The Michigan Alumnus 60-62
Henry Philip Tappan
Faculty Portraits II
When Dr. Tappan came to Ann Arbor the students were housed in dormitories, the only buildings then on the Campus, except the old med ical college. These two dormitories now constitute the north and south wings of University Hall. It was the Doctor's idea that these buildings were needed for better purposes than sleeping rooms for students, and so he turned the boys out to find quarters among the residents of the town. This innovation provoked a great out cry. Such a thing had never before been heard of. To thus set free from inquisitorial restraint even a small horde of young men, subject to their own sweet will, was deemed a most hazardous proceeding. There were all sorts of direful predictions which happily came to naught.
Dr. Tappan said to the students that they were big enough and old enough to conduct themselves as gentlemen under all circumstances, and that it was best for them to take the responsibility. They had passed the age of being tied to their mother's apron strings. That well expressed the theory of his government. If students as residents of Ann Arbor violated the laws of the land, officials charged with enforce ment of laws would take them in hand; if they showed themselves unfit or unworthy of membership in the University, it was best for all con cerned that they should retire from it.
Dr. Andrew D. White, in his fascin ating autobiographical reminiscences, relates an anecdote, which illustrates Dr. Tappan's method of discipline. It shows both his tact, and his shrewd ness. The bell, which called the stu dents to their classes, was hung on a high post in the rear of the recita tion halls. One night this bell myster iously disappeared. The next morn ing at chapel Dr. Tappan quietly said: "The authorities of the University had provided a bell as a signal for the opening of classes. They were not obliged to do this; it was wholly for the convenience of students. But I see that the students have thought it unnecessary and have removed it. Probably it was thoughtful and commendable on their part to save the regents the expense of maintaining a bell and employing a man to ring it. They will take notice, however, that hereafter they must depend upon themselves to keep the time. Classes will go on just the same. Those not in their seats at the appointed moment must take the consequences." Not many mornings later the old bell was found mysteriously back in its place again.
Dr. Tappan's nature was of the kindliest. Though his discipline was firm, its justice was always evident, and so the subject of it could not har bor resentment. I have never heard of any young man who, having been called upon the carpet, felt that he had had anything but a square deal. The student body regarded the presi dent with genuine personal affection. The body was then not so large but that he could recognize each and know something of his character and cir cumstances. His kindness of heart was no mere pretense. More than one young man seeking an education on the slimmest of financial resources had reason to know this. There came under my own observation one or two cases of men who could not have stayed in Ann Arbor but for his as sistance, in one way or another. I have reason to believe that he advanced money to others, and if the truth were known his benevolence helped to round out the educational career of many a promising youth.
On first view, the dignity of Dr. Tappan was something awful; on fur ther acquaintance, it seemed to fit him like a well-cut garment. He was a six-footer, broad of shoulder and of ample girth. He was very erect and imposing. Some of the Ann Arbor people thought him pompous, and when he went out to Lansing to hyp notize the legislature into liberal ap propriations it was painfully apparent that he could never have made a for tune as a lobbyist.
The fact is that neither Dr. Tappan nor his family were very popular in Ann Arbor nor Lansing. They were charged with be ing aristocrats and exclusives, and with looking down on the denizens of this neck of western woods with a sort of condescension that was any thing but agreeable. That they seem ed to regard the people out here as provincials is no more than other New Yorkers, both before and since, have done.
But in all their intercourse with students, neither Dr. Tappan nor his family showed anything of this spirit. They were cordial, unreserved, unos tentatious, hospitable, kind. The doc tor had the respect and esteem of every student. It is not too much to say that he inspired the affection of most. Mention Dr. Tappan's name in the presence of one of the fellows of '54 to '64 and the brightening eye and quickening pulse will show that a tender chord has been touched. When he was driven from his post by the in triguers, not one of whom was worthy to unlatch the buckles of his shoes, his staunch admirers felt like deeds of desperate revenge.
It was Dr. Tappan's ideas and in fluence, which transformed the mere college, teaching only the studies of the established college curriculum of his day, into the genuine university. He set out to lay the foundations of an institution of learning which should cover the widest range of knowledge, with postgraduate courses, and laboratories for scientific investigation, li braries and an ample teaching staff. Such an institution was then unknown in this country. He opened the way for it, slowly but surely. The enthusiasm of the leader inspired like feel ing among his followers. The success which the University of Michigan has achieved is in a large sense due to his initiative. The educational interests of Michigan, and of the whole country as well, owe a debt to Dr. Tappan , which cannot be too frequently re called to mind.
Henry M. Utley, '61