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Funny... I don't feel dead! If you've forgotten JMC - You weren't there!

An academy for wandering minstrels
Equipping lifelong learners to pursue personal and professional interests in art, activism, law, education, business, medicine, international affairs, social services, science, management, media, and more.
* Michigan State University's first, most experimental, and most innovative residential college *


Do you have any additional comments or points you believe are relevant to planning a new MSU residential program / college relative to your JMC experience, but which are not properly subsumed under questions 1 - 13?


General Comments about a New Residential College / Program

This should not take tons of money. The faculty would be teaching people anyway (although maybe not in 250 seat auditorium) The figure of $50 million to start a new college is absurd.

MSU in the 50's and 60's understood it needed to differentiate itself with a quality program, and needs to return to that ideal.

- David Brigode (Student: 1969 - 1973)


I think the most important requirement is commitment of the faculty and administration to the concept of a small college in a big university.

- Suzanne Levy (Student: 1965 - 1969)


Good luck. Hope you all are successful. However, I really think that there's no point in pursuing another one, unless there is a commitment to keep it going indefinitely not as an "experiment". Just my humble opinion.

- Joe Milkes (Student: 1967 - 1971)


Faculty and students must believe and be frequently assured that their adventure in learning is safe: they are embarking on a well-funded, respected program that will not fall victim to financial exigency or political trends. It is not so important to insure every student a job at the end, but to insure every student a stimulating, well-planned education. Spend whatever time is needed to establish a coordinated curriculum and give it time to develop.

- Pamela Oestreicher (JMC faculty: 1976 - 1978)


… I do NOT think a new residential college should be limited to liberal arts; JMC wasn’t and I think it was a richer place for it.

- Cleo Parker (Student: 1974 - 1978)


The program should allow career paths in addition to graduate school. I finally left JMC to go into social work - a career path which I did not fit and within which I was miserable until I returned to graduate school and got a Masters in Hospital Administration.

However, my career issues had a lot to do with career choices open to women in 1972. My preference was to go into the USIA, but my test was graded down due to gender discrimination which I found out about in 2000.

- Kathryn (Pinkus Cohen) Reiss (Student: 1968 - 1971)


The college will be an entity of a Land Grant University and a public trust. Some JMC faculty and not a few JMC students lost sight of that essential fact and acted as though JMC had its own endowment. It did not.

Try to instill in the students a sense of what they have at their disposal and a sense of both their freedoms and their responsibilities to themselves, the society that created the college for them and those who would succeed them. That is a tall order. I wish you well.

- Charles K. Roberts (Student: 1966 - 1970)


I don’t think broad themes like "international focus" matter so much; it is the smaller experiments taken by each student and faculty member that count. 

Create a college structure that helps individual students take responsibility in courses, in designing their own major, within the college and dormitory administration.


It is better to think of a residential college as creating a community that enables smaller experiments.

- John Stick (Student: 1971 - 1975)


Having a plan, a supported plan, for the program is essential. If the university doesn’t support the plan, or takes it apart piece by piece as the years go by, it should not even be started. … The continuity of faculty, and the selection of those faculty as folks who believe in the process, is essential.

- Darlene Swartz-Hubsky (Student: 1969 - 1973)


The faculty has to be in the building and accessible. When I took a class in the University, I ended up as an economics major, I had to go half way across campus during office hours to see a professor who might have eight other students lined up to see him. At JMC there was much more interaction with faculty outside the classroom. That was important.

The class size has to be small.

The students must be challenged - no easy courses.

There has to be a strong emphasis on writing skills and critical, analytical thinking skills. Teach them how to think and how to dive into a subject and educate themselves. An independent study program would be useful here.

One aspect of JMC I did not take advantage of, but that others did, was the ability to design your own major, with a selection of related classes from multiple departments. For a self-motivated student who knows what he/she wants, that is an important option.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


As the inaugural MSU residential college - and the only one actively mutating in the course of educational experimentation - JMC cannot be considered to have been a clearly-defined functional University unit with a 'track record' long enough or coherent enough to firmly evaluate. By the time the JMC unit got fully 'up to speed' (circa 1972 or 1973), the changes that would significantly change (and, some would say, doom) the College were already emerging. Any future residential college / program will have to be accorded a minimum timeframe within which to get established, evolve into a stable coherent form, and prove its viability.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


At the time of this writing, the Princeton Review recently issued its annual college rankings, based on inputs from more than 100,000 students and evaluating 357 colleges in 64 different categories. I find it interesting to note that the 5 schools top-ranked for 'best academic experience' are:

1. University of Chicago

2. Marlboro College

3. Reed College

4. St. John's College (Md.)

5. Swarthmore College

Four of the five are small schools emphasizing liberal education models. This suggests that a similarly oriented liberal education program would be a 'competitive feature' for MSU in its recruiting.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Justin Morrill College as a discriminator in choosing to attend MSU

There are plenty of small liberal arts colleges and plenty of large universities, but the combination of both in JMC/MSU was fairly unique and a major reason I choose MSU over other options at the time.

- Paul M. Buehrle (Student: 1969 - 1973)


I remember coming to MSU orientation (having already signed up at UM with my high school friends), meeting a JMC student admissions rep, taking a tour of Snyder-Phillips, and canceling my dorm reservation at UM.

- Mark Harris (Student: 1973 - 1977)


I would not have been at MSU except for JMC; other schools I applied to were generally much smaller. There would have been NO reason to pay OUT OF STATE tuition to attend MSU.

- Joe Milkes (Student: 1967 - 1971)


Besides the broad interdisciplinary focus discussed at other points, I was attracted to JMC’s self governance.  Students played a larger role in college governance than any other institution that I knew of, and that was a major factor in my deciding to come to MSU and JMC. 

- John Stick (Student: 1971 - 1975)


I chose to go to MSU because of Justin Morrill College. Otherwise I would have gone to Oakland University. My high school counselor told me about JMC and said it sounded right for me. When I went to MSU on one of its National Merit Scholar recruiting trips I met Lee Upcraft of JMC. He told me all about JMC and that made up my mind. I have never regretted choosing the residential college option.

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


I put a lot of effort into researching my options as a high school senior. As a National Merit Scholar, I was privileged to have a number of such options from which to choose. One key criterion was the opportunity for pursuing a program suited to my broad outlook, eccentric proclivities, creative capacities, and intellectual interests. In early '69, I had tentatively declared no fewer than 10 different majors during my application efforts. I realized that premature compartmenalization was a risk and spent weeks agonizing over what to do.

That's what led me to return repeatedly to one catalog from my stack of two dozen (MSU's) and to one specific section therein (the description of Justin Morrill College). Here was a place dedicated to broad liberal education, emphasizing multi-/interdisciplinary studies and the flexibility to tailor my baccalaureate program to fit my interests rather than any conventional disciplinary topography. JMC was also clearly a program recognizing and prioritizing the experience of college with its living / learning format, distinct curricular structure, resident faculty, etc.

The bottom line is that were it not for JMC I would not have attended MSU.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: JMC's Student Advising / Counseling

If there was one deficiency in my JMC experience, it lay in the area of academic counseling or advising. The assignment of an upper-level student advisor was a practice being phased out when I arrived in 1969. The student advisor I'd been assigned wasn't any help at all, so one visit was enough to make me never go back. Once I hooked up with my faculty advisor (Leonard Isaacs) I had good and proactive academic advice. Had I not already been very self-motivated and organized with respect to curricular planning, things could have gotten problematical.

The flexibility of the JMC curriculum may have given the impression of giving students a lot of 'slack', but in fact it placed a considerable onus on the student's shoulders. Several of my fellow JMC students ended up floundering at one or another point because they hadn't given sufficient thought to developing an organized plan. Some transferred out of JMC into University departments - not to get away from JMC, but rather to take an 'easy way out' by completing their degrees in a cookbook fashion. More structured or more frequent check-ups with competent advisors might have spared them such problems.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Thinking in terms of modularity

NOTE: William McGarvey's answer on the residence requirement touches on the notion of JMC (or any program) being addressable in two discrete stages. - Editor

I can see arguments for it being the first two years (an initial high-school-to-college transition, before someone is prepared to declare a major area of study), or the period after one has settled on a major, or course of direction. In the latter, this would prove invaluable for preparation for the next stage of learning in either professional or academic training. Of course, these are two very different approaches; the former is intended to provide a broad-based, multi-disciplinary learning environment, while the latter is intended to be highly intensive in a particular course of study. The original JMC concept really resembles the first…

- William McGarvey (Student: 1966 - 1971)


I believe a modern descendant of a JMC program should be structured in two layers. The first would be an intensive 2-year basic breadth and skills development phase (from which a student could lateral into the University). The second would be an optional 3rd / 4th year phase for customized personal curricula (field / foreign study; field of concentration, etc.).

This approach would have the following (I suggest beneficial) effects:

  • It permits students to utilize the program as a 'premium 2-year foundation' before moving into a conventional University major (an approach widely used in my day).
  • It affords a measure of structure by more clearly enforcing the breath and skills development (including foreign language skills) before the student gets to avail him-/herself of the 'goodies' (flexible field of concentration; field / foreign study, etc.).
  • It reduces perceived risk by ensuring a student can make a mid-course correction back toward convention should the first 2 years convince him / her that a more vocationally-specific program is what he / she wants.
  • It affords a basis for apportioning academic advising and managing the advising load.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Justin Morrill College as a purely 'arts and humanities' program

… I do NOT think a new residential college should be limited to liberal arts; JMC wasn’t and I think it was a richer place for it.

- Cleo Parker (Student: 1974 - 1978)


The biggest and most common error made in addressing JMC is to characterize it as (e.g.) "the humanities analogue to Briggs and Madison." This is simply untrue, and it is seriously misleading. JMC's concept and model were geared to 'liberal education' and 'liberal arts'. It is a major distortion to equate 'liberal arts' with 'liberal arts and letters'. JMC made provision for faculty and courses in humanities AND social sciences AND natural sciences (though the Nat Sci area came up to speed later than the other two).

During my time at JMC (1969 - 1973) most of my fellow students pursued degrees in social sciences, not humanities. With the exception of political science (and maybe certain flavors of sociology), Madison offered no clear 'coverage' for any of the social sciences (e.g., the anthropology and psychology on which I would concentrate). Unless you were focusing on 'policy science', JMC was in fact the only MSU residential college within which you could pursue interests in social sciences.

Some JMC students crafted their fields of concentration (which could also be University majors) in Nat Sci. My own course work was primarily in anthropology, psychology, and linguistics. The majors I can reliably cite for my JMC roommates and friends were economics, pre-law, psychology, communications, education, social work, geology, and physics -- not one of which falls within the purview of the College of Arts and Letters.

The bottom line is that JMC was MSU's original residential program in 'liberal arts and sciences'.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Justin Morrill College as an 'Honors College'

More generally, I've encountered those whose undergraduate training was much more narrowly focused, and, as a consequence, whose college contemporaries were from a more limited set of folks than what I encountered at JMC. This could have resulted from any number of things (the myth of JMC as an "honors college" simply because it attracted a number of brighter students…).

- William McGarvey (Student: 1966 - 1971)


JMC was not an honors college, but many of its students became members of the Honors College.

- Charles K. Roberts (Student: 1966 - 1970)


One measure of academic rigor was the high percentage of Honors College students at JMC. JMC tended to attract highly intelligent, hard working people. …

- Robert Walter (Student: 1969 - 1974)


One of the prevalent misperceptions of JMC during my time there was the notion it was an 'honors college' - i.e., a program open only to students of demonstrated academic achievement. Though JMC consistently topped the MSU list of college unit cumulative GPA results, it was never an 'honors college' per se. This point was initially and recurrently stated in the College's MSU Catalog descriptions.

I was privileged to be an Honors College member all four years at MSU. Through the Honors College I could have availed myself of some of the privileges (e.g., customized major program) that Justin Morrill College afforded all its students. I never really grasped why anyone would go through all the hassles to obtain the privileges and flexibility a la carte through the Honors College when they could get essentially the same opportunities in an integrated residential format at JMC.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Current Analogues to JMC

Preston College at the University of South Carolina, where my daughter did her undergraduate work, targeted talented students from around the south, but also from around the country. The costs of delivering small college classes with experienced senior faculty were underwritten by the university on this basis. (I still get a stomach ache remembering a meeting the JMC Student Government had with then-Provost Dorothy Arata. She showed us a chart with the costs for a typical class in the university compared to a typical JMC class.) Finances, probably topping a short list of other issues, spelled the end of JMC. The Preston focus helps ensure its viability. I believe the average SAT score of my daughter's Preston year was about 1400 - far higher than the university average.

- Mark Harris (Student: 1973 - 1977)


RE: Comments on Faculty for a Residential College / Program

I think the main core of teachers, professors, or whatever you want to call them must be the kind of people that are willing to listen to all different opinions of students in the classes, and be very open minded. They are the ones who will really be responsible for the success or failure of such a program in my opinion, and they need to be able to bring out the ideas that students have locked in them. They need to encourage individuality and at the same time be leaders.

- Larry Wickett (Student: 1965 - 1969; ongoing JMC experience til 1976)


As I mentioned elsewhere (cf. my comments on Question 3), faculty members who made a longstanding commitment to serving as Justin Morrill College core staff ended up getting 'burned' when the College was dissolved and their adopting University departments shunted them into positions incommensurate with their scholarship and / or experience. This situation must not be repeated. Faculty should have assurances that committing to creative undergraduate education will not brand them as 'lesser' professors.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: Comments on (Non-Teaching) Staff for a Residential College / Program

One must also think about the staff of such a residential college situation. The staff must also be interesting and excited about such an arrangement. Because everything is in close proximity to everything else (i.e. living and learning) it is important to ensure that the offices of the faculty and staff are located in the same residential space. If staff is not happy having the students marching in at all times of the day seeking assistance in one form or another, then the atmosphere of the residential living and learning experience will not have that "glow" that I experienced in Justin Morrill College.

- Dennis Hall (Student: 1965 - 1969)


RE: Student Population in a Residential College / Program

I think that the student population of such a residential learning/living situation needs to be very diversified. The student population should be all ranges of intellectual ability, as well as the widest range possible in ethnicity.

- Dennis Hall (Student: 1965 - 1969)


In the beginning, JMC students were self-selected and then screened (but I don't know how rigorously). By the time of my arrival in 1969, the doors were wide open - particularly for men. The small residential environment and emphasis on discourse made JMC a great environment for encountering diversity - of background, of experience, of interests, of ethnicity, of conviction, etc. I would therefore argue against imposition of any rules or criteria which would unduly narrow the range of students entering any new residential college.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


Number of Students Who Availed Themselves of Justin Morrill College

The number of students whose MSU tenures included substantial JMC experience is badly underestimated by the number of JMC degrees awarded (circa 1100 from 1968 through 1979). There are specific reasons for claiming this, including:

    • Some students deliberately attended JMC for the first year or two only, so as to avail themselves of the vaunted JMC foreign language offerings.
    • Some students deliberately attended JMC for the first year or two only, so as to avail themselves of JMC's more challenging and interesting courses toward meeting their general 'breadth' requirements.
    • The JMC concept always included the choice of obtaining a conventional University major or a customized Field of Concentration. Some people who elected to get a 'conventional' major did so in the general context of a JMC experience, but appear on the record as graduates of other MSU units.
    • Some students transferred out of JMC because they didn't or couldn't satisfy the strict 2-year foreign language requirement.

As a result, it must be borne in mind that the number of MSU students who availed themselves of Justin Morrill College is greater than the number of those students who appear on the record to have graduated with Justin Morrill College degrees. Without access to MSU database records, I have no way of ascertaining how high that number may be. My very speculative calculations based on available statistical data (credit hours; enrollments, etc.) have suggested the minimum is on the order of 2000 and the maximum is on the order of 3000.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: JMC's Mission: Educational Experimentation

Justin Morrill College was an experiment at its beginning, and its experimental status was reaffirmed in the 1970 Provosts Committee Report. This must be borne in mind when reviewing JMC's history. The times and the people involved (both staff and students) motivated many of JMC's more exotic features and offerings. The context within which such atypical things could occur in JMC was an experimental mission description. As such, one should always remember that JMC was 'different' not just because it housed 'different' people, but because the College was expected to try different things.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)


RE: JMC's Identity and Model: A Moving Target

By and large, there was no single or uniform 'Justin Morrill College Model' in effect during the 14 years of JMC's existence. We JMC veterans loosely agree there were three discernible 'eras' during the College's history. The first (ca. 1965 - ca. 1970) was characterized by exploration and coalescence during the unit's ramp-up. This Early Era is the one most closely associated with (e.g.) a preponderance of humanities foci and the emphasis on an international outlook. The Middle Era (ca. 1970 - ca. 1974) can be characterized with respect to (e.g.) tumultuous MSU campus life, the rise of social and natural sciences as curricular peers to humanities, novel grading systems, novel courses and course formats, and peak enrollments. The Final Era (ca. 1975 to the end in 1979) can be characterized with respect to (e.g.) loss of the foreign language programs / requirements, steadily declining enrollments, competitive disadvantage with regard to the resurgent theme of University education as vocational preparation, administrative upheavals, reorientation toward a continuing education theme, and a growing sense of malaise as the end approached.

Taken together, the two foregoing points mean that JMC was constantly mutating, and that no single 'edition' of its overall structure and operations was extant for more than about the same 4-year timespan it took a student to pass through it.

- Randy Whitaker (Student: 1969 - 1973)

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