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Administration of Robben Fleming

Robben Wright Fleming
U of M Encyclopedic Survey Supplement 1029

The selection of Robben W. Fleming as ninth president of the University of Michigan proved to be one of those rare, fortuitous choices upon which hindsight could not improve. Fleming arrived upon campus amidst brushfires of student unrest, which had swept across the nation, and nearly half of his years as President were heavily occupied with crisis management. The Free Speech movement on the Berkeley campus had challenged the entire management of universities, their purposes, and their relationships with government, and had brought under its umbrella a variety of dissident groups. The idea of "participatory democracy" was heady wine to students who felt aggrieved by any perceived injustices, and all were willing to rally to the support of dissension in any form. The Vietnam War had become extremely unpopular with college-age youth, as well as others, and anti-war sentiment provoked strong emotional response from large numbers of students, whether or not the particular complaint was relevant to the university. There were persistent efforts throughout the country to force universities to "take a stand" on a wide variety of political issues, and these efforts came into direct conflict with a basic notion that universities, as institutions, were the place where all viewpoints were entitled to be heard. A small number of true revolutionaries were preaching a nihilistic doctrine that all existing social institutions, particularly universities, had to be completely destroyed, not merely reformed, before true social justice could be achieved. All these groups were to be found in Ann Arbor.

Fleming brought to that traumatic period a background and a training, which proved invaluable. He was well known as a labor arbitrator — and thus experienced in matters of union-management confrontation. He was an able scholar, having taught at Illinois and Wisconsin. He was an experienced administrator, with service in the federal government, service as executive director of the Armour Automation Commission, a former president of the National Academy of Arbitrators, and most immediately as Chancellor at the University of Wisconsin. He came with a reputation that he could sustain goodwill, even among those whose interests suffered by his decisions, and his three years at Wisconsin had demonstrated that he could protect the right of students to dissent without loss of control, and was masterful in his ability to persuade divergent elements that it was both possible and necessary to preserve intellectual freedom without disruption. His reputation proved accurate, for his demonstration of grace under pressure repeatedly helped the University steer an effective course through a difficult period of campus unrest.

The story was told of an incident, which occurred on the Madison campus shortly before Fleming came to Michigan, which is perhaps illustrative of his willingness to be both firm and fair — both disciplined, and compassionate. The Dow Chemical Company, a manufacturer of napalm and a frequent subject of student attack during those years, sent representatives to the campus for interviewing. Students sought to disrupt the process, and picketed the proceedings with a resultant arrest of eleven students. As students saw it, the University should not have allowed such recruiting, and should not have allowed civil authorities to interfere with proceedings on campus. While maintaining administrative neutrality, and insisting there be no violence, Fleming calmed the student reaction, but then personally put up bail money for the arrested students. There was to be a student rally that night, and Fleming later indicated that he did not want the arrested students to be martyrs in jail. He wanted them present so that both could speak. He thought he could make a better case before the crowd than could the students, but knew that student sympathy would be with the students if they were still in jail. His plan worked and the administration prevailed. The Regents of Wisconsin gave him a vote of confidence. It would not be the last time that he was required to make decisions concerning the proper role of civil authority on campus as distinct from the role of university authority. He recognized the difficulty in drawing such a line, but expressed his own view that "the operative factor is whether or not the offense in question has any relevance to the university or is a result of university life."

But with the end of the Vietnam War, campus unrest and agitation ran its course, and the history of the Fleming years is not confined to a history of those events. Even during the turbulent years, and surely after they ended, there were more profound problems: financial crises; questions of public accountability; an enormous growth of governmental controls, both federal and state, affecting university operations; the need to establish educational goals responsive to student aspirations and to societal needs; and, above all, the need to preserve and nurture the greatness of the University of Michigan.

The Turbulent Period
The number of confrontations on the Michigan campus was fairly large, and the causes espoused by the confronters were widely divergent. There was a protest against the University's involvement with classified research; protest against maintenance of a Reserve Officers Training Program; protest against the Vietnam War; protest against perceived racism; protest against Regental action denying a student bookstore on campus, and many others. For purposes of this survey, one may select a few occasions, which cast a light upon the kinds of events, and upon the style, the philosophy, and the effectiveness of President Fleming. He himself recognized the usefulness of his training, when he said: "The fact that I have had a long experience in the labor field means that I don't get excited in the way some people do about either controversy or challenges. You have to remember that the typical academic administrator has never lived in a climate in which he was challenged in the way that a trade union challenges management. I was very frequently exposed to confrontations between companies and unions. I don't take flights of rhetoric quite so seriously as some people do, and I don't view showdowns as the end of the world. Sometimes you have to have a showdown, and you take a position and that's it." But he made it clear, even during the most turbulent of the times, that he did not want to be judged only by his mediation skills. "The effect of stressing only a man's mediation skills is to make him look like merely an artful negotiator, with little interest in the substance of education," he said. "I am interested in encouraging a good deal of innovation and experimentation." Time would show that his presidency produced significant changes at the University.

A test of President Fleming's response to confrontation came early at Michigan. The president-designate had his first press conference on March 31, 1967. The public came to see a trim 50-year-old man with close-cropped iron gray hair and rimless glasses, a man who maintained the fit look and walk of the athlete he had been and offered a study in good-natured informality. The press conference ended in bedlam as members of the Students for a Democratic Society took over the meeting. Failing to get a straight "yes" or "no" answer to rhetorical questions about keeping all police off campus, student leaders taunted, "You are going to make a terrible president" and "We don't want you as president." Fleming maintained his composure, as he would do again and again in moments of provocation, and observed: "I don't think you can have a great university without dissent. I will protect dissenters. In the case of demonstrations, I will interfere only to protect the University. I do not think that those who disagree with me are always wrong."

The next morning he met informally with a group of about 75 students in the Michigan Union and engaged in a quiet and orderly discussion of many of the same issues raised at the press conference — draft regulations, police surveillance, and student rights. He told the students that the University must respect the right of controversial speakers to appear on campus, that the right of dissenting opinion to be voiced must be respected. He also reminded the students that the right of the audience to hear a speaker without interruption must also be respected, for the two rights go together. He sought, as he later pointed out in his inaugural address, "a climate in which controversy can flourish, and can do so in an atmosphere of dignity and respect for others." He elaborated this theme in his first press conference as president. "I would hope to avoid the tyranny of the majority or the minority … This is a period of great social tension in which the university community is easily shattered because of our deeply-felt differences over such fundamental issues as war and race … The major job of every university president is to preserve the community without destroying the fundamental values which are an essential part of it."

In April of 1968, at the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., a group of black students at Michigan occupied the administration building and chained the doors. President Fleming went immediately to the scene to hear their demands. They wanted a King Scholarship Fund and chair and more black coaches, and Fleming discussed the matters with them. The availability of the president, and his willingness to talk about any issues which were important to the mission of the university, were perhaps the hallmark of Michigan's administration during that period. The extreme violence and repetitive occupation of buildings, which marked other campuses, were almost non-existent in Ann Arbor. A leader of the Black Student Union, Ron Thompson, observed at the time: "Fleming is this university's biggest asset. He attempts to communicate with people. I never have the feeling I can't go see him."

Sit-ins, protests, and demonstrations on campus inevitably bring with them the question of when police should be called to enforce civil law. They also bring questions about the invocation of academic discipline by the University for the same conduct, and questions about whether arrest and prosecution by civil authorities should preclude discipline by the University. Fleming was clear that the University had both the power and the obligation to invoke academic discipline (expulsion or suspension, for example) for conduct, which was not related to academic performance. In a President's letter to the University community he said: "The idea that seizure and vandalism cannot be countered with academic discipline disregards the fact that they strike at the most fundamental characteristic of a university — its freedom. If universities wish to continue to govern themselves, they will have to face the fact that tactics of this kind cannot be ignored. If universities are unwilling to deal with them, the power to do so will be lodged elsewhere. Some few students who view themselves as revolutionaries for a new and better order may welcome this. If it is the desire of our academic community to have orderly change, we will have it. If our community is willing to accept tactics that are incompatible with its very existence, there will be troubled times ahead. All of us, administrators, faculty, and students have a grave responsibility in that connection."

At the same time, Fleming was equally clear that calling in civil authorities should be avoided as long as possible, and he outlined his rationale: "When you call police provocateurs are certainly in the crowd and will do everything possible to bring about violence. The police, unless they are extraordinarily well disciplined and used to dealing with student groups, may use more force than necessary in taking action and thereby incur the animosity of countless numbers who had previously been only in the ranks of the curious. A collision course, we now can see, reaching the ultimate tragedy of a Kent State or a Jackson State, is then set." He took the position in full recognition that it would not be popular with large segments of the population: "The alternate course is hardly more satisfactory. It calls for enduring a certain amount of damage, or intimidation, harassment and insult, in return for more rational and sane means of dealing with the problem. Sanctimonious editorials, written and oral, will then issue forth announcing that if 'gutless' administrators and faculty members would just face up to their responsibilities and tell those kids what the score is, nothing would happen."

Between November of 1968 and March of 1970, there were enough incidents to test all aspects of Fleming's philosophy.

On election day of 1968 a handful of members of the Students for a Democratic Society draped black crepe on the administration building and started a sit-in at the president's outer office. He refused to see them; his secretaries ignored them; no police were called. The protesters abandoned their effort after about three hours.

In March 1969, some twenty SDS members trapped a rookie Navy recruiter in a small room in a building of the College of Engineering. They dared the administration to call in the police. Fleming refused. The demonstration ended in about six hours, and charges were pressed against the group through internal procedures before the student judiciary.

On June 17, 1969, the second night of massive gatherings of students and townspeople along South University Avenue, some 300 state, county and city police used riot sticks, tear gas and pepper fog to clear 1500 people from a ten-block area. Police arrested about 45 persons, and many others were injured. Some of the students who were being gassed ran to the President's House, and banged on the door. He admitted some 40-50 of them into the house, and then, although he could legitimately have remained aloof from the situation, he went outside to establish a voice of reason during the confrontation. One of the authors was mingling with the protestors at the time, and overheard a protest leader say to his associates, "We'd better get the Hell out of here, or this guy will convince them all." Fleming worked with Deputy Police Chief Harold Olson to achieve agreement that the police would withdraw back below East University, and Fleming would seek to keep students out of the fray. When Sheriff Douglas Harvey warned that his men would make a street sweep in five minutes, Fleming told him, "That is a very poor tactic and I will have to make a statement to that effect."

The day following this incident produced events, which illustrate two of Fleming's beliefs concerning the handling of student relations. The first is his belief that if students can hear a voice of reason they will listen, but if all they hear are the promoters of trouble, they are likely to follow those urgings. A group of persons had scheduled a rally for noon in front of the Hatcher library, seeking to revive the whole confrontation for that night. Fleming went over to the rally and insisted upon being heard. It was an effective tactic. His second belief which guided action often, was that it is best to have the initiative, rather than being on the defensive. Pursuant to this belief, the administration scheduled its own rally for the evening, in front of the Administration Building, far removed from the site of the other projected rally. The move was designed in part to draw crowds away from the South University area.

A crest in the wave of confrontations came in September 1969. Over 50 anti-ROTC demonstrators seized and barricaded North Hall for five hours the night of September 22 — drawing a crowd of over 2000 persons in their support — before escaping through a back door at 2:45 a.m. Police had been called to guard the building, but were not asked to clear it forcefully, and Fleming had told the North Hall occupiers that they would be allowed to leave without arrest if they identified themselves. Their departure in the wee hours of the morning was taken to avoid that arrest. There was substantial property damage.

In September, during the week of the Regents' meeting, large demonstrations in support of a university bookstore occurred. Some 400 students invaded the Regents' meeting in an unsuccessful effort to force a change in their position, which denied the creation of such a store. A sit-in followed in which more than 100 students occupied the Literature, Science and Arts building, and refused to leave. Fleming's response was predictable. He did not call police immediately. He began with efforts to find a peaceful forum, while simultaneously seeking to let the students know the implications of their actions. He refused to negotiate on the bookstore issue until the coercion of the sit-in was removed. He spoke in person and encouraged faculty members to talk to the occupants of the building. Late afternoon, when there was no progress toward clearing the building, the University secured an injunction from a local court, addressed to the occupiers. The large number of students on the outside of the building, and the barriers at the entrances made it impossible to serve notice of the injunction in a legally effective manner without forceful police action. Through the evening, continued efforts failed to produce any change. The sit-in had attracted large media attention, and even the Governor's office had become involved to the extent that the head of the State Police had been made available to President Fleming for consultation, and the whole of the State Police for such services as Fleming might want. Although Washtenaw County Sheriff Harvey was also available, Harvey's reputation with the students was such that it was feared his presence would produce a greater explosion. Harvey was carefully excluded from action near the occupied building. One member of the faculty, who had entered the building late in the evening, estimated that perhaps 500 to 600 students were still occupying the building. Finally, after midnight, when most of the onlookers outside the building had departed, the police were asked to clear the building. A sizeable number escaped through windows and doors and were not detained. Just over 100 students were arrested. The arrests were conducted by the State Police and were achieved in quite orderly fashion, with no physical violence ensuing.

Also in September of 1969, Fleming again demonstrated his belief in the principle that the University should be represented with a voice of reason when audiences were otherwise likely to hear only rhetoric of action. A student-faculty group had organized a weekend "Teach In to End the War" and invited a number of activists, including Rennie Davis and David Dellinger to participate. Davis was just back from North Vietnam where he had been instrumental in the release of several Americans being held prisoner. Fleming accepted the opportunity to share the platform with Davis at Hill Auditorium for the opening night of the teach-in, and his remarks were not only a cogent exposition of his personal belief that the Vietnam War was a "colossal mistake," though an honest one, but also contained a reasoned plea that reaction should not take any form which would produce further "erosion in values within our universities … dangerous to the climate of free inquiry." The teach-in was successfully channelled toward non-violent actions to force the end of the war.

The most widely publicized single confrontational event occurred during the latter half of March, 1970, when a group calling itself the Black Action Movement undertook to organize and implement a boycott of classes. The action was an outgrowth of long-simmering discontent with the number of minority students on campus. A special program for disadvantaged youth had been created in 1962, prior to Fleming's arrival, but minority enrollment had not reached more than about three and one-half percent. Almost a year before the Black Action Movement, the administrative staff had prepared a plan which was designed to double such enrollment in a four-year period, and calculations of cost had been made. Before there was any implementation of the plan, however, the BAM boycott was begun. The boycott started with simple picketing, but it was largely unsuccessful. One of the authors happened to be near a picket line on the Diag, and observed one young student carrying a boycott sign. She left the line, handing her sign to another student nearby, saying, "Here, you take over, I've got to go to class." When picketing failed, the leaders and radical students moved to more violent confrontations, both in and outside the classrooms. Personal threats to physical safety occurred as baseball bats and other weapons made their appearance. The action was largely confined to the central campus, and a large proportion of the university continued operation without interruption. There was, however, a period of intense emotion and concern that the violence and destruction, which had visited other campuses in the nation, might evolve. Fortunately it did not, and the action culminated in a series of long and arduous discussions with black leaders on campus, and an agreement on two matters: (1) The University would establish a goal of raising minority enrollment to 10%; and (2) The University would achieve the needed finances for such a program. Additional agreements were reached on matters of recruitment and supportive services, such as tutorial assistance and counseling. Regental approval of the agreement led to the rapid expansion and development of the Opportunity Program, and a number of agencies in the University to move the matter forward. There was some public misunderstanding of the actual commitment made by the University, which related only to financial aid. There was no guaranteed quota of minority enrollment. Actual increases in the financial aid budget moved rapidly from $2.7 million to more than $10 million by 1974, and to $13 million by the end of Fleming's tenure. Moreover, staff was provided for recruitment and supportive services.

The University's policy of seeking 10% black enrollment, and the financial commitment, which that involved drew both criticism and praise. To some it was an inadequate response. To others it was regarded as "selling out to the rowdies," and these complaints continued as the disciplinary proceedings, which followed were largely ineffective in bringing about any sanctions. The agreement attracted further national attention when Vice President Spiro Agnew, in a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, called it a "surrender" to militant black students, and asserted that it would result in the admission of unqualified students and devalue education. His remarks, in turn, brought angry responses from Fleming, from Governor Milliken, and from other political and educational leaders, indicating that the Vice President was badly informed on the whole matter.

Some of the complaints related to a perceived inequity by persons who were denied admission. For example, the parents of an undergraduate from Illinois complained that their son had been denied admission to the Michigan Law School even though his academic record was better than those of some minority applicants who were accepted. He was going, instead, to the Law School at the University of Illinois. Fleming wrote to the student as follows:

"It just happens that I was a member of the Illinois law faculty for seven years. It is a very good law school indeed. I understand that you're hurt in the sense that you wanted to go to the Michigan Law School and you paid some premium to do so. But if you look at this in the societal phase I would argue that you are not really hurt at all.

"You are going to a very good law school. You wanted to go to law school and that's exactly where you are going. Your hurt is only in wanting to go to a particular school and not getting your choice and perceiving that there are people being permitted to go whom your record outranks.

"I would argue that one has to have a somewhat broader perspective on this. In our view at the University, the societal justification for the system we are using for admission is greater than the kind of hurt which you have suffered and which others like you suffer. It is almost invariable that those of you with your kind of record who don't get in here will go elsewhere, and there are many good law schools in the country. So aside from a preference, I do not think you were really hurt."

The letter, Fleming said later, probably did not convince the student that he had not been done an injustice. The "removal of racial injustice" on campus had some other inevitable backlash. Students whose academic performance would have qualified them for scholarships based on merit rather than need in other years now were being denied scholarships due to lack of available funds. A Muskegon Chronicle editorial charged the University with discriminating in favor of black students and with using a "quota" to be achieved by admitting unqualified black students.

President Fleming categorically denied the charges, offering that, "if you can cite a single case in which this has been done, we will publicly acknowledge the truth of your statement." Emphasizing the social need to help disadvantaged students, the president insisted that only "qualified" students were ever admitted and noted that, "If we had a 'quota' as you suggest we do, we would have had 10% black students by 1973-74. There have been far more than enough applicants to reach that objective. We will not reach 10% next fall precisely because we have a 'goal' and not a 'quota'. We will not take unqualified applicants just to reach that objective.

The racial overtones of this particular confrontation made it difficult to assess the propriety and effectiveness of Fleming's response. He later commented on the results of the incidents: "I don't think there is any question but that the events of that period crystallized the issue. I think the publicity we got out of that — good and bad — did generate a good deal of awareness that we do have a program of this sort. Symbolically, it did make a difference. Our admissions people commented a year or so later that they felt the agreement was generating a higher quality of applications. After the initially bad reaction on the part of the public and some faculty members it has more and more been accepted as a constructive development." Special minority admissions policies, he concluded, "enrich rather than erode the quality of education."

That his actions were highly regarded in some external circles is demonstrated by the citation given to Fleming by the American Civil Liberties Union for "complete commitment to the protection and enlargement of civil liberties on the university campus." The occasion was ACLU's 50th National Anniversary dinner in Detroit on December 6, 1970. "Perhaps more effectively than any other American educator," the ACLU said, "he had defended the duty of the university to serve as the arena for the clash of ideologies and to do so not timidly but proudly."

The dominant internal response, after the turbulence had died down on campus, was that expressed by psychology professor Wilbert J. McKeachie: "Michigan came through its disturbances in much better shape than most universities because President Fleming, in my opinion, had the backing of almost all of the faculty and many of the students." And Dr. Frank H. T. Rhodes, who served on the faculty, then as Dean of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and then as Vice-President for Academic Affairs under President Fleming and later went as president to Cornell University, reflected on the years in this way: "As one looks at the accomplishments of the Fleming years, it is difficult to know how to identify the leading contributions that he has made. Perhaps the most important, however, is that the University has continued to exist, and maintain its intellectual integrity and communal trust. In an era when many universities caved in to pressure by agreeing to everything, Michigan was refreshingly unwilling to commit itself to the flashy and the expedient. In an age when universities sold their souls in some cases, Bob resolutely withstood both the blandishments and the threats of the left and the right. It is no small mark of distinction to have been singled out with appropriate condemnation by Spiro Agnew as one of the recalcitrant leaders of American higher education.

"As one looks at other campuses, it is clear that the integrity of the University has been maintained in the face of both internal and external pressures in part by Bob's own leadership and style. There is on the Michigan campus a remarkable absence of acrimony and animosity between faculty and administration, and his own involvement in a host of different ways has had much to do with this."

Beyond Turbulence

In General

The constant tension which was produced by the management of various crises eased with remarkable speed after the peaks reached between 1968 and late 1970. Although there were some later incidents, by the fall of 1971, President Fleming could comment in his "State of the University" remarks: "This is the fourth time that I have come before you to talk about the state of the University, and I am struck with how much the mood has changed even during that short span of time. In 1968 and 1969 we were in the midst of student turbulence. By last year it had abated somewhat, and the fall of 1971 seems to offer a different climate. I am inclined to believe that the violence and destruction of those earlier years is not likely to be repeated in the immediate future." By 1973, in a speech in Denver, Fleming had to talk about criticisms that students were now apathetic, when only a short time before the president had been pleading with the public not to judge students by their "Halloween masquerade" of beards, beads, and bib overalls. "Those of us who deal with students daily," he said, "know that there is zero correlation between the outward adornment and the person hidden under it." And comparing the campus scene of 1973 with what it was in 1968 when he began his tenure, Fleming observed: "The mood is different, more relaxed. The students have more humor. They are not nearly so up-tight." He attributed the change in attitude to removal of major causes of student unrest — such as Vietnam, the draft, and racial injustice. He said that students were convinced the University had succeeded in a dedicated effort to increase minorities on campus. "What appears to be student apathy actually is greater concern with academics — possibly related to a slowdown in campus job recruiting and the abundance of applicants in fields such as teaching," Fleming said.

Financial Problems and University Quality

One of the products of the turbulence (although there were other contributing factors) was a loss of public confidence in higher education. This, in turn, produced a severe financial squeeze during the latter part of the '70's. Fleming foresaw clearly the financial needs (and later developments saw the adoption of some of his solutions) as he spoke of financing higher education:

Traditionally higher education has relied on four means of support: federal assistance, state and local support, tuition, and gifts or grants from private sources. The latter two have been instrumental in the survival of private higher education. Contemporary political and economic considerations have led to declining rates of support from each of these sources, and, coupled with the rapidly accelerating costs of higher education, have placed grave financial strains on colleges and universities. In response, some advocate federal support through a national system of scholarships, or through formation of an educational opportunity bank, which could lend money to students. All such proposals, since they award money to the student rather than the institution, would permit the use of federal funds to underwrite expenses at public or private schools. Alternative proposals advocate federal grants to individual institutions, or federal revenue sharing with the states who would determine the best use of the funds. The decision as to which, if any, of these proposals shall be adopted could determine whether existing prohibitions against the use of public funds for private institutions will fade, thereby creating a unified public-private system, or whether private institutions must uncover new sources of revenue or perish.

Throughout the remainder of his term, Fleming faced financial problems. In his 1973 "State of the University" address he pointed out that for years it has generally been agreed that the benefits of higher education accrue both to the individual and to the society, and that it is quite appropriate to split the cost between them. But, he warned, the proportions may be changing. While students now pay about 20% of the direct costs of their education at public institutions, the figure may rise to one-third or even one-half. "In an inflationary economy costs will rise steadily, and if the student is to assume an ever increasing portion of the total cost of his education the figure will be formidable by graduation time. Low-income families will either find it impossible to send their children to school, or will find a growing resentment on the part of the lower middle class when a means test gives outright grant money primarily to low income students."

Fleming warned further that attempts to standardize teaching costs at all state institutions, without regard for their different missions will lead to "a homogenization of all the universities," and could erase "the prestige and distinction which the University of Michigan brings to the state." He repeated his concerns with finances in his 1974 address, noting that the Governor had ordered a 1% reduction in expenditures, which had to be added to a budgeted deficit of some $645,000. He noted further that private and governmental support for research was dwindling. And finally, he noted with regret that Michigan's tuition charges were the highest of all public universities. These increases helped finance salary improvement, but threatened to erode access and demand for admission. His concerns with the students' share of cost were justified. By 1976-77, student fees produced 33 % of general fund revenues, compared with 19% in 1956-57 and 25% in 1966-67.

His concerns were prophetic as to other sources of revenue, for in 1975 the University received a substantial cut in its state appropriation, to the point that the possibility of personnel reduction was considered.

But Fleming still characteristically dwelt not upon the problems of the past, or even the possible gloom of the future, but rather upon the success of the University, the mission of the University, and the resolve to meet that mission. Even as he reported hard times to the faculty, he reminded them that, "Every survey taken in the last 50 years shows the University of Michigan to be one of the very best of the American universities. More than anything else this reflects the stature of the faculty. We want to keep it that way."

The stature of the University was confirmed in a December 1974 national survey of professional school deans which revealed that "five universities with outstanding reputations — Berkeley, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard and Michigan — have the greatest numbers of top-ranking professional schools." The University's School of Dentistry and School of Public Health were ranked first in the nation by the deans in those professions. The School of Library Science and the School of Social Work each tied for second in their professions. The Law School and the School of Music were ranked third in the nation.

Looking at the University's excellence and its pervasive outreach, President Fleming summed it up: "Whether we are talking of urban blight, environmental pollution, population control, resource allocation and conservation, mental health — name it — somewhere in the University of Michigan, someone is involved in the issue. Our task is to make that involvement as meaningful and beneficial to man and society as we can. We can do no more. Our purpose is to do no less."

Undergraduate Education

The Fleming years saw significant changes in the undergraduate program of the University, both academic and non-academic. The $55 million capital campaign, which had preceded his arrival had included as one major component the creation of a Residential College. The idea that it should be possible to create, within a large complex university, a small and intimate educational program for undergraduates who might want it, had been developed to the point of plans for new buildings to house the College, and calculations concerning the costs which might be involved. Unhappily, the project did not attract monetary support from those who made gifts to the campaign. But the idea had captured the attention of university constituents, and it had been suggested that the University undertake to create the College within existing structures (one of the dormitories) and fund the project from existing resources. One of Fleming's early decisions was an affirmative answer to that proposal, and the Residential College became reality. The decision is consistent with his persistent interest in undergraduate education. He believed that "undergraduate education must occupy a major share of our attention. We will do a disservice to the cause of higher education if we allow other legitimate interests such as research and service to undermine high quality undergraduate education."

A second, and major, development in undergraduate education at Michigan came with the decision to make four-year colleges at Dearborn and at Flint. The campuses were originally designed only for upper division courses, intended to be coordinated with the junior colleges, which existed at both locations. Limited graduate work was possible. Both operations, however, presented problems of management, of academic cohesion, and of constituency relations, both within and without the University. Internally, Ann Arbor faculty was likely to view the programs as less demanding than those at Ann Arbor, and as siphoning support, which might otherwise have reached the central campus. On the other hand, the close administrative control from Ann Arbor tended to be viewed by the local supporters as unresponsive to local needs. This feeling was strengthened by the fact that the chief executive officer of the branch campuses was called "dean." Academic programs which depended upon particular offerings in the first two years were at the mercy of totally independent agencies. Fleming's decision, approved by the Regents, to press for four-year status, and to secure legislative blessing for such a move was an important development, and after the status was achieved, there followed the needed administrative changes: the chief officers were designated as chancellors with a corresponding increase in autonomy; the fiscal support was segregated in the University's operational budget, and independent presentations to the legislature were developed; direct access to the Regents for approval of curricular development and capital outlay was provided; and local citizens' advisory committees were incorporated into the planning processes of the branch campuses. Within a decade, enrollment at the branch campuses would amount to nearly 25% of the University's total, and physical plants commensurate with the programs were in place at both Flint and Dearborn.

A third development affecting the student body, though not academically, occurred during Fleming's administration, namely, the considerable expansion of the recreational facilities for the University, and the restructuring of financial support for the athletic and recreational enterprise at Ann Arbor. Over a period of many years, the Athletic Department had not only operated the intercollegiate program, but had supplied some support for intramural sports and for recreational activity. Changing levels of expenditure for intercollegiate programs and increased student enrollment had brought great pressure on the facilities. Working with his Vice-President for Academic Affairs, his Vice-President for Finance, the Athletic Director, and with students whose fees would be required to finance most of the recreational buildings, a balance was achieved which produced two splendid new recreational buildings. From that time, the Athletic Director was responsible only for financing the intercollegiate program and without help from the general fund. In turn, the University was responsible for intramural and recreational activities for students and staff. This restructuring was extraordinarily helpful as the intercollegiate program for women began its expansion in 1973 and 1974.

Ironically, one of President Fleming's proposals concerning undergraduate education turned out to be a conspicuous failure so far as producing change was concerned. Near the end of the turbulence, and having heard much criticism from students and the public about the lack of "relevance" in university education, President Fleming suggested in his 1973 "State of the University" address that major universities could expand their options by offering their students a broader and more meaningful learning experience through optional work-study programs and providing credit for optional specialized courses at nearby community colleges, including vocational courses. "We have always known," he said, "that a liberal arts education is not training for a vocation (but) rather a broadening experience for the mind and spirit … indispensable to the enjoyment and fulfillment of life." He suggested that, "our mistake, if we have made one, may be that we have too widely separated work and study, on the one hand, and the intellectual and the vocational on the other hand." He returned to this thesis in his appearance at the 1974 Honors Convocation when he said, "Scholars who spend all of their time on books receive a limited education." He suggested that they build into their lives some work experience outside the academic world and asserted that it will "almost certainly make you better scholars in the long run." He took personal initiative in setting up an agreement with Washtenaw Community College, which would allow University liberal arts students to enroll in certain vocational-specialist courses at WCC, and arranged for transportation between the two campuses. The proposal received almost no attention in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, and the agreement was largely inoperative.

Fleming pressed the faculty, both undergraduate and graduate, on the need for "ethical standards" in academic work and urged university teachers to seek to incorporate them into their courses. In an era of political terrorism and Watergate he expressed concern that "many of the young people who have testified to political deceit, criminal behavior, and unethical conduct are fully equipped with degrees from distinguished American universities. Why did we have so little impact upon them?"

Despite the difficulties in influencing the behavior standards of mature young people, he said, "I would hope that each of the schools and colleges would devote some time and effort to the value area."

President Fleming, making his university perhaps the first major institution of higher learning to address this issue, created a $15,000 grant from his office to support the development of a lecture and seminar series dealing with major ethical issues and possible future research projects. The year 1974-75 thus earned the designation "Values Year" at the University. The lecture series opened in October with Prof. George Wald of Harvard, a biologist who won a 1967 Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine, delivering a public address titled "The True and the Good."

It is fair to say, finally, that policies which were initiated during Fleming's administration served to open to undergraduate students channels of communication and access to the administrative processes of the University in a significant manner. He inaugurated the policy of placing students on the committees charged with seeking decanal replacements. Students were placed on all vice-presidential advisory committees. The Budget Priorities Committee, a university-wide group, included student representatives, and was created to assure that faculty, students and professional administrative staff were represented in the important budget-making processes. This committee has endured and was later to be an important cog in the University's response to extreme financial privation. It was probably the first time that students officially participated in the budget process. His actions thus spoke as loudly as his words: "Students are quite right," he said, "when they say they have a major interest in the University, although I do not always agree with them. The role of the student in the academic community needs redefinition. Many of the traditional approaches to student affairs must now be altered. I hope to persuade students that they can exert pressure through the proper framework." His interest in efforts to find effective modes of governance persisted as the report of the University's Commission to Study Student Governance was completed in 1974. It recommended to the Regents that student government should be implemented as a multi-level system combining a central governing body with others representing college, school and departmental levels. The proposal provided for more student representation in University decision-making at all levels, up to and including Regents' meetings. Parts of the proposal aroused considerable faculty resistance, and only a few of the recommendations were implemented for student government. Student participation in University committees, however, proved an enduring change.

Administrative Structure

President Fleming began his official term on January 1, 1968, but under an agreement with the Regents, he was actually in residence during a substantial portion of the preceding term. He was therefore ready to implement some changes in the administrative structure almost immediately in 1968. Marvin Niehuss had held the post of Executive Vice-President, but under a policy which required the relinquishment of major administrative posts at age 65, resumed his status as Professor of Law as of July 1, 1968, and the Executive Vice-Presidency was abolished. In January of that year a new Vice-Presidency was created — Vice-President for State Relations and Planning. Relations between the University and the state offices, both gubernatorial and legislative, had become considerably more involved than in earlier days, and Fleming wanted to be sure that the University could respond to informational demands, and that University interests were properly represented in Lansing. Arthur M. Ross was appointed to the new position, effective July 1, 1968, and served until his death. He was succeeded in August, 1970, by Fidele Fauri, then dean of the School of Social Work, and upon Fauri's retirement, Richard L. Kennedy was named as his successor.

There were other personnel changes among the executive officers. In October 1969, the name of the Vice President for University Relations was changed to Vice President for University Relations and Development. It was more than a name change, for it fixed the responsibility for assuring continued development programs and for maintaining the momentum in private giving which had been achieved through the $55 M Campaign. Michael Radock held the position throughout Fleming's term.

The Vice President for Research was A. Geoffrey Norman, who had been named when the position was separated from the deanship of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies. Upon Norman's retirement in 1972, Charles Overberger, a distinguished chemist, was named as successor.

The management of the physical plant, the endowment funds, the accounting services, non-academic personnel, and a wide range of other services, is centered in the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Wilbur K. Pierpont, who had held the position throughout the Hatcher administration, served during most of the Fleming years. He resigned, to return to the School of Business Administration and was succeeded in January 1977, by James Brinkerhoff.

There were numerous changes in the vice-presidency concerned with student affairs. Richard L. Cutler was Vice President for Student Affairs when Fleming arrived, having been named to the post in 1964. He resigned in 1968, and Barbara Newell was appointed Acting Vice President in August of that year. The name was changed to Vice President for Student Services when Robert L. Knauss was appointed to the position in September, 1970. He was succeeded, effective June 1, 1972, by Henry Johnson.

The Vice President for Academic Affairs, Allan F. Smith, a former dean of the Law School, served from his appointment in 1965 until he resigned in 1974 to return to law teaching. Frank H. L. Rhodes, then dean of the College of Literature, Science and The Arts, succeeded him. During the next two years a restructuring of the office took place, as two associate vice presidents were named to share the managerial responsibilities. R. A. English was named Associate Vice President in September 1974, and Carolyn Davis moved from the deanship of the School of Nursing to be Associate Vice President in 1975. Rhodes left the University to become President of Cornell University in 1977, and Harold T. Shapiro was named his successor in August 1977.

When William Haber retired as Dean of the College of Literature, Science and The Arts in 1968, Fleming took advantage of his continued availability by naming him "Adviser to the Executive Officers" — a specially created title.

Aside from the above personnel changes, Fleming was also responsible for a change in policy with reference to the appointment of deans in the several schools and colleges. Prior to his arrival, it was customary to appoint deans for indeterminate terms — in effect to serve at the pleasure of the President. In fact, practice was that many deans continued in their administrative posts until mandatory retirement age of 70 years. With respect to new decanal appointments, Fleming established a policy, which called for a specific term appointment, usually five years, with the expectation that the relationship would be reviewed prior to the end of the period. The Vice President for Academic Affairs conducts the review, with the counsel of the faculty of the affected School or College, to determine whether the administrative assignment should be continued. The appointee is also entitled to terminate his administrative role and resume any academic post to which he had been named. The Regents were unwilling to establish any maximum duration, so that reappointment for additional terms is both permitted and anticipated, but the system now provides a mechanism for accomplishing change when appropriate.

In the academic structure, aside from the creation of numerous special units, two new schools were created during the Fleming period. Library Science was moved from departmental status to that of independent school in 1969. And, in 1979, a division in the College of Architecture and Design produced the School of Art as an independent unit.

The structure of the research enterprise at the University underwent some changes. It was a "growth" affair during the Fleming administration, but parts of it produced controversy. Fleming's responses were numerous, and reflected both his interest in assuring communication within the community, and his concern with equality of treatment of personnel. He created Research Advisory Council to provide a forum for developing balanced policies. He approved the creation of a Humanities Advisor in the Office of Research to assure input from non-scientific sources when such matters as research in the area of recombinant DNA arose on campus. He approved a new position as Associate Vice President for Research, again in an effort to assure that there was administrative time available to provide adequate access to that office by interested persons.

A development of lasting import was the creation of the primary research ladder for research personnel. Scientists whose sole efforts were devoted to research, and who did not hold professorial appointments with the resultant opportunity for tenure, had not previously had any clear-cut job titles for varying levels of competence and responsibility. Classifications for research personnel were developed which gave recognition and continuity to career researchers.

Alumni Relations and Development

Maintaining effective relationships with the alumni of the University consumes the time and energy of a sizeable staff, and of an even larger organization of voluntary workers, but the University president stands as symbol to most alumni, and personal involvement of the president is a necessity if those relationships are to develop properly. Vice President Radock, whose area of responsibility included alumni relations, on the occasion of Fleming's retirement, recalled some of the early days of Fleming's tenure. "Many of our alumni, particularly the older and more conservative graduates, were highly skeptical of Robben W. Fleming, the former chancellor of 'that ultra-liberal campus,' the University of Wisconsin. I happened to be in Texas making a series of talks to Michigan alumni clubs as part of our Sesquicentennial celebration of 1967 when President Fleming's selection as president was announced… Our alumni recalled that this was the Wisconsin chancellor who wrote a personal check to provide bail for Wisconsin student protestors… They were indeed concerned." He recalled further that, "there were Michigan alumni who believed that President Fleming was too permissive in response to student demands."

Fleming spent a great deal of time meeting with alumni groups. Those who felt the University had not dealt with disrupters with sufficient harshness held him responsible. Non-resident alumni found much to complain about as tuition costs mounted, and as it became more and more difficult to achieve admission. The minority admissions program came in for both praise and criticism. Those who heard him repeatedly affirmed his candid demeanor, and his willingness to answer questions directly and forthrightly. Radock reported that Fleming "had a sense of humor and could laugh at himself." He affirmed that, "President Fleming has brought our alumni constituency closer to the campus than it has been for many years."

There were notable developments in the Alumni Association during the period, as Fleming found already in place very able Director, Robert Forman, whose ideas of proper relations with alumni were entirely compatible with those of the President. The athletic program had been a principal focus of activity, and continues to attract large interest from alumni. But Forman's program included summer camps, which brought faculty into contact with alumni for educational programs, weeks on campus with special programs to embrace artistic and educational activities, and a travel program, which provided outlet for many alumni groups. All of these were strengthened during the Fleming administration.

Fleming inherited a well-staffed development office, and an effective structure for fund raising among the alumni as a result of the $55 M Capital Campaign, which President Hatcher had completed in 1967. That structure, together with the Alumni Association activities mentioned above, continued to make the University of Michigan a leader among public universities in achieving financial support from private donors. In 1967-68, the annual giving programs produced $1,793,000, with total alumni support of $4,204,000. In 1971-72, annual giving had risen to $4,180,000 and total alumni support to $5,067,000. There is some evidence that alumni were not entirely happy with their alma mater, as alumni support fell by almost $2,000,000 in 1972-73, and the annual giving fund fell by almost $1,500,000 in a two year span. Whatever the cause, growth shortly resumed and in Fleming's last year, 1977-78, annual fund support reached a new high of over $5,000,000, and total alumni support reached $6,100,000.

External Governmental Controls

The decade of the Fleming Years witnessed an extraordinary growth in the number and scope of governmental actions, both state and federal, which intruded upon the operation of the University. They affected the governance of the institution, the research activity, employment practices, and internal resource allocation for required conduct on a large scale. In turn, there was an enormous increase in litigation between the university, agencies of the government, and individuals who felt aggrieved.

In matters of governance, the Open Meetings Act changed some of the practices in relations between administration and Regents. Privacy legislation required extensive modification of personnel records and the procedures, which governed their use. State agencies sought to develop "formula" funding procedures which would determine state appropriations for all educational institutions, and some of the proposals would have proved disastrous to the University by reason of their failure to recognize the differing costs of the advanced courses in the sciences, the medical school, and elsewhere, and the added costs which the research activity engendered. Perennially there was talk of creating a "super board" to exercise centralized control over all university administrations — a move which advocates argued would avoid unnecessary duplication of programs and reduce the costs of higher education. Fleming spoke in restrained fashion on this proposal: "Such an approach seems to have no present support in Michigan, and it is, in my judgement, an unwise way to go at the problem (of high costs)."

From the federal government came the Executive Order requiring affirmative action programs. It is difficult to estimate the hours and dollars, which were expended in responding to the legal requirements, in educating the University community as to the compelling purposes behind the program, and in monitoring the compliance within the University. There was almost constant tension between all major universities and the federal agencies, largely because the former felt that policies and procedures, which might be appropriate for industrial employers, were quite inappropriate to universities, and they found themselves unable to secure modification in the requirements from the federal agencies. The record, however, shows clearly the University's commitment to the purposes of the program. A first affirmative action program was developed and filed in 1969; a Commission for Women and a Commission for Minorities were created within the University in the early 1970's for the express purpose of developing procedures, policies and practices which would help assure attainment of goals; a major restructuring of the classification and salaries of all professional and administrative staff members was financed and accomplished in 1972 to redress perceived inequities in the earlier system; employment practices which required specific attention to getting minority applicants were inaugurated; expansion of the intercollegiate program for women's athletics began in 1973, and continued unabated; continued and expanding monetary support was found for the Center for the Continuing Education of Women; the Center for African and Afro-American Studies was created; budgetary allocation for support of graduate students reached a point where the Dean of the Graduate School could say at the end of Fleming's term: "The budget of this University for the support of minority graduate students continues to remain one of the largest of any university in the country, if not the largest;" and ongoing efforts to open the University and provide improved opportunities for women, for minority staff members and students, and for the handicapped, were built into the operational system.
Increasing concern by the public about research with human subjects produced elaborate regulations, which required the University to strengthen its review processes. While there was never objection, the required resource allocation was not always easy to achieve. Similarly, the health and safety regulations of OSHA were entirely compatible with University desires, but Fleming and his staff had to find the resources for compliance, often at a level, which strained budgetary capability.

Labor Relations

Labor relations on campus underwent marked change between 1968 and 1979. When Fleming arrived on campus there were only two small local unions involved with the University — the building trades union and the operating engineers union. Both involved small numbers of employees. Major change was to occur. The American Federation of State and Municipal Employees organized hospital employees; nurses formed a union and the interns and residents in the medical complex were organized. Clerical employees were organized, although the union was later decertified. The graduate students who serve as teaching assistants in many departments were organized as the Graduate Employees Organization, and pressed contract demands in 1974-75.

One enduring legacy of these changed relationships is a greatly enlarged professional staff of lawyers and personnel managers, charged with the responsibility for negotiating labor contracts and with administering those contracts with fairness to both unionized and non-union employees. That strikes were few and short indicates the success of those professionals, and President Fleming's expertise was clearly an asset in handling those developments. He recognized that having organized units bargaining for diverse constituencies on campus (along with demands by students for greater participation in University governance) might alter the quality of higher education. "How these questions are resolved in the next few years," he said, "will determine the nature of higher education in the United States."

The Physical Plant

The decade of Fleming's years will probably not be noted for growth of the physical plant of the University, but was far from being a decade of inaction. His administration was involved with five new libraries on campus. The Hatcher Graduate Library, financed through federal grant and the $55 M campaign, was constructed. The Bentley Historical Library was an early addition in his administration, and before he left construction had begun on a new Medical Library and a magnificent addition to the Law Library. The first was partially financed with private donations, and the latter was completely so financed. The presidential library for Gerald Ford's papers had been approved and construction would start the year following his resignation. The splendid Power Center for the Performing Arts, also a product of the $55 M campaign was completed in 1971. A new office and classroom building, the Modern Language Building, was built on the central campus after a prolonged and difficult disagreement with the legislature about the University's autonomy with respect to architectural and design control over buildings on campus. A new building for the College of Architecture and Urban Planning and the School of Art was completed on the north campus in 1974. The College of Engineering undertook a campaign for capital gifts, through which private and public moneys were to be melded to permit the completion of the move of the College to the North Campus. Although the private money was developed, a failure of anticipated state support precluded full accomplishment of the objective, but at least a third of the needed space was built, and the foundation laid for ultimate success. A new building to house the University's computer facilities met an urgent and critical need of the faculty for both academic and research purposes. Mention has earlier been made of the vast improvement in the recreational buildings on campus.

Finally, Fleming played a key role in moving the Hospital Replacement Project on its path to ultimate success. Studies on the condition of the Main Hospital began as early as 1971, but plans for a replacement project had not developed with much rapidity. Bickering among the several units involved threatened to stifle progress. The Regents were restive, and the state's financial backing was insecure. On the financial side, Fleming led the successful development of a state- bonding program which would ultimately provide the state portion of support for a building project exceeding $275 million. On the internal side, Fleming assumed the chairmanship of the Planning Committee, and pushed through a series of demands for substantive information, leading to the preparation of an action report which could go to the Regents, and which was adopted by them. He established a pattern for presidential leadership in resolving internal disputes in the Medical Center. Interim President Allan F. Smith continued the presidential role in the decision process, and within a year after Fleming's departure, the decisions on the design of the building had been completed, and the difficult political process of securing the final Certificate of Need had been carried out.

Internal Communications

One of the hallmarks of the Fleming administration was its openness and the repetitive efforts to insure communication. On numerous occasions, demonstrators and protestors found the President ready and willing to meet with them, to hear the complaints, and to discuss the ramifications of whatever problem was at issue. When the question whether the University should continue to engage in classified research, both on campus and at Willow Run Laboratory, became the focal point for demonstrations, and a sit-in planned for the Administration Building, both the Vice President for Research and the Vice President for Academic Affairs attended the sit-in and participated in the discussion. The affair became informational rather than confrontational.

Moreover, some steps taken to insure open communication left lasting imprints on the university system. In October 1970, at the height of unrest, it had become very difficult for the administration to get accurate information to the community. A new publication, The University Record, was started and it has continued to play an important part in assuring a communication outlet for all segments of the University. Earlier, Fleming had addressed directly the question of student participation in decision-making by appointing a Commission to study the matter. Its report sparked the tri-partite system for involving faculty, students and administrators. University Council served effectively for only a limited time, and lapsed into disuse. The campus judiciary ultimately became the Central Student Judiciary and became a student-related body. The Committee on Communications, a tri-partite group, served intermittently to deal with campus problems, and aided in bringing about rational and balanced discussion of controversial matters. Late in the Fleming administration, for example, it became the leader in developing a campus forum on the University's policies on corporate investments. Reference is made elsewhere to the creation of the Committee on Budget Priorities; a committee with tri-partite membership, which provided lasting impact, and to other administrative changes, which brought shared participation and thus increased communication on important personnel decisions.

Fleming also inaugurated a "public comments" session as a routine part of the Regents' monthly meetings. Any interested member of the community has direct access to the governing board, without limitation on subject matter.

The Fleming years were thus years of ferment, matching the national mood of unrest in the late 1960s, and carrying forward to a series of challenges faced by all of higher education. They were years of change, but the changes were those, which were needed to sustain the preeminent position of the University of Michigan.

William Haber
Allan F. Smith

[The authors gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the office of Information Services, and particularly the assistance of Gilbert Goodwin in providing documentary materials.]