Hail! Hail! to Michigan, the champions of the West!

Nuts and Bolts

The University of Michigan is one of 12 public universities in the state of Michigan. Technically, there are sections of the university in Ann Arbor, MI, Flint, MI and Dearborn, MI, though the Ann Arbor campus is by far the largest and best known. That is the campus that will be referred to in the remainder of this writeup.

The University of Michigan stretches redolently along the Huron River in Ann Arbor. To be exact, it takes up 3,177 acres of rolling hills in this small Michigan city, including space for 315 major buildings, parks, sports facilities and parking lots.

The president of the university is Mary Sue Coleman, who started on the job in 2002. There are approximately 38,000 students enrolled at the university, receiving sweet education from 3700 regular faculty. UM offers a little over 600 degree programs, has 25 varsity sports, 24 libraries with 7.5 million volumes, 3 hospitals and 9 museums. Their budget over the past couple of years has been $3.6 billion with an endowment of $3.5 billon. Their research funding is $750 million. So it's got that going for it. Currently, tuition at UM costs $8,868 a year for in-state students, and $26,854 for out-of-state students. These numbers are big, but the trend for state institutions of learning has been toward the economies of scale.

UM compared to other institutions

According to U.S. News ranking, UM is number 22 in the U.S., tied actually with Carnegie Mellon University. It should be said at this point that most universities disagree with ratings systems like this, unless of course they do well on them. Still, 22 is pretty high, considering most of the rest of the list is comprised of the Ivy League and such. Before you ask, number one was Harvard University.

UM does even better when you consider their professional programs. Their law, medical, business, social and information schools often place in the top five, with many instances of appearing in the top two. They are also widely recognized for their engineering programs.

UM history

The University of Michigan was one of the first public universities founded in the U.S. It was begun in 1817 in Detroit, MI, but perhaps sensing what was coming to Detroit was moved by the regents to a small "frontier" town called Ann Arbor in 1837. Ann Arbor at the time had a population of 2,000 and had only been founded 13 years before. Because the university was placed there so early in the history of the town, there is a lot of integration between the town and the campus, often making it difficult to know where one begins and the other leaves off.

In its first year in Ann Arbor there were 7 students and 2 faculty members. The first campus of UM, completed in 1841, consisted of four faculty houses and one building that combined dormitories and classroom space. One of these faculty houses is still standing, and serve's as the the home of the university president.

Most universities in this time period were pretty "woodsey" compared to current campuses. At UM, faculty cows grazed on the university grounds, and until 1845 the campus was covered in wheat during the summer in partial payment to the janitor. By 1866, 25 years after moving to Ann Arbor, UM was the largest university in the country, with 1205 students and 33 faculty. In 1862 maize and azure were set as the university colors, remaining so to this day. In 1868 the first black student, Gabriel Franklin Hargo, is admitted to the university. In 1870 the first woman, Madelon Stockwell, was admitted to the university, though the campus remained largely gender segregated for decades.

Obviously, the university continued to grow over the 100 years or so. Schools were continually added and awards started to flow to Michigan. A couple of high points were the announcement of the Salk polio vaccine in 1955 and the famous announcement of the Peace Corps by John F. Kennedy in 1960. Nobel prizes, MacArthur fellowships and Pulitzer's are too numerous to mention, but the University has had its share.

The campus today

UM is spread across three campuses in Ann Arbor, usually referred to as the central campus, the medical campus and north campus. Central campus remains the heart of the university, with the heart of central campus being the Diag. The Diag is a green lawn with paths and trees framed by many of the main university buildings. The term "Diag" stems from a path that runs diagonally across this central area. In the middle of this path, just in front of the graduate library, is a large brass M, which has been in that spot since the 1920's. This seal is the cultural center of the university, with superstition saying that any student daring to walk on it will fail their next exam.

The plaza surrounding the seal is almost always filled with students. During nice days, you can find protesters, preachers, jugglers, dance-offs or whatever other crazy thing you can imagine. The rest of the campus is a mix of old brick buildings and more modern fair. Buildings constructed in the middle 19th century rub shoulders with buildings constructed last year. Construction is a constant on campus, with a new life sciences initiative bridging the gap between the central and medical campuses both academically and geopgraphically.

The campus at Michigan is very typical college town. Coffee shops and used books stores are thick on the ground. Student theaters, hippy bars, hot dog stands, and record stores. Korean diners, falafel stands and pizza shops. It is typically compared to Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Due to the influence of the university, Ann Arbor is cooler than it has a right to be, and you should check out the writeup on Ann Arbor, MI.

UM students

As mentioned above, there are around 38,000 students attending UM. 25,000 of those are undergraduates. 24% of students are part of a "minority" with asian-americans being the most common minority. This places UM as 13th highest percentage of minorities in the country, according to the Association of American Universities. About a third of graduate students are not U.S. citizens. 49.8% of UM students are women. 61% of students at the university are residents of Michigan.

The University of Michigan has a strong devotion to multicultural and affirmative action. Two cases suing UM over its affirmative action policy went to the Supreme Court and George W. Bush himself spoke out against their aggressive policy. This was pretty much an indication to UM that they were doing something right. The eventual ruling was mixed, though action on both sides of the controversy continues.

Athletics at UM

It is often difficult for people from other regions, especially the east coast of the U.S., to recognize how important sports are in the Midwest. For better or worse, football is the king of college sports.

The first organized sports club at Michigan was actually a cricket team or whatever you call them established in the 1850's. The first organized footbal team was established in 1873, which was a time when the rules for football were still being firmed up. The first officially recorded home game happened May 12, 1883 against the Detroit Independents. According to newspaper clippings of the event, it was pretty poorly attended compared to the scorching hop, skip and jump competition happening at the same time. Hey, it's an Olympic sport. UM won 40-5 that day. Yep, 5. Football was different back then.

The history of Michigan football deserves its own treatment, but suffice it to say, it is storied. Michigan played in the first Rose Bowl in 1902 against Stanford (whupped 'em 45-0) and was key in the Western Conference, which later became the Big Ten Conference. Michigan has deep and historical rivalries with the University of Minnesota, Michigan State University and Ohio State University, the latter of which has been called the greatest college rivalry of all time. Games in the UM "Big House", their football stadium, are often sold out, with and NCAA record of 112,118 in attendance to see the latest game against OSU.

Obviously, UM has more sports than football. We have great teams in both men and women's basketball, cross country, wrestling, ice AND field hockey, water polo and whatever other damned thing. I'm for them all and all the best to our athletes, many of whom were featured in the 2004 Summer Olympics. Still, football both takes and raises the most money. Alumni *really* care about the football team in ways that the golf team may not even want to replicate.

The official mascot of the UM sports teams is the Wolverine. As early as 1860 UM students had been referring to themselves as wolverines, which is something of a mystery. Sure, the state animal of Michigan is a wolverine, but the first wolverine ever spotted in the state was seen in 2004. The animal is simply not indigenous to this place. As best as people can figure, wolverine pelts were a huge commodity in the very early days of Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie. Or it could be that it's just a scrappy little critter.

The official fight song of UM is The Victors written in 1898 by a senior music student named Louis Elbel who had just witnessed a close UM football victory over the University of Chicago. On the train ride back he decided the old song just wasn't as peppy as the team deserved. The song was first played by no less a person as John Philip Sousa and is consistently rated as one of the most recognizable fight songs of all time.

Research at UM

Research has always been a central focus of the university, and UM receives more research money than any other university in the States. Medical research is HUGE at UM, but I don't know too much about that. Some of my favorite social science research initiatives at the University include:

The Institute for Social Research

Following World War II advances in computing, statistical analysis and survey methodology created a need for researchers of different disciplines to combine their mighty brains for the future of survey research. Headed by Rensis Likert, creator of the now famous Likert scale, the ISR has been at the forefront of survey methodology for over fifty years.

The Interuniversity Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR)

This is a data archive associated with ISR but with moxy all its own. Basically, they make available to member institutions raw datasets. This is good for science. Most notably, they have the raw data from every U.S. Census since 1890.


Social scientists need access to lots of journal articles. Tons of them really. A few years ago the people at the University of Michigan had a brainstorm. They took thousands of old journals, scanned the articles, and put them up on the Web. Using OCR to make the articles searchable, these articles are now available without all the mess of library stacks. It has really changed the way social science is done.

And there's tons of other stuff. Recently, the UM library system has made a deal with Google and a few other libraries to digitize millions of books. UM is making available 7 million books from its collection. The books will be unbound, scanned, OCR'ed and made available on the Web.

Famous alums

The alumni of UM range from the nefarious to the sublime. Famous actors from UM include Selma Blair, Lucy Liu, James Earl Jones, and Gilda Radner. Writers include Lawrence Kasdan and Arthur Miller. Gerald R. Ford graduated UM as did the Unabomber. Mike Wallace graduated from UM, but Madonna dropped out after a couple of years. UM gave an honorary doctorate to Henry Ford and a real law degree to Clarence Darrow. The entire crew of Apollo 15 in 1971 was from UM, and they started a Moon chapter of the alumni association. The guy who started the Mayo Clinic was from UM as well.

Any attempt to summarize an organization of this size and complexity is obviously going to fall short. Like most universities, the University of Michigan has many layers, some good, some bad. Hundreds of student organizations, initiatives, clubs, teams, groups, bands and whatever else add to the complexity and fun of this classic American university.