Although the University of Michigan’s first president earned the love of students and the respect of many faculty, Henry Philip Tappan also had his fair share of critics. Wilbur Storey, owner and editor of the Detroit Free Press, “set up Tappan as a target for the Democrats’ antipathy toward all things that smacked of exalted manners, European tastes and rule by fancy-pants aristocrats.” Alexander Winchell, a Methodist and member of the U-M faculty, was not comfortable with “Tappan’s intention to favor the truths of secular science over biblical truth.” Tappan and Winchell had a confrontational relationship. Tappan had fired him because he thought Winchell’s work in physics and civil engineering was subpar. When Winchell fought with Silas Douglas, a founder of the medical department, Tappan took Douglas’ side. Winchell soon took to the press to fight back against Tappan, criticizing him in newspapers like the Free Press. When the state’s Methodist Conference approved resolutions “criticizing the ‘moral condition’ of the University, it was whispered that Winchell was behind it.”
— Adapted from “Tappan’s End,” by James Tobin. To read more, go to heritage.umich.edu.