Tappan's Vision...


Introduction written by the Director of the Bentley Historical Library, Dr. Francis X. Blouin Jr., text by James Tobin.

In 1850 Michigan adopted a new constitution which among other things more clearly defined the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as an autonomous state institution governed by an elected board of regents. In 1851 the newly constituted board chose Henry Phillip Tappan as the first president under this new plan. Tappan's contributions to the university form the foundation for the greatness that the University would achieve in its subsequent decades.

Tappan arrived in Ann Arbor in 1852 and delivered his inaugural speech as president on December 21st of that year. The Speech represents what we would call today a "vision statement" of what a university can be. Tappan in a 52 page oration gazed far into the future and saw a university that would explore all branches of theoretical knowledge, all aspects of applied science, all manner of the arts, and all of professional education. He spoke of having the proper materials for education envisioning great libraries, laboratories, and museums. And, all this would be accessible to all citizens regardless of rank, position, or wealth. It would take time for the university to truly realize his vision, but remarkably little time.

view of campus from the est, ca. 1854
View of campus from the east, ca 1854

By the 1920's all elements of Tappan's vision were in place on the campus. The University of Michigan was among a handful of major institutions of higher education in America that were active not only in teaching but also in shaping the content of what constituted the disciplinary categories of advanced knowledge. In that respect the Tappan speech, so ambitious in its goals, still remains a guiding force in the continuing development of teaching, research, and service on campus.

The exhibition reproduced here explores elements of the Tappan inaugural address and shows how the vision was realized through a series of very important faculty appointments.

This exhibit is on display permanently in the Bentley Historical Library's Whiting Room. It was converted to an online exhibit in September of 2011 by Jessica Hanes.