The University community remembers

BY DAILY STAFF

Published September 9, 2011

Lee Bollinger, Former University President

Campus leaders reflect on their experiences the morning of Sept. 11 and how the day changed their lives and the University of Michigan.


As the University community grieved in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, then-University President Lee Bollinger was stuck in New York City trying to return to Ann Arbor.

Bollinger, now the president of Columbia University, and Ken Fischer, then and current president of the University of Michigan Musical Society, were in New York that Tuesday to meet with representatives from the Royal Shakespeare Company about the relationship between the company and the University of Michigan.

Because all flights were grounded, Bollinger had to drive back to Michigan, arriving in Ann Arbor on Sept. 13.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson told The Michigan Daily at the time: "He got a car, and he was driving back last night. He’s fine, and he wasn’t in Manhattan, so he wasn’t right in the middle of things."

After returning to campus, Bollinger, along with his wife Jean and Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, attended a Sept. 14 service at the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor. They went to show support for members of the local Muslim community since they might have been targets of retaliation because of their religious identification.

“It is frightening and disturbing to people who are subject to that kind of intolerance,” Bollinger told the Daily in 2001.

The Sunday after the attacks, the Bollingers also hosted an open house at their South University Avenue home to provide students with a “home away from home,” Jean Bollinger told the Daily at the open house. Various campus musical groups performed, and small groups of students spoke with the Bollingers about the impact of the attacks.

“There’s a sense of family on this campus,”Lee Bollinger told the Daily at the time. He added that he hoped the open house could start to help the University community move on.

“There was some sort of transition needed,” Bollinger said at the time. “However, I don’t think normal life is possible right now and won’t be possible for a long time.”

Bollinger, through a Columbia University spokesman, declined several recent requests from the Daily for an interview for this

— Joseph Lichterman


Juan Cole, University History Professor

Besides the destruction and tragedy that resulted from the Sept. 11 attacks, University History Prof. Juan Cole, sees another harmful outcome – stripping away Americans’ civil rights.

Cole, who is the author of a blog titled Informed Comment in which he discusses Middle Eastern and U.S. politics, said the attacks initially had a unifying effect on the nation.

“Of course everybody was shocked that this happened and confused as to why, but initially opinion polls suggested that there wasn’t any great hostility towards Muslims in general as a result of the attacks,” he said. “It was understood by the American public that that was done by a terrorist group.”

However, as Americans banded together, they also experienced a decrease in personal liberties, Cole said.

“Among the more troubling outcomes of September 11 was a willingness of the American public to acquiesce in terms of their own civil rights and acceptance of practices such as torture that I think would not have been acceptable pre-9/11,” he said.

Cole became the subject of national media attention when it surfaced that members of George W. Bush’s administration had allegedly launched an investigation of him due to his criticisms of the former president and the Iraq War on his blog.

While Cole said Americans have seen temporary losses of certain civil liberties in the past — as in the post-World War I repression and the McCarthy period in the 1950s — the policies made after Sept. 11 seem more permanent.

“In the case of the aftermath of 9/11, many of the changes have been institutionalized and the activities of the National Security Agency, which engages in signals intelligence and the creation of secret spy cams inside the U.S. government, makes it more difficult to roll these particular abuses back than in the past,” Cole said.

He added that as the United States becomes further removed from the events of 9/11 with time, the political leverage of the tragedy is weakened.

“I think the emotions have subsided to the point where it would be very difficult to use September 11 to launch a war,” he said.

Instead, Cole said he believes the ongoing legacy of Sept. 11 will be the policies the public agreed to in the aftermath of the tragedy.

“(9/11 made Americans) more willing to accept domestic surveillance of various sorts. I think many of the rights and the Bill of Rights have been weakened,” Cole said. “And this has been made possible by public acquiescence and government actions.”

— Sabira Khan


Mary Sue Coleman, University President

It was a picture perfect fall day. It was sunny in New York City, sunny in Washington D.C. and on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, there were clear blue skies in eastern Iowa, too.

University President Mary Sue Coleman, then the president of the University of Iowa, was behind the wheel of her car when she first heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

In an e-mail to The Michigan Daily, Coleman wrote that she was driving to Fairfield, Iowa — about 65 miles from the University of Iowa’s Iowa City campus — to meet with a group of high school teachers about preparing their students to attend Iowa.

“The teachers were very intent on talking to me and did not want to interrupt the session, so we kept working for about an hour,” Coleman wrote. “Of course, at that time none of us knew what really had occurred. As I left the building, the principal stopped me and reported that something terrible had happened. I rushed to the car and listened to NPR all the way back to Iowa City, horrified by what was unfolding.”

Coleman related how she knew she needed to be with students to reassure the university community.

“The rest of the day was nightmarish,” Coleman wrote. “My first concern was our students, who were distraught. It really felt like the world as we knew it was ending.”

That evening, the University of Iowa held a vigil on the Pentacrest — Iowa’s equivalent to the Diag — and residence halls held meetings so students could share their feelings about the day.

“It gave students a shared place to express their emotions and be close to others,” Coleman wrote. “A sense of community was extremely important. I will never forget that terrible day.”

— Joseph Lichterman


James Duderstadt, Former University President

Ten years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, some people still have a fear of flying. But former University President James Duderstadt isn’t one of them. In fact, he flew to New York City just a few days after the attacks.

In 2001, Duderstadt — who was the University’s president from 1988 to 1996 — was serving on the board of directors of information technology company Unisys. The company had scheduled a board meeting in Manhattan the weekend following the tragedy and they decided to proceed with it.

“Our board believed it was very important not to cancel the meeting to convey a sense of confidence in the ability of New York City to recover from this shock,” Duderstadt wrote in an e-mail interview.

But the passengers on the flight to New York’s LaGuardia Airport were sparse, as Duderstadt was only one of two people on the plane.

“There were only a couple of passengers on my 757, along with the flight crew. Our final approach into LaGuardia took us right up the river by the World Trade Center. It was a very strange experience,” Duderstadt wrote, adding that he took a photo of Ground Zero from the plane.

When the first plane crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, Duderstadt was in his office and, like many people across the country on that day, watched on television the second plane crash and the subsequent collapse of the towers.

“Throughout the day I remember the urgency, the tragedy and the constant speculation about other threats —some real, many imagined,” Duderstadt wrote.

In addition to the obvious monumental impact the attacks had on the nation, Duderstadt noted that 9/11 also affected the University. Duderstadt said he canceled a University alumni trip to Kenya that was supposed to take place three weeks later. He wrote that he and other participants were concerned for the alumni’s safety since there was a possibility of “political disruption” around the world if the United States were to invade Afghanistan.

“Clearly the attack had a major impact on America just as it had on the University,” Duderstadt wrote. “It also had an impact on my own activities, which have shifted to a more active role in national security activities since 2001.”

— Adam Rubenfire


Eric Fretz, Student Veteran

By September 11, 2001, Eric Fretz, a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve, had already been in the military for more than 10 years, was two years into earning his Ph.D. and was the father of two young kids. Fretz — who was pursuing his Ph.D. in the University's Combined Program in Education and Psychology — recalled gathering information at a local middle school for his Ph.D. research project when the attacks on 9/11 occurred.

“I was working in the science classroom, and I just remember the initial reports coming over the speaker ... it was just the fact that the buildings were on fire,” Fretz said.

Upon hearing the news that several planes were unaccounted for, Fretz said the children at the school became afraid for their safety, a memory that has since stuck with him. He recalled how he wasn’t concerned that the Detroit area would be a major target.

“I knew they would go for the high-profile government targets,” Fretz said.

In an attempt to process the tragedy, Fretz went to a plot of land where he and his wife were planning on building a house and tried to make sense of the attacks.

“I just went out there and sat in the woods for the rest of the day ... I basically just sat there thinking and trying to absorb it,” he said.

Fretz started his military career at the University’s Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps program in the 1980s. After serving his first active duty for the Navy from 1989 to 1996, Fretz returned to the University in 1998 to start his Ph.D. program while still remaining in the Navy Reserve.

It took four years after the attacks before Fretz was deployed first in 2005 to Bahrain and again in 2008 to Iraq, where he served in the U.S. Army. Before he left for Bahrain, he and his wife had their third child, and Fretz was forced to miss monumental milestones of his daughter’s early life.

“She started to walk and figure out the world without me there,” he said.

In addition to his deployment putting stress on his family, Fretz said his Ph.D. studies were put on hold as a result.

“They completely disrupted and delayed my graduate studies and had huge effects on family,” said Fretz, who finally completed his Ph.D. last December.

Despite the difficulties that arose from his deployment in the years following 9/11, Fretz said he was doing the job he signed up for.

“In my mind I don’t blame 9/11 or any political figure or anyone else,” he said.

— Anna Rozenberg


Geoffrey Gagnon, Former Michigan Daily Editor in Chief

For The Michigan Daily’s paper on Sept. 12, 2001, Geoffrey Gagnon, then-editor in chief of the Daily, was originally planning to run a lead news story about a student-athlete who had been accused of sexual assault. Needless to say, there was a different lead story that day.

When Gagnon’s roommate woke him up on the morning of 9/11 to tell him a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, Gagnon knew immediately where he needed to be — the Daily newsroom.

“Pretty much everyone on staff just kind of flooded into the Daily,” Gagnon said. “There was a sense that that was a place where people were trying to make sense of what was going on.”

Gagnon recalled the camaraderie felt among Daily staff members as they tried to make sense of the tragedy while watching the aftermath of the attacks on television.

“We didn’t know what we were watching, and we certainly didn’t know how it was going to impact the University of Michigan, but we figured that was the place we all wanted to be, and we wanted to figure it out together,” he said.

Gagnon said the major challenge for him and other Daily staff members that day was determining how the campus newspaper would respond to the tragedy.

“We all were trying to figure out what should be reflected in the campus newspaper … there were no obvious answers,” Gagnon said. “It was a strange afternoon — one in which we didn’t have a good playbook on what to do.”

Many staff members were engaged in passionate debates regarding the content in the paper for the next day, Gagnon said, adding that an editorial board meeting was particularly heated.

“Everyone was fully engaged in a way I had never seen before,” Gagnon said. “It’s one of those instances where you know you have to say something, but you don’t know what it is that you really have to say.”

Newsweek reported on the experiences of Gagnon and other University students in a November 2001 article titled “Generation 9-11.” Gagnon — currently a senior editor at The Atlantic — said it was because of the experience of interacting with Newsweek editors that he eventually decided to pursue a career in journalism — a path he was hesitant to pursue despite his position at the Daily.

When Newsweek editors inquired about his future career plans, Gagnon said he wasn’t interested in working in journalism. However the persistent editors convinced him otherwise and offered him a position as an intern with the company, which eventually helped to launch his career as a magazine writer.

“I wouldn’t have done that had I not had that experience with those folks,” Gagnon said. “Explaining to them how it is that we tried to make sense of things here … it also helped convince me that doing that type of work is really gratifying and valuable, and it’s something that I thought I wanted to do.”

— Adam Rubenfire


Vandal Heuvel, NROTC Commanding Officer

Captain R.E. Vanden Heuvel, commanding officer and professor of navel science in the University’s Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps, was an executive officer of an E2C commanding control squad in Northern Virginia at the time of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

His squad was planning to attend a final briefing regarding their six-month deployment, which was scheduled for October, when his wife called and told him that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.

“(I) didn’t necessarily think anything of it, to be honest,” Heuvel said. “(I) presumed it was just a small airplane, an accident, that kind of thing.”

However, as Heuvel approached the military instillation gate in Virginia Beach, the alarms went off, and the guards had been told to close the gates.

“We were watching TV, saw the first tower that was still on fire, and looked up and (saw) the second airplane hit,” he said.

The briefings stopped when news arrived that the third plane hit the Pentagon, and the squad was told to return to their units and standby for further instruction. Heuvel’s squad eventually received direction to take off and fly over the Atlantic Ocean to assist the Federal Aviation Administration controllers identify incoming airplanes and make sure they were landing where instructed.

Despite his participation, Heuvel recalled that he did not quite understand the full situation at the time.

“We knew obviously that there was a problem because the F16 (planes were) all flying next to us, all fully armed, so we realized that this wasn’t an exercise,” he said.

The incident altered Heuvel’s deployment cycle and led to a shorted preparation timeline for his squad.

“I looked at my wife and my kids and I said, ‘I have a feeling that I’m leaving soon — I don’t know what’s going on, but I have a feeling that I’m going to be leaving soon,’ ” he recalled.

Heuvel was deployed two weeks later.

Among many things, the 9/11 attacks affected the military by giving members a more specific training focus, Heuvel said.

“We knew for a while that we needed to train differently and think differently,” he said. “We just weren’t exactly sure how or why, or what we were really going to face.”

Heuvel said he believes that after 9/11, the public developed a new understanding of the military. Because previous attacks targeted the military overseas and did not affect domestic civilians, terrorist attacks were not in everybody’s forefront prior to 9/11, he said.

“It’s basically a tipping point for many of us,” Heuvel said. “It goes in the same line as Pearl Harbor, JFK assassination. Everybody remembers where (they were) and when.”

— Younjoo Sang


Daniel Oates, Former Ann Arbor Police Chief

Daniel Oates, chief of the Ann Arbor Police Department in 2001, charged out of a meeting with Ann Arbor City Council members on the morning of 9/11 wishing he was alongside his New York Police Department colleagues who were heading for the World Trade Center, where a second plane had just toppled the south tower.

Just three weeks earlier, Oates had accepted the position with the AAPD, ending a 21-year career with the NYPD in which he served as the Commanding Officer of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division.

On 9/11, as Oates’s former colleagues from the Patrol Borough Brooklyn South rushed to downtown Manhattan, he scrambled to evacuate Ann Arbor City Hall and identify and guard potential terrorist targets in the local water supply and infrastructure.

In a recent interview, Oates — who has been the chief of police for the city of Aurora, Colo. since November 2005 — described that morning as “chaotic.”

“I had, seemingly to me at the time, everyone turning to me and asking, ‘What do we do?’ ” Oates said, adding that the 36 hours following the attacks were “unlike anything we had experienced.”

That night, Oates and Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje met with local Muslim community leaders to plan an event for the following day to decry the backlash against Ann Arbor’s Muslim community. Oates said the event was “the primary reason why we had no subsequent or significant events of backlash against our Muslim citizens in Ann Arbor in the days and months afterward.”

Oates later contacted his former command in New York to ask about the status of two of his police friends who responded to calls at the World Trade Center and were missing. They were finally located two days later.

Though his two friends survived, Oates knew nine of the 23 NYPD officers who died on 9/11. He admitted it was difficult to be away from New York in the days and months after the terrorist attacks.

“For me personally, it was really hard because by the time the towers went down, I knew to a certainty that people I knew had died,” Oates said. “And of course that turned out to be absolutely true.”

— Andrew Schulman