University of Michigan
Bicentennial Planning Committee
Bicentennial Planning Committee Final Report
Download PDF version of the full report, including appendices
(formatted for double-sided printing)
In five years, the University of Michigan will celebrate the bicentennial of its founding in Detroit in 1817. Although the University is one of the oldest public universities in the United States, it is a rather young institution when compared to private American schools such as Harvard (which celebrated its 350th anniversary in 1986) let alone far older European institutions, such as the University of Cambridge (which recently observed the 800th anniversary of its founding in 1209).
Perhaps out of institutional personality or midwestern modesty, the University rarely reflects on our illustrious past and, more often, prefers to reinvent itself with each passing generation. While such forward thinking is a strength of the University, it does pose challenges when planning for a Bicentennial celebration. For example, Michigan missed celebrating its first centennial because of the mistaken belief of the Regents that it was founded in 1837 (which is the date of the founding of the Ann Arbor campus). This ethos is unfortunate given that as early as 1852, the University of Michigan’s first president, Henry Tappan, began building a true university that would not only conduct teaching and research but also respond to needs of the entire world and its citizenry. It has never stopped succeeding in these noble tasks. Consequently, this committee proposes a broad, yet preliminary, plan to celebrate our past, reflect on our present, and contemplate the exciting challenges that will likely redefine higher education during the University’s third century.
1. General Recommendations
a. The Bicentennial must celebrate the University’s greatest assets and project their future impact: intellectual creativity and the academic endeavor.
b. The Bicentennial must reflect both on past achievements and on where we're going in higher education. It should both celebrate and exemplify our continuing leadership and innovation in higher education.
c. The Bicentennial should explore a variety of historical tensions the U-M has addressed as a way of grounding the exploration of current tensions in higher education and in society.
d. The Bicentennial should be a time to build or reinforce local, state, national and global connections.
2. Recommendations Concerning Stakeholders
a. The Bicentennial planning, intellectual program, and celebration should be inclusive across all of our campuses; this is everybody’s celebration.
i. It will be critical to involve faculty, both through central mechanisms and through school and college activities. One way to do this would be to create a sub-committee on Faculty Involvement. This committee would draw up a list of University faculty members, who would then be invited by the president to become “Bicentennial Professors.” These professors would not only retain a prestigious title but would also be charged with creating a particular lecture, symposium, course, or tie-in to one of the performances or exhibits that result from the committee’s planning.
ii. The Bicentennial planning and celebration should involve students in significant ways. Students’ participation should be facilitated with resources so that they can creatively engage the Bicentennial. (See Appendix c.i)
iii. The University staff has already, through Voices of the Staff, begun plans for the Bicentennial, and they should be strongly encouraged to proceed and to play a significant role. (See Appendix c.ii)
iv. Alumni should be a major part of the Bicentennial planning and celebration: on campus, through communications technology, and in events around the world.
v. Individual schools, colleges, units and organizations, including arts organizations, cultural organizations, athletics, etc., should be encouraged to develop their own activities with an eye to the fact that this is the University’s birthday. One approach would be for each school, unit or organization to hold an “Open House” for the community to explore the work and workings of their college.
vi. We should collaboratively engage the local, state and national governments, citizens of Michigan and the nation:
1. The committee is particularly intrigued by the idea of reaching out to Michigan counties, perhaps identifying a “county Bicentennial representative” in each — a U-M alumnus residing in the county. We also like the idea of placing a paver, brick or stone representing each of Michigan’s counties around the Diag. In addition, we suggest exploration of the idea of one-day University sessions open to all citizens.
2. The committee also notes and supports the current “Citizen Alum” project — a pilot project undertaken by U-M under the auspices of the American Commonwealth Project, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Land Grant Act in 2012. (Appendix c.iii)
3. Special attention must be given to the University’s origins in the City of Detroit in a manner that both celebrates those origins and advances the University’s current engagement with Detroit. The U-M Detroit Center could play a valuable role in this regard.
3. Programmatic Recommendations
- Universal tuition coverage for all of our students or the development of international curricula that figure into each degree we grant.
- The reinvigoration of the first two years of undergraduate education, in other words, an honors college for every Michigan student.
- A thorough integration of our educational and research missions so that every member of the Michigan community benefits from these interactions.
These are just a few such transformative ideas that the University could seek to embrace under the aegis of the Bicentennial. We encourage U-M’s academic leadership to connect its deliberations about transformative initiatives to the Big Questions activities described below (Section 3.c.).
b. We should use this opportunity to bring the campus alive with U-M’s past and present accomplishments, and their relationship to the future. The Bicentennial should raise the historical consciousness of all U-M constituents.
- In particular, we urge that the Bicentennial be used as an opportunity to examine and more fully document the intellectual history of the University and especially its unique place in the intellectual life of the nation. The permanent exhibit at the Bentley Historical Library dealing with this topic is an excellent beginning. Schools, colleges, departments, and organizations should be encouraged to update their histories as part of this reinvigoration.
- While emphasizing an overarching narrative, we also wish to encourage narratives from the individual to the institutional, from different perspectives. Story-telling projects using all media to achieve this end should be encouraged and coordinated. For example, the U-M Communications office, Voices of the Staff, and others have suggested compiling a body of stories under a heading such as “My Michigan Experience.” (See examples in Appendices c.ii., c.iv.) Story-telling could also expressly help connect U-M to Michigan’s counties (see 2.a.vi.1, above).
- We endorse a variety of efforts already underway or proposed and recommend their coordination by the Bicentennial staff discussed below. Examples include:
- Faculty databases as developed by the Millennium Project.
- Bentley Library projects: U-M and the disciplines, updating the U-M Encyclopedic Survey, the reconstitution of Gabriel Richard’s library, etc.
- Heritage Projects (such as that undertaken by the Office of Communications: historical timelines, intriguing websites and social networking mechanisms) (Appendix c.iv)
The above proposals are only a few ideas that could be pursued. The committee fully expects a vigorous menu of other ideas, suggestions and projects.
- A broad range of mechanisms and media should be utilized in this process: websites, social media, orientations and events managed through New Student Programs or the Division of Student Affairs, alumni publications and communications, magazines such as Michigan Today, the Scholarly Publishing Office, mobile applications, etc.
ii. We recommend implementation of a new Historical Markers Project that builds on the work of the President’s History and Traditions Committee. At present, the History and Traditions Historical Plaques celebrate 22 major University events and structures. We propose creation of a second marker series — perhaps along the lines of London’s “Blue Plaques” literary and historical markers — that commemorates a much broader range of intellectual breakthroughs, great University citizens, beloved University places, etc.
iii. We recommend that the University seek to identify and complete restoration of remaining unrestored legacy buildings, such as the Simpson Institute, which is the only Albert Kahn-designed, pre-World War II building on the campus that has not been restored and is in a state of serious disrepair. (See Appendix c.vii.)
iv. We recommend re-creation of an annual Founders’ Day, which would celebrate the founding of the University by Father Gabriel Richard, Reverend John Monteith, and Judge Augustus Woodward as well as the importance of the Native American gift of land. (This might be a perfect event to tie in with our commitment to the City of Detroit).
c. We should use this opportunity to ask Big Questions for Our Third Century. The lead-up to the Bicentennial, as well as the Bicentennial itself, should engage the campus communities and society at large in deliberation of major critical issues.
i. We recommend pursuing two kinds of Big Questions: (1) questions concerning the future of the University and higher education and (2) questions concerning major issues facing society and humankind. Symposia should engage faculty, undergraduate students, graduate students, other stakeholders, etc.
- We recommend questions directed toward reinventing the University and higher education. Following are some possibilities:
- Another set of “Big Questions” should address large national or international issues in which universities can and should play a leading role. Such questions should be developed through an appropriate process of engagement with University constituents.
a. How should we educate the “whole person” today and in the future? What will be the nature of “liberal education”? What role should the University — a public institution — have in moral education? In the understanding of things religious and spiritual?
b. How should we teach? How should we learn? U-M has been a leader in the development of higher learning. What modes of education are required today, for the University to fulfill its mission? In an age of increasing distance-learning capability, what is the value of a residential education in particular? What are the values achieved through direct versus technologically mediated education?
c. What should characterize a third-century graduate of U-M? What skills, abilities, and forms of knowledge does our age require of its workers and citizens? To what extent can and should the University maintain an ongoing educational relationship with its graduates? Who will count as alumni in the future?
d. What constitutes an academic community today? Given transformations in the academic workforce as well as in the student body, in what sense do we still comprise an academic community? What are the status and instantiation of values long fundamental to academic community, such as academic freedom, transparent inquiry, respect for truth, broad access, today?
e. What will diversity and access mean to us in the future? U-M has a long legacy of encouraging diversity and enlarged access, conditioned by the needs of the age (e.g., “an uncommon education of the common man”). What will we do to sustain and reinterpret our historical commitment in the future?
f. How do we serve the state, nation and world? What is the role of public higher education? Of research? Of our so-called service-function? What is the reach of the University in society and in the world, and what are its responsibilities to society?
ii. The University should undertake a multi-year process of deliberation on the Big Questions, culminating in a set of major symposia during the Bicentennial.
- There should be special theme semesters focusing on selected Big Questions during the basic 14-month period of the Bicentennial (January 2017- April 2018).
- To pose questions and launch investigations that are later taken up in the Bicentennial year, this process should engage academic events created expressly as lead-ups to the Bicentennial as well as existing events that tackle large issues such as those noted above. Examples of existing events include symposia such as Rackham’s Michigan Meetings, lectures such as the Henry Russel Lecture and the Davis-Markert-Nickerson Lecture on Academic Freedom, and other events in the years leading up to the Bicentennial. This is a perfect avenue for individual colleges to become actively involved by creating “Big Question” symposia that pertain to their mission.
- Where feasible, we should draw on the intellectual capabilities of the University — e.g., ISR, CRLT — to systematically investigate issues raised by such academic events.
- Ideally, where possible these topics should be linked to topical pilot projects that would then, in or around the Bicentennial year, be converted into major institutional transformations such as those discussed above (Section 3.a).
- All of these topics, as well as others, can be generated and refined through a process that is partly competitive, partly directed.
d. The University should mount an extensive effort to engage faculty with communities around the state during the Bicentennial year. Building on programs such as the Road Scholars, the Bicentennial Professors, as well as other faculty identified by the deans, could be sent on excursions to locations across the state — at least one in each Michigan County.
i. A similar effort could be undertaken with respect to locations around the nation and world, in collaboration with the Alumni Association.
e. The Bicentennial should foster a broad range of named lectures and “Bicentennial Visiting Professors.” Special emphasis should be given to speakers who have U-M connections.
f. We should explore implementation of an omnibus lecture course for seniors that includes the best lectures and lecturers offered that semester. In such a course, which could perhaps be for one credit, students would select and attend various lectures — such as those on Big Questions, as well as others — from across the University.
g. We should undertake an initiative to “Beautify the Campus” in preparation for 2017. Projects such as improving the greenery and walkways of the campus as well as developing more environmentally sustainable landscapes. (Appendix c.v.)
4. Recommendations for Celebratory Events
a. We recommend that the Bicentennial commence in January 2017 but that the main focus, including the major celebratory events, should be executed during Fall 2017 and Winter 2018. All of these events should be open and accessible to the University of Michigan community.
b. We recommend a number of celebratory events:
i. A special halftime event at the August 25, 2017 football game (the day before the U-M’s 200th birthday).
ii. A special event in Detroit commemorating the University’s launch there.
iii. A special event in Ann Arbor, commemorating the town’s initiative in bringing the University here.
iv. Dedicated events for the Dearborn and Flint campuses.
v. A University-wide convocation in Fall 2017, to formally recognize the University’s 200 years. This convocation could include a number of honorary degrees, awards, etc., and a major address (e.g., by the President of the United States or some other recognizable world leader; it would be particularly meaningful if that speaker had a connection to the University).
vi. A large gala/dinner dance in the football stadium in April 2018, which could also be a wonderful development opportunity in terms of patrons purchasing tables, etc.
c. Music, performance, and the arts should have a significant role in the Bicentennial celebration.
i. The public goods organizations of the University (the museums, UMS, libraries, etc.) should be encouraged to begin planning now for major exhibitions and events in the Bicentennial timeframe. Exhibitions at U-M libraries and museums should be planned with an eye to their traveling in whole or in part to other venues around the state. In particular, the committee recommends that the Arts Consortium take on the task of fostering planning among its member institutions, and it is pleased that the Consortium is committed to this activity. The Cultural Commons will also be an important participant. Libraries and collections will have the opportunity to explore their own pasts, investigating the evolution and intellectual impact of the collections, many of which date back to the early 19th century.
ii. We endorse the initiative by the President’s Advisory Committee on Public Art to significantly enhance the University’s permanent public art collection as a Bicentennial project.
iii. The University should commission commemorative compositions from its Music faculty and alumni, to be performed during the Bicentennial year.
iv. The University and UMS should mount a set of concerts devoted to historically significant periods or themes related to the diverse heritage of U-M, with music expressive of, e.g., the civil rights movement, the “immigrant experience,” the Civil War era, 1960s activism.
v. We would encourage concerts of songs of the University, by the glee clubs, University performance groups, etc.
vi. We should explore commissioning of a theatrical production for the Bicentennial, such as a special performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which has long had a positive relationship with the University.
vii. We could mount a special film festival in connection with the Bicentennial.
viii. The University should collaborate with Summer Festival and the Ann Arbor Art Fairs to mount special Bicentennial versions of these important community events.
ix. A special Michigan alumnus/author should be invited to give the annual Hopwood Lecture.
x. Art should be used to better connect U-M to the state and its citizenry. For instance, we could mount a temporary public art exhibition on campus, with one work of art for each Michigan county, the work to be given to the county seat for permanent installation there following the Bicentennial.
d. Given the important role our alumni play in the life and reputation of the University, the Alumni Association will be charged with creating a series of events and programs that take the Bicentennial celebration across the nation and around the world.
5. Pragmatic Recommendations
a. We recognize that the University, like all cultural and educational institutions, faces significant financial constraints, but we hope that a budget for the Bicentennial can be developed, from multiple sources, that will be commensurate with the University’s entering its third century.
i. The recommendations put forward in this report can be grouped into several categories for the purpose of thinking about funding: (a) celebratory events and activities, (b) academic and intellectual events, (c) the “transformative initiative” and pilot projects related to it, (d) permanent enhancements of the campus, such as the “Beautify the Campus” initiative, and (e) permanent modest additions to the organization of the University, such as the creation of a “University History Office” with staff support.
ii. It is not possible for us to give a meaningful budget estimate at this time. Events, symposia, and so forth will have to be planned in greater detail before that would be possible, and that activity lies beyond the scope of this committee. In addition, we expect that costs will be distributed in various ways across the institution. We note that the budget will be distributed over several years.
iii. While unable to estimate a budget, we can recommend some principles:
- A substantial portion of the budget could be managed by leveraging extant programs, lecture series, etc., and by encouraging unit initiatives in creating events that have a University-wide aspect. Central supplemental funding could be provided to enhance recurring events during the Bicentennial year, but this would be less expensive than mounting new events.
- Celebratory events and intellectual programs should be open to all members of the University community.
- In a number of cases, planning far enough in advance can reduce incremental costs. For instance, the effort to Beautify the Campus, if it begins immediately, can incorporate beautification into building and landscaping projects as they are undertaken between now and 2017, minimizing costs.
- We understand that donors are unlikely to underwrite parties. We note, however, that many of the things we are recommending are intended to live beyond the Bicentennial — e.g., musical compositions, new art, a University history office, not to mention major academic initiatives — and that sourcing support from donors for such things could be explored. Approaches to small donors such as named bricks —actual or virtual — could be considered.
- Given the nature of a number of the initiatives discussed in this report, as well as the opportunities that the Bicentennial presents, it is clear that the Bicentennial effort should be closely coordinated with the next Capital Campaign. However, the Bicentennial events should not be constrained or defined by fundraising goals as such.
- We recommend formal consultations with other universities that have recently celebrated similar milestones (e.g., Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge, and Johns Hopkins).
b. We recommend appointment of a carefully selected Steering Committee that includes representation from all major constituencies of the University, reporting to the president. The chair should be appointed by the president and should be a highly respected member of the University community. The planning committee urges that in making the appointment, the president be mindful of the necessity of closely tying the Bicentennial to the academic mission of the University. The Steering Committee would have oversight of planning, including the dissemination of resources and decisions to grant to projects and events the imprimatur of “U-M Bicentennial.” We recommend that the Steering Committee be impanelled in Fall 2012.
c. We recommend appointment of a Director of Bicentennial Planning (i.e., an individual with considerable experience in mounting initiatives of this nature), reporting to the president, and with staff support and resources. The director, who would receive guidance from and work closely with the Steering Committee, would coordinate and facilitate the various functions described in this report — e.g., historical reinvigoration, the Big Question symposia, the celebratory events.
d. We must ensure that Bicentennial events and deliberations are rigorously informed by understanding and appreciation of Michigan’s historical achievements, and that understanding and appreciation do not end with the Bicentennial celebration. We recommend creation of a University History Office or the equivalent function to carry out projects related to recording, preserving, disseminating, and celebrating the University’s history and traditions. The Office could be housed in the restored Simpson Building, creating a sort of “history court,” given its juxtaposition to the Detroit Observatory. Such a center of University history could be used not only for instruction and daily work but also for future events, celebrations and reflections on the University’s glorious past. (Appendix c.vi.)
e. Since engagement of all U-M constituencies and broad dissemination of U-M’s achievements are essential features of the Bicentennial, we recommend that a robust internal and external communications plan be developed and implemented.