Student learns school’s history from the teacher who wrote it

Highlighter & Laureate,
Summer 2003

Herman Muller, 93, has taught at the University for nearly 50 years, including an economics course during the past winter term. He is the University chaplain for the Titan baseball team and travels with the team to spring training and to out-of-town games. He also attends most of the men’s basketball home and away games.

Recognized as the University Historian, Muller wrote a book on the history of the University of Detroit that encompassed the years 1877-1977. He has also authored four other books, including one on the history of the College of Business Administration.

Recently, he completed the history of U of D up to 1990, when the University of Detroit consolidated with Mercy College of Detroit. His chapters are included in a new history book, Legacy of Excellence, which covers the histories of U of D, Mercy College of Detroit and the first 10 years of the University of Detroit Mercy. The book will soon be available for ordering.




The following article was written by Mylika Johnson, who will receive her bachelor’s degree from the College of Liberal Arts & Education in December 2003. The article appeared in the Michigan Memories section of the April 3 issue of the Detroit Free Press. The article is one of four published by UDM students in recognition of the University’s 125th anniversary of Jesuit tradition.

As a student attending the University of Detroit Mercy, I have trouble picturing a time when class sizes were smaller than 10 students. Classes took place in a converted residence on Jefferson Avenue, and the entire first-year graduating class consisted of only eight students.

In an interview with the Rev. Herman Muller, an emeritus professor at UDM, I was taken back in time and learned the history of my school.

Muller came to Detroit after teaching at John Carroll University for four years. Beginning his career at the University in 1956 as a history professor, he arrived with an extensive educational background. He holds a bachelor’s in literature, a master’s and doctorate in history and a licentiate in theology. In 1975, Muller agreed to write a history of the school. While teaching full time, he was still able to write The University of Detroit 1877-1977: A Centennial History in two years.

What was then the University of Detroit began educating students in 1877 in liberal arts. In the early 1900s, dentistry, engineering and law were added to the school’s curriculum. These studies were added, Muller said, "when parents asked the school to offer courses students could use in later life."

Along with an expanding curriculum came a need to escape from cramped quarters. Construction at the McNichols Campus began in 1926. Some of the first buildings were Lansing-Reilly Hall, the unique tower, the Architecture, Chemistry, Commerce and Finance, and Engineering buildings. The school reached its largest student population during the postwar years when there were more than 12,000 students, Muller said. The school currently has about 6,000 registered students. In 1890 there were 18 Jesuit instructors, compared with about 300 professors today.

I asked Muller about his most interesting discoveries in preparing the history. He stated, "I was most fascinated" to find "at the beginning of the school…tuition was $90. When the school first started, there were no rooms for the students, so they bought the Trowbridge Residence across from Dowling Hall."

The University’s physical growth is matched by its growth in a diverse student body. Muller explained, "The school was designed to be a school for boys only. However from the very first, women were admitted to lectures of the more popular types…they were not admitted to the more formal series." Although the law school never excluded women, Muller said the first feminine names found in records were for the academic year 1916-17.

Muller said the school’s initial student population was mostly Irish, German, Belgian and Polish descent, but that since that time, the University has educated many black students. He reflected on a history course he once instructed: "When I first came to the school in 1956, the class had about 40 students, one black." As an honor student who happens to be both African American and female, I know my graduating class will not only be bigger than the class of 1883, but it will also reflect the talents and aspirations of a diverse student population.

Muller said he enjoys the school environment because it is "not a large University; consequently, more attention is given to individual students. The general rule is to keep class sizes small. The school is interested in the students themselves."

Muller also said he is proud that the University upholds its mission statement to provide excellent student-centered undergraduate and graduate education in an urban context. A UDM education seeks to integrate the intellectual, spiritual, ethical and social development of students.

The University of Detroit Mercy has come a long way since its first building on Jefferson Avenue. While it no longer is home to the football teams that began in 1897, it offers young men and women many opportunities to participate in other Division I sports. Cheering on sidelines, Muller is among the greatest fans when it comes to UDM sports. As a student, I could be a big fan of the $90 tuition of days gone by.