The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  159

THE BRANCHES OF THE UNIVERSITY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION IN MICHIGAN

COMPULSORY, free, standardized public schools classified into the present twelve grades did not exist in Michigan when the University received its first students in 1841, nor for many years thereafter. But a need for adequate public secondary schools was developing, and the University was faced with the problem of finding suitably prepared candidates for admission. Accordingly, one of the first measures taken by its newly created Board of Regents in 1837 had been the establishment of a series of branches of the University, in fulfillment of a provision in the state constitution. Though their life was brief, the branches played an important role in the state program of education and in the development of the present co-operative relationship between the University and the public schools. Essentially, the branches were secondary schools designed to prepare students for the University, but they also can be considered as an early prelude to the gradual rise of the public high schools and, in a sense, were the first such schools in the state. That the secondary schools of Michigan evolved very slowly is indicated by the fact that even as late as 1859 only fifty of the 3,958 school districts of the state were organized as graded districts — that is, districts in which the entire school career was sectioned off into three or four major divisions according to relative advancement — and but few of the fifty gave instruction extending into what would now be regarded as the high-school years (R.S.P.I., 1859).

Originally, in 1817, a complete system of primary and classical schools unified by direct University control had been contemplated (see Part I: Early History, Constitutional Status, and Regents). But after this plan proved impracticable in the twenties, although primary education was provided for on a state-wide scale through the general school laws, no further concern was shown for secondary schools until the constitutional convention met in 1835. The district plan for common schools had been made obligatory in 1829; yet the experimental period in secondary education continued, as a matter of fact, until the famous Kalamazoo case of 1874 established the constitutionality of support for public high schools through the use of income from the primary-school fund (see Part I: Superintendent of Public Instruction).

Throughout this earlier period (1829-59) there were a few good private schools to which the general term "academy" may be applied — a term ordinarily used to signify a definite type of secondary education. The rivalry of these academies constituted a threat to the public-school system, but the lower public schools gradually developed until in 1859 the legislature was able to pass the first Michigan high-school law, which permitted the organization of high-school departments within the so-called union schools and thus marked the tentative adoption of the principle that secondary education is a proper function of the lower-school program.

The branches of the University, first authorized by the state constitution in 1835, rested on an opposite theory — that secondary education should come within the upper range of the school system.

Page  160It is difficult now to picture the actual condition of the schools in the forty years before 1859. The population of Michigan grew in that time from less than ten thousand to nearly three-fourths of a million, and it was almost inevitable that this period of growth should be one of experiment in educational practice. At first, the township was selected as the unit of school administration, but in 1829 the division of the townships into districts was prescribed, and one-teacher district schoolhouses began to dot the landscape in every direction.

The Constitution of 1835 set aside two funds for public education — the University fund and the primary-school fund. The constitutional convention had attempted to solve the problem of the intermediate secondary education by authorizing branches of the University, but these schools proved only briefly successful before the needs of the central institution absorbed all available income and left no provision whatever for public secondary education. Meanwhile, however, the phenomenal growth in population having made the limitations of the district system in the towns increasingly apparent, Detroit had devised a local plan of unification that eventually revolutionized public-school administration throughout Michigan and made the modern high school possible.

Detroit, rapidly becoming an urban community, was sustaining eight separate and mutually independent school boards, charged with maintaining a school or schools in as many separate areas. Since these district boards were not empowered to co-operate in any citywide plan, a special state law was obtained in 1842 permitting their abolition and the incorporation of the city as one district. This led to the employment of school principals and a city superintendent and made for greater teaching efficiency by drawing more students into each building, where classes of somewhat equivalent rank could be arranged. In 1843 the legislature, following the Detroit precedent, amended the school law to permit any two or more neighboring districts in the state to consolidate into a union district — an action that eventually resulted in the roughly graded union schools, the forerunners of the present organized school systems. For many years, however, the development was very slow, and many communities preferred to continue, and even to extend, the original district plan.

Private secondary education, meanwhile, was flourishing in the academies, and in the public sphere the branches continued for a time. Although they were abandoned by the University in 1846, the idea persisted, and in the act reorganizing the University in April, 1851 (see p. 168), the Regents were charged with the duty of maintaining at least one branch in each judicial district as soon as the income of the University fund permitted — a charge, however, which they never attempted to fulfill. The public schools gradually assumed the task of secondary instruction, until, by 1859, the feasibility of grouping secondary and elementary schools together under public auspices began to be apparent.

From that time on, while the public schools grew, the academies and the few private elementary schools lost ground and finally passed out of existence. In time, "union school" came to signify solely the high-school department of the school system; in some sections of Michigan the term survived as equivalent to "high school" until within the past thirty years. The progress of the high schools was undoubtedly aided by the accrediting or diploma plan of direct admission to the University, adopted in Page  1611871 (see Part I: Frieze Administration). Three years later the legal basis for their future support was secured once for all in the Kalamazoo case, and thereafter they multiplied and were rapidly improved.

In the development of Michigan's educational system as a whole, the branches of the University, short-lived though they were, played an important part.

The history of the branches. — The first Michigan constitution, framed in 1835, provided that the legislature take measures for the support of a university "with such branches as the public convenience may hereafter demand."

As soon as the first superintendent of public instruction, John D. Pierce, took office in the summer of 1836, it became his duty to submit a plan for the proposed institution to the legislature. In his report, submitted January 5, 1837, he suggested that the University should be conducted by a Board of Regents, and one section was headed, significantly, "Academies — as branches of the University." According to this plan, as soon as a certain minimum population had been reached in each county a branch was to be established there, which was to have a board of trustees and a smaller board of visitors, both responsible directly to the superintendent of public instruction as well as to the county Board of Supervisors. Although these institutions were to be known as branches of the University and were to derive a part of their support from the University fund, no provision was made for any governing powers to be exercised over them by the Regents.

Pierce outlined three separate departments or courses of instruction for each of the branches: (1) the classical or college-preparatory course, (2) the English course for those not preparing for college, and (3) a three-year course to prepare persons for teaching in the primary schools. He suggested that the county furnish support equal to that received from the University fund (the county Board of Supervisors to devise the manner of assessment), and that, in addition, tuition charges be required — $12 a year for students of the classics and $10 for all others except those in the normal course who would pledge themselves to engage in teaching at once upon the completion of their training. (Those not keeping the pledge by the end of the fourth year after leaving school should, he suggested, then be obliged to pay their fees!)

The statute calling for the actual organization of the branches was the organic act of the University, which incorporated most of Pierce's suggestions. It was passed March 18, 1837, two days before the legislature decided that Ann Arbor should be the University site. It specified that such branches be established as the legislature should authorize "in the different parts of the state." The Regents and state superintendent were made jointly responsible for setting up these institutions as soon as their locations were thus individually approved, and were given power to make rules for governing them.

As to mode of support, tuition and county taxes were not specifically mentioned. It was provided that each branch complying with the regulations should receive, in proportion to the number of its students, such sums for salaries, books, and apparatus as the resources from the University fund should warrant. This law, in contrast with Superintendent Pierce's original plan, stipulated that there should be not more than one branch in each county. Further, it was deemed necessary to state explicitly that the branches should not have the privilege of conferring degrees. If the legislature Page  162had approved any plan for eventually developing the branches into institutions of full collegiate grade in all the present eighty-three counties, the resulting competition would have been disastrous for public higher education in the state.

The law of 1837 specified that in each branch there should be, in addition to "such other departments" as the Regents deemed necessary, a department of agriculture and a teacher-training department. It was also required that an institution for the education of "females" in the "higher branches of knowledge" should be established in connection with each University branch as soon as suitable buildings should be prepared. In his preliminary plan Pierce had made no reference to women students nor to instruction in agriculture.

The Regents, at their first meeting, June 5-7, 1837, authorized a committee on branches, consisting of John F. Porter of St. Joseph, Zina Pitcher of Detroit, and Gideon O. Whittemore of Pontiac. The following spring, Porter's place on the Board and committee was taken by Major Jonathan Kearsley of Detroit. Dr. Pitcher was a member of the committee most of the time until 1845 and again in 1849, and often served as chairman. Also, as mayor of Detroit in 1840, 1841, and 1843, he was influential in helping to inaugurate there the type of city school system which made the public high schools of Michigan possible (see p. 160).

Two of the first actions of the Regents were to request from Superintendent Pierce a plan for administering the branches and to ask the legislature for a revision of the statute defining regental powers. As a result the legislature passed an amendment giving the Regents authority to establish branches "in the several counties" without special legislative approval of each location. On the day when this amendment went into effect (June 21, 1837), the Regents resolved to establish a total of eight branches in the five senatorial districts, specifying the number in each district, and to open the University proper in September, 1838. Each community in which a branch was located was to furnish the school building and equipment, and the Regents were to provide the teachers' salaries. Tuition fees were to be paid, not to any local authorities, but to the University itself. The sum of $8,000 was set aside for the branches, of which amount $500 was to be allotted annually to each one for salaries, and the residue apportioned among them on the basis of enrollment. The Regents also authorized their committee on the branches to appoint an agent who should investigate suggested sites, to advertise the University's terms, to collect subscriptions, and to start operating the schools. At the same time they accepted the proposals of the Pontiac Company for the establishment of the first branch.

In the summer of 1837 George Palmer Williams was engaged as the principal, and in September the Pontiac branch, housed in a two-story structure designed especially for school purposes, superseded the local academy. Williams and the first principal of another branch afterward constituted the first faculty of the University itself. The Regents redrafted the rules of the Pontiac branch two months after it was opened, making them applicable to the others, when established, and five hundred copies of the new code were ordered published. These rules (R.P., 1837-64, pp. 21-29) were later modified, although not basically altered for nearly ten years, or so long as the schools were flourishing. Pierce's suggestion for governing bodies controlled by the state superintendent and county school officers was discarded. Instead, ultimate control was Page  163vested in the Board of Regents, to whom the local "immediate government" was responsible. This body was nothing more or less than the school's faculty, with the principal as convener, presiding officer, and secretary. The Regents also authorized a treasurer and a board of five visitors for each branch. Although tuition was set as $10 per academic year, except in the proposed branches in Detroit and Monroe, where it was to be $15, the fees actually collected ranged from $3.00 to $10 a term, depending on the course or curriculum pursued — the one high rate being charged for individual instruction in music. School terms consisted of thirteen, fourteen, or fifteen weeks each.

From the very outset many towns vied with one another as possible sites for the branches, and the agent of the Board reported favorably on eight out of seventeen applications in November, 1837. In 1838 the Regents put into operation four more branches, situated in Detroit, Monroe, Kalamazoo, and Niles, and by the end of the next year branches were established in Tecumseh and White Pigeon, thus making seven in operation before 1840.

One of the first private academies to be approved as a branch was located in the village of Palmer (now St. Clair), but in some way it failed fully to meet the Regents' requirements (R.P., 1837-64, p. 307) and therefore never received their financial support. "Branches" that had the Regents' preliminary authorization were operated in Grand Rapids, Mackinac, Jackson, and Coldwater, but the University did not continue to recognize them and neither published reports of their work nor gave them financial aid. Schools conducted at Utica and Ypsilanti sought the status of branches in 1837 (R.P., 1837-64, pp. 15, 20), but received neither preliminary recognition nor funds from the University, so far as can be ascertained from the minutes of the Board; and in other towns, institutions calling themselves branches hopefully carried on without official University sanction or support.

Superintendent Pierce was at first optimistic regarding the means for the support of the branches from the sale of public lands. Then came the nationwide financial collapse of 1837 and the years immediately thereafter. As a result he soon became convinced, even while the Pontiac branch was the only one yet opened, that if all the branches were established which he thought desirable the income of the University fund would be inadequate for starting the University itself on a basis solid enough to ensure success. Hence, in his second annual report, written before the end of 1837, he proposed that 10 per cent of the income from the primary-school fund be used for the branches. Since the sole object of the teacher-training department was to aid the growth and efficiency of the common schools there could be no constitutional objection, and the common-school fund was sufficient to bear its due proportion. He maintained further that, until the University itself was in successful operation, every dollar of income from the University fund would be needed for its support, and he therefore suggested that for a limited number of years the legislature devote to the branches not only 10 per cent of the primary-fund income, but also enough of the state income from the salt-spring lands to sustain the branches without any help whatever from the University fund (Sen. Doc., 1838, No. 4: 29-31).

Neither of these suggestions of Pierce's was favorably acted upon. The use of the salt-spring income for the branches was suggested some time later by Isaac Crary, but apparently the idea was never seriously entertained by the legislature.

As Pierce had foreseen, launching the University itself would have been difficult Page  164in any case, but the actual situation in 1841 was even worse than anticipated. The original expectation was that the principal of the University fund would be created from cash payments for all lands sold; actually the many purchasers were allowed to make payments in securities of fluctuating or doubtful value. Finally, because of the hard times and the lack of any adequate agency to enforce collections, payments of principal and interest were allowed to lapse entirely. Indeed, the legislature in 1842 rebated the back interest to the former purchasers (Price, p. 29), and by successive legislative acts reduced the standard price of unsold lands (see Part I: Early History). To add to its financial troubles, the University had obtained a loan of $100,000 from the state in 1838 for its building program, and now needed a large part of its scanty income from the land fund to pay interest on this loan.

Perhaps the most important change made during these years was the creation of the office of commissioner of lands in 1843, and of a system of checks and balances exercised by this commissioner, the auditor-general, and the state treasurer. This action relieved the superintendent of public instruction — a man selected primarily for his ability as an educational planner and coordinator — from a tremendous burden of administering land transactions (Knight, pp. 96-97).

From the very beginning it was obvious that the mass of people were much more interested in the branches than in the University, for these schools brought the education they most desired near to their doors, whereas the parent institution was slow in starting and was then comparatively difficult of access.

The most urgent educational need in the newly settled state was neighborhood schools in which the children of every family could obtain enough training to meet the primary requirements of earning a living. Such popular interest as there was in schooling was therefore directed mainly to that end. That University funds should be diverted to support elementary instruction, even to the extent of crippling or abandoning higher education, seemed to many people plain common sense. To resist this clamor and to maintain the importance of the University in the system of state education required courage, faith, and practical ability.

By January, 1841, the University buildings were nearing completion and a few students were already prepared for admission. The committee on branches reported that some of them had been forced to leave the state to continue their education. The Regents therefore determined to open the University the next fall, and announced that in order to do this they would be forced to withhold all support for the branches in excess of the previous minimum ($500 a year each, in addition to the tuition fees) after August 15, 1841. Nevertheless, that very spring they approved the founding of another branch, at Romeo, though for the next two years they gave it no financial support.

The institution first planned for Ann Arbor, on July 8, 1841, was to be simply a branch with a "collegiate department." Two weeks later the Regents decided that the institution should be a university and that the attached department should be the "preparatory department." By so doing they were able to make appointments to professorships and at the same time (since the number of students was sure to be small) have the University faculty devote a part of its time to teaching preparatory work. By this arrangement, also, the Board avoided making another branch appropriation. Hence, no financial support was ever made by the Regents to the Ann Page  165Arbor branch as such — or to the "preparatory department," as it was usually called.

Principal George Palmer Williams of Pontiac and Principal Joseph Whiting of Niles were now transferred to professorships at Ann Arbor, partly, no doubt, in order that the Regents should not lose their services through the precarious financial status of the branches. When at last the University was opened, on September 25, 1841, five freshmen and one sophomore were admitted. At about the same time some advanced work was being offered in certain of the branches themselves — at least to selected students and under special circumstances — for in the fall of 1842 two sophomores and one junior were able to qualify for admission directly from the branches of Tecumseh and Kalamazoo (Dunbar, MS, p. 188).

The Regents still hoped that a way could be found to finance the branches adequately, but in 1842 they cut the appropriations to $200 each, exclusive of tuition, beginning August 6. Although some of the principals and teachers hopefully carried on in spite of this action, others resigned forthwith. The branch at Detroit was closed entirely and the branch at Monroe was restaffed.

Although the Regents appealed to the legislature for additional resources, help at first was not forthcoming, and by 1844 their embarrassments were decidedly serious. Two Michigan banks containing University monies had failed, and an increase in the number of students had necessitated an additional professorship. Closing the University was suggested, but the Regents opposed such a solution, even for a short period, since years must elapse before the institution could regain the confidence and prosperity it then possessed. The suspension of all appropriations to the branches was considered, but the Regents were loath to take the step, although they stated that if forced to choose between the branches and the University, the branches would be sacrificed.

They were still hoping for some sort of legislative aid, and this time they were not disappointed. In February, 1844, the legislature provided that the depreciated warrants of the state should be taken at full value in payment for University lands and in liquidation of the University's debt and a month later gave the University credit for some $8,000 for a piece of land the defunct Bank of Michigan had given the University in settlement of its own obligation.

But in spite of this relief, which reduced the debt to $20,000 in 1847, the University fund was still inadequate to support both the University and its branches. The Regents needed to maintain control of academic standards in the branches, and yet were unable to give enough support to keep that control. The result was that on August 5, 1846, appropriations and appointments to the branches were discontinued.

Between the founding of the first branches and the opening of the University the total daily enrollment in these preparatory schools increased steadily; in 1840-41 it was 247, of whom 147 were "males" and 100 "females" (J. Doc., 1843, p. 287). By 1842-43 fewer than two hundred students were reported, but the next three years witnessed an increase to more than three hundred, due to the inclusion of reports from the large Romeo branch. Available sets of enrollment figures for the later years, however, do not closely agree with one another.

In 1839-40 the Regents had employed six principals and six tutors or assistants, including two women. Although no girl students were reported in 1839 it is certain that girls attended four of the branches in 1840, and it is probable also Page  166that some were enrolled in the other branches. No separate buildings for them are known to have been erected, although some segregation was provided, since in the Romeo branch, at least, girls were seated for assembly and study in a separate room, but recited with the boys in some of their studies (Davis, p. 139). The classical course, seemingly, was only for the boys, since the admission of women to the University was then not even contemplated and was not effected until 1870. Yet, as early as 1849, when all but one of the branches had ceased or had been converted into private academies, the Regents expressed concern for having abandoned the task of providing for "the education of females" (R.P., 1837-64, p. 415).

In a report to the legislature in 1839 the Regents stated that of 161 students in the branches ten were expected to be qualified by September, 1839, for teaching in the common schools, and six, for admission to the University. The report continued:

In 1840, thirty students will be ready to enter the freshman or perhaps sophomore classes in the university. In 1841, thirty-five will be ready and in 1842 forty. The total students whose parents design them for a liberal [i.e., classical] education number 101, with ten reported or destined for teachers, and 50 whose future ambitions were not revealed.


(Davis, p. 129.)

Dr. Pitcher wrote in 1851 that the Regents had authorized the branch treasurers to grant refunds of tuition to students who later entered upon this work. From these two statements it appears certain that a definite program in teacher-training was provided in at least one of the branches, but that the number of students registered for it was comparatively small. Moreover, in the 1851 report of the successful Romeo branch, written six years after its University support had been withdrawn, we find that:

During the Fall term, particular attention is given to a class of young ladies and gentlemen desirous of qualifying themselves for teaching.… Frequent lectures are given upon subjects connected with their profession, and no pains are spared to enable them to become able and efficient instructors.… The number of students connected with this department was 57; who, during some part of the year, were engaged in teaching common schools.


(J. Doc., 1851, p. 281.)

When the state laws were revised in 1838, the organic act was modified to read, "in one at least of the branches of the university, there shall be a department of agriculture…" (Mich. Rev. Stat., 1838, p. 237). So far as is known, however, no agricultural instruction whatever was given in any of the branches. The Constitution of 1850 imposed upon the legislature the duties (1) of establishing an agricultural school as soon as practicable, (2) of endowing it with money from the salt-spring lands, and, if desired, (3) of constituting it a University branch and placing it under the Regents' supervision. Between 1852 and 1855, vigorous efforts were made to establish an agricultural department within the University. In fact, the Reverend Charles Fox was appointed Professor of Agriculture in the institution in June, 1854. He died the next month, but previous to his official appointment, and without compensation, he had given a few lectures on agriculture. Soon afterward the legislature cut the Gordian knot by founding a separate agricultural college at Lansing in 1855.

Just what subjects were taught in the various branches is not certain, although the work of the college-preparatory curriculum must have been uniform, since it was planned in detail by the Regents and was designed to fit young men to enter the University, for which the entrance requirements were entirely prescribed and uniform, as follows:

Page  167Applicants for admission must adduce satisfactory evidence of good moral character and sustain an examination in geography, arithmetic, the elements of algebra, the grammar of the English, Latin and Greek languages, the exercises and reader of Andrew's, Cornelius Nepos, Vita Washingtonii, Sallust, Cicero's Orations, Jacob's Greek Reader and the Evangelists.


(R.P., 1837-64, p. 182.)

The last report from the Romeo branch, signed by President D. C. Walker and dated at Romeo, Macomb County, January 20, 1851, gives certain side lights on the subject-matter offerings in the duties indicated for the members of the teaching staff:

  • Principal C. H. Palmer, instructor in Mathematics, Chemistry, and Natural Philosophy.
  • Charles C. Torrey, instructor in ancient languages, rhetoric, and Moral Philosophy.
  • Mrs. B. A. Palmer, instructor in French, botany and history.
  • Miss Sarah J. Gillett, instructor in physiology and natural history.
  • George A. Hoyt, instructor in vocal and instrumental music.

Each branch devoted some attention to extracurricular activities, especially to the interests that centered in literary societies, debating societies, musical societies, and declamatory and essay contests. Organized athletics were, however, unknown.

The struggle to keep the branches from being forced to lower their level of instruction was a serious one. Dr. Pitcher reported in 1839:

The disposition which exists more especially at the points where Branches are established to convert these Institutions into Common Schools is a source of embarrassment to our Branches and has convinced your Committee that these Institutions are in great danger of degeneration, when organized in advance or even coetaneously with Common Schools.


(R.P., 1837-64, p. 59.)

Several years later a measure was put before the legislature empowering the Regents to "constitute any of the primary schools in the state branches of the university" (Proposed Rev. Stat. Mich., 1846, p. 273). Although this failed of passage it is significant of the strong support given the effort to make the branches more subject to the financial and educational direction of local citizens.

In 1851 Dr. Pitcher referred to these difficulties in retrospect:

Notwithstanding the pains taken to adapt these institutions to the public exigencies, so that their legitimate functions could be performed without infringing upon another portion of the educational system, they soon began to decline in popular estimation, because they were not able at the same time to perform the functions of a common school as well as a branch of the University. A feeling of jealousy was awakened in the minds of those whose children were excluded from them either from want of age or qualifications. Consequently they were soon regarded as places for the education of the (so-called) aristocracy of the State, and the University, through the influence of the branches, began to be spoken of as an enemy to popular education.


(J. Doc., 1851, p. 314.)

Apparently, in spite of the disposition of the Regents to keep the branches up to a secondary-school curriculum and in spite of the fact that few public schools as yet had demonstrated their ability to give such advanced instruction, there was conflict between the branches and the common schools. Local pressure in some instances may have forced the branches to give elementary instruction, for in reporting the committee's decision to recommend their discontinuance Dr. Pitcher wrote in 1846: "The Branches are but little more than the Common School of the villages where located and but of little more than local advantage" (R.P., 1837-64, p. 344). Thus it appears that the branches offered courses ranging Page  168from the merest elements of literacy to Greek, Latin, moral philosophy, and pedagogy.

Strangely enough, the branches became unintentional hindrances to the state-wide establishment of local primary schools, and were therefore criticized as subversive of true public interest. In the towns favored as branch sites not only University money but also local funds and enthusiasm had been consumed. Now that extensive improvement of the primary schools was needed in these towns — which, moreover, were geographically the strategic centers of the state — local wealth and enterprise for another public project were not forthcoming. Paradoxically, the communities that were most progressive in education were thus retarding the development of a unified common-school system for Michigan.

The branches' practice of charging tuition also caused many people to regard them as luxuries for the few who could pay. Hence, taxes collected in part from parents whose children did not benefit from these schools were naturally looked upon with little favor. People in general were not sensitive to the need for public secondary schools separate from schools for smaller children, and, even if they had been, they would have found it hard to get sufficient funds to support public education at both levels.

Another kind of criticism which the branches had to meet was that of religious bodies. Because denominational instruction was debarred they soon came to be stigmatized by certain individuals as "godless." However, the Regents always took pains to appoint as principals men of excellent reputation (the majority were clergymen), and in their respective communities they set high academic and moral standards.

The branches at Romeo, Kalamazoo, Tecumseh, and White Pigeon were apparently in good condition in 1846, when their University support was withdrawn. There was therefore a strong desire on the part of some supporters not only that these schools be maintained, but also that others should be revived, and even that certain new ones should be opened. For example, at the same Regents' meeting in 1846 in which all official support of the branches was withdrawn, the citizens of Marshall asked that a branch be established there.

In throwing upon the local communities the responsibility for sustaining the branches after state support of them had ceased, the Regents maintained that in places where "they are wanted by the people we believe [they] will be sustained without the appropriations, and in other places they certainly do not deserve the appropriations" (R.P., 1837-64, p. 344). Yet this action also brought forth criticism, which continued until the adoption of the revised constitution in 1850 apparently settled the matter, since it made no mention of branches except to authorize an agricultural school and to give the Regents permission to establish it as "a branch of the University."

But the ghost of the branches would not down. In April, 1851, the University reorganization bill reimposed the obligations of the earlier laws. This new law read in part as follows:

As soon as the income of the University interest fund will admit, it shall be the duty of the board of Regents to organize and establish branches of the University, one at least in each judicial circuit or district of the State.… They shall not give to any such branch the right of conferring degrees, nor appropriate a sum exceeding fifteen hundred dollars, in any one year, for the support of any branch.


(Laws, 1851, p. 208.)

No coercive supplementary bills were enacted, however, and the Regents, left to their own judgment, took no further action except to inquire about an interesting Page  169test case devised late in 1850 or early in 1851. Although the disposition of the case is not positively known, the legal ground on which the University hoped to win it makes it of particular interest. The essential facts relating to it are as follows:

Early in the session of 1851, the Regents formally expressed doubt as to whether the legislature, their own Board, or any other authority in the state had legal power to apply the funds derived from the gift of Congress for the use of the University proper to any other purpose and authorized a committee to cause the question to be submitted to the state courts. They also started the wheels rolling by resolving that the sum of $10 be appropriated to the Romeo branch and by ordering the secretary of the Board to draw a warrant on the University treasurer for this amount and remit it to Charles H. Palmer, Principal at Romeo. The Board evidently made this appropriation only that its secretary could refuse its order and thus enable the Romeo branch to carry the matter into the courts (R.P., 1837-64, pp. 436, 471). On December 30, 1851, the Regents passed a resolution to request the attorney general "to take the necessary steps in order to procure the decision of the Supreme Court … touching the power of the Board to make appropriations for Branches" (p. 500). In a footnote it is stated (p. 471) that since nothing further was heard of this case the technical question of legality remained undecided.

William L. Jenks, in his manuscript history of the branches (p. 49), remarked that the case was entered on the docket of the Supreme Court for the January term, 1851, and was struck off for some unknown reason. Clark F. Norton did not find any reference to the case when he examined the Supreme Court records for the years from 1836 to 1857. The records of the May term of the court, held at Jackson from 1847 to 1852, have been lost, however, and these, which cover the very year in question, may have contained some clue. Since the Regents did not bring the subject up again, it is safe to assume that the special pleading for the branches was allowed to go unheeded.

The new president of the University, Henry Philip Tappan, undoubtedly had something to do with the disposition of questions relating to branches after 1852. In his inaugural address (December 21, 1852) he stated that the conception of a number of coequal branches "scattered abroad" did not harmonize with a correct understanding of the nature of a university, since a "branch" of the institution would have to duplicate the professorships, courses, and library and museum facilities, which was manifestly absurd (Tappan, pp. 34 ff.). Apparently he saw in the branches possible rivals in higher education rather than potential "gymnasia" within the kind of a state school system in which he so ardently believed. This definition by a person so well informed is difficult to account for, even though he was then very new to the state.

Thus, after more than ten years of effort and more than $30,000 had been expended upon these schools, the idea of conducting a university with dependent branches was abandoned, never to be revived. After the first local enthusiasm for them had passed, the branches were unpopular with many taxpayers; nevertheless, they had performed an exceedingly valuable service to the University and to the people of the state. At least as long as they were under regental control their curriculums were kept very nearly uniform, and entrance requirements in harmony with those adopted for the University itself were enforced. It is difficult to see where the University could have recruited its first freshman Page  170classes, small as they were, without the branches. How effective these schools were as teacher-training institutions, and hence indirectly as educational builders of the primary schools, it is difficult to say, but several staunch school men, including Shearman and Pierce, continued to insist upon the need for them. In any case, they served the contemporary generation of young people in a direct, personal way, making collegiate training an objective for many who otherwise would never have regarded it as either suitable or possible for themselves. The branches set high standards of accomplishment for the academies, the union schools, and the future high schools. Especially, by stimulating popular interest in a type of secondary education under public control, they contributed to the ultimate upbuilding of the complete educational system so boldly dreamed in 1817.

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