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Worlds Apart Presidents, Astronauts And Madonna? Michigan Plays Goliath To Washington State’s David

Sun., Dec. 14, 1997, midnight

Alumni include President Gerald R. Ford, three U.S. Supreme Court justices and Madonna.

John F. Kennedy launched the Peace Corps from the steps of the student union.

The alumni association had its banner displayed on the moon, thanks to a NASA crew that was comprised solely of its graduates.

The law school, like the football team, is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

Students hardly blinked when senior Fiona Rose was named a Rhodes Scholar last week.

The University of Michigan, with its $2.73 billion budget and 2,861-acre campus, seems unrelated to its Rose Bowl counterpart.

Washington State University is another animal entirely, right down to its Cattle Feeding Lab. As the state’s land-grant university, WSU operates on a far more limited scale, with an operating budget less than one-seventh the size of Michigan’s.

“Land-grant schools tend to be more practical, more vocational,” said Harry McLaughlin, who came to Michigan from Ohio State 18 years ago and teaches kinesiology, the science of human muscle movements.

“The faculty here are definitely more oriented toward their disciplines, and how that results in a career is sort of the students’ business,” he said.

The majority of Michigan’s 37,000 students are up to the challenge, but they have help. Each of the 16 residence halls comes equipped with a computer lab and library, support staffs included.

Such resources set Michigan apart from all but a few universities, public or private. Institutions like WSU generally target a different kind of student.

Few understand these distinctions as well as Maureen Hartford, who was WSU’s vice provost for student affairs until taking the same job at Michigan five years ago.

“Students here are more independent, more challenging and I think they have higher expectations of themselves,” Hartford said. “And they’re a lot more diverse, which makes for a little bit livelier mix.

“There were times at Washington State when I could say, ‘Well, I think the students think this.’ I don’t know if I could ever say that here.”

If that sounds condescending, Hartford didn’t intend it to be. She spoke highly of her time in Pullman and said Michigan has trouble matching WSU’s sense of community.

Michigan has at times been so concerned with setting an academic standard that it overlooked the needs of some students, Hartford said.

“I used to say it was Darwinism - just make it as difficult as possible and only the fit would survive and those would be the people to get the Michigan degree,” she said. “But I was convinced our job was not to get rid of students but to enhance opportunities for all of them, making them build a community here.”

The university has made strides in that area during recent years, she said, but other factors may always work in WSU’s favor.

“WSU was a great place,” Hartford said. “Being so isolated, the students did create their own community, their own entertainment, and I think it made for a really remarkable four-year experience.

“You got to know people.”

Michigan’s size and stature complicate its attempts at becoming more personal. No fewer than 26 of the graduate and professional programs are rated among the nation’s best in the U.S. News & World Report rankings published last March.

Who has time for community?

The athletic department, with its $38 million budget and 23 varsity sports, is another monolith.

It’s one of the few to consistently turn a profit, led by a football program that has drawn more than 100,000 fans to each of its last 135 home games.

Michigan football netted more than $13 million on revenue of $20.7 million last season.

While WSU was struggling to fill 37,600-seat Martin Stadium during the Cougars’ first Rose Bowl season in 67 years, Michigan was talking about expanding a stadium that holds 102,501.

As big as Michigan football is, it cannot overshadow the university, or even Ann Arbor.

“At a place like this, most of the institution isn’t affected by the football team,” said McLaughlin, the kinesiology professor. “What, a third of the student body goes to the games?

“During football games on Saturday afternoons, you’ll find people studying in the libraries, coffee shops and dorms because they’re so focused in academics.”

Ann Arbor (pop. 110,000) is at least as sanguine, aspiring to its own identity separate from the university. The distinction isn’t always clear, primarily because the downtown blends so well with the university.

The heart of Ann Arbor has more coffee shops than bars, the locals like to say, although the guy working the drive-through at The Beer Depot might tell a different story.

“We celebrate diversity in this town,” said Michigan sports information director Bruce Madej, who wrote for the Ann Arbor News in the mid-1970s. “There’s an eclectic blend of individuals. It’s a liberal town with a conservative newspaper. Sometimes the city in itself is a paradox.”

No doubt. The Safe Sex Shop is around the corner from the Mormon church. Thirty art galleries and a symphony orchestra add to the mix.

Madej has seen few places like it.

“We get the Nazis, we get the KKK, they all come in here, they all do their darn protests and they always get a headline out of it,” Madej added, “and yet you have these people walking into a more liberal campus - I mean, there’s a $5 marijuana law on the books.”

The pot statute is much like Montana’s old speeding law, although Madej said campus police are less forgiving than the city cops.

A dwindling number of students spice up Ann Arbor’s air during the Hash Bash every April 1, and the Naked Mile provides an R-rated release after finals. Domino’s delivers until 4 a.m.

Pullman, it’s not.

“There’s almost no comparison, except both may describe themselves as university towns,” said Hartford, whose husband, Jay, also made the transition from crimson and gray to maize and blue.

“At WSU, if you want something to do with intellectual stimulation, it was right at the university,” she added. “For everything else, you had to go to Spokane.”

The University of Michigan, meanwhile, is less than 40 minutes from Detroit on Interstate 94. Ann Arbor seems too busy to notice.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Bridget Sawicki; 2 Graphics: No comparison; Different schools, different worlds


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