University Presidents

A biographical guide the principals and presidents of Eastern Michigan University (previously named the Michigan State Normal School, Michigan State Normal College, and Eastern Michigan College)

Malcolm MacVicar, 1880-1881

Malcolm MacVicar was born in Scotland and moved to Ontario, Canada with his family when he was young. MacVicar attended Knox College in Toronto and was ordained in the Baptist ministry; however he transferred to the University of Rochester where he earned a bachelors and masters degree. After finishing he education MacVicar was principal of Brockport Collegiate Institute, which later became Brockport State Normal School. He assisted in establishing Normal Schools not only in Brockport but in Cortland, Potsdam and Geneseo. He later served as Potsdam principal.

By the time Malcolm MacVicar arrived at Michigan State Normal School in 1880, his reputation preceded him, and the Board of Education was eager for his arrival. MacVicar wasted no time in addressing the curriculum changes. He focused on the quality of teachers the school was producing as opposed to the quantity. MacVicar insisted that all programs at the Normal School include required courses in English as well as academic areas of “special promise”. The “special promise” areas later developed into general education and the concept of majors and minors.

MacVicar had many other ideas for the Normal School that resulted in big changes; restoring balance to the curriculum and abandoning the changes Estabrook made to move the School toward that of a professional school. MacVicar thought that learning should be practical, and that aspiring teachers should have the opportunity to practice their skills. Because of his beliefs that aspiring teachers should have the time available to hone and refine their skills, and his goals to make the students happy while they were receiving an education, MacViar abolished all required study hours.  

MacVicar resigned as principal after one year at the age of 52; siting exhaustion. Despite his short tenure, his decision to stray from the previous curriculum changes and move toward a curriculum that guaranteed that each teacher mastered the core and was very well grounded in their own subject matter had a huge impact on the institution and its students.

MacVicar returned to the Toronto area of Canada was appointed chancellor of McMaster University, and later became the superintendent of the American Baptist Home Mission Society where he was in charge of seven colleges and 24 academies. Malcolm MacVicar died in 1904.

Daniel Putnam 1881-1883, 1885-1886

Daniel Putnam was born in New Hampshire in 1824 and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1851. He completed his postgraduate work at Amherst College before moving to Michigan to serve as a Professor of Latin at Kalamazoo College from 1854-58 and 1866, 1868. Her served at the Superintendent of Kalamazoo Public Schools from 1858-1866, and the County Superintendent in 1868. He joined the faculty of Michigan State Normal School in 1868 as a Professor of Pedagogical studies and shifted to teaching theoretical and applied Psychology. 

Putnam served as the first head of the training school and the first head of the Education Department. He served on three separate occasions as the Principal of the Normal School--1880 in response to Principal Estabrooks resignation, 1881-1883 after Principal MacVicar resigned after one year of service and for a third time 1885-1886 after Principal Willits was called to the presidency of the Michigan Agricultural College in East Lansing

In addition to serving three times in the highest administrative office for the School; Putnam is credited with organizing the first Library on campus, and serving as the first head of the Training School and of the Education Department. 

He also served the community of Ypsilanti as an alderman and major; in addition to a one year interval when he served as the Superintendent of the Ypsilanti Public Schools. He died at his home in Ypsilanti in 1906.

Edwin Willits, 1883-1885

Edwin Willits, born in New York in 1831, he graduate of the University of Michigan and was appointed in 1883 at the age of 53 to the post of Michigan State Normal School principal. He was a prosecuting attorney for Monroe County and served as a member of the 45th, 46th and 47th Congresses. 

While principal, Willits received legislative approval to construct two new wings to the main instructional building on campus (Old Main) to alleviate a lack of space for instruction; and he blocked the University of Michigan's attempt to gain legislative authority to grant teaching certificates. He left the Normal School after two years in 1885 to take a position at the Michigan Agricultural College at East Lansing where he stayed for four years. He left Michigan to accept an appointment by President Harrison to the newly created post of Secretary of Agriculture. He retired after serving five years as Secretary of Agriculture and practiced law in Washington D. C. He died in 1896. 

John Mahelm Berry Sill, 1886-1893

John Mahelm Berry Sill, was born in Black Rock, New York in 1833 and moved with his family at the age of five to Jonesville Michigan and was taught by Normal School's founding principal Adonijah Welch at the Union School. Sill followed Welch to Ypsilanti when the Normal School was founded and was one of three members of the first graduating class. After graduation he accepted a position as Director of the Model Department and Professor of English Language and Literature. He left the Normal School in 1863 to become the second head of the Detroit schools. He remained in Detroit until 1886 when he was appointed principal to the Normal School. 

Sill served as principal for seven years and during that time established a four-year program at the college level offering for the first time in 1890 a Bachelor of Pedagogics and a graduate degree of Master of Pedagogics which was based on five years teaching experience and presentation of a thesis; introduced course in advanced psychology, comparison of educational systems, methods of teaching of history, ancient and modern languages; established a kindergarten (1888) and began a program within the Training School whereby students would have a supervising 'critic' for each grade. 

Sill urged and created an environment in which teachers in service could--through summer courses, extension courses and evening classes--benefit from further training. He included in this expansion of learning work in manual training and physical education. In the year of his retirement the State Legislature appropriated funds for the building of a gymnasium. 

In 1893, Sill retired and moved to Ann Arbor siting no reason for his move. He was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as Minister Resident and Consul-General to Korea, a post he held from 1894-1897. He spent his last years of retirement in Detroit and died in 1901. 

Richard Gause Boone, 1893-1899

Richard Gause Boone was born in 1850 in Indiana, and held a degree from the Spiceland Academy of Spiceland, Indiana. He taught at every level; and served as superintendent of schools at Frankfort, Indiana; and at Indiana University to establish a Department of Pedagogy. He took the appointment of Principal at the Normal School in 1893 and served for six years. 

The Boone administration saw the professional course developed for college and university graduates; a greater reliance on high schools to cover college preparatory course work; the expansion of the campus; and the Normal being recognized as a four-year college in 1897. In 1899, the name was legally changed from Normal School to Michigan State Normal College and Boone because the first administrator to hold the title of President rather than principal. The School became on the second in the country to move from being a four-year school to a four-year college, the first being Albany, New York in 1890. 

During Boone's tenure developments in curriculum were great as illustrated by the upgrading of courses; entrance examinations and encouragement of high school graduates to enroll at the Normal; expansion of a professional program for graduates of liberal arts colleges; and organization of a Department of Physical Training. It was also during his tenure that saw the establishment of Central (Central Michigan University) and Northern (Northern Michigan University) Normal Schools, but Boone was successful in ensuring that the Normal School in Ypsilanti would be the only normal school to certify its graduates to teach at all levels and in some instances refer to itself as "The Michigan State Normal College."

Boone resigned from his post on September 1, 1899 after it was published in the Detroit Free Press, Detroit Evening News, and other local papers that Boone was responsible for the firing of three well liked instructors. He accepted a job as superintendent of the Cincinnati public schools where he served for three years. In 1913 he took a position at the University of California at Berkley as Professor of Education; he died in 1923. Boone Hall on the campus of Eastern Michigan University is named in his honor.