Residential College (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

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Residential College (University of Michigan) Records and Publications

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger Residential College record group held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the online finding aids for the:

Researchers may also be interested in the Residential College (University of Michigan) Web Archives.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

Inaugurated in 1967 as a living-learning community within the larger university, planning for the Residential College began in the early 1960s. Materials in this digital collection include archived websites as well as photographs, video recordings of college activities, and syllabi.

The Residential College (RC) at the University of Michigan was inaugurated in 1967 as a living-learning community of teachers and students, to give participants an alternative to a large university experience. Early in the 1960s, the increasing enrollment in the university’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts (LS&A) caused some members of the faculty to envision a school which combined the advantages of a small liberal arts college with a large research university. Dean (and later Vice President) Roger Heyns, Professor Theodore Newcomb, Professor Wilbert J. McKeachie, and LS&A Dean Burton Thuma were among the planners who worked to create the new college. The Residential College was officially established as a unit by the Regents in March 1964, and the Residential College Faculty Planning Committee was formed within LS&A in September 1964.

Dean Burton Thuma chaired the Planning Committee and was also named Director of the Residential College, although he retired before the first class of freshmen arrived in the fall of 1967. The Planning Committee prepared extensive reports to the faculty in 1965 and 1966, and, in April 1966, earned Regental approval of the Residential College concept and curriculum. The program was scheduled to begin in the East Quadrangle in the fall of 1967, with planners looking toward occupancy of a North Campus site in the fall of 1969. This latter part of the plan, which envisioned the college on a forty-acre site between Fuller Road and the Huron River, was eventually abandoned.

James Robertson became the director of the RC on July 1, 1967, and the first class of 217 freshmen matriculated in the fall. Key elements of the RC curriculum have endured from its beginnings: the freshman seminar, strong language proficiency and pass/fail grading, supplemented with textual evaluations. Early topics of concern within the community involved governance and the core curriculum. The inability of the RC to confer tenure was another difficult problem. Its powerlessness to reward instructors, coupled with financial instability, led to staffing problems. The result was such that the majority of classes were taught by teaching fellows or lecturers.

In the fall of 1971, LS&A Dean Frank Rhodes appointed a special committee to review the RC. Professor Rhoads Murphey chaired the committee, which produced its report in the spring of 1972. Although the report was often critical, it ended by affirming the goals and future of the RC. The LS&A faculty debated the Murphey report in October 1972. The outcomes were that a joint RC/LS&A Board should be established, and that the RC should be reviewed every four years. Crucial issues of financing and staffing were left unresolved.

Louis Orlin took over as acting director of the RC on July 1, 1973, and served for one year, though poor health greatly inhibited his work. He was succeeded by physics professor Marc Ross, who served for three years beginning July 1, 1974, and John Mersereau, Jr., who served for eight years beginning July 1, 1977. Under Mersereau, the RC underwent its second review in 1976. The committee concluded that the RC was financially, academically, and philosophically viable. Mersereau was appointed as full-time director and was able to direct substantially more time to administration than any of the earlier directors. During Mersereau’s tenure, the RC/LS&A Joint Board instituted triennial curriculum reviews of each of the RC’s programs, reviewed and recommended appointments and promotions, and served as a lobbying force within the LS&A Executive Committee. Elizabeth Douvan was director beginning July 1, 1985, followed by Herbert Eagle in May 1988, Thomas Weisskopf July 1996, Charles Bright in 2005, and Angela Dillard in 2011.

Please note:

Copyright has been transferred to the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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