A public university founded in 1817, the University of Michigan had a rustic beginning. At its campus in Ann Arbor, west of Detroit, cows owned by the faculty once grazed, and as late as 1845, wheat was grown on site as part of a janitor’s remuneration.
By 1866, the university had become the largest in the country. Now, the University of Michigan is one of the biggest research universities in the United States. It boasts alumni including Gerald Ford, former US president; Larry Page, co-founder of Google; and actor James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader.
The university’s sporting tradition began in 1865, and its sports teams, collectively known as the Michigan Wolverines, have won more than 50 national championships in 12 sports. Why the wolverine became the university’s mascot is a mystery, as although the nickname caught on in the middle of the 19th century, the first verified sighting of the animal in Michigan state did not occur until 2004.
Michigan’s mission is to serve the people of Michigan and the world through “preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future”. It offers 250 undergraduate majors, 100 doctoral and 200 master’s programmes, as well as more than 1,400 student clubs.
The university has no shortage of bizarre traditions. On campus sits “The Cube”, a huge black object so finely balanced on one corner that students can spin it around despite its great weight. One myth is that the president gives it a push each morning in order to keep the campus running smoothly.
When students first arrive at Michigan they walk through a campus fountain to make them an “official wolverine”. After graduation, they walk the other way through the water, signifying their departure to join the professional world. And don’t step on the brass “M” at the centre of the campus, or exam failure awaits.