford High School in Detroit as the Outstanding Senior Journalist in a class of 600. Not bad timing, just bad choices, perverted sense of identity, way less self-awareness than Roger Rapaport had.
    Eventually, then employed as a writer and editor in the University of Michigan Office of Development, I became a member of the Board for Student Publications (the word “Control” gone by then) and loved — for my long tenure—being with the smarty-pants students I should have been one of 40-plus years earlier. It was thanks to Anne Marie Lipinski and Joan Lowenstein that the merit of my poignant application (I knew by then what I had missed) was recognized.
    I was waiting for this story after the Theo Baker victory became news at Stanford.
    Huzzahs all around to all the great student reporters, then and now, and to the great and big University of Michigan.
    Jane Myers


  6. John Hollett - ‘67 (BSE), ‘72(MBA)

    I appreciate your rekindling of my memories of Rapoport and his “radical” Daily articles. I looked forward to his exposes and thought him to be a very erudite man. For a raised republican in engineering school, I appreciated his reasoned left leaning points and have grown into a libertarian old man. Stay where you are Roger.


  7. norman markowitz - Ph.D, 1970

    As a graduate student I didn’t have many involvements with undergraduates but I remember Eugene McCarthy’s speech in December, 1967 announcing his opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and his running against Lyndon Johnson for President in the Democratic primaries. It was a dull speech but I remember that we all cheered passionately because we saw this campaign as our best hope. I remember after campaigning for McCarthy and returning to campus, the night that Lyndon Johnson withdrew from the primaries and the election. There was a spontaneous celebration outside the general library, which I joined in. One faculty member later said that it reminded him of the celebrations that broke up on VE day. I have other memories — not too pleasant — of the Washtenaw County sheriff leading police to attack peaceful marchers in 1968. We eventually mobilized and removed him from office. It is important to remember that protests were not only happenings but they had very positive results.


  8. harvey wasserman - 1967

    this were the days my friend
    we thought they’d never end

    we’d sing & dance, forever and a day

    we’d live the life we choose
    we’d fight & never lose

    those were the days, oh yes those were the days!

    one thing we did not know was that on october 5, 1966, in the midst of the glory days, the fermi I nuclear plant almost blew up and ended all our joys…not to mention our lives.

    though a daily senior editor at the time, with full access to the wires etc., i didn’t learn about that nightmare until 1974, via WE ALMOST LOST DETROIT by john g. fuller.

    and here we are, a half-century later, still needing to SHUT THEM ALL DOWN. thankfully, we now have the wind, solar, battery & efficiency technologies to transcend all that & get to solartopia. so let’s do it.

    no nukes / go blue….


    • Fred Lynch - 1967

      Great post!


  9. Carolina Yahne - 1969

    I love my school. One of my professors, Lemuel Johnson, changed my life by suggesting I should teach on a reservation. I applied to several rez schools and moved to New Mexico to teach at the pueblos of Laguna and Acoma. Now my main concern for U-M is the downside of football’s popularity with the subsequent health problems for our young players.


  10. David Burhenn - 1975, 1982 (Law)

    Another great story, Jim. (For those who don’t know, Dr. Tobin is also a former Daily Editor-in-Chief). Roger was a legend in the Daily newsroom of the early 70s, and his younger sister, Carla, was on staff when I joined. I had entirely forgotten about the Board resistance to his appointment. Unfortunately, we are now living through a second dark age of student journalism, where universities prevent access to student reporters (in the case of MSU) or (in the case of Penn State) defund student newspapers.


    • James Tobin - 1978, 1986

      Thanks, Dave, but you’ll recall the title in 1977-78 was CO-editor…lest we forget the renowned Ann Marie Lipinski.


  11. Elissa Matross - 1968

    Congrats on your career, Roger! The Daily was a pivotal point in my life and those were indeed the years my friend.

    Lissa Matross


    • Roger Rapoport - 68

      Likewise. Lucky to know you and have a chance to become part of an amazing Daily team. So much insight and wisdom.


  12. Cheryl McNabb - 1972

    As an undergrad student at Michigan, I was overwhelmed by the vastness and class choices the university offered. I got almost no advice on what to take and relied on the course catalogue to make sure I met graduation requirements. I studied what interested me –history, art history and anthropology — got good grades and got a BA in history in spite of the dismal job prospects my degree offered. After graduation, I found employment with the Social Security Administration where I worked for 42 years. I was often surprised and pleased at how the variety of courses I had studied at Michigan were useful at my job and at how they helped connect many of life’s proverbial dots. I feel very fortunate to have my Michigan degree and believe negotiating the multiversity maze was worth the struggle.


  13. Richard Rogel - 1970

    I worked in the guidance counselor’s office at my high school in 66-67. Since Michigan was the only school that I wanted to go to, I asked the counselor if we could subscribe to the Michigan Daily so that students at a Maryland High School could see what was going on at a major University. When we got the first edition, the counselor was reticent about continuing the subscription. I took the paper home to my father who had a long career in journalism and public relations. He called the counselor and insisted that this was great journalism and the subscription should be continued.
    Since then Michigan has been a major part of my life. I read the Daily whenever I am back on campus.
    I have always wondered what happened to Roger and have looked for his name every year since I graduated.


  14. Richard Glassman - 1985

    I enjoyed this article, but I will continue to object to the glorification of 60s radicalism in this article and other articles in this publication (‘student radicals,’ ‘higher ed’s complicity in “the military-industrial complex’, ‘the feeling of being a tiny cog’ (nod to Mario Savio)). The 60s radicals, in my view, should be condemned. No time to go on a long statement to support that; and i say it here to register that a different opinion exists among the educated. Still, calling out a conflict of interest was a good thing.


  15. William Deubel - 1973

    When Foucault and Deleuze in Paris were breaking the rules about personhood, the UofM was stuck studying morbid Existentialism, or glorifying itself by protesting against a war. We moved down the line after graduation ignoring or being unaware of the fear and joy of living life starting from scratch. The UofM is today possibly as irrelevant as it was then.


  16. Framji Minwalla - 1987

    LS&A established the Residential College to do significantly more than offer students an ‘intimate’ education. Curricula for the programs offered—Arts & Ideas, Comparative Literature, Social Sciences, Drama, to name a few—were specifically interdisciplinary and experimental. Successful interventions were meant to fold back into the LS&A, replaced by newer ideas for disciplinary cohabitation. That this return to the mothership never happened was great for me (RC ‘87), but perhaps not so great for a multiversity attempting to fulfil a range of sometimes diametrically opposed academic agendas in order to please a hugely diverse constituency. The arrogance of the RC, but also its driving motivation, and the consequent loyal admiration of many who spent four years experimenting in East Quad, is perhaps best, albeit crudely embodied by the anthem my classmates composed the year we graduated:

    Give us shot of whiskey,
    Give us a mug of ale.
    Give a rousing cheer
    For the old pass/fail.

    It’s a bastion for free-thinkers
    At this university.
    All the Reagan-lovers hate us.
    They can kick and beat and bate us,
    But we don’t give a f*^#
    Because we’re all RC.


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