The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.
Page  1786


THE University of Michigan, which became the prototype of state-supported institutions in the Midwest, took its early shape from an established British and Colonial tradition. This tradition, though far removed from the residential college communities of Oxford and Cambridge, retained some appreciation of the need for housing students. Such housing was not related through tutorial or faculty associations to the academic program of the college or university. Strict proctoral controls and mere dormitory facilities limited the community life among the residents.

A rudimentary form of student housing, therefore, was what Henry Philip Tappan discovered when he assumed the presidency in 1852. With a growing student body the use of potential classroom space for any housing was judged out of place. Tappan not only questioned the value of the dormitories he found at Michigan, but, within one decade, he abolished them.

This act did not necessarily imply indifference to the welfare of the students. Tappan was convinced that a better balanced and more normal kind of accommodation existed among the private families of Ann Arbor. No better form of living could be found, he felt, to assist the student in the transition from his own home to the rigors of university study. He also envisioned an increasingly mature body of students on the campus and anticipated that the growth of the state system of preparatory education would free the University to pursue its proper and lofty function of training only the mature students. These, in turn, he thought, could take care of themselves in and out of the classroom.

President Tappan left the University in 1863 before his program was completed. What he would have done in the face of the continued increase in student enrollment, the admission of women, and the elaboration of undergraduate life in the form of athletic, literary, and fraternal societies cannot be answered. What he would have done when the growth of the University outstripped the family facilities of Ann Arbor raises an even more important question. His advocacy of the private residence rested upon the fact that it was normal and orderly, whereas the dormitory, despite its group values and charm, promoted snobbery and disorder. In spite of the practical sense of his point of view, however, alternative modes of housing did develop. Fraternities came into existence, despite faculty opposition, during his regime. Within a decade of his departure from Ann Arbor, women began to appear on the campus. By 1890 athletics was formally recognized as a part of University life, thus increasing the University's commitment to the undergraduate. Even earlier, boarding and rooming houses began to supplement the private family system of housing students in Ann Arbor. By the end of the first decade and a half of the 1900's, the demand for University-operated residences for women began to bear fruit. The men had to wait longer, but the way had been paved to return to a tradition which now gives the University of Michigan singular distinction among institutions of higher learning.

Concern for the housing of men as a University responsibility achieved sharp focus after World War I when, in 1920, President Burton appointed Professor Joseph A. Bursley as Director of the Housing Bureau for Men. This concern Page  1787gained momentum when that appointment was changed to Dean of Students the following year. It is safe to say that adequate, organized, University-sponsored housing for men became one of Dean Bursley's major obligations. Year after year the annual reports of his office emphasized the following theme: "Dormitories to house all of the students are not necessary, but enough to take care of the freshman class are necessary and vitally so, if the University is satisfactorily to discharge its duties to these young men, many of whom are thrown on their own resources for the first time" (P.R., 1922-23, p. 259).

The 1922-23 report was followed by two comprehensive studies of the housing situation. The first, in 1925, by Professor Robert C. Angell, of the Sociology Department, was indeed a far cry from Tappan's abrupt disposal of the subject. Professor Angell advocated housing for upperclassmen as well as freshmen. He went so far as to recommend a "Plan for Residential Colleges." This study put the problem of student residency in a new framework not unlike that which has distinguished Oxford and Cambridge for centuries. Whether the revival of these ancient and tested forms of student life at Harvard and Yale had anything to do with Angell's thinking is not so relevant as the fact that the University of Michigan has always been in the forefront among publicly supported universities in the development of a mature balance of institutions. The time had arrived, as this study indicates, for the University to commit itself educationally to the provision of shelter. This was indeed a prelude to the Michigan House Plan.

The second study of housing, in 1935-36, was made by Professor Fred B. Wahr, at that time Assistant Dean in Charge of Housing for Men. His view of the situation may best be understood by his own words: "The general housing situation today, the scarcity of good rooms coupled with the increase in attendance, reminds one forcibly of the need for rooms which existed in the early twenties at the close of the War, when the attendance at the University began to increase rapidly" (P.R., 1935-36, pp. 42-45). In the same report Dean Bursley wrote: "We need modern, fireproof, well-equipped but not elaborate nor luxurious dormitories sufficient to care for eight hundred to one thousand men, and built in small units accommodating eighty to one hundred each. Such accommodations would take care of the freshman class and a small number of nonfraternity upperclassmen." One need not underline the shift in Bursley's thinking from need for freshman dormitories in 1922 to a plan for a house system in 1935-36. This change, which was expressed on the eve of the opening of Allen-Rumsey House, was incorporated both physically and educationally in the mature conception of the Michigan House Plan by Professor Karl Litzenberg, the first and only Director of Residence Halls on the campus. Of the purposes of the House Plan he wrote as follows:

A response to the immediate needs of the University was demanded in the 1920's; but a solution which would take the form of minimum sleeping and eating space for 2,500 students was not acceptable to President Ruthven and the Board of Regents. Barracks or serried cubicles could have been built, which might have covered half or three-quarters of the student body with an official university roof and provided adequately for physical welfare. But to quote The University Record:

'The Board of Regents has insisted … that the houses should be more than mere rooming and boarding houses… A Michigan House Plan has, consequently, been developed.'

The position taken by the Board of Regents Page  1788and the President was one which implied that opportunities for self-development, for the profitable use of leisure time, for entering into organized recreational, social, and cultural programs should be made available to students in University-owned residence halls. Hence, the sphere of influence of the house plan was not circumscribed by the view that the contribution of the houses projected should be in the realm of physical comfort alone.

The house plan concept rests on certain premises — the most important of which is that a student residence hall can and should contribute to education in the broadest sense of the term.

(Karl Litzenberg, Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 47 [1941]: 239-53.)

Thus, the shift from the rudimentary dormitory of the middle 1800's to the interregnum when no University-sponsored housing at all existed, and then to the Michigan House Plan, involved more than a cycle. It brought to the University a growth in the notion of what a student community should be. Every activity and every student institution was finally to come under educational scrutiny, and every campus organization eventually was to seek some association with the University.

The building of Allen-Rumsey House in 1937 was followed by the completion of the other seven houses of the West Quadrangle in 1939. The following year the first four houses of the East Quadrangle were added to the men's community. In a matter of three years not only were the freshmen housed in University Residence Halls, but there were still enough upperclassmen on campus to give continuity to the staff and to student government.

Only the middle one of these three years gave the House Plan an opportunity to become established. The first year, 1939-40, was a time of uncertainty, restlessness, and disorder occasioned by the occupation of living quarters before they were furnished and by the presence of construction crews still in the process of building. The dining rooms could not be put into operation until some weeks after the beginning of the semester. The system was forced to operate as supervised housing but without the amenities of dining and living together. The entire community took on a temporary housing tone rather than the many-faceted, long-range, cultural features so ably anticipated by Professor Litzenberg. It is no overstatement to say that many educational efforts of the staff and numerous attempts to organize the residents into a community by the student government ended in frustration and pain. Based on such a foundation the prospects of the Michigan House Plan did not look bright. Pessimistic feelings among staff and students and the need to skim off personnel for the opening of the East Quadrangle tended to dominate the scene at the close of the academic year. In the background, the outbreak of World War II in Poland, in spite of considerable student verbosity about the Yanks not coming this time, cast a further pall on the future.

In the second year, the spread of World War II showed how basically sound the House Plan was. The situation was the very antithesis of that which prevailed in 1939-40. The appointment of Charles H. Peake and Joseph E. Kallenbach as Chief Resident Advisers of the West and East Quadrangles gave these units local leadership, integration, and immediate supervision. Under their guidance the residential program gained momentum. Student government, instituted somewhat awkwardly the first year, developed rapidly. In the West Quadrangle, with the sympathetic assistance of Professor Carl A. Brandt, chairman of the Board of Governors of Residence Halls, residential scholarships were established. The Strauss Memorial Library added to the educational dimension Page  1789of the residence halls by sponsoring regular language tables and classical concerts. Individual counseling was extended, faculty participation was invited, intramural athletic programs were formulated, and academic competition was encouraged and recognized. Hopes for the future could not have been more promising.

Instead, and before the end of the first semester of 1941-42, the United States was at war. As staff and student members of the houses began to enlist or plan to enlist and as the national danger became more pronounced, thoughts of studies and permanent residential organizations diminished and in some cases disappeared altogether. The prospect of vacant residence halls in the face of the national emergency led to only one solution. By the spring of 1943, both the East and the West Quadrangles were involved in the war effort. At the end of that academic year the East Quadrangle was occupied by Army Specialized Groups, and the West Quadrangle had been taken over completely by the Navy. To all intents and purposes the Michigan House Plan might well have been abandoned at that time. But again it proved its vitality as an organization. A nucleus of farsighted staff members in the West Quadrangle approached Dean Bursley and Francis C. Shiel, at that time Business Manager and Acting Director of Residence Halls, in regard to a plan of continuity for the Men's Residence Halls. Of singular merit was their concern for the postwar burden which might come suddenly. Mr. Shiel and Dean Bursley, with the help of Professor Brandt, enlisted the aid of the Board of Governors of Residence Halls. As a result of their combined efforts, some twenty-two fraternities were leased to the University for the use of staff and students. On and off during the war period, seven of these houses were occupied by the men. The remaining staff and students were distributed among the houses so as to do the most good. In time, with additional help from newcomers, a reliable core of staff and residents awaited the end of the war. Among the newcomers some war veterans were to be found. In addition to Bursley, Shiel, and Brandt, no story of the Michigan House Plan would be complete without mention of the contribution of Mrs. Laura D. Niles, Mrs. Elliott K. Herdman, Mrs. Theron Langford, Mrs. Virginia Harryman, Mrs. Woolsey W. Hunt, John Bingley, and Woodrow Ohlsen. The addition of Leonard A. Schaadt, now Business Manager of Residence Halls, and Lionel H. Laing, now a member of the Board of Governors of Residence Halls, indicates the caliber as well as the permanence of the people who were appointed to administer the system during its lean years. The valiant activities of Mrs. Charles W. Lobdell in those years of acceleration will long be remembered by those who otherwise might never have had leave or vacation time.

This scattered effort constituted the Michigan House Plan until enlistment, officer training, and other war needs began to slack off. By 1946 all of the residence houses were reoccupied but not on the grand terms of 1940-41, admittedly the one normal year in the history of the House Plan. In spite of the addition of four houses to the East Quadrangle in 1947, the return of the veterans together with the growing freshman classes, resulted in doubling up in all available space. These crowded conditions, which continued until the completion of the seven new houses of the South Quadrangle in 1951-52, placed a strain upon the development of the House Plan, but did not stop its growth.

The most notable changes took place in the area of student activities. One Page  1790noticed the increased style and sophistication of the social program. The long-neglected tastes of the veterans were given opportunities at Quadrangle dances; these, at times, exceeded professional standards. Student interest, encouraged by Provost James P. Adams and Dean Erich A. Walter, chairman of the Postwar Board of Governors of Residence Halls, resulted in the Faculty Associate Program. The growth of student government not only resulted in frequent and more efficient gatherings, but moved into unprecedented areas, such as self-discipline and student judiciaries. The establishment of shortwave radio and wired broadcasting stations added another dimension to this growing student community. Broadcasting was soon to be integrated in a network extending beyond the men's residence halls to include the women's units. The completion of the South Quadrangle resulted in one large-scale stride in student housing.

As early as 1948 suggestions emanating from staff and student leaders urged the integration of the two Quadrangles at the student-government level. Student leaders took the suggestion to counsel and after much deliberation the Association of Independent Men was instituted. Intended as a residence hall service to the less organized off-campus community, it never received the confidence nor earned the co-operation of the regular residence halls student community. With the opening of the South Quadrangle and the organization of its council, the governing bodies of the three Quadrangles established the new and now accepted InterHouse Council, which was to have a campus as well as a residence hall orientation. InterHouse Council was stimulated by the Association of Independent Men, which buttressed its own structure with vague hopes of becoming the focal organization of the expanding men's residence halls system. Institution of the I.H.C., however, signaled the demise of A.I.M. Other campus groups saw, in the men's residence halls, a threat to their relative positions on campus and took measures to put the I.H.C. in its place. Time, the co-operation of student leaders, and the calm guidance of staff and University officers brought the men's residence halls system into the proper perspective.

No historical comment on the Michigan House Plan would be either just or adequate without mentioning the contribution of President Alexander G. Ruthven and the members of the Board of Regents of the late 1930's. Although his own part in the conception is modestly omitted, President Ruthven phrased it at the time in the following words:

The Board of Regents has insisted that the houses should be more than mere rooming and boarding houses. They recognize that, broadly conceived, education should include both formal instruction in the business of living and informal training in the enrichment of personality. A Michigan House Plan has, consequently, been developed which will give the student experience in communal living and assistance in expanding his education into those areas which must be cultivated if he is to become a citizen of the world.

(Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 47: 239-53.)
Ruthven's constant reiteration of this theme, his comradely spirit, his surveillance of building progress, his counsel to members of the staff, his casual nocturnal visits, as well as his continued Faculty Associateship of Allen-Rumsey House, will never be forgotten.

In the same spirit of acknowledgment for services rendered, the Board of Governors of Residence Halls also deserves mention, perhaps most of all because its help is constant, generally unknown, and often subject to criticism. Despite this undramatic role, the chairmen of this Board: Henry Clay Anderson, Carl G. Brandt, Erich A. Walter, and Page  1791Walter B. Rea, with rare self-denial and devotion to the educational interests of the University, have contributed much to the development of the residence halls. In this connection some of its early members should also be mentioned, particularly Professors Charles L. Jamison, Margaret Elliott Tracy, and John W. Eaton.

The Michigan House Plan has engaged the energies and the imagination of many people whose training and campus experience hark back to the German point of view. It is a satisfaction to note that their early reflections upon the needs of a maturing University brought them back to a conception which had once been abandoned, but which now makes it possible to characterize Michigan as a residential university of first rank.


Angell, Robert C. MS, "A Tentative Plan for the Promotion of Satisfactory Living Conditions and Social Contacts Among Students at the University of Michigan." 1925.
Litzenberg, Karl. "The Michigan House Plan."Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 47 (1941): 239-53.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1909, 1920-56.
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1864-1956.