University releases plans for bicentennial celebration

Sunday, October 30, 2016 - 8:10pm

The University of Michigan Bicentennial Office released their plans Monday morning for the anticipated year-long celebration of the University's bicentennial in 2017, which include festivals, lecture series and themed semesters.

Both LSA semesters of the year are slated to be themed. Next year’s winter semester will focus on “Making Michigan,” or the history of the University, while the 2017 fall semester centers around “Michigan Horizons: The Possible Futures of U-M” and looking ahead to the University’s third century.

According to the Bicentennial Office, many of the events will feature prominent alumni and guest speakers: notable alumni, such as actors Darren Criss and James Earl Jones, will headline a spring festival next April, while Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is scheduled to speak in January at the first of a yearlong series of symposia hosted by University President Mark Schlissel. The Bicentennial Office and Advisory Committee — appointed in 2011 by then University president Mary Sue Coleman — is also working with student groups to ensure a number of annual events, such as the Martin Luther King Symposium in January, tie back into the commemoration.

Themed Semesters

LSA departments will devote the winter 2017 semester to exploring the origins of the University of Michigan system and examining its role in the state, nation and world through course offerings and symposia complimented by a series of lectures and discussions. In a University press release, History Prof. Gregory Parker, a member of the theme semester planning committee, emphasized the intersection of University history with broader national and global trends.

“Our idea is to invite the entire campus to understand and unpack these connections, to learn how Michigan was shaped by our world and, in turn, how Michigan has influenced the globe,” Parker said.

Next year’s fall semester, named “Michigan Horizons,” will aim to foster brainstorming on what the future holds for large research institutions like the University. In addition to academic programming, Schlissel will hold an event with multiple university administrators from around the nation on the future of research institutions in June. Susan E. Alcock, professor of archaeology and classics and special counsel to Schlissel for institutional outreach and engagement, said in a press release the discussion will examine strengths and weaknesses of universities’ public missions.

“The conversation will focus on the ever-evolving bargain, or compact, between the research university and society at large,” Alcock said.

Outdoor festivals in spring, summer and fall

An outdoor fair will serve as a centerpiece for each semester’s celebration. In total, the University will hold expositions in spring, summer and next fall in Ann Arbor and will also host a festival in Detroit next September.

UMich200 Spring Festival is the first of the celebrations, and will take place next April. Scheduled events include historical building tours, a cultural festival and a multimedia event capping off the celebration at Hill Auditorium that will feature actors Darren Criss and James Earl Jones, in addition to director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz.

The summer fair will celebrate University faculty and staff in collaboration with the annual Ann Arbor summer festival.

The Third Century Expo, the fall finale, will preview projects and initiatives moving the University into its next 100 years with a public fair spanning the Diag and Ingalls Mall on homecoming weekend next year. Gary Krenz, the executive director of the Bicentennial Office, said in a press release exhibits will be interactive and futuristic, and follow in the spirit of world’s fairs, such as the Chicago World Fair in 1893.

“Fair-goers will find exhibits that encourage hands-on engagement, rather than a passive experience where they are told to ‘look, but don’t touch,’ ” Krenz said.

In between the summer and fall celebrations, the University is planning a day of festivities in Detroit in September to honor the University’s birthplace and its connection to the city with exhibitions and a large-scale oral history project headed by the Detroit Center.

Plans released by Bicentennial Office also includes a commemoration of native peoples, as tribes native to Michigan originally entered into a treaty ceding control of land to the University in 1817 when it was located in Detroit. Neither the press release nor plans from the office, however, specified what such events will look like.

Alumni Awards and Grant Initiatives

The University is dedicating awards and need-based student aid to students in an effort to include a greater portion of the campus community in the commemoration. One such initiative is the Bicentennial Alumni Award, which will acknowledge recent alumni making significant contributions in their fields.

The Bicentennial Office is also introducing a year-long design contest — with an award of $25,000 — asking students to reimagine both physical spaces and teaching methods in 2067. According to the Bicentennial Office, a “nationally renowned panel” will review submissions in the spring, and 20 teams have already submitted proposals.

Proceeds from bicentennial merchandise slated to be sold at the M Den, the official retailer of the University’s Athletic Department, will go toward the Undergraduate Scholarship Fund, one of the University’s main avenues for distributing need-based aid to students.