Glimpses of alumni past

BY MIKE DOLSEN
Daily Staff Writer
Published November 10, 2008

The University has had a slew of famous alumni — the man who voiced Darth Vader and Mufasa from “The Lion King,” a modern-day Charlie’s Angel, a president, a famed playwright, several notorious murders. Traces of these four illustrious alumni still survive on campus today, but rather than namesake libraries or theatres, it’s the smaller artifacts that reveal what these alumni were like in their formative days at the University.

Gerald Ford

Of all the people featured, former President Gerald Ford has undoubtedly left the biggest mark on the University. The man has a library and an entire school named after him.

A more personal legacy, though can be found at the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon. When Ford wasn’t studying for a dual-degree in political science and economics or playing center and linebacker for the Wolverines, he could be found at the DKE house at 1912 Geddes.

While he was an active member in DKE, Ford covered part of the cost of school by washing dishes at the fraternity house in exchange for room and board.

Ford’s involvement with DKE didn’t end when he graduated. In a place called “The Shant” at 611 ½ East Williams Street, DKE has accumulated a large cache of Ford related fraternity memorabilia. Inside the display, are pictures of Ford outside the fraternity house, a wood carving he and his pledge brothers made, and letters of support and encouragement to a number of pledge classes.

In a letter to the DKE pledge class of Fall 1987: “It is no coincidence that three Presidents of the United States have been Dekes and that our flag was flown with the Stars and Stripes on the first expedition to the North Pole and the first manned landing on the moon. The individual qualities that DKE seeks have certainly withstood the test of time and served us all in good stead.”

Arthur Miller

The author of “The Crucible” and “Death of a Salesman” was first recognized at the University with the Hopwood Awards he won for the plays “No Villain” in 1936 and “Honors at Dawn” in 1937.

Before Arthur Miller was on his way to becoming the preeminent American playwright, though, he was interested in pursuing a career in journalism. During his freshman and sophomore year, Miller was a reporter for The Michigan Daily and eventually became a night editor in his junior year.

While working for the Daily, Miller developed his liberal political ideology covering events like the United Auto Workers’ unionization efforts in Detroit and Flint.
But Miller soon realized that fact-based writing didn’t really do it for him.

“He said he stopped writing for the Daily because he didn’t like sticking to the facts,” English and Theatre Prof. Enoch Brater told the Daily after Miller died in 2005. “He much preferred making things up. The rest, you know, is history.”

Late in college, Miller changed his major from journalism to English and quit the Daily to write for campus’s satirical magazine The Gargoyle, which provided Miller a more fiction-focused outlet for his writing talents.

Excerpt from “You Simply Must Go To College” in an 1938 issue of The Gargoyle

Really, we college people are the pick of the crop. Whatever these reformers say about education being all wet is just so much melonwater and anybody will agree. Education is fitting us for life and already we are making our influence felt even before we have received our diplomas, and everybody knows, that the full brunt of our influence isn’t supposed to be felt until after we have our diplomas well in hand.

In short, the way we college people are going to raise the standards of conduct and thought is already apparent. It will not be long before the United Press will say, “As Ann Arbor Goes, So Goes the Nation.” That’s how important each and every one of us light beacons are and the best way to prove it is to examine our well-lit community.

Everybody knows that the only first-class indication of the extent of a civilization is the home. Even Mr. Landon acutely remarked, “Everywhere I go in America I see people living together in families, “ so you see I’m not alone in my opinion. We must look to the home, and in this case, the Ann Arbor student’s room. It will show how the light of learning has illuminated such a vast city as ours. Buy since we can’t properly enter any house, come with me as we look for a room. That is, make believe you actually want to live in Ann Arbor as many college people already do.

William Ayers

illiam Ayers — the man who the McCain campaign would have had sink Obama’s candidacy — garnered most his anti-establishment fame from his involvement with the militant Weathermen in1968 and 1969.

Although his radical leftism hadn’t yet reached the point of bombing public buildings, Ayers was already getting in trouble with the law as an undergrad at the University.

In October 1965, Ayers and 38 others participated in a sit-in at the Ann Arbor Draft Board. A week later, they were found gauilty of trespassing and eventually sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Five days after Ayers was released, he wrote a two-part opinion article in The Michigan Daily about his experience in prison.

Among many revealing anecdotes in the two-part series, the most distressing is how Ayers spent his birthday in jail. On that day, he and seven other cellmates were put into a tiny room with “no toilet and absolute minimum of ventilation” for two days simply because one of Ayers’ cellmates tried to make a little hot chocolate.

Excerpt from All-American jail, part 1:
I don’t mind terribly much that I can’t get books, because I don’t think I’ll be able to do much reading anyway. I thought that being locked into a quiet, unstimulating place would help me catch up on some work: actually, reading is very difficult and I’ve found that this place is most conducive to sitting on the steel bench and dumbly contemplating the floor (which is what most people do).

I was a bit hesitant at first to talk with the other prisoners about why I was in, because I expected that there would be hostility towards an anti-war or anti-draft position. But I decided that it would be stupid to keep saying that I was in for trespassing (which is legally correct), because that kind of becomes an admission that my position is weak or that others don’t understand and feel oppressed by the same things I do.

When I started talking about it I was amazed at how many people were not only open to talk about the war and the draft, but seemed actually pleased to be able to tell what their experiences had been and what they were going to do. One young guy was particularly articulate in telling about how they’d been trying to draft him and how he’d been dodging it. He’s planning to refuse induction because he doesn’t like “what’s going on over there.”

The only open hostility has been from the police. One of the turnkeys (jailers) has come down to our cell a number of times and, with a smile, has sarcastically asked the other people in the cell, “Well, you learning anything from these college boys?” A hillbilly kid from Ypsilanti shut him up yesterday when he replied, “Yeah. I’m learning how to dodge a draft.”

Ted Kaczynski

Before he went crazy and started sending bombs to universities, Ted Kaczynski (a.k.a The Unabomber) was one of the brightest mathematicians at the University of Michigan.

Before he went crazy and started sending bombs to universities, Ted Kaczynski (The Unabomber) was one of the brightest mathematicians at the University of Michigan.

Kaczynski came to Michigan in 1962 to earn his masters, and eventually his doctorate, in mathematics. While here, he received the University’s Sumner B. Myers Prize, which is awarded to the best Ph.D. dissertation of the year. The dissertation, titled “Boundary Functions,” is listed on a plaque of Myers prize winners in East Hall. The work Kaczynski published while here was on the cutting edge of mathematics for the time.

“I would guess that maybe 10 or 12 people in the country understood or appreciated it,” Mathematics Prof. Maxwell O. Reade, who was on Kaczynski’s dissertation committee, told The New York Times in 1996.

The future Unabomber was also worked here as a graduate student instructor, and was evaluated by his students as merely average, and in one case, incompetent. Evidently, he spent most of his time focused on his own research, primarily solving difficult math theorems.

The five years spent on campus were miserable for Kaczynski, who now resides in a super-maximum security prison in Colorado.

“My memories of the University of Michigan are NOT pleasant,” Kaczynski wrote in a letter to a Daily reporter in 2006.

According to Kaczynski, his professors rarely came to class prepared, and even if they did, they couldn’t even figure out the problems they had assigned.

It seems the resentment Kaczynski felt toward his professors stayed with him — 10 of the 16 bombs he sent during his Unabomber spree were to institutes of higher education.