|Michigan State vs. Michigan - Not just a rivalry
||[Oct. 3rd, 2010|10:34 pm]
Paul R. Stoetzer
Not just a rivalry
A history of institutional disrespect by the University of Michigan should not be forgotten as the big game approaches this week.
Many casual and neutral observers often ask me; “Why don’t you root for the University of Michigan? Why are you cheering a Penn State touchdown? Just because you went to Michigan State doesn’t mean you have to be bitter about it.” Alas, I don’t have an hour to lecture somebody at a sports bar, nor would they want to listen to me ramble about events of 100 years ago, but for many years I’ve wanted to address this subject in a complete manner. Many believe that the rivalry between MSU and U of M is purely a geographic one, or perhaps merely born out of the two schools differences in heritage and perceived prestige. The classic hostility between the state supported liberal arts university and the state agricultural colleges of old is not unique to Michigan. However, the long standing tension between U of M and MSU runs much deeper than a mere philosophical or geographical argument.
If the people of Michigan fully understood the longstanding, programmatic attempts to undermine the growth, development, and success of what is now Michigan State University by the University of Michigan over the past 150 years, perhaps they would then understand our hostility. And perhaps some of that maize and blue department in your local Wal-Mart would be substituted for green and white.
Michigan State University began as the humble Agricultural College of the State of Michigan in 1857, in the face of opposition from the University of Michigan. While the University of Michigan may thumb their nose at MSU’s agricultural heritage today, they in fact sought to have the state agricultural college built in Ann Arbor as a part of the University of Michigan before the East Lansing campus was even established. Thankfully, the Michigan State Agricultural Society, formed in 1849, had the foresight to fight for an agricultural campus independent of the University of Michigan’s control and prevailed with state legislation in 1855 establishing the college. These are important facts to remember when a U of M supporter refers to Michigan State as “Moo-U”; they wanted to be the agricultural college from the beginning.
There is no question that the State Agricultural College in East Lansing had a difficult beginning. Malaria hit the campus hard in the early years, as the swampy Red Cedar area harbored mosquitoes. There were arguments about the role the college should play, whether such a school should be an institution of higher education versus one of vocational training. The Civil War also stunted the growth of the State Agricultural College. The school struggled financially until 1862, when the Morrill-Land Grant Colleges Act donated millions of acres of federal land to be sold in order to fund the establishment of agricultural and mechanical colleges throughout the country. Michigan had already established its State Agricultural College, which could now reap the new funding provided by the Morrill Act and expand; that was until the University of Michigan interfered. The University of Michigan sought to purloin the Morrill Act funding which rightfully belonged to the State Agricultural University by lobbying the state legislature to close the East Lansing campus and merge the college into the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The University of Michigan’s supporters in the legislature moved to close the State Agricultural College on four separate occasions between 1863 and 1869. Each time they were rebuffed. However, the constant threat of closure at the hands of the University of Michigan effectively prevented State Agricultural College from making any capital improvements during that time. Though the threat of closure eventually passed, the attempts to marginalize and restrict the growth of what would be Michigan State University did not cease. U of M supporters opposed the development of an engineering department at Michigan Agricultural College because they duplicated the University’s offerings. Nonetheless the program grew and by 1907, a unified Department of Engineering was formed in a brand new engineering building near the Red Cedar River. Sadly, this building burned to the ground in 1916. In the tragedy, University of Michigan backers saw an opportunity to gain students and funding by proposing a merger of the University and Agricultural College engineering programs, effectively ending the Agricultural College’s engineering department. Thankfully, R.E. Olds saved the program for MAC by donating the funds to construct a new engineering building on the footprint of the burned building. R.E. Olds hall still stands today.
Michigan State University has obviously gone through several name changes throughout the years to reflect its growing influence, and the University of Michigan has fought the changes vehemently. In 1925, Michigan Agricultural College sought state approval to change its name to Michigan State College. The University opposed this changed, and an unwieldy compromise was struck, as the college was officially known as Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science from 1925 to 1955. In 1955, the State of Michigan conferred University status to Michigan State. The University of Michigan sued, fought the name change and again forced the unwieldy compromise of Michigan State University of Agriculture and Applied Science. It took a 1964 Michigan Constitutional Convention to grant MSU its final name.
The University of Michigan has also fought the legitimization of MSU’s athletic program by opposing its inclusion in the Big 10. When the University of Chicago ended all varsity sports and dropped out of the Big 10 in 1946, MSC fought to take its place in the conference. In 1949, MSC was accepted into the Big 10 by the other member schools by a vote of 8 to 1. The reader can likely discern which school provided the dissenting vote.
Think about the possibility that the University of Michigan had gotten its way all these years. There would be no MSU, no East Lansing campus, no tailgate Saturdays, I wouldn’t have even met my wife, or many of you. Think of these things when someone asks you why you are rooting against the University of Michigan in the coming weeks, as they pitifully struggle to the losing season they have so richly deserved for decades.
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