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

THE history of the administration of Erastus Otis Haven is a record both of success and of failure. Coming as he did to a campus and community upset over the recent removal of President Henry Philip Tappan, Haven was, in spite of the overwhelming difficulties, able to win the support of Tappan's friends as well as of his enemies, yet when he resigned in 1869 he admitted that he had not gained the one thing he most desired — the feeling that his work had produced a permanent good.

When Haven came to Ann Arbor in 1863 to assume the administrative duties assigned to him by the Board of Regents in June of that year, he had one particular advantage which served him in good stead — his personality. He had been a professor in the University from 1852 to 1856, and during that period he had won many friends both on the campus and in the community. His genial, friendly manner seemed a welcome change to many who had resented the overbearing mien of his predecessor. Furthermore, Haven definitely attempted to be agreeable, and to win over those who had objected to the summary dismissal of President Tappan. Haven stated that he had not known previous to his acceptance of the presidency that Tappan had not voluntarily resigned, and that he had therefore accepted the position in good faith and once having accepted it felt that his duty was to assume the responsibilities involved (Haven, Autobiography, pp. 141-43). One may be permitted to be somewhat skeptical of Haven's entire ignorance in this matter, since he kept in constant touch with members of the University faculty during the period 1856-63 when he was away from Ann Arbor. In the Haven-Winchell correspondence, particularly, University matters were freely discussed (Alexander Winchell Papers).

The responsibilities which President Haven was called upon to face were indeed serious ones. No sooner had President Tappan been removed than citizens of Ann Arbor, alumni, and students of the University held indignation meetings and flooded the mails with letters to Haven. Haven wrote Alexander Winchell, July 1, 1863, describing his reaction to the situation:

I have just received a batch of letters from Michigan, among which is yours of the 27th (the third from you on the subject). I have not yet received an account of "the indignation meeting," & shall not be influenced by it. I have had too much experience to be frightened by such things. The University would be irreparably injured, if any men, deemed worthy to hold office in it, should be intimidated by popular tumult. In this country the people govern by law, & all attempts to govern in any other way are foolish & dangerous, & to yield to them is treason. No, if I did not want to come from other reasons, a mob opposition might make me feel it to be a duty — though you know well I am not a quarrelsome man.

You may assure my friends that those who resort to irresponsible meetings to discuss what is really none of their business — I mean in that capacity as meetings — may discuss & resolve & shout & groan to their hearts' content. As a true Democrat I am not influenced by such things. I am in favor of popular government, but it must be according to the forms of law.


(Alexander Winchell Papers.)

In accordance with his opinions as expressed Page  55in the letter to Winchell, Haven set out to have the University governed by law. He made it clear that he had no intention to continue as president unless the new Board of Regents, which took office in January, 1864, should desire him to stay (Haven, Autobiography, p. 142). He likewise pointed out to the citizens of Ann Arbor that it was essential to maintain order in the University and necessary to the prosperity of the town that the University remain a thriving institution. In this way he won the support of the townspeople. His moderate behavior and skillful handling of the situation pointed the way to a more peaceful regime. Those who had been lukewarm in their loyalty to Tappan began to change sides, and newspaper comment advised acceptance of the "present situation."

Citizens, alumni, and students awaited with interest the first meeting of the new Board of Regents, to which J. E. Johnson was the only member who had been re-elected. At the meeting, January 1, 1864, petitions were received from students of the University concerning the dismissal of President Tappan. The Board postponed any immediate action on the matter of reinstating Tappan by passing the following resolutions:

Resolved, That in the opinion of this Board, it is not consistent with the government of a Literary Institution or with the best interests of the students, that petitions should be entertained by this Board from students, in regard to the government of the University, or the appointment and dismissal of Professors or Officers.

Resolved, That Executive Officers and Professors in colleges are liable from temporary causes, and often from a strict performance of their duties, to become obnoxious to a class or a set of students, and if it is understood that in all such cases, an appeal may be made at once to the appointing power, the Board of Regents, by petition, insubordination would be thus encouraged, and that peace, quietness and order, which are necessary for progress in study would be broken up by frequent and exciting contact between students and those placed over them by the State as their instructors.

Resolved, That the Regents recognize the propriety of petitions from students in some cases, and give the petitioners on the subject of the restoration of Dr. Tappan due credit for good motives and intentions, but in view of the above opinions,

Resolved, That the petitioners pro and con have leave to withdraw their petitions.


(R.P., 1864-70, pp. 10-11.)

At the February meeting numerous petitions from citizens of the state were presented. The petitions were referred to a special committee, and the committee's report recommended that the request of the petitioners for the reinstatement of President Tappan be denied. In making this report the committee members pointed out that although they recognized the merit of the former president it was their duty to take the University as they found it and to maintain it in the way best suited to promote the welfare of the institution. It was their belief that by reinstating the former president they would create a disturbance of harmony "greater than has yet existed in the University." The report of the committee was adopted by a vote of five to one, one Regent being absent.*

With the first great problem which confronted him settled, Haven was free to turn his attention more directly to the routine aspects of administration. A steady increase in the number of students attending the University continued throughout President Haven's regime, and he was therefore always emphasizing the need for increased facilities. One of the first demands was for an addition to the Medical Building. Page  56At the solicitation of the Regents, Ann Arbor citizens raised the necessary funds, and the addition was made.

This gift was soon succeeded by another from the same source. There had been talk of transferring the Detroit Observatory from the hill where it still stands to a site nearer the campus. The Observatory was, at that time, in an isolated spot, and the roads leading to it were in poor condition. After considering the matter seriously, however, the Regents decided to leave the Observatory on its original site, provide an addition which would serve as a residence for the professor of astronomy, and improve the roads in that vicinity. The city of Ann Arbor promised to furnish $3,000 for this purpose, provided the Regents matched the sum. James Craig Watson, Professor of Astronomy, secured subscriptions, mostly from Detroit, and the city of Ann Arbor issued bonds to cover its pledge. The Observatory remained on its original site and waited for the city to grow toward it. These additions, together with a slight addition to the Chemical Laboratory, were the only building activities during the Haven administration, in spite of the fact that Haven, in his annual reports to the Board of Regents, repeatedly emphasized the need for more adequate facilities for handling the increasing student population. He reported in 1865 that the greatest material wants were a separate library building and an auditorium sufficiently large to seat all the officers and students.

Changes likewise were made in the course of study during Haven's administration. In 1864-65 provision was made for the introduction of a course in mining engineering; in 1866-67 six parallel courses were offered: the classical, the first and second scientific courses, the Latin and scientific course, civil engineering, and mining engineering; in 1868-69 departments of mechanical engineering and pharmacy were added. A special course of lectures in hygiene, to be presented to members of the literary and law departments, was inaugurated during the year 1864-65.

Splendid gains were also made in increasing the facilities of the Library and Museum. Numerous museum specimens were received by gift or purchase, and the Richard Fletcher law library was presented to the University. Haven felt that it was permissible for the University to solicit gifts from benevolent individuals. In his annual reports to the Regents he repeatedly urged the necessity for endowing the Museum, the Library, the Observatory, and various professorships.

Although the University appeared on the surface to run along smoothly, two trying problems presented themselves for consideration by the President and the Regents — the need for additional financial assistance, and the admission of women.

At the Regents' request Haven presented a memorial from the Board to the legislature of 1867 setting forth the need of the University for state financial aid. This memorial received sympathetic attention from the legislature early in 1867. The law which was passed as a result of the memorial provided that the income arising from a tax of one-twentieth of a mill on every dollar of the property taxed by the state be turned over to the University, but contained the added provision that a professor of homeopathy be appointed in the Department of Medicine and Surgery. In his report to the Board of Regents for the year ending June 26, 1867, the President pointed out that hitherto the Regents had been permitted to establish the courses of study and to appoint such professors as they deemed best. The University had previously followed the policy of teaching no exclusive theories Page  57in medicine — or in any other subject — but, rather, only "the science or sciences underlying or embraced in Medicine and Surgery" (R.P., 1864-70, p. 230). Haven was definitely of the opinion that the University should adhere to this policy (see Part I: Constitutional Status).

The condition laid down by the legislature met with stern opposition at the University. The Regents attempted to satisfy both sides. In their resolution accepting legislative support for instruction in homeopathy they provided:

That … there be organized in the Department of Medicine a School, to be called the "Michigan School of Homeopathy," to be located at such place (suitable in the opinion of the Board of Regents) other than Ann Arbor, in the State of Michigan, as shall pledge to the Board of Regents by June 20 next [1868], the greatest amount for the buildings and endowment of said school.


(R.P., 1864-70, pp. 267-68.)
The Supreme Court determined that the provision adopted by the Board was not in compliance with the law, and the money was therefore not paid by the state during the year 1867-68.

In 1869, the legislature was requested to remove the condition imposed by the act of 1867, and President Haven was invited to present the views of the University to the legislature in person. Haven was an able speaker, and his address, together with the exertions of good friends of the University (both within the legislature and without) brought about the passage of the act of 1867 with the obnoxious clause omitted. The University thus received approximately $15,000 annually from the state — its first state aid since the loan of $100,000 granted in 1838.

The renewed interest in the admission of women students likewise came from legislative channels. The state legislature recommended, in 1867, that the University admit women to its advantages. In his report for the year ending June 26, 1867, Haven expressed the opinion that the introduction of coeducation would cause untold problems and demand important changes in methods of administration. Although he was friendly to the higher education of women, he felt that it would be more practicable to establish a separate institution for the women of the state. In his report for 1868, however, he indicated that he had changed his mind and advocated that the Regents allow women to be admitted. It is interesting to speculate to what extent other differences with the legislature had led the administration to take a conciliatory attitude toward the legislature's previous recommendation. The Regents did not take favorable action, however, until January, 1870, when Henry Simmons Frieze was Acting President.

In spite of the numerous advances made during his administration, Haven was, from time to time, dissatisfied with the results. On several occasions he had cause to feel that peace would never prevail. Since his return to Ann Arbor in 1863, he had met one emergency after another. Not only had it been necessary for him to prove his right to the presidency when he arrived in Ann Arbor, but he had had to face the homeopathy crisis, to assume the functions of a professorship, and to handle discipline problems and routine administrative difficulties.

On April 2, 1868, in a letter to his friend, Alexander Winchell, Haven expressed his discontent with his position in Ann Arbor in the following words:

As it regards ferreting out the authors of the vile burlesque [a mock or false program for the Junior Exhibition, March 24, 1868, which is aptly described by the term "vile"] I am uncertain what to do. Such work requires time & attention, but I am confined by two recitations a day & other matters that occupy the time. I am inclined to think Page  58that had the Faculty taken no notice of the affair from the beginning there would have been no trouble. However, the Faculty must decide. It is made an occasion of very bitter adverse criticism upon myself, who unfortunately must bear all the blame of all that is deemed to be wrong about the University, with but little credit of any good.

This, to speak plainly, more than all things else, prompts me to think of retiring from the place. I started with an unfair sentiment against me & can never secure impartiality. Why should I work all my life to sustain a cause at a dead lift? Nothing whatever would, or should, induce me to remain here but a belief that I can do more for truth & Good here than anywhere else.

I am not inclined to leave on account of homeopathy, but rather to stay & see the question settled. That grant secured (which was obtained solely by my effort), the university is more than doubled. If it fails, it is because of the Med[ical] Professors.

A man who is breasting difficulties & wearing out his life wants to know that he is working in a good cause, & for what will be a permanent good, & that after he is gone there will not be persevering effort to conceal & pervert what he has done.


(Alexander Winchell Papers.)

As if the difficulties which Haven encountered in 1868 were not enough, in April, 1869, a great wave of newspaper criticism arose as a result of his occupying a Unitarian pulpit in Detroit for several Sundays. Perhaps this was the final straw. At any rate, in June, 1869, Haven submitted to the Regents his resignation as President of the University of Michigan and accepted the presidency of Northwestern University, a relatively new Methodist institution. The usual newspaper comments were made. Zion's Herald, of which he had been editor just preceding his acceptance of the presidency of the University of Michigan, editorially stated that his resignation was "the severest blow the cause of secular university education has received. … It is a practical confession by one of the most experienced and successful of college presidents, of the weakness and ultimate dissolution of State and secular colleges" (Winchell, MS, "Scrapbook," II: 109). Naturally, these statements brought forth a stream of newspaper comment on all sides. Unfortunately for Haven, his good friend Zion's Herald caused even his final days at the University to be far from harmonious. Well might he wonder whether "persevering effort" was not being made "to conceal and pervert" what he had done.

In spite of the dissatisfaction which Haven felt with the results of his administration, he was the proper successor to Henry Philip Tappan and is remembered as an able administrator. Tappan had inaugurated numerous reforms which needed assimilating. Haven was a man of no mean diplomatic skill, and he was therefore able to keep the warring elements in the University somewhat submerged. Had the acquisition of the regular grant from the state been the only accomplishment of his administration, it still would have marked the period as one of advancement. But the University had prospered in many other ways as well, and was at last ready for two innovations which took place during the acting presidency of Henry Simmons Frieze: the admission of women and the admission of students from accredited schools without examination.

Although Haven in 1868 and 1869 might feel that he had accomplished little permanent good, those who look back on the period of his administration know that he misjudged either his own contributions or the ability of posterity to estimate them rightly.