Celebrations planned for university’s 2017 bicentennial


Always Leading. Forever Valiant.

With those words, planning for the university’s 2017 bicentennial is in full swing.

The bicentennial will be celebrated in calendar year 2017, from January through December.

“The University of Michigan holds a special place in American higher education, and the bicentennial affords us the opportunity to celebrate our collective achievements while also examining the complex challenges facing today’s academy,” said President Mark Schlissel.

The university was founded in 1817 in Detroit and re-established in Ann Arbor in 1837, with regional campuses established in Flint in 1956 and Dearborn in 1959. What began in Ann Arbor as a college with six students and two professors has evolved into an institution that conducts more research than any public university in the nation.

“We will use the year to strengthen the connections of our community, celebrate and reflect upon our achievements and contributions, understand and learn from our history, and anticipate the university’s challenges and opportunities in its third century,” said Francis X. Blouin Jr., chair of the and professor of history and information.

This combined photo shows the Diag from the 1930s and as it appears today. (Photo collage by Steve Culver, The University Record; and Bentley Historical Library)

In marking 200 years, bicentennial activities will range from academic colloquia and museum exhibits to live entertainment and outdoor festivals. Faculty, staff and students from all campuses are involved in planning the bicentennial events.

“We will share how Michigan helped invent the modern university, and how it is widely considered the model public university,” said Gary D. Krenz, executive director of the bicentennial. “And we will provide opportunities for our community to reflect on how, in the face of new challenges and opportunities for higher education and society, we can again reinvent ourselves.”

Several significant initiatives are underway, including:

Theme semesters

LSA will devote the winter and fall terms of 2017 to courses and public events about the past, present and future of the university.

Winter 2017 will address “The Making of the University of Michigan,” and, broadly speaking, help students and faculty better answer the question, “Where are we today, and how did we get here?”

Fall 2017 will focus on “Michigan Horizons: The Possible Futures of U-M,” and will explore the challenges and dilemmas facing the university and higher education at large.

Howard Brick, Louis Evans professor of history and director of the Eisenberg Institute for Historical Studies, is chairing the theme semester planning committee. All schools and colleges are being encouraged to take part in the theme semesters. Seed funding is available for course development, as well as grants for course-linked special events.

“We strongly encourage faculty outside of LSA to consider courses or course-related events for 2017,” Krenz said. A lecturer in philosophy, Krenz teaches a course in ethics and the university.

President’s bicentennial colloquia

Schlissel will host three bicentennial colloquia examining themes that are key to the future of the university.

The working topics are: “The Future University Community,” “The Future Social Compact for Higher Education” and “The Future Place and Space of the University.”  More details are expected in early 2016.


Four multi-day festivals throughout the year will serve as focal points of community celebration and intellectual reflection. Three festivals will take place on campus, with a fourth in Detroit:

• Spring Festival (April 6-8, 2017) — Highlights include talks by distinguished alumni, tree plantings and a celebration of U-M’s community of cultures. The culminating event will be a live, multimedia performance at Crisler Center, featuring students and faculty from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and other units, as well as narration and performances by noted Michigan alumni. The event will be webstreamed live for alumni throughout the world.

• Summer Festival (June 26-27, 2017) — Special emphasis will be given to celebrating the contributions of U-M staff. The Bicentennial Office also is partnering with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for bicentennial-themed music and film, and recognition of longstanding town-gown bonds.

• Detroit Festival (Sept. 22-23, 2017) — A celebration will commemorate the university’s 1817 founding in Detroit, and reflect on U-M’s connections to the city in the past, present, and going forward.

• Fall Festival (Oct. 26-28, 2017) — The final festival will see the sealing of U-M time capsules, developed and designed by students from diverse disciplines such as art and design, engineering, architecture and American culture. A Third Century Expo, highlighting current innovative work by faculty, students and staff, will fill Ingalls Mall, followed by a nighttime finale that organizers promise will be unlike any outdoor event in campus history. 

The Fall Festival coincides with homecoming weekend, a football game against Rutgers University and a special halftime show by the Michigan Marching Band.

Encyclopedic survey

In 1937, when the university observed its 100th anniversary in Ann Arbor, a massive chronicle of campus history was compiled and published as “The University of Michigan: An Encyclopedic Survey.” The histories of academic departments comprise an essential source of institutional memory and are a guide to research for U-M faculty, other scholars, students and alumni of the various departments.

The 400-plus entries were updated in the 1970s for many university units, and in recent years the entire work has been digitized and made available online.

As the bicentennial nears, each unit of the university has been asked to update its entry through the 2010s. Working with Michigan Publishing, the Bicentennial Office will present the Encyclopedic Survey in a new, accessible website that feature print-on-demand functions.

Additional bicentennial plans include public lectures, museum exhibits, live entertainment, building tours and artistic demonstrations, as well as alumni activities in key locations through the United States and world.

“Through both celebration and scholarship. we will make 2017 a distinctive moment in the life of the university,” Krenz said.



  1. Danielle Center
    on September 14, 2016 at 1:49 pm


    Reaching out from Ste. Anne’s in Detroit. Ste. Anne’s is the final resting place of Father Gabriel Richard, co-founder of the University of Michigan. We are very interested in helping collaborate with this celebration, and would look forward to speaking to you in greater detail, especially concerning your fall events. Thanks!

  2. Candace Hinkle
    on November 3, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    I think it would be a nice tribute to bring to the attention of the three University of Michigan Apollo 15 Space Crew that flew together in 1971. David Scott, Alfred Worden and James Irwin.

    Kindest Regards,
    Candace Hinkle

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