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Doctor Angell as President

James Burrill Angell
The Michigan Alumnus 319

In the death of Doctor Angell the University lost its greatest leader, the State
its first citizen. He was inaugurated as President in June 1871. Then the state
university idea, although embodied in the organic law of the State and
recognized in statutory enactment and developed to a degree that was
attracting attention, was not, even here, safely beyond the experimental
stage. It had only recently received for the first time recognition from the
State in the form of a legislative appropriation. Elsewhere it was just
beginning to take root. No one would have then predicted its remarkable
development in recent years. Although Michigan had in constitution and
statute a complete and comprehensive university plan that had been put in
operation, the University itself had hardly as yet begun to conform to real
university ideals and standards. The foundation of a great state-supported
institution had been laid; the building of the superstructure was under way;
but for the effective and harmonious development of the entire plan, a leader
of versatility and constructive power was needed. In President Angell that
leader was found. By training as well as by natural ability, he was admirably
fitted for the great work to which he was called. As teacher, journalist and
university president, his experience had already been large and varied. In
each capacity he had proved himself a master. Moreover, he was still in the
prime of life.

Fortunate indeed was it for education, not only in this State but throughout
the entire country, and particularly in the Middle and Far West, that the
responsibility of developing in a large way the first of the state universities
was committed to this man. It was fortunate because he built wisely and
hence in such a way as to furnish a model that could be safely followed. He
had the good sense and judgment and the poise that saved him and those
whom he served from the mistakes of irresponsible impulse. He met and
solved the successive problems quietly, deliberately and effectively. In many
ways he brought the University home to the people. Chiefly through his
efforts it became a vital and uplifting influence in all of the schools of the
State. In public address and in private conversation, he always insisted that it
should be the people's university, thoroughly democratic in spirit and
attitude. Throughout his long administration, the power of his personality,
not only in building up the institution of which he was the head, but also, at
the same time, in bringing the people to a realizing sense of the value to the
state of educational opportunities of the highest order for rich and poor alike,
was continuously apparent.

But the influence of his work was not circumscribed by state boundaries. He
was a recognized power in an educational movement of great extent and
importance. The people of other states looked to him for advice and
guidance. That the state university idea has been so generally and generously
developed along broad and liberal lines, has undoubtedly been due in no
small degree to the fact that in Michigan, under our great President's
leadership, its practical application was so thoroughly and successfully

But there was a personal side to Doctor Angell's work and influence that was
of special significance. He never became so absorbed in university or public
problems as to forget the persons who were to be affected by his acts and
attitude. While developing the University and winning the people to its
generous support, he kept in mind the individual teacher and the individual
student. He believed in the personal touch, in the influence of personality.
And so it was that his heart always went out to teacher and student alike. All
felt this, for his very presence revealed it. Even to those who met him but
casually it was apparent. It was this attitude that endeared him to all, this that
made him a great teacher, and a great administrator. Verily his life was an
example of what a full and well-rounded and sympathetic life should be. It
was an ever-present inspiration to all who came within the circle of its

Doctor Angell's principal work was in the field of higher education. He will
go into history as a great university president, one of the greatest of his
generation. And yet his success in other fields was marked. He was a great
editor during a most exciting and interesting period of our national history,
that of the Civil War. His diplomatic service was of the highest order. In this
he proved himself equal to every emergency. The results that he
accomplished called for the exercise of extraordinary skill and sound
judgment. Indeed, for public service of any kind he was admirably fitted. As
an orator he possessed rare grace and power. His ideals of what a public
servant should be were of the highest. Although by nature -conservative, he
was always open-minded and ready to be convinced. He had the ability to
secure without apparent effort the loyalty and devotion and co-operation of
those with whom he came in contact. And withal there was about him a
sweet simplicity and reasonableness that was compelling in the highest

Although no longer with us, Doctor Angell still lives and will continue to
live in the great work that he did. In the hearts of thousands who admired
and loved him, his memory will be kept green. To have been associated
with him in university work for many years, I count the greatest privilege
and opportunity of my life.