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Faculty Portrait II

Henry Philip Tappan
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