Document 12: Bruce Currie, "U-M's Fleming Guardedly Optimistic About New Year," Ann Arbor News, 30 August 1970, newspaper clipping in the Jeanne Tashian Papers, Box 1, Topical Files PROBE (2) Folder, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.


   University of Michigan President Robben W. Fleming sat for this interview with the local newspaper at the start of the 1970-71 school year. As the reporter noted, Fleming's "national stature had soared" over the previous months, following the resolution of the Black Action Movement strike and the peaceful management of anti-war protests on campus. In this journalist's view, he had "retained his outward equanimity and inner resilience," and "his mettle seems to have been tempered by the fire of his ordeals."

   When asked about the federal government's investigation of sex discrimination then under way on his campus, Fleming was described as "not alarmed." But known for his diplomatic management of the earlier controversies, his comments here only seemed to inflame campus women as the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare pursued its case against the University. Later that fall, PROBE, a group of University women that organized to help support the complaint, pointed to this article and challenged Fleming's stated views of the "preference of the market" and the "social attitude that blocks the hiring of women" during their child-bearing years (see Document 14E).

U-M's Fleming Guardedly Optimistic About New Year

By Bruce Currie

(News Staff Reporter)

    As University President Robben W. Fleming looks to the coming year, he isn't hankering for instant replays of much that happened in the past 12 months--except, of course, the U-M-Ohio State football game.

    Yet in spite of the clamor and crises that have swirled around him and the institution he heads, Fleming appears to have retained his outward equanimity and inner resilience.

    Certainly his national stature has soared during that period.

    He was one of two university administrators among the first half-dozen witnesses summoned by the Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest.[A]

    During the past 18 months he has appeared on numerous network TV programs, including NBC's "Meet the Press" last April and a May CBS news special that featured him, Yale's Kingman Brewster and Notre Dame's Fr. Theodore Hesburgh.

    Closer to home, despite attempts by antagonists (youthful and otherwise) to add his name to the list of administrators retiring from the campus battlefield. Fleming's mettle seems to have been tempered by the fire of his ordeals.

    Fortunately, his sense of humor has not suffered in the process.

    When this reporter mentioned he had been struck by several things about the U-M administration, the president interjected, "Nothing that hurt, I hope?"

    For a man who has had to contend with flying objects, as well as verbal brickbats, the quip seemed appropriate and revealing.

    He is guardedly optimistic about the 1970-71 academic year--his fourth since becoming president-designate in 1967.

    He feels the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) question is resolved to the satisfaction of 95 per cent of the academic community.

    Nonetheless, he thinks the still-dissatisfied minority may try to disrupt ROTC instruction this fall.

    A similar protest pattern could emerge over on-campus corporate recruiting, he says.

    But beyond these issues--and the antipathy toward prolonged U.S. military involvement in Indochina--he cannot foresee any controversy that could snowball (as the Black Action Movement strike did last spring) and threaten to shut down campus operations.

    President Fleming is not alarmed by the current Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) investigation of charges that the University discriminates against women in both its academic and non-academic hiring.

    He believes the ferment for women's rights will affect the future men-women ratio of the U-M work force.

    But he thinks the eradication of sexual discrimination in employment presents more serious problems for enforcement agencies than for employers.

    "It is clear statistically," he says, "that in professional fields the personnel is overwhelmingly male, and that is the preference of the market."

    "The question arises," he adds, "whether in a supposedly free economy, market preference should have any weight?"

    Fleming has felt for some time that hitherto male-dominated professions were short-sighted in excluding qualified women.

    In June, 1967, he urged a conference of engineering educators to initiate a major recruiting effort among women, deploring the "social attitude" that blocked it.

    However, he notes that management hesitancy about hiring women professionals can be traced to their record of leaving the labor market during the child-rearing years.

    He feels if the University is found guilty of job discrimination against women, society at large will have to bear the indictment as well.

    He doesn't see any parallel between BAM's demands and the grievances filed with HEW by FOCUS, the Ann Arbor-based organization championing female equality.

    "In the case of blacks," he says, "we are talking about opening up educational opportunities, but when it comes to women, we can't say they haven't had equal opportunity. Their complaint lies in being denied access to certain areas of the labor market."

    Fleming has had some disappointments during his three-year tenure, and one of them is that his inaugural address dream of the university being "one of the great humanizing influences" on society has not shown evidence of fulfillment.

    "We are in a period of great social turbulence," he says, "and it is hard to get people to think rationally and sanely."

    Still, he believes the University of Michigan has instituted more basic reforms than many people realize.

    He cites the Literary College's amendment of language and distribution requirements in creating the bachelor of general studies degree.

    He notes the widespread inclusion of students in departmental decision-making, and the fact that there hadn't been a search committee for a dean-level appointment during the past two years without a student on it.

    The founding of the Residential College he attributes to student demands for closer contact with professors and an informal style in living arrangements.

    In the next five years he sees the University reorganizing its undergraduate programs, particularly in the College of Literature Science and Arts.

    He envisions more emphasis on teaching and more flexibility in curriculum choice.

    The grading system, he says, is being carefully reviewed and it may be modified, or eliminated altogether.

    "We know that the competitive part of grading is not good academically," he says.

    "There is a strong argument that because U-M students are generally so able, it would be better for their education if the grading system was removed."

    He has the feeling, however, that the opposite opinion might prevail in 15 years. "These things have a way of being cyclical," he says.

    Fleming does not consider the current politicization of universities a menace to their institutional integrity, except where there is "impairment of people's freedom to hold any view they want to."

    He thinks no university should allow itself to get involved in a straight partisan issue.

    But he also believes there are volatile problems about which the institution cannot remain neutral--the environment being an obvious example.

    "Our departments cannot teach and conduct research effectively in the environmental area without getting into controversies," he asserts.

    He feels he is less free to speak out on some issues because such remarks are invariably attributed to his office, even though his opinions have been labelled personal, as in his condemnation of U.S.--Vietnam war involvement last September.

    He does not appear bothered by criticism of his views, whether official or unofficial, although he would like such nuances to be noticed.

    What really troubles him, though, about campus politicization is the way it has helped polarize society.

    Fleming has castigated the "totalitarian tactics" of radical elements, and the manipulative motives of partisan politicians for exploiting societal divisions.

    He rejects meddling in the internal affairs of educational institutions typified by Vice President Agnew's criticism of the U-M after last April's BAM settlement.[B]

    In his spring commencement remarks, Fleming said he was saddened by Agnew's "superficial attacks on universities for their failure to curb turbulence, and, for eroding standards by admitting black students."

    Fleming says he used the adjective "superficial" because the vice president had cast aspersions on the 10 per cent black enrollment goal contending only 6.2 per cent of the state's high school graduates were black in 1968-69.

    The U-M president says the objective was to achieve a 10 per cent proportion throughout the University, not in the freshman class alone.

    Black recruiting programs are being aimed at junior transfers and potential graduate-level students as much as high school seniors, he adds.

    Nevertheless, Fleming is pragmatic enough to realize that universities become vulnerable to outside interferences when they are unable to keep internal control.

    "We will either have the strength and the imagination to put our house in order, or it will be done for us, and along the way many of our traditional freedoms will be lost," he wrote the faculty last May.

    Those advocating expulsion as the best method for purging avowed insurrectionists from the student body oversimplify the problem, Fleming believes.

    He notes that such malcontents are often lionized as martyrs, rather than being ostracized as misfits, and some form the nucleus of non-student guerrilla groups.

    He sees parallels between the present and past, recalling the bitter World War I squabbles at the University of Wisconsin complicated by that state's heavy German population.

    Fleming also cites the left-wing cells active on many campuses in the 1930s as an example of fairly recent politicization.

    "But we have never before had an organized, almost professional cadre like the Weatherman openly dedicated to violent revolution," he stresses.

    The persistent threat to life and property posed by such groups imposes an added responsibility on academic institutions, he believes.

    For survival they must attempt to channel campus dissent within the system.

    This requires, he admits, a commitment by the so-called establishment to solicit youth's ideas as well as their allegiance.

    Fleming feels keenly this inclusion in decision-making must begin in college, but should not end there.

    Perhaps his most eloquent proposal to the Campus Unrest Commission concerned the necessity for both major political parties "to refurbish their images."

    He charged that young people "are largely alienated and indifferent to both parties," and then asserted that "the party which can capture the imagination and support of the young people is the party of the future."

    The latter prediction he made with a mixture of hope and apprehension, warning that history has shown what prolonged alienation and anarchy can produce in the form of authoritarian regimes.

    The U-M president, like many others, is not overly sanguine about the will or capability of professional politicians to reorder their party priorities and restructure their operational assumptions.

    But he does see the 18-year-old vote and the announced intent of students to campaign this fall as hopeful signs pointing toward the possibility of inter-generational political activism.[C]

    Although he considers it unfeasible for the University as a whole because of the tight trimester calendar, Fleming has endorsed the principle behind the "campaign vacation" adopted by Princeton and many other schools.

    U-M student participation, he says, will be channeled through departmental programs.

    If Fleming can establish a modus vivendi with leaders of Student Government Council, he should be well launched on another critical year for the University, and higher education generally.


A. In the wake of the shooting deaths of four students during anti-war protests at Kent State University, President Nixon created the Presidential Commission on Campus Unrest on June 13, 1970.
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B. At an April 13, 1970 Republican fund-raising dinner in Des Moines, Iowa, Vice President Spiro Agnew had accused the University of "surrender" to black militants and labeled Fleming's agreement to end the Black Action Movement strike a "callow retreat from reality."
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C. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which gave 18-year-olds the right to vote, was not ratified until July 1971.
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