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)

John M. Munson, 1933-1948

John Maurice Munson's family immigrated from Sweden to Pennsylvania where Munson lived until leaving home at the age of 13. He worked in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a mill hand and lumberjack and eventually sat for the State Examination in 1895 to become a teacher in country and village schools. He received a BA from Michigan State Normal College in 1903 and continued his studies under W. N. Ferris at the Ferris Institute in Big Rapids Michigan and went on to serve successively as a teacher in the public schools, superintendent of schools; Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction for six year Director of Training School of the Central Michigan State Normal (1919-1923); and President of the Northern Michigan State Normal School (1923-1933). 

In 1933, Muson was appointed by the State Board of Directors president of the Michigan State Normal School. The Great Depression proved destructive to the teaching profession in Michigan (Michigan State Normal College saw a 28% decline in enrollment from 1931-32 to 1934-35) and in October of 1933, the State Board of Education called a conference to address these issues. Munson represented the teacher's colleges and the work he completed for the conference has had lasting impact on teacher training in Michigan including the Certification Code for the State (1936) and language inclusion in a new State Constitution in 1963; successfully advocating against the closing of two Normal school in 1935; and establishing a joint program of graduate work with the teachers colleges and the University of Michigan which ultimately shifted the Normal Schools from the quarter system to that of semesters to match the teaching calendar of the University of Michigan. 

With a decline in both enrollment and appropriations from the state Muson had to reduce teaching faculty and while enrollment bounced back slightly during the 1940-41 school year it fell again by almost 50% from its pre-war enrollment by 1945. This changed in the post-war period when veterans flocked to college campuses and Michigan State Normal saw an increase of more than 1,550 students in three years, by 1955-56 the College had expanded to a student body of 8,500. However unlike Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, who are allowed to keep their tuition dollars, money from the GI Bill that supported the education of returning veterans went into the coffers of the State of Michigan education fund to be distributed to the normal schools. Despite this Munson secured, through the state and private donors,  funding enough to complete 13 buildings on campus including: Walter O. Briggs Stadium, Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham Hall, five dormitories, a health service building, a maintenance shop, and the Milton S. Hover Elementary Science Laboratory. 

The American Association of University Professors drew strong support from the faculty at the Normal College and they led efforts to persuade the State Board of Education to permit faculty input in the selection of the next president and the organisation succeeded in writing a constitution for an all-0college faculty organization, which was adopted with minor modification by the incoming president. 

Munson retired in 1948, at the age of 70. Hi died in 1950 and left the bulk of his estate of the Michigan Historical Commission to write and publish a history of Michigan and a history of the education in Michigan.

Eugene B. Elliott, 1948-1965

Eugene Bradshaw Elliot was born in Pontiac, Michigan April 6, 1896 to John and Anna (Hyde) Elliott and received his undergraduate degree from Albion College, and additional degrees from Michigan State University and a doctorate from the University of Michigan. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War I and was married to Wilma A. Gardner (1898-1972). Prior to his election to the post of State Superintendent of Public Instruction (a post he held for thirteen years) he spent seven years teaching and in school administration. 

Elliott was appointed to the post of President of Michigan State Normal College effective July 1st at the State Board of Education Meeting held on March 23, 1948. Despite their request to be involved in the input process of selecting new leadership for the College, faculty requests were ignored. His first administrative changes on campus was to create the office of Controller and appointment of Benjamin L. Klager as business manager. During his tenure, Elliott saw enrollment rise from 2,000 in his first year to 8,000 when he retired in 1965. The size of the campus, the number of buildings and funds received from the state of Michigan increased as well. He is responsible for spearheading the effort in the State Legislature to change the name of the institution from Michigan State Normal College to Eastern Michigan College, a change that occurred in 1956. In 1959 the name changed again from College to University. In response to a 1960 report on issues of teaching load for faculty, Vice-President for Instruction, Bruce K. Nelson with support from Elliott adopted the reports recommendation for a reduction in classroom teaching to 12 hours per week. 

In 1963, the State Board of Education called for Elliott's immediate resignation, to which Elliott refused and the Board ordered that his tenure terminate a year later. The State Board was disbanded before this could take place when a new State Constitution was approved January 1, 1964. The new constitution provided for a separate board of control for each of the baccalaureate degree-granting institutions to be composed of eight members, appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate. 

Elliott retired July 1, 1965 and moved to Adrian, Michigan. He died September 25, 1971 and is buried at the Adrian Center Cemetery, Adrian, MI.

Harold E. Sponberg, 1965-1974

Harold Eugene Sponberg was born September 26, 1918, in New Richland, Minnesota; he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1940 from Gustavus Adolphus College, Master of Arts from the University of Minnesota, 1941, and his Ph.D. from Michigan State University in 1952. He married Grace Miller of Orange City, Florida, and together they had five children.

Prior to becoming the President of Eastern Michigan University, Sponberg was an elementary and high school teacher; Assistant Professor, Assistant Dean of Students, Director of Educational Placement, and Professor of Education at Michigan State University between 1946-1953; Executive Secretary , National 4-H Foundation, 1953-1954; Director of University Extension, Michigan State University, 1954-1956; Vice President of Academic Affairs, Northern Michigan University, 1956-1961; President of Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, 1961-1965.

On October 2, 1965, President Sponberg was inaugurated as the 15th President of EMU. When Sponberg took the reins of EMU the student population was approximately 10,188 students and the University maintained an image of a teacher-training institution. Sponberg undertook the college boom as a challenge and oversaw a major expansion of buildings on campus which included: Pray-Harrold; Porter (which served as a new University Library); Mark Jefferson Science Complex; Rynearson Football Stadium; Ostrike Baseball Stadium, and a majority of the dormitories.

President Sponberg also established the first office of a full time Director of Alumni Relations; the University Archives and converted the old office of publications and news services into the Office of Information Services. Harold Sponberg resigned his position as University President on March 20, 1974. After suffering a heart attack in his home, Harold Sponberg died April 26, 1975.