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The University's regional campuses
were founded with immense poten-
tial to shape economic progress in
Michigan. But the state didn't follow
omeone looking to find out about the
origins of the University of Michigan's
campus in Dearborn would find it use-
ful to lookthrough the papers of the first
director of the Dearborn campus, Wil-
liam Stirton. Unfortunately, that's not
Stirton served as director of the Dear-
born campus from its founding in 1959
until 1968. After he retired, his papers
were packaged for removal to the Bent-
0 0 * ! ley Historical Library on North Campus
in Ann Arbor. However, as one version of
the story goes, they were picked up from the loading dock
in Dearborn bythe wrong truck - the garbage truck.
Elton Higgs, professor emeritus of the Dearborn campus
and author of "A Gift Renewed: The First 25 Years of the
University of Michigan-Dearborn," has also heard a version
of the story.
"We have our own archives, but as far as I'm aware there
are no extensive documents from the Stirton administra-
tion in our archives," Higgs said.
The loss of documents that could have revealed much
about the atmosphere in the early days of the University's
regional campuses is perhaps fitting. Today, the Dearborn
and Flint campuses are like the lost siblings of their older
brother in Ann Arbor - lost in terms of what they could
have been for the state and for the University of Michigan
had they been managed from the beginning with a coher-
In the five decades since their creations, the Dearborn
and Flint campuses have made several advancements in
shaping their institutional identities. But too often that
progress was made in the face of an unsupportive state gov-
ernment. The two campuses, which are now vital to their
regions, were conceived with the purpose of cementing the
primacy of higher education and job training in Michigan.
Unfortunately, much of that original purpose was disre-
garded almost immediately after the institutions were
As the state hemorrhages jobs, money and people, it's
a disheartening fact that many of the solutions being pro-
posed today would already be in place had the state real-
ized and invested in the potential of all three campuses of
the University of Michigan from the beginning.
campus saw the construction of a new hospital building,
the Michigan League, Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall and
Michigan Stadium, which opened in 1927.
The most important point to note for our story, however,
is Little's most controversial proposal: He wanted to estab-
lish a separate "University College," which would house
freshmen and sophomores. After two years, some students
would be granted certificates for having completed junior
college, while the more talented would be invited to con-
tinue toward an undergraduate degree.
In his wish for smaller class sizes and personal attention
for students through separate colleges, Little was ahead of
his time. Never the amenable statesman, Little was unable
to win the faculty over to the idea. Despite support from
the University Board of Regents - this being an era when
faculty opinion mattered - University College never rose
beyond notes and schematics by the time of Little's resig-
nation in early 1929. It remains, however, the first idea of
a branch college considered at the University in the 20th
THE POST-WAR CALL FOR BRANCH
As Robert Berdahl, former chancellor of the University
of California at Berkeley, said in a 1998 speech extolling the
values of flagship state universities, the post-World War II
years were the era of the "second enormous expansion of
"Colleges were growing rapidly, new colleges were
springingup closerto population centers ... Itwas a remark-
able time to be in higher education," said Berdahl, who cur-
rently serves as president of the Association of American
It was during those boom years that both branch cam-
puses of the University of Michigan were born. In 1957,
enrollment at the University was 22,180, the highest total
since the war. Simply put, there was a need for higher edu-
Then-University President Harlan Hatcher saw that
enrollment would only rise further, yet he was unwilling
to accept that rising enrollments must be accompanied by
falling standards. Fortunately, another solution surfaced.
Flint Junior College, founded in 1923, was co-opted into
the University of Michigan in 1956 as a regional campus.
That same year, the Ford Motor Company approached the
University with an offer of land and money to build an
institution in Dearborn, which would open in 1959. From
a business point of view, Ford had much to gain from hav-
ing a branch of the University in its hometown.
"They had a vested interest," said Higgs, the Dearborn
historian. "They really, I think, had in mind that they
were going to develop a sort of a general motor institute
here in Dearborn."
And so it was that both campuses. got their start, and
Dearborn's case became especially illustrative of the
institutions' lost potential.
"An assumption was made that the real call for edu-
cation in this area was in the business and engineering
areas," Higgs said. "So, theemphasis in the beginning
at Dearborn was on business and engineering with suf-
ficient liberal arts courses to support those programs."
Higgs said business and engineering students at Dear-
born participated in a co-op program that required them
to spend at least one trimester interning in a position
related to their field of study.
In other words, Dearborn was intended to be the type
of institution Gov. Jennifer Granholm has been talk-
ing up in recent years: science- and business-oriented
with plenty of practical job training, creating economic
growth for the region. Alas, Michigan's state legislature
was every bit as suspicious of higher education institu-
tions then as it is today.
Change came for Dearborn when its initial role as a
senior college for transfer students was deemed less
than cost effective.
"The big crisis came in the late '60s," Higgs said. "The
campus was still very small and therefore very expen-
sive to run."
That first decade proved fateful for the state of higher
education in Michigan today. According to the records of
the Office of the Chancellor of the University of Michi-
gan at Dearborn, an eight-member Dearborn Planning
Study Committee was created "to evaluate the operation
of the campus and to plan for its future development."
The committee had several recommendations. The
campus was to expand to a four-year institution (which
it did in 1971). It had to be geared toward meeting the
needs of the Detroit area and had to prepare to be able
to accommodate 5,000 students by 1980. Most impor-
tantly, the committee recommended "a long-range plan
for campus physical development should be undertaken
that would provide for the projected enrollment."
And that's when the state failed the fledgling cam-
pus' aspirations. As long as Dearborn was just another
senior college graduating a handful of engineers and
English majors every year, the state had no problems. The
moment it became an ambitious institution looking for
more resources and the opportunity to play a larger role
in the state, the legislature tightened the purse.
As Dearborn explored a $19-million plan to add several
buildings and expand campus in the early '70s, the state
turned a blind eye. As the chancellor's archives note:
"Funding for the projects was never granted by the
main campus nor by the state, and the development pro-
gram as presented by the consulting firm was never imple-
mented. Instead, the University of Michigan at Dearborn
began a series of self-financed renovations."
Dearborn moved forward on its own to become the
campus that it is today. But how much more could it have
been with just a little help from Ann Arbor, or better yet,
"It was up to the people at Dearborn to determine how
they were going to develop and even if they were going to
continue to survive," Higgs said.
"NO MASTER PLAN" FOR MICHIGAN
The state of Michigan, of course, was not alone in fac-
*** e o e e e 0*S @*O @ 0 0 oIMRAN SYED
DAILY STAFF WRITER
ing a drastic rise in college enrollment in the postwar
years: California's case was similar, at least initially. With
two large University of California campuses at Berkeley
and Los Angeles, California state leaders realized that the
enrollment spike would require immediate, concrete action
to organize higher education in the state. As is rare in such
stories, the unprecedented plan became a reality through
the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California.
The difference in California was the presence of a vision-
ary who saw both first-class and widely-available higher
education as a ticket to the state's economic prosperity:
then-University of California President Clark Kerr. Even
in an era of economic uncertainty similar to our own, Kerr
rallied the state legislature to support the Master Plan.
Kerr's plan avoided the problems and objections first
raised in California at the founding of the Los Angeles cam-
pus and here in Michigan during Little's administration.
In both cases, faculty feared the diversion of resources to
multiple institutions would cause unhealthy competition
and perhaps detract from the prestige of the flagship insti-
Michigan's solution to this was to launch two campuses
that would never be allowed the opportunity to develop
into anything resembling the main campus.
"There was not a master plan in the state of Michigan,"
Higgs said. "There is a (planning committee), but my
understanding is that it never had the power to do that kind
of planning. Their presence was never a significant factor in
the development of U of M-Dearborn or U of M-Flint."
California's solution was more overarching and ulti-
mately more productive. As Berdahl said, the Master
Plan "simultaneously accomplished two vitally important
things: by differentiating clearly the missions of the three
levels of higher education, it provided both universal access
and the delineation of excellence."
The Master Plan managed that feat by settingup a three-
tiered system of higher education throughout California:
the UC system, the California State system and a network
of community colleges. Its great success in California had
a lot to do with educators and legislators coming together
to launch a bold initiative and accept the risk of failure to
achieve a higher ideal for the state's future.
Berdahl credits the Master Plan for bringing "enor-
mous dividends to the state." Indeed, the technology
boom that put California at the cutting edge of 21st cen-
tury innovation can be attributed in part to the presence
of several large, accomplished research institutions in
WHAT WAS AND WHAT COULD
Comparing Michigan to California may seem unreason-
able today. The University of California system currently
has six campuses that belong to the Association of Ameri-
can Universities, a group of 62 leading American and Cana-
dian research universities. The University of Michigan,
along with Berkeley, was a founding member of the AAU,
but the state of Michigan has since seen just one institu-
tion added to that list (Michigan State University in 1964),
whereas California boasts an additional five public and
three private institutions that are part of the AAU.
But if this is an unfair comparison today, it is only so
because of decades of negligence on the part of the state
of Michigan. The University of California was, after all,
initially built in the image of the University of Michigan.
However, Berkeley has been able to spread its considerable
wealth and spawn regional campuses that now surpass it
in some categories, whereas Michigan's regional campuses
were condemned never to advance that far.
BothDearborn andFlinthadenormous potentialtobloom
See BRANCH CAMPUSES, Page 6B
A VISION AHEAD OF ITS TIME
The 1920s were a time of change at the University of
Michigan - introducing much that characterizes the insti-
tution as we know it today. Under the stewardship of then-
University President Clarence Cook Little, the Ann Arbor