IT WAS NOV. 8, 1997. The Michigan football team had just beaten Penn State and the Wolverines were on the path to the Rose Bowl and a national championship. Thousands of cheering fans, unable to make it to State College for the game, filled the streets of Ann Arbor, crowding South University Avenue. As the peaceful mob came to a stop outside the President”s House, chants of “We want Lee!” rose up from the crowd.
The president, not even a year into his term, opened the doors and invited countless screaming students inside. The president was swarmed by adoring students.
This was Lee C. Bollinger”s crowning moment as the University”s 12th president. The new leader, loved by all, became a campus celebrity. He was on top of the world.
Fast forward to February 2000 Bollinger”s darkest hour.
The veteran administrator came under fire for the controversial forced resignation of Athletic Director Tom Goss. A group of students occupying the Michigan Union tower were demanding that Bollinger cut ties with the senior honorary society Michigamua while another, across the way in the LSA Building, occupied the dean”s office. Coupled with yet another men”s basketball scandal, it was obvious that the glory days of Lee C. Bollinger were over. The concurrent bursting of a pipe in his Vermont residence appeared to be the least of Bollinger”s concerns.
So as the University of Michigan”s 12th president heads off to Columbia University next year, what will Bollinger”s legacy here be? Will he be the most celebrated president in the University”s 184-year history, or will he go down as a mediocre administrator?
“IF YOU WERE CALLED UPON to invent a perfect university president, you couldn”t do better than Lee Bollinger, of the University of Michigan,” the New Yorker magazine said of the University”s 12th president in a profile in December 2000. “A handsome, heartlandy blond man in his fifties one imagines Mickey Mantle in middle age if he wore a business suit and had never taken a drink.”
After members of the University Board of Regents forced James J. Duderstadt to resign in September 1995 after years of political squabbling, many thought of Bollinger as someone who could unite the campus and bring the University to renewed glory. When Bollinger, former dean of the University of Michigan”s Law School and provost of Dartmouth College, started his term in February 1997, a new man was in control and a new era had commenced. Bollinger embodied everything a “Michigan man” was expected to be.
A graduate of the University of Oregon and Columbia Law School, Bollinger clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Judge Warren Burger. Bollinger later gained the national spotlight when his testimony during Robert Bork”s confirmation hearing cost the conservative judge a spot on the High Court.
AS AN OUTSPOKEN ADVOCATE of affirmative action and diversity in higher education, Bollinger was well-suited to lead the University in 1997, when the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Individual Rights focused its attention on the University”s undergraduate and Law School admissions policies. Previously, CIR had targeted similar policies in Texas and Washington State.
With his experience as a former University Law School dean, Bollinger assembled a powerful and impressive legal team and solicited support from across the nation. Soon, former U.S. President Gerald R. Ford, Fortune 500 companies like GM and Intel and diversity advocates from all walks of life got behind the University”s admissions policies and the University president.
The current undergraduate admissions system has been upheld in federal district court while the Law School”s admissions system was declared unconstitutional by Judge Bernard Friedman. Now both cases are heading to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
If the admissions cases make it to the U.S. Supreme Court and the University”s defense prevails, affirmative action advocates won”t be the only victors so will Bollinger. The man who led the University of Michigan through these lawsuits may be recognized as the most important figure in higher education in recent history.
BOLLINGER has elevated the stature of the University during his tenure as president. He not only personally raised millions of dollars and increased the size of the University”s endowment to become the largest of any public university he also put the money to good use.
If the defense of affirmative action doesn”t get Bollinger in the University history books, the Life Sciences Institute will. Recognizing how genetics and related fields of study will reshape science and research, Bollinger invested heavily in the proposed LSI, now taking shape along Washtenaw Avenue across from Palmer Field. Top researchers are now flocking to the University because of the LSI.
Although it will be the researchers who will receive praise for their scientific discoveries, everyone will have to thank Bollinger for laying the foundation for the LSI.
While James J. Duderstadt is known as the “construction president,” Bollinger will be known for his “Master Plan.” Recognizing how the physical disjunction of the campus leads to mental divisions, Bollinger brought world-famous architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown to Ann Arbor to physically unify the campus. Under the Master Plan, everything from the walking patterns of first-year students, to the locations of on- and off-campus entertainment venues, to landscaping and lighting has been considered.
And the results are beginning to show. The LSI is filling a hole by joining the Central and Medical campuses along with the Hill-area residence halls. The new Walgreen Performing Arts center with the Arthur Miller Theater will tie the University performing arts community and its Ann Arbor counterparts together, forming a town-grown arts corridor. This too will be part of Bollinger”s legacy.
BOLLINGER HAS HAD his share of blunders.
On Feb. 8, 2000, Bollinger walked into a press conference in the Michigan Union with a somber Athletic Director Tom Goss. The University”s first black athletic director who was slammed for fiscal and administrative mismanagement resigned. Sources in the athletic department told the Daily that Bollinger had instigated the resignation and documents obtained by the press through the Freedom of Information Act show Bollinger”s anger with Goss” athletic department leadership. The Jamal Crawford basketball scandal was the straw that broke the camel”s back Bollinger forced Goss to leave.
Although it was necessary for Goss to depart and let someone new take the reigns of the athletic department, the events that led up to the resignation gave Bollinger a black eye. Goss” coerced departure symbolized how Bollinger backed away from the athletic department and let matters get out of control.
The firing of men”s basketball coach Steve Fisher in 1997 looms over the departing president”s head as well. Fisher, who brought the basketball team and the University to a national title in 1989, had allowed booster Ed Martin to get too close to his players and NCAA violations may have been committed. Bollinger attempted to clean house by firing Fisher, but the dark clouds of the Ed Martin affair never left Ann Arbor.
But Bollinger did lay the foundation to bring the athletic department back to its former glory. The hiring of Bill Martin as athletic director was a good move. The department”s finances are moving out of debt and student interest in the basketball program is rebounding.
UNFORTUNATELY, some University students who have attempted to reform the University will not remember Bollinger”s presidency fondly. Although he has shown more restraint and respect than Harlan Hatcher and Robben Fleming notorious for their antagonizing of students, sometimes arresting them for protesting Bollinger has displayed the tendencies of a typical Fleming Building administrator, where student concerns take a back seat to fundraising, research and policy matters.
Although Bollinger has been quoted in The New York Times in the past contending that he appreciates student protesters, his administration”s oftentimes dishonest dealings with students has left a bad taste in the mouths of many on campus.
This was most evident during the time of Goss” resignation, when two student protests shoved the University into national headlines. The first student protest, led by the Students of Color Coalition, caused everyone”s eyes to look up to the Michigan Union tower where members of the group gained access to the meeting space of the senior honorary society Michigamua. The SCC accused Michigamua, whose members include former U.S. president Gerald R. Ford, former athletic director Fielding Yost, hockey coach Red Berenson, University presidents, distinguished alumni and elite student leaders, of failing to rid the group of its highly-offensive roots. The SCC found artifacts sacred to Native Americans in the society”s seventh floor “wigwam.” The SCC demanded the administration cut ties with the society because of its elitist and derogatory traditions that many students of color (and particularly of Native American ancestry) saw as an affront on the long struggles of ethnic minorities in the United States.
After 37 days, the SCC retreated from the tower and expected the administration to take action. But their demands fell on deaf ears. Bollinger left the matter for then interim-Vice President for Student Affairs E. Royster Harper and several committees, where SCC”s concerns got bogged down in the University bureaucracy. Students of color on campus were further outraged when news broke that the administration moved Michigamua out of the tower and into a University building at 109 E. Madison St. Since then the administration has done little to address the students” concerns.
The second major protest that February was when members of Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality stormed and occupied the office of LSA Dean Shirley Neuman after Bollinger refused to sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium an anti-sweatshop organization comprised of students and labor experts from around the country meant to police abuses of workers in factories producing collegiate apparel. The three day sit-in, similar to one a year earlier in which SOLE occupied Bollinger”s office in the Fleming Building, ended with some action from the University. The administration, along with Indiana University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, agreed to join the WRC on a provisional basis.
Unfortunately, as SOLE continued to press the administration to implement a strong set of labor standards, they were met with many of the same stalling procedures the administration used to quiet the SCC. While workers throughout the developing world produced University apparel in sweatshops where they face long hours, slave wages and sexual and physical abuse among other degredations the Bollinger-appointed Standing Committee on Labor Standards and Human Rights went through two arduous years of meetings in an attempt to draft a legally binding set of labor standards to be placed in all of the University”s licensing and supply contracts.
Meanwhile, as the committee debated minor technicalities in a proposed labor code of conduct, the University entered into negotiations with Nike, a company with a deplorable record in the area of workers” rights. The ultimate product of the negotiations was a seven-year exclusive licensing and supply contract between the University and Nike that used the very weak and excessively broad Collegiate Licensing Company code of conduct to enforce labor standards. It is certainly a strange coincidence that Bollinger signed the Nike contract only a few days before the committee released the final draft of its recommendation for the University to adopt. The committee”s suggested code of conduct was much more specific it would have left companies that had licensing and supply contracts with the University with significantly less legal “wiggle room” to abuse their workers. Bollinger did allow the committee”s strong final draft to be written into all future licensing and supply agreements, but this should not redeem him for allowing a tough labor standards code to languish in a Committee for more than a year, or for writing a significantly weaker code into a lucrative contract with Nike.
ONE OF BOLLINGER”S least noble actions took place in February 2001, when he refused to make any substantive changes to the Code of Student Conduct (now renamed the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities). Despite a campus-wide e-mail from Vice President of Student Affairs E. Royster Harper claiming that Bollinger had adopted 85 percent of the proposed amendments to the Code made by a variety of committees comprised of students, faculty and administrators, very few of Bollinger”s adopted changes actually made the University”s discipline policies any fairer for students. On top of amounting to double jeopardy, allowing a student to be charged under the Code even if he or she has been acquitted by the American justice system, the Code continues to allow students to make false reports of Code violations, the use of hearsay evidence and prevents students from having an advocate speak on their behalf during the arbitration process.
THE UNIVERSITY”S 12TH PRESIDENT has had an interesting ride while in Ann Arbor. Although Lee C. Bollinger seemed to be on top of the world when he first assumed the presidency, he has gone from appearing to be a “president of the people” to being criticized as being an average Fleming Building bureaucrat, placing students as a second priority. From national championships in hockey and football to disgruntled students storming his office, Bollinger seems to have dealt with a lot during his presidency.
Indeed, the Bollinger era was marked with extreme high and low points. Bollinger was well liked by the majority of the student population and faculty. He brought the University to greatness and garnered respect around the world. But Bollinger”s time at the University of Michigan will soon end. For his future at Columbia, only time will tell.