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WMU celebrates 50 years as state's fourth university

Feb. 26, 2007

KALAMAZOO--Today marks Western Michigan University's 50th anniversary as Michigan's fourth public university.

On this date in 1957, then-Gov. G. Mennen Williams signed into law a bill making Western Michigan College the state's fourth public university. The move recognized the increasing complexity of the institution and the diversity of course offerings. Then-WMU President Paul V. Sangren was on hand at the governor's office in Lansing to witness the signing.

The bill that Williams signed into law was introduced to the Michigan Legislature by Sen. Carlton H. Morris, who had visited WMC in October 1956 for the dedication of the Gary Center. During the ceremony, he voiced his willingness to introduce such legislation. Sangren responded quickly to the offer and secured letters of support for the move from the presidents of Michigan's three existing universities--the University of Michigan and Michigan State and Wayne State universities. Morris' bill passed the Michigan Senate by unanimous vote and quickly won approval in the House as well.

Western's designation as a university came less than a year after Wayne State became a university and less then two years after Michigan State won the designation. The University of Michigan was established in 1817, before Michigan was a state and its status was written into Michigan's original 1837 constitution.

At the time university status was granted, WMU was a school that focused primarily on preparing teachers for the classroom. In the preceding years, however, Western had, established schools of Business, Applied Arts and Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Graduate Studies. It also began awarding master's degrees in the 1952-53 academic year. The official student population for the 1956-57 academic year was 6,493 students.

While Michigan's higher education system has grown to 15 public universities, WMU remains the state's fourth largest university and one of only five state institutions recognized nationally by the Carnegie Institution for the Advancement of Teaching as research universities with high levels of research activity. The fifth is Michigan Technological University, which attained university status in 1964.

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Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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