University of Michigan PresidentsU_of_M_Presidents.html




MONDAY, MARCH 11, 1968


I must, at the very outset, express the great sense of honor, which I feel at being invested with this high office. My earliest memories of The University of Michigan stem from a childhood in Illinois where, as a small boy intensely interested in sports, I was conscious of the famous phrase "Friedman to Oosterbaan" and of the rhythm of "Hail to the Victors" as the Wolverines marched past my more favored Illini. It was later, when I was myself a college student, that I first became acquainted with the eminence of Michigan as an academic institution.  And it was still later, when my own career turned toward the academic world, that I fully realized the respect and admiration, which scholars everywhere hold for The University of Michigan. It is easy for me to say that this is one of the truly great universities of the world, for I have had nothing to do with building that reputation.  If future historians can record that I had some small part in maintaining and advancing that reputation, I shall be content.

University inaugurations are touched by a sense of history.  The ceremony itself, with the academic procession, the colorful robes and hoods, the presence of our colleagues representing the proud world of scholarship – all suggest an awareness of and respect for the past and its traditions.

Perhaps it was natural, therefore, that in preparing for this occasion I turned to Professor Howard Peckham’s recent history of The University of Michigan, published last year as part of the observance of the University’s sesquicentennial.  The book is organized around the various presidents who have served the University, and it is not long before the gigantic figure of President Tappan strolls across its pages.  Let me read a brief passage about Tappan:

“Henry Philip Tappan arrived in Ann Arbor in the summer of 1852, fresh from Europe.  He was forty-seven years old, six feet tall and handsome, with side and under-shin whiskers.  In the semi-rural parochial town of Ann Arbor, he was unmistakable…Outdoors, he carried a cane and was invariably accompanied by one of his huge St. Bernard’s, Buff or Leo.  In a day of stovepipe hats, he wore a felt hat tipped to one side.  He walked briskly among the stores not unlike the lord of the manor in the marketplace of the peasants.

He looked and acted like a university president.  The students were not merely impressed, they were almost overwhelmed.  Some of them more than fifty years later remembered him with awe.  Their comments paint him best:  ‘He was an immense personality.  It was a liberal education even for the stupid to be slightly acquainted with him.’ ”

After reading that far, I stopped for contemplation-and to wonder about my own qualifications.  Aside from being six feet tall, my image seemed inappropriate.  In place of the two huge St. Bernards, I possessed only a small dachshund who had never learned to walk with a leash and who therefore protested every step of the way, making choking sounds designed to attract the Humane Society.  I did not own a cane nor a top hat, and the whiskers were all on the students.  Instead of walking through the marketplace like the lord of the manor, I found myself dodging both pedestrian and vehicular traffic just tot stay alive.  And if students were awed by me, they had most extraordinary ways of showing it.

As a matter of fact, in persuading my own children to come to this ceremony, I thought it best to describe it as my “thing”!

Seriously, I feel an inaugural is truly more an occasion for considering the future than for reviewing the past.  In attempting to look ahead for The University of Michigan, I perhaps oversimplify the future by suggesting that it can be divided into problems of the body, on the one hand, and of questions of the mind and spirit, on the other hand.  I conclude it is the problems of the mind and of the spirit, which should most concern us, but I do not downgrade the problems of the body, and, indeed, I start with them.

A phenomenon of the past twenty-five years has been the incredible growth in the demand for higher education.  And the peak of that growth has not yet been reached.  Statisticians tell us that in the State of Michigan, in the decade of the 1970’s, we shall see a 60 per cent increase in the number of students seeking opportunities for higher education.

The cost of supporting the educational aspirations of so many young people frightens some of us.  Dollars are important, and I have no doubt that I shall have occasion many times to talk of them.  But today, I suggest that what should be bothering us even more than rising costs is the fact that almost half of all youngsters who rate in the top seven per cent of the student population on the basis of ability still do not pursue their studies beyond the high school.  One wonders further whether we have done our best toward young Americans when additional probing reveals that intelligence has no direct relationship to the income of one’s parents, but that only six per cent of all university freshmen come from the one quarter of American families having an income below $4,000 per year.

This leads me to the question of the function of the public university.  Despite the tax outlay for education, students and their families are being asked to bear more and more of the total expense.  With this goes an aggravated form of economics isolationism in which legislatures, aware of the fact that there is a subsidy for every student who attends a university, raise the tariff wall ever higher against out-of-state and international students.  The virulent fallacy that the out-of-state student somehow imposes an unfair burden on the taxpayers particularly plagues The University of Michigan because it has, from its earliest days, been a national university.  I have spoken of this in the past, and I shall do so again.  For today, I simply say that, in my judgment, there is no economic and certainly no educational justification for this kind of isolationism.  In the long run, it can only be detrimental to the progress of the state.

The free exchange of students across state lines is just one aspect of the problem of maintaining excellence. Another, in the words of my colleague Allan Smith, “is the challenge for education to find a way to justify, preserve and foster genuine excellence in a society heavily committed to an egalitarian philosophy.”  There is pressure on both state and national legislatures to expand educational opportunities and equalize funding formulae among institutions.  More opportunities for higher education we must have if the expectations of people are to be fulfilled, but some kinds of education are enormously more expensive that others.  Neither the needs of society, the resources of the country, nor the talent available permit or require that all of higher education be funded alike.  The valleys are not less beautiful than the peaks, but far distant horizons, which will benefit both, are more visible from the peaks.

On the subject of costs, incidentally, we owe an obligation to the public to be as efficient as possible, but like other enterprises, which are heavily service oriented, we are unlikely to make major gains in productivity.  Our highest cost item – professorial salaries – is being pulled upward by the very forces of supply and demand, which are sanctioned throughout the economic system.

Finally, I mention only one other problem of what I have called the “body” of the university.  There are those who regard higher education as a reasonably pleasant interlude during which one acquires vocational skills, which will permit him to attain a better-than-average economic status during the rest of his life.  Sadly for those of us who spend our lives on the campus because of the intellectual stimulation, which resides there, this concept may indeed be held by a majority of our citizens.

To deplore this, however, is not to say that there should be no relationship at all between vocational and educational goal.  We might, in fact, do a much better job of helping students make vocational choices than we are now doing.  In an age of increasing specialization, career opportunities change steadily and frequently.  The student who prepares himself for a role in life that is about to disappear has reason to believe that he has been misled or cheated.  The student who graduates only to discover too late that there are career opportunities in which he might have been intensely interested but for which he is not prepared may likewise feel frustration and bitterness.

Studies of student unrest invariably show unrest to be least in such schools as law, engineering, and medicine, where students know their career objectives.  And generations of student lore to the contrary notwithstanding, the engineer, the lawyer, and the doctor need not be lacking in the broad intellectual interests, which characterize the educated man.  Finding the right balance between specialization and generalization, however, is not easy, and it grows more difficult as the body of specialized knowledge increases.  The question of how best to coordinate career aspirations, the technical knowledge to support such aspirations, and the broad humanizing influences of a higher education call for greater attention from the community of scholars than it is now receiving.

These and many related topics confront the universities today.  We spend much of our time worrying about how we can finance ourselves, how we can possibly accommodate more students without diminishing quality, how we can mollify disgruntled staff members occupying hopelessly crowded quarters, how we can deal with student complaints real and imagined, and how we can retain talented faculty.

All these matters are important, but a university is also a place for the dreaming of great dreams, and it is to these dreams that I now address myself.  They are the source of the real satisfactions in the academic life.  They are indeed the mind and spirit of the university.

The first of these is that we can preserve at Michigan the kind of climate in which controversy can flourish, and do so in an atmosphere of dignity and respect for others.  The university is, by definition and by tradition, a marketplace of ideas, and as such, controversy neither can nor should be avoided.  Yet the halls of academe are populated by human beings, with all the normal human frailties.  Students, and even faculty, can sometimes so lose their perspective that they seek to stifle views which differ from their own, or they impute to others motives less worthy than their own.  When this happens, historic public-student animosities are renewed, legislators hear from their constituents, and alumni submerge memories of the controversies of their own days on campus.  Perhaps most serious of all, the fabric of the university community itself is threatened.

This is a time when a great international issue – the war in Viet Nam – and a great domestic issue – race relations – divide our people.  The realist would have to say that both issues are likely to get worse before they get better.  The campus cannot be isolated from the mainstream of national life.  It is predictable that strong differences of opinion will divide us.  Is it too much to hope that in this home of the intellect we can conduct ourselves with dignity and restraint?  Or will we have to concede that the humanizing influences and values, which we believe abound in the university are always betrayed in a time of stress? My dream, my belief, my commitment is that on this campus we can and will preserve our community and its time-honored values.

As an aside to this point, however, I am impelled to add that those of us who urge dignity and restraint must not put these qualities ahead of human welfare.  It is often easier for critics of the present generation of students to fulminate against their bad manners, which are frequently displayed, than to accept the fact that underlying the bad manners may be a dedication to human well being not found in their critics.

This brings me to my second dream.  It is more nebulous, harder to define – but more important.  This is the hope – the ardent desire – that Michigan graduates will be wise, tolerant, compassionate, civilized human beings.  Perhaps complete attainment of this dream is not possible.  But what concerns me, and what should concern us all, is whether we are so structured within the university that such a goal is recognizable among our objectives.

Let me proceed by example.  A student who comes to The University of Michigan may learn in an economics or sociology course that one-fifth of the people in our affluent society live in poverty.  He can identify within that group the uneducated, the physically handicapped, the old and the infirm, the mentally ill, and all those who for one reason or another simply never had a chance.  He can learn this, but what will he do with that knowledge?  Will he show tolerance and compassion for those less fortunate in life that himself?  Will he recognize an obligation, as a civilized human being, to devote some portion of his energy and substance to the problems of others?  Or will he shrug off all this as among the unfortunate facts of life for which he has neither time nor inclination?

Or, to look at another example, a student can come to The University of Michigan and learn that scientists find no inherent differences in intelligence based on race.  When he graduates from the University, will he remember this classroom fact?  Will he support equal job opportunities and a chance to live wherever one’s abilities and economic status permit?

We know a great deal more about methods of injecting information into students than we do about how to make them civilized human beings.  In part, at least, this is because it is easier to package knowledge than it is to package humanity.  We know just what kind of courses to give to produce competent scholars and practitioners in linguistics, physics, law, or mathematics.  We know a good deal less about teaching tolerance, compassion, and the responsibilities of the civilized citizen.  And there are some who doubt that teaching such attributes is the obligation of the university.  They say that attitudes are usually set earlier in life, and that in any event, it is the family, the church, and the peer group, which establish the individual’s value structure.  There is some truth in these propositions, but one wonders if they have not become our excuse for failure to inculcate humane values as well as to impart information to students.

I return, then, to the point from which I started.  A university is not merely a knowledge factory; it is rather one of the great humanizing influences of civilization.  We cannot meet the obligations this definition implies simply by opening as Office for the Dispensation of Civilized Values. Such values must rather be incorporated in all our teaching and related efforts.  My dream is that these values and aspirations will then be reflected in the lives of Michigan students and graduates.

I come now to the third of my immediate hopes and dreams for The University of Michigan.  This is that we shall continue to play a useful and important role on the international scene.  I stress the continuity of this role because foreign students, international teachers, visiting scholars, and consulting missions to other countries by our own faculty have been a part of the Michigan pattern for many years.

Every year that passes further reduces the transportation and communication barriers between nations.  Unfortunately, every year that passes also sees a widening of the gap between the haves and the have-nots of this world.  The problems of providing even the most elementary levels of education for many areas of the world are staggering.  Population growth continues to outstrip increases in agricultural productivity.  Public health measures still lag far behind the need for them.  And at the same time, many Americans remain, at the least, ignorant, or at the worst, suspicious, of the needs, aspirations, and achievements of other peoples and other cultures.

Technology, at which we are so proficient, will not suffice to remedy the disparity between American affluence and the poverty of so much of the world.  Indeed, without a renewal of our own faith in the concept of human brotherhood, it seems unlikely that this gap will be bridged short of worldwide destruction and revolution.

Surely, our academic communities and the students who go out from these communities must apply on a world scale those same values of tolerance, compassion, and humanity, which are needed in our own nation if we are to deserve the adjective “civilized.”  It is my dream that The University of Michigan will accept its share of this world responsibility.

In conclusion, I ask the question:  Will The University of Michigan remain one of the great universities of the world?  And the answer is that of course it will.  The resources of talent here – in students and faculty – and the economic resources of this State ensure continuation of this institution at the forefront of the world of scholarship.  But scholarship, which is not enlightened by humanity is arid, and it is therefore also my ardent hope – and conviction – that this University will continue to grow in mind and spirit and responsibility.

In that conviction, I pledge you that I shall serve The University of Michigan with pride and, I hope, with humility.