Board of Regents (University of Michigan) Records

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Board of Regents (University of Michigan) Records

The materials in this Deep Blue collection form part of a larger record group held at the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index of content related to the University of Michigan Board of Regents, please consult the following online finding aids:

Researchers may also be interested in archived versions of the Board of Regents Website that are made available through the University of Michigan Web Archives.

Please contact Reference and Access Services at the Bentley Historical Library for more information or assistance.

The University of Michigan's highest governing body is the Board of Regents. The Regents deal with virtually every aspect of university policy and campus life. Materials in this online repository include archived versions of the Board of Regents Website from 2005 and 2006.

The Regents of the University of Michigan trace their authority to the founding of the "Catholepistemiad, or University, of Michigania," a body created by Michigan territorial law on August 26, 1817. The Catholepistemiad was to have 13 didaxiim who both served as professors and also formed the governing body of the institution. The "didactors" exercised complete control over the school's affairs and were granted a mandate to establish courses of instruction throughout the territory.

In accordance with the law, acting territorial governor William Woodbridge appointed two men, the Reverends John Monteith and Gabriel Richard, didactors. While the two made a modest beginning, the Catholepistemiad proved far more ambitious a program than the territory was capable of sustaining. Recognizing this fact, a new territorial law was enacted on April 30, 1821, superceding the act of 1817.

The law of 1821 substantially changed the structure of the university's governing body. Control of the "University of Michigan" was removed from the faculty and vested in a board of 21 individuals, "The Trustees of the University of Michigan." The territorial governor served as an ex-officio member of the Trustees, the other members were appointed by and served at the pleasure of the territorial legislature. The law of 1821, like that of 1817, envisioned an institution too large for the territory to successfully support. By 1827 the university no longer offered classes and the building erected in Detroit by the Trustees was being leased to private educational groups.

The state constitution of 1835 recognized implicitly the existence of a state university and granted power to regulate such an institution to the Legislature. No action was taken, however, to revive the dormant university until the passage of a new organic act by the Legislature on March 18, 1837. The law of 1837 re-established "The University of Michigan" and vested its governance in a body called the Board of Regents. The Regents consisted of 12 individuals chosen by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate, to be presided over by the chancellor (senior administrative officer) of the university, who was made an ex-officio member of the Regents. Other ex-officio members included the governor, the lt. governor, the judges of the State Supreme Court and the chancellor of the State. The authority of the Regents, in contrast to that of the State Legislature, was unclear. Specifically it was uncertain if the Regents' authority extended to the appointment of a university chancellor, new professorships or selection of branch sites, or if the Legislature's advice and consent was necessary before such actions were legal.

As part of a general revision of Michigan statutes in 1846 the Legislature attempted to define more precisely the exact relationship between itself and the Regents. The Regents were given specifically the power to appoint the university's chancellor and other changes were also made. The result, however, was not particularly helpful in clarifying the overall scope of the Regents' authority.

The state constitution of 1850 proved a watershed in defining the relationship between the Regents and the Legislature. The drafters of the new constitution wished to remove the Regents from the direct political pressure of the Legislature. They therefore established the Regents as a quasi-independent agency. The body was granted the authority to carry out "the general supervision of the University...." The Regents were to be elected to six-year terms of office, each regent being chosen from the state's judicial districts. In 1862 the latter constitutional provision was modified in that Regents were to be elected statewide, and their terms of office were to be staggered, so that two of the eight seats were filled every two years.

While the scope of the "general supervision" clause was not immediately clear, a series of judicial interpretations eventually made it the basis for a broad mandate of authority, limiting the State Legislature's direct interference in university affairs. The State Supreme Court first limited the Legislature in favor of the Regents in the People v. The Regents of the University of Michigan, decided in 1856. The process of judicial interpretation was slow, however, and it was not until 1896 in the case of Sterling v. The Regents of the University of Michigan that the State Supreme Court definitively ruled that the "general supervision" clause of the 1850 constitution barred direct interference by the Legislature in the affairs of the university.

The state constitution of 1908 repeated the "general supervision" clause of the constitution of 1850 while significantly broadening the powers of the Regents. The new document granted the Regents "direction and control of all expenditures from the University funds." The Regents interpreted this clause as granting them the power to dispose of state appropriations without review by state executive officials. The Regents' interpretation of the clause was sustained by the State Supreme Court in 1911 in Board of Regents of the University of Michigan v. The Auditor General. In that case the Court ruled that appropriations to the university became the "property" of the Regents, subject only to such conditions as the Legislature attached to the appropriations.

The Legislature's ability to attach such conditions was limited by the Supreme Court in 1924. Ruling in State Board of Agriculture v. The Auditor General (the constitution of 1908 had granted to Michigan State College, now Michigan State University, and its governing body, the State Board of Agriculture, powers similar to that exercised by the Regents of the University of Michigan), the Court stated that the Legislature could not establish "unconstitutional conditions" to appropriations and that, should the Legislature feel its will violated or ignored by the Regents, its recourse was through the courts. While the decision gave the Regents considerable authority, neither in this decision nor in a number of subsequent rulings, did the State Supreme Court systematically define "unconstitutional provisions," preferring to resolve issues on the merits of the particular case rather than through constitutional interpretation.

The authority granted the Regents by the courts was subtly diminished through subsequent action of the Legislature. In 1933 the Legislature abandoned the historic practice of levying a special mill tax to support the university. Henceforth money was to come from the state's general fund. The possibility for legislative intervention was further enhanced by the decision in 1947 to modify the nature of the university's appropriation from a continuing resolution to an annual one.

While the 1963 state constitution reconfirmed the constitutional status of the Regents as defined in 1850 and 1908, it made changes in the Regents' membership and procedures, while continuing the trend toward increased financial accountability to the Legislature. The constitution of 1963 removed the Superintendent of Public Instruction as an ex-officio member of the Regents. It mandated that all formal sessions of the Regents be opened to the public. Finally it required that an annual accounting of all income and expenditures be made to the Legislature.

In addition to these provisions the 1963 constitution established a state Board of Education and declared it "the general planning and coordinating body for all public education, including higher education." The Regents argued that subsequent clauses of the 1963 constitution limited the Board from impinging upon the traditional powers of the Regents. The Board of Education challenged this interpretation of the constitution, and eventually the issue was placed before the State Supreme Court. That body resolved the issue in favor of the Regents

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Copyright is retained by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

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