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From The State News Archives: Moments from MSU's presidential history

November 1, 2022
<p>MSU President Samuel L. Stanley and Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II speak with Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger after the roundtable. Gilchrist visited MSU for a roundtable discussion on electric vehicles on April 20, 2022.</p>

MSU President Samuel L. Stanley and Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II speak with Bollinger Motors CEO Robert Bollinger after the roundtable. Gilchrist visited MSU for a roundtable discussion on electric vehicles on April 20, 2022.

The State News took a look back at its previous reporting on past university presidents. From our archives, read more about influential moments from these MSU leaders’ tenures.

Kenyon L. Butterfield (1924-1928)

Time out for Turkey: 1925

MSU’s first president mentioned in the oldest available archives of The State News is Kenyon Leech Butterfield, who became president of the university in 1924. Butterfield, the university’s tenth president, was responsible for establishing a Thanksgiving break, according to a Nov. 24, 1925 issue of the Michigan State News. 

“‘Time out for turkey’ has been granted to Michigan State college students for the first time in more than 15 years,” the article read. “It was President Butterfield who proposed the recess and other members of the faculty were in favor of it.”

The article notes previous attempts to establish a Thanksgiving break failed because students failed to arrive back on campus in time. They receiveda $1 fine for each class missed – worth about $17 today. Butterfield felt students should be allowed to return home for Thanksgiving, as most of them lived nearby, and nearly all of them lived in the state.

“The students are on trial this year and if they do not leave before Wednesday noon and are back for classes on Monday morning, there is every reason to believe that Michigan State college will continue to have Thanksgiving vacation,” the article read.

Butterfield resigned in 1928 after conflicts with the State Board of Agriculture. However, students that head home this November for Thanksgiving break have Butterfield to thank for their vacation – as well as their 1925 counterparts that apparently arrived back to school on time Monday morning.

Robert S. Shaw (1928, 1941)

Freshman Week Activities Begin With Slight Decrease In Enrollment Anticipated: 1933 

Latest Enrollment Figures Show Slight Decrease From 1932, 2800 Enrolled: 1933 

In September 1933, enrollment at the then-Michigan State College of Agriculture and Applied Science had decreased from the previous year. The Michigan State News ran two articles referencing this. 

The first, published on Sept. 21, 1933 was headlined “Freshman Week Activities Begin With Slight Decrease In Enrollment Anticipated” and included a photo of President Robert S. Shaw with the subheading “Shaw Greets New Students.” A subheading in a second article published a week later said Shaw “congratulates registration committee on the large number of students listed,” despite the slight decrease from 1932. That year, 2800 students registered, according to the article.

John A. Hannah (1941-1969)

Mixer, Dance Will Top Week Of Hectic Freshman Activity: 1941

MSU’s 12th president, John A. Hannah, was one of the university’s most influential leaders. He expanded the Michigan Agricultural College through a period of change, raising its enrollment to almost 40,000. Hannah was also a key piece of the college’s mission to find a place in the Big Ten Conference. Hannah served for 46 years from 1941-1969 – the number 46 is one of MSU football’s three retired jersey numbers.

In an edition labeled “The ‘Beat Michigan’ Issue” from Friday, Sept. 26, 1941, the paper covered Hannah’s address to the new freshman class. The United States would enter World War II only a few months later in December 1941.

“Speaking to the first assembly of the class of 1945 Tuesday, President J. A. Hannah stressed the gratitude that young people living in one of the remaining few countries where they may follow their own inclinations should feel,” the article read. “Hannah pointed out two obligations: ‘to do our part without shrinking or evasion,’ and ‘to prepare ourselves to serve our country, state, and community in the peace that will most assuredly follow the war.’”

Clifton R. Wharton Jr. (1970-1978)

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Architects eye new MSU auditorium sites: 1974

Before MSU’s Wharton Center was named, its namesake was helping architectural planners locate a site for the building.

An article in the Oct. 4, 1974 edition of the Michigan State News detailed plans to choose a site for the new building, but notes that President Wharton would have the final say. The center would cost $16 million to build, or around $96 million in today’s money, according tothe article. 

Evidently, Wharton chose Site D, described by the article as “the open area south of Owen Hall, between Shaw Lane and Wilson Drive,” where the Wharton Center is located today.

John DiBiaggio (1985-1992)

DiBiaggio starts work as president: 1985

New chief has work cut out for him: 1985

Two articles from July 1985 in The State News discussed President John DiBiaggio’s first day on the job. 

“When John DiBiaggio pulls up the chair behind its desk for the first time today, he may want to roll up his sleeves before tackling the job that lies ahead,” one article read. 

The article noted DiBiaggio would face challenges as the new president of a “40,000-student research institution,” and recognized that DiBiaggio was an admirer of earlier MSU president Hannah. 

The second article detailed DiBiaggio’s early agenda in his first week. The two articles appeared on either side of a photo of the new president unloading some of his clothes after the 860-mile drive from his home in Maine.

M. Peter McPherson (1993-2004)

McPherson Punches Out: 2004

An article published on Dec. 10, 2004 portrayed McPherson, ahead of his resignation, as a power-napping, cigar-chomping workaholic that contributed to a period of campus growth. 

McPherson worked to keep tuition low and served as president for 11 years before stepping down on Jan. 1, 2005. 

Lou Anna K. Simon (2005-2018)

Former MSU President Simon, USAG officials testify before U.S. Senate subcommittee: 2018

by C.J. Moore

By the time this June 2018 article was published, Lou Anna K. Simon had already resigned from her position as president. Simon had received calls to resign for her connection to ex-MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s years of sexual abuse.

“In May 2018, U.S. marshals subpoenaed Simon to testify in front of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, Insurance and Data Security investigating the Olympic community's role in handling sexual assault,” the article read. “At the hearing the following month, Simon maintained that she was not aware that Nassar's practices were of a criminal nature.”


John Engler (2018-2019)

Interim President John Engler officially resigns, effective Jan. 23: 2019

Staff Reports

MSU’s Interim President John Engler submitted a letter of resignation in January of 2019, after saying Nassar survivors were “enjoying the spotlight” in an interview with The Detroit News. 

Engler was replaced by Interim President Satish Udpa, who vacated the position upon the hiring of Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.


Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. (2019-Present)

MSU Board of Trustees unanimously approve Samuel L. Stanley Jr. as president of university: 2019

By Katie O’Brien Kelley

In an article published on May 28, 2019, The State News reported the Board of Trustees’ unanimous approval of Samuel L. Stanley Jr. as the next president of the university. Board Chair Dianne Byrum called Stanley an “empowering, compassionate and thoughtful leader.”

The article highlighted Stanley’s advocacy for gender equality and sexual assault survivors.

A day in the life with MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr.: 2022

By Morgan Womack

In January, a State News reporter shadowed Stanley throughout a typical workday, as he led meetings about COVID-19, met with students and attended an MSU basketball game at the Breslin Center.

President Stanley to resign in 90 days, states he has no confidence in board: 2022

By Morgan Womack and Vivian Barrett

On Oct. 13, Stanley announced his resignation, announcing that he could no longer serve the board in good conscience.

“It all started on Sept. 11 when it was revealed to the press that members of the board asked Stanley to resign,” the article read. “Chaos unfolded over the next month: Statements of support from trustees and university leaders were released, trustees criticized each other for sharing information with the media, and various student groups, professors and faculty called for more transparency.”

Board will immediately seek interim president: 2022

By Morgan Womack

The same month, The State News reported that the Board of Trustees was searching for an interim president, and that they expect Stanley to maintain steady leadership while the search is underway.


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