Kresge Library

Meadow Brook Seminars

George Matthews memo, Jan. 13, 1977

January 13, 1977

To: Donald D. O'Dowd
  Frederick W. Obear
  Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost
From: George T. Matthews
  Vice Provost

This is in response to Fred Obear's memo asking me to find out what I could about the Meadow Brook Seminars of 1958 (and on in 1959) with a view to deciding whether or not to state a repeat on the occasion of our 25th anniversary in 1982.

I. The attached two documents, MSUO Curriculum, May 22, 1959 and Introductory Comments for the December 13 Seminar contain most of the information you called for. A few opening comments may not be amiss:
1.   Whose idea was the Meadow Brook Seminar in the first place, and exactly who funded them is not clear from the materials in the University Archives, but it is clear that the Oakland Foundation was instrumental in their development, especially Jim Zeder. One senses the seminars cemented the new Foundation together, and enabled the MSU people, Hannah, Hamilton and preeminently Varner - to establish contact with local people, and to focus their interest on the academic aspects of the new institution. The seminars also served as a vehicle whereby the national academic world became aware of MSUO, an important matter to the development of Oakland's early style and rhetoric. From the beginning MSUO was determined to be more than a local college; the seminars exhibited this attitude superbly.
2.   Study in the University Archives on the subject of the Meadow Brook Seminars also makes clear that they are well prepared and did not function in a curricular vacuum. From the first announcement of the Wilson gift in January 1957 to the publication of the MSUO Curriculum, May 22, 1959, Thomas Hamilton, Vice President for Academic Affairs at MSU, headed at least two faculty advisory groups which essentially established the tone and direction, curricular plans, made basic nuts and bolts decisions, and blocked out the major academic and curricula characteristics of early MSUO. When the seminars were called into session, the academic foundations of MSUO were already laid and the rough carpentry was in place; the seminars provided intellectual rationales, confirmed judgments already made, encouraged growth in directions already decided upon and in a sense lent powerful sanction to ideas already generated in East Lansing. This is not to deny the seminars their extremely important role; without them MSUO would have been quite different. But the seminars operated within guidelines and within established assumptions about MSUO which enabled them to focus upon concrete issues. Thus the fact that there were five seminars each devoted to a separate aspect of the curriculum was a result of curricular decisions made as early as the summer of 1957 that there would be three pre-professional curricula, that there would be in each a powerful liberal arts thrust and that there ought to be a genuine emphasis upon adult continuing education.
3.   There were five Meadow Brook Seminars in all
    a. Engineering Science: August 13, 1958. (the fact that the Engineering Science was first may have been because of Zeder's influential role but for whatever reason, it was important, for the national attention which MSUO received was triggered in the first instance by this seminar; the early national applause (and local puzzlement and dismay) which greeted curricular announcements about MSUO was initiated by the "elitist" statements emanating from this early seminar (there is a suspicion that John Hannah was somewhat taken aback)
    b. Teacher Education: November 8, 1958
    c. Business Administration: November 22, 1958. (This date may be incorrect by a day or so - a little research problem to warm the historian's heart)
    d. Liberal Arts: December 13, 1958.
    e. Continuing Education: April 18, 1959

II The two attached documents provide the answers to the organizational questions you asked.
1.   The MSUO Curriculum document is a fascinating (but terribly uneven) source. It contains:
    a. General statements about MSUO, its history, local background and first operating assumptions (which we should review).
    b. A description of the curriculum development process and general guidelines for future generations (all of which ought to be required reading in a course on institutional history for in the light of the past 19 years it is replete with ironies).
    c. Curricular specifics are then examined, starting with the Liberal Studies Program (it became known as the UC program) required of all students, and moving then to the three pre-professional areas plus continuing education.
    d. The reports of the seminars may be found in the seven appendices, including in each, the list of panelists, a list of participating MSU/Oakland Foundation members and finally the membership of the original Foundation.
2.   The Introductory Comments for December 13 Seminar is attached because it can serve as the standard model for all the Seminars.
    a. The format was the same for each: only section V differed according to the subject of each seminar and VI according to the different cast of characters involved. Briefly all seminars were one day, Saturday; guests arrived Friday evening, were wined and dined and aroused from slumber in time for a first 9:00 a.m. Saturday session; papers were read; a press conference and lunch, general discussion; summary by Hamilton/Varner and adjournment. A simple but effective format.

III. Meadow Brook Revisited (1982) would of course be different, but we could:
1.   Through the Planning Committee develop plans for the second twenty-five years and;
2.   Invite the seminars (presumably we would break it down into several sessions) to give us advice and counsel on the basis of our priorly conceived ideas.
3.   Invite national figures, but also local and campus figures, (especially faculty and students) to participate.
4.   Wring as much PR out of it as Woody did from the original seminars, years ago (note the provisions for a press conference in the agenda of each seminar). Of course we might learn something useful as well; if so, lagniappe!


Created on 12/12/06 by 04/26/05 by Linda Hildebrand / Last updated on 8/25/13 by Linda Hildebrand
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