Photos Courtesy of MSU Archives

Though Michigan State is planning a stand-alone multicultural building following multiple racist incidents in fall 2019 and widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020, the university has a history of creating spaces that don't survive for minority students.

After the passage of the Civil Rights Act and Detroit race riots of 1968, former MSU President John Hannah realized MSU needed to help the advancement of civil rights from a university level. 

In response, he created the Committee of 16, responsible for creating a report that offered goals and suggestions for MSU’s role in advancing civil rights.

According to The 50 Year History of the Center for Urban Affairs: The Beginnings of CCED report, the committee’s goals were to determine how  MSU should “make a useful contribution to the solution of ... Civil Rights.” This included an increased effort to enroll more Black students, an intense search for more Black faculty in all colleges and departments, a purposeful and immediate effort to get more Blacks in administrative positions as well as the creation of a Center for Race and Urban Affairs. 

The center would have academic, research and project functions. The committee also noted the willingness of faculty to donate time and expertise to aid in getting more Blacks into higher education. MSU students at the time also supported the center.

Once Walter Adams took over as interim president in 1969, he listened to Black students’ demands and helped increase funding for the College of Urban Development as an academic offshoot of the Center for Urban Affairs.

“(Administration) followed through with (the report) really quite ... quickly and thoroughly, with the exception that they changed the name from a Center for Race and Urban Affairs to just a Center for Urban Affairs, which was kind of a political move, you know. It really was designed around race,” Professor in the Center for Community and Economic Development John Schweitzer said.


In March 1969, MSU established the Center for Urban Affairs, which focused on researching and creating solutions to address urban problems.

According to Schweitzer, to help fund the center, Adams took 0.005% of funding from every department and college across the board. This also funded a minority fellowship program that helped train role models for different areas of academia. However, according to Schweitzer, the center couldn’t offer its own classes or degree program.

After The Center for Urban Affairs was created, a proposal was crafted for the College of Urban Development, or CUD. According to a press release from 1973, the college was made to solve issues that stemmed from “racial and ethnic discrimination and prejudice.”

Students enrolled in the college could study with the department of urban and metropolitan studies or the department of racial and ethnic studies, which partnered in administration with the College of Social Science. Within the former, students could learn about urban health science, urban education systems and urban community development. Those who chose the latter had the options of conflict intervention and change, and racism and ethnocentrism as areas of study.

Support for the college was mixed. In The Educational Policies Committee 1971 report on the college, the committee agreed that MSU needed to focus on establishing better academic offerings in “urban-human problem solution.” However, they were unclear if achieving college status would benefit the solving of urban-human problems.

Those for the college believed the unit would show MSU’s commitment to the issue, creating a body of knowledge to address problems in urban areas. It would also guarantee a seat for faculty and students in the academic governing process. However, those against the college argued it wouldn’t enhance communication with other units, wouldn’t improve problems in urban areas and would increase administrative costs. 

“A lot of my colleagues and, especially coming out of the College of Social Science, the dean of the College of Social Science, many of them felt that the college would be one that would be involved in activism, on issues both on campus and off campus, and that was true, but we wouldn't be academically strong,” Former Dean of the College of Urban Development Robert Green said. “And that was not true. We had people in the college who were scholars who wrote to publish in refereed journals, who put out books ... We had a strong academic background, but the fact that we were concerned with race and social justice issues at that time, there was always concerns. Are you going to be academic? Will you hire a faculty member who’s a scholar?”

MSU's first Black President, Clifton Wharton, wrote in his book, "Privilege and Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pioneer" that the college received resistance particularly from Board of Trustees Warren Huff and Clair White. Wharton says this was most likely due to Director of the Center for Urban Affairs Robert Green’s work in challenging and advancing Big Ten athletics.

Warren Huff was unable to be reached and Clair White is dead, therefore unavailable to comment.

Nevertheless, the college was approved on May 19, 1972, in a Board of Trustees meeting and courses began the following fall semester.


“Quite soon after that, now we're talking into the middle 70s the recession started hitting,” Schweitzer said. “The oil shock and deterioration of, you know, from the late 70s. I mean, things really collapsed. And the university was under dire straits, really ... trying to (figure out) how are we going to manage.

Former Board of Trustee member Carol Meyer-Lick recalled the challenges of managing the budget.

“At the time we were told, I think the figure was, we had to cut $16 million out of the budget, if I recall, right,” Meyer-Lick said. “And while that's a lot of money anytime, it was a lot more back, you know, 40 years ago, and it was just devastating trying to come up with where to cut.”

Meyer-Lick remembers people informally lobbying to save their colleges. Her mailbox was flooded with statements, adding pressure to the board’s decisions.

“It was upsetting to have to cut the colleges, to have to cut anything like that, to that extent," she said. "But it had to be done. And it wasn't just Michigan State. It was, I don't know about the entire country, but I remember the Midwestern universities, many of the Big Ten universities, were going through the same kind of situation.”

On Jan. 23, 1981, the Office of the Provost received the dean’s summary of the CUD Program Reduction Planning Report. The document listed several goals, which included maintaining college status and adding a graduate program. To do this, the college suggested combining the two degree programs within the college and separating from the College of Social Science, among other items to reduce administrative costs and strengthen academic programming.

Despite a positive report from the College of Urban Development Study Committee and terminations of programs and faculty within the college, the Select Advisory Committee recommended to terminate the college's status and remove funding for Urban Development programs.

To try and form a compromise for the future of the College of Urban Development, a Coordinated Proposal Recommendation was presented to the Board of Trustees on March 22, 1981.

“We propose that Michigan State University discontinue the College of Urban Development and establish a new program drawing into some of the personnel resources now appointed in the College of Urban Development, " according to the recommendation. "This new unit could be called Urban Affair Programs and … would be administered by a Dean, would have a research program, would facilitate and coordinate multidisciplinary graduate programs at the master’s and doctoral levels, and would administer on behalf of Michigan State University approximately $710,000 annual support of minority and female graduate students who would be enrolled across the University.”

Dr. George L. Cornell, professor emeritus, History, American Studies and American Indian Studies, along with others, were disappointed with the change.

He, along with Green and Schweitzer, also questioned if the elimination of the college was primarily due to budget cuts or if the university had ulterior motives.

Wharton’s book stated that the college had low enrollment, causing the elimination. However, Green disagreed with this statement, stating that enrollment numbers were skewed due to the partnership with the College of Social Science.

“(The university) came after the College of Urban Development and eliminated it basically,” Schweitzer said. “It was, I felt, a racist thing to do. I mean, I really, there was an aura around the university that I could feel, and as a white person in a unit, which was primarily people of color, I sort of had an experience of kind of being in a minority in the majority area. But going around the campus, I could get the vibe of what, how people thought about us.”

Cornell wrote a letter to The State News editor-in-chief earlier this year because of how MSU is claiming they will work on new initiatives.

“It's like Black Lives Matter today,” Green said. “Here we have young people who are smart and intelligent, men and women, black and white, walking the streets seeking social justice. And to a great extent, you have a lot of leadership, who are hoping that it will go away. It will not go away. The need for a College of Urban Development is more so today than it was when I was around as dean.”

Green also expressed interest in collaboration with President Stanley on a new college if asked.

As MSU phased out the College of Urban Development, they started the Urban Affairs Programs in 1981. According to an 1985-1986 MSU Academic Program packet, the program would function similarly to the CUD, but instead facilitated interdepartmental degrees in urban studies and areas such as forestry and criminal justice. 

The Urban Affairs Programs ran its course offering educational field trips and other opportunities, but ultimately came to an end in 2003.


The Center for Urban Affairs, now called the Center for Community and Economic Development, still remains. 

Now retiring, Schweitzer said he is concerned for the future of the center but feels it will continue in some way.

“I'm not sure what the university is going to do with us and what's going to happen because we're in now part of university outreach and engagement, which is we don't have a head person,” Schweitzer said. “We have an acting director. We have a new provost (and) we have a fairly new president. ... The director is in his seventies and (so is) the other person that works there. So, we don't know what's happening to us. So, something clearly, it’s  kind of coming to an end in some way. I don't know.”

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