Tuesday, outgoing University President Mary Sue Coleman stood in the Michigan Union and watched as two students cut a ribbon to unveil her plaque on the wall next to a long list of former University presidents.
“Coleman, a biochemist, always focused on the University of tomorrow,” the plaque reads. “Popular with students, she led during the worst economic downfall since the Depression, with new faculty hires, greater interdisciplinary teaching and research, a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, major building and residential life projects and the $3.2 billion Michigan Difference Campaign. A strong advocate of diversity in the classroom, she launched academic partnerships on three continents.”
The tradition of honoring University presidents on the Union wall began in 1994, on the 90th anniversary celebration of the Michigan Union.
Susan Pile, director of the Michigan Union, said she, the Michigan Union Board of Representatives and Coleman’s office had been organizing the ceremony for many months. She lauded the outgoing president’s achievements and tradition of excellence of the University she has continued.
“Putting all of her accomplishments into such few words was a real art,” Pile said. “We’re just honored to be able to honor her.”
LSA senior Kendall Johnson, a member of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives, spoke at the ceremony about the Union’s rich history in supporting student involvement and campus harmony.
Johnson also drew on the significance of Coleman’s status as the first female president of the University, leading the way for future diversity in the school leadership.
“There is also significance in adding a woman to the wall, especially a woman of integrity, responsibility, wisdom and determination,” Johnson said. “The legacy she leads will continue to inspire us for many years to come.”
University alum Adam Kleven, a former MUBR chair, also spoke about the outgoing president’s commitment to students and student life at the ceremony.
Kleven said though studies are important at the University, experiences outside the classroom are the ones that truly benefit students in their lives after college.
“Places like the Michigan Union, the Big House, the rec sports buildings, the dorms, those are the places that students will remember,” he said.
Kleven mentioned several initiatives Coleman undertook to improve student life, including an investment of $170 million in renovations to campus facilities. Over her tenure, Coleman pursued a residential life initiative to renovate and reconstruct residential halls on campus, such as South Quad, Alice Lloyd and Mosher-Jordan.
He also touched on her fireside chats, held in the Union, during which would answer student questions and try to keep her administration’s actions transparent. Kleven said these chats demonstrated the president’s willingness to connect with students and hear their concerns.
“While President Coleman is also leaving some big shoes to fill, I also think that she has laid the groundwork for a future where Michigan will remain a top-tier university and a university dedicated to its students,” he said.
After the unveiling of the plaque, Coleman also mentioned her efforts to improve and develop student life through the facilities they used, whether classrooms, residence halls or the Union itself.
“I am so happy that under the leadership of Royster Harper, (vice president of student life), that we were able to come to an accommodation so that this iconic building will be preserved for the future,” said Coleman. “When I talked to alumni, whether they were from the last few years, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years ago, they remember this as being a part of the campus.”
The Michigan Union began as an all-male organization to foster a sense of unity among students. The Union building that resides on State Street was once the location of the house of former Judge Thomas M. Cooley. His house was demolished in 1916 and the Union opened in 1919.
The original Union housed a bowling alley, barbershop and swimming pool. Today, the building is used as office space for various student organizations, numerous fast food restaurants and cafes, study rooms and conference areas.