Archives—January 2000


The Michigan College of Science and Technology

From 1927 until 1964 the institution was known as the Michigan College of Mining and Technology (MCMT).

A new State of Michigan Constitution was adopted by the MI Constitutional Convention on August 1, 1962. The vote to ratify the new constitution was certified on June 20, 1963 (with 50.2% in favor, 49.8% against). That constitution refers to the Michigan College of Science and Technology in Article VIII, Sec 4, and was to take effect January 1, 1964. The Tech Board of Control had discussed the name change issue prior to this but deferred any action until after the vote on the new constitution.

On October 11, 1963, the Tech Board of Control was given two resolutions, one to change the name to Michigan College of Science and Technology (MCST) and one to change to Michigan Technological University (MTU). The resolution to change to MCST passed and the one for MTU was not acted upon. The resolution called for the name change to take effect “on January 1, 1964” and to remain “the official name until such time as the Board of Control may select and adopt another name.” However it is not clear that the Tech Board of Control had the authority to change the name of the institution.

There was no mention of the Board’s action in the newspapers for some time. The first seems to have been almost a month later in the Student Newspaper, The Lode. Following that, a large number of articles, editorials, and letters to the editor appeared pushing for the “University” designation.

On December 3rd, 1963, Senate Bill 1016 and House Bill 56 were introduced to the second extra session of the Michigan Legislature. These were identical bills which renamed MCMT to MCST and increased the size of the Board of Control. House Bill 56 was later amended in committee to change the name to MTU rather than to MCST. As originally introduced, these bills were to take effect “on January 1, 1964.”

Also early in December Senate Bill 1008 was introduced which, after amendment, renamed MCMT to MTU.

House Bill 56 (as amended) and Senate Bill 1008 passed and ended up as public acts 21 and 49. Senate Bill 1016 was never passed, presumably because the identical House Bill had already passed. Public act 21 also changes the names of Ferris Institute to Ferris State College, and Grand Valley College to Grand Valley State College.

The wording regarding the name change is similar in public acts 21 and 49. Quoting from public act 49:
“The institution established in the Upper Peninsula known as the Michigan college of mining and technology, referred to in the constitution of 1963 as the Michigan college of science and technology, is continued after January 1, 1964, under the name of Michigan technological university, …”

The phrase “after January 1, 1964” was explicitly added by amendment. Possibly this was to avoid a constitutional crisis since the constitution was to take effect “on January 1, 1964,” with the MCST name. However, the wording in the constitution also included the phrase “… by whatever names (MCST) may be hereafter known.” How long “after” the name changes were to take effect is not specified in the legislation.

The bills were signed into law by governor George Romney on December 27, 1963 and were to take effect immediately. A picture of the bill signing can be found in the 1948 Keweenawan (the MTU yearbook), page 48, as well as in the local newspaper.

At their February 14, 1964, meeting the Tech Board of Control passed a resolution “ratifying and confirming” the name Michigan Technological University and ordering “that the name Michigan Technological University be used hereafter as the legal and official name of the institution.” Again, it may be the Board of Control overstepped its authority. At the same meeting they considered some new designs for official seals and insignia but postponed action until later. The minutes of that meeting indicate that President Van Pelt thanked the Board of Control members for their support for the MTU name which they had communicated to the state legislature the previous December, though no mention of the subject could be found in the minutes of the Board of Control’s meeting from December. Presumably the support was given as a private communication and not through official action of the Board.

In none of these is there any mention of Tech having the MCST name for one hour, or for any length of time at all, as a matter of fact. On page 8 of the Daily Mining Gazetteof December 31, 1963, before any changes took effect, is a brief report about some students who had purchased rings and sweaters with the MCST name in anticipation of that new name which never happened, and how the students were pleased, rather than disappointed, to have a unique artifact of the process. It is clear that most, if not all, regarded the change in name as being directly from MCMT to MTU and that that was the intention behind the legislation.

Whether or not the Board of Control has any name changing authority is also somewhat vague in the legislation. Within public act 49 is a statement regarding the powers of the Board of Control. After a detailed list which makes no mention of authority regarding the institution’s name, is the statement “All powers customarily exercised by the governing board of a college or university are vested in the board. The enumeration of powers herein is not deemed to exclude any of such powers not expressly excluded by law.” Since many colleges and universities have changed their name due to action of their governing board — a recent local example being the change from Suomi College to Finlandia University — perhaps the board does have name changing power.

Hence, it would indeed seem possible that, by a quirk, “on January 1, 1964” our name was MCST (due to the Board action on October 11 and/or due to the new constitution) and then the MTU name took effect only “after January 1, 1964.”

(More will be added here if/when it is discovered. If you have an artifact from 1963 with the MCST name on it, the MTU Archives would like to hear from you.)

Back to MTU Physics Department History | 1935-1966


MTU Physics Department History | 1981-present

Group Photo 1978

Try, Try again

During the late 1970’s the University was determined to developed research and PhD graduate programs in the Engineering and Science disciplines. In fact, the lack of a strong graduate program in Physics, especially condensed matter physics, had been recently cited as a reason for the failure of a major proposal to the National Science Foundation for a Materials Research Laboratory. In 1980 University of Illinois Professor A. Barry Kunz was brought in as a consultant to help build such a program in the Physics Department. His involvement continued over the next few years as a visiting professor, and then as an adjunct faculty member. Kunz had previously been a candidate for the headship. Around the same time, a “Physics of Solids” option to the existing Metallurgy PhD program was started to help boot-strap the graduate program in physics.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1967-1980

Growing Pains

Van Pelt characterized the change in name, in particular the change from being a “College” to being a “University,” as a recognition of existing facts. Once the change was made, however, the message became ‘now that we are a university, we should look like one.’ Pressure increased for all faculty to have a PhD and for them to be actively engaged in research. One could no longer hire new tenure-track faculty who did not already have a PhD. Soon the University was divided into colleges and schools—Physics belonging to the College of Sciences and Arts.

By the late 1960’s Stebbins began a search for his replacement as Physics Department head and ultimately announced his decision to hire Charles Mandeville, then at Kansas State. Mandeville was hired because the combination of his very strong research background and his no-nonsense personality was expected to aid in a rapid transition of the department from a role of principally providing service teaching to a department with strong, externally funded research of its own. Since Mandeville’s research specialty was in nuclear physics, and there was very little nationally competitive research already in the department, the department research emphasis became nuclear physics. Several new hires were made in the late 1960’s, all in the area of nuclear physics, including two of his Kansas State collaborators, Drs. Potnis and Agin, as well as several new assistant professors.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1935-1966

Growing to become a University

During the 1950’s there was considerable growth on campus and an effort to formalize the graduate programs. Over a dozen new MS programs appeared across campus during this time including one in Engineering Physics and one in Physics. The latter was intended to rely heavily on a joint agreement with Argonne National Labs for research opportunities. The MS in Engineering Physics disappeared after 1960 and at the same time the Engineering Physics BS was renamed “Applied Physics.”1 A total of only about a half dozen students graduated with an Engineering Physics MS. The College’s graduate programs had been under a Director up until 1960 when the graduate school was formed and Physics Professor Don Yerg became the first Graduate School Dean.

At the Sault campus, Professor of Physics Harry Crawford was hired and named director in 1954. Shortly after that a number of the physics faculty from the Houghton campus moved to the Sault campus. Crawford was instrumental in building and developing the Sault campus until his retirement in 1965, preparing the Sault campus to formally break away to become Lake Superior State University.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1925-1934

The Geophysics Research Emphasis

In 1927 the State Legislature approved a broadening of the charge of the College and a new name, the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, or MCMT for short. The case was made that “the successful mining engineer and metallurgical engineer require broad knowledge of all phases of engineering, and as such are really entitled to recognition as general engineers, equipped to undertake work in almost any branch of the engineering profession.” Hence, the broadened scope was put forward as a recognition of the existing facts. At the time of the change the total College enrollment was near 300 students. Shortly after this time, in 1933, a Bachelor of Science degree in General Science first appears, which one could claim is the first non-engineering degree to be offered by the College.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1917-1924

The Engineering Education Years

When the School started, of course, the Physics Department was only to provide a fundamental background in physical science considered essential for mining engineers. Over the first few decades of the School’s existence this would also include specialists in chemical and metallurgical engineering. From about 1900 until 1930 the Physics courses centered on the five introductory physics courses, B1 to B5, and the two engineering mechanics courses, C1 and C2.

Physics lab ca. 1911 Photo

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MTU Physics Department History | 1901-1916

The Tamarack Mine Experiments

Man Car PhotoThe mine shafts which existed in the vicinity of the College provided a unique opportunity for physics research. This was particularly so for the Tamarack Mine shafts which were vertical and almost a mile deep. In 1901 the Physics faculty (McNairFisher, Osborne, and Grant) along with John B. Watson, chief engineer, and George Slock, assistant engineer, of the Tamarack mining company,1 began experiments using long pendulums (pendula) as plumb bobs in the #2, #4, and #5 shafts of the Tamarack Mine. The goal of these measurements was to transfer a reference line from the surface to aid future horizontal drilling operations. Being physicists, one of the first results which shows up in the lab notebook is the period of the pendulum, a result which is largely irrelevant for use as a plumb bob.

The first pendulums were made with #24 steel piano wire and 50 pound cast iron weights and were hung 4,250 feet down shaft #5. The period of these pendulums was 70 seconds. The weight actually stretched the wire about 15 feet. For some measurements the weights were placed in oil or water to help damp the motion though this was insufficient to completely stop the motion.2 They typically used multiple measurements of the oscillating pendulums “as in the method of determining the zero point of a balance by observing the oscillations of its pointer,” rather than waiting for the motion to stop.

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MTU Physics Department History | 1885-1900

The Earliest Years

Firehall PhotoMichigan Tech had its beginnings in 1885 as the Michigan Mining School (MMS) offering a two-year mining program. The first classes were held in the Fall of 1886 in the Continental Fire Hall, which still stands next to the old Portage Lake District Library on Montezuma Avenue in downtown Houghton, MI. Course offerings in Physics, to be taught by the Physics Department, were listed starting in 1887 however there was not yet a Physics Department faculty to teach them. Those first Physics course offerings were to be “temporarily performed by the present members of the Faculty.”

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