When they moved the tiny Ombudsman’s Office into McDonnell Hall across campus, its old location was absorbed by its neighbor, becoming an extension of the Records Office (its emergency fire escape in point of fact).

The university had placed a standard sign on the footpath leading by the old Ombudsman’s, largely because it was so tucked away in a much larger building that people were always walking right by it (and then walking right by the sign in the Records Office that said “OMBUDS OFFICE THAT WAY” to ask the secretary for directions). But when the office moved, it was superfluous. The Records Office had its own sign on the other side of the building and there was a sign on the door for anyone who tried to go in.

But did the administration take it down? No, of course not. Instead, at great expense, they removed the informative part of the sign from its frame and replaced it with a blank square in one of the school’s colors. So it became a sign that took up valuable real estate, was constructed in the same way as all the other campus signs, but conveyed no useful information. It irked me, walking as I did along that path nearly every day.

Once I became frustrated enough with the absurdity that I took a marker our of my bag and scrawled “ce n’est pas un signe” on it. I don’t know if my French was up to the task, but it sure made me feel better. In response, the administration (again presumably at great expense) replaced the featureless, informationless colored square with a fresh one.

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SMU Seal

1848 – Muscogee County approves a grant of $100 to establish a small county school and adjoining training facilities for teachers. The first head of instruction, the Rev. Henry Watkins, dubs the institution the “Muscogee Catholepistemiad,” named in honor of Augustus Woodward’s original (and unwieldy) Latin-Greek name for the University of Michigan.

1857 – The village of Hopewell incorporates, including the site of the Muscogee Catholepistemiad.

1884 – The Muscogee Catholepistemiad closes during the Panic of 1884, having grown to 200 students. The city fathers of Hopewell meet to decide what to do with its assets.

1884 – The Southern Michigan Normal School is founded as a teacher’s college in Hopewell, Michigan. It inherits the buildings, alumni, and budget of the previous institution on the site, the Muscogee Catholepistemiad. The first class is 271 students from 18 counties of Michigan.

1887 – Coeducational instruction begins. Construction of Watkins Hall (“Old Hall”) begins.

1890 – The first intramural sports teams are formed. Enrollment tops 1,000 for the first time.

1903 – The Southern Michigan Normal School board attempts to negotiate the sale of the university to the state of Michigan. Governor Aaron T. Bliss vetoes the measure, noting the number of other state-owned schools at the time. The legislature is unable to muster the votes to override his veto.

1912 – The Southern Michigan Normal School becomes Southern Michigan College following the passage of the Southern Michigan Educational Act 1912. The Act is passed over Governor Chase Osborn’s veto, and the school’s assets are purchased by the state for a nominal sum of $1.

1927 – The university becomes a Division I school; the Fighting Potawatomi football team and mascot Chief Kawgushkanic lead the school to a top ten finish. Enrollment now tops 5,000 students.

1955 – Southern Michigan College is renamed Southern Michigan University, partly as a response to the institution’s massive postwar growth and partly as a response the the name change of perennial rival Michigan State University earlier that year. The university now enrolls more than 10,000 students.

1966 – The SMU Fighting Potawatomi football team is defeated by the eventual national champions 33-32, ending the season as the second-ranked team in the conference and fourth in the nation. As of 2012, the team has never equaled this performance.

1967 – The SMU “Summers of Rage” begin. A small campus demonstration against the Vietnem War turns violent, leading to the cancellation of the homecoming festivities.

1968 – In keeping with the unrest in the rest of the world, clashes erupt between students and police throughout the summer and fall. Homecoming, all football games, and commencement are cancelled.

1969 – The Fighting Potawatomi play their home games at Rynearson Stadium on the Eastern Michigan University campus due to continuing unrest. Homecoming is canceled once more, though commencement proceeds as normal.

1970 – The last SMU “Summer of Rage.” The football season, homecoming, and commencement are canceled. The SMU Board of Trustees fires the president and calls in National Guard troops to restore order. Enrollment slips below 10,000, largely due to the continuing unrest.

1972 – Commencement is canceled due to a bomb threat. This marks the last unrest at SMU for nearly 30 years. Enrollment is once again north of 10,000.

1978 – A major campus expansion program begins as enrollment nears 15,000.

1987 – Despite support from the Potawatomi Nation and community leaders, protests from out-of-state activists lead the Fighting Potawatomi to be renamed the Fighting Grizzlies, with Chief Kawgushkanic replaced as mascot by Smitty the Grizzly. The decision is mocked by some as Grizzlies have not been native to Michigan since the Pleistocene epoch; some fans consider the name change led to “The Curse of the Chief” which is blamed for the poor athletic performance for the following decades.

1999 – Total enrollment tops 20,000 students. Southern Michigan University is now the third-largest university by enrollment after Michigan State and the University of Michigan.

2007 – Massive protests once more rock SMU, leading to hundreds of arrests and two deaths. A local radical group called “The Nothing” is blamed by some for instigating the violence, but others hold the action as a spontaneous outgrowth of national disaffection with a stagnant job market and the Iraq War.

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In October 1979, a group of seniors from the University of Colorado Boulder Alpine Club resolved to use their week of “winter break” to go hiking and climbing in the remote Branson Pass area in Montana. Eight set out, all of whom were experienced hikers and climbers; two of the students had climbed all of Colorado’s peaks above 14,000ft. in elevation. They left a copy of their itinerary and explicitly requested a search if they had not reported in by November 4.

The small town of Alexander served as their base camp, and local residents later recalled being mildly annoyed by the group’s antics as they purchased supplies and film for their three 35mm and one Super 8 cameras. Just before the ascent, which had Mt. Bronson (14,987ft.) as its goal, two of the club members fell ill with food poisoning. The party was reduced to six and begun its ascent on October 27.

None were ever seen alive again. A storm blew up on the 31st, and on November 4 the Iran Hostage Crisis exploded, greatly hindering the two ill climbers from beginning a search. It wasn’t until November 8 that one was mounted; searchers found the bodies of the climbers, each over a mile from their campsite. Their tent had been torn to pieces, apparently from the inside, and the climbers appeared to have fled into the storm wearing only their underwear or scraps of clothing.

Despite that, they hadn’t all died of exposure. Each had a number of cuts and broken bones, and one of the climbers had a jaw fractured with such violence that her tongue had apparently been bitten off; searchers were unable to locate it. Despite the winter season, searchers reported that the bodies were all quite tan, and then a Geiger counter in a survival kit was accidentally turned on it registered significant radiation from the bodies. No cause for the hikers’ sudden and panicked flight, or their injuries, were ever ascertained.

Once the furor over the hostage crisis died down, the mystery became popular among conspiracy theorists. Most notably, the film that was left in the tent was subsequently developed, and some have claimed to see a tall shadow in the background of several shots in Alexander and at the campsite. The Montana government holds that this so-called “Thin Man” is simply a processing artifact. The final shot in one of the cameras also, according to some, shows lights in the sky or a mysterious form visible behind tearing fabric; skeptics argue that the shot is a simple artifact.

He never wanted for business, and the kids’ parents tended to pay well–very well. Helicopter parenting did wonders for his bank account as investment bankers fretted that their children might acquire criminal records for youthful hijinks before they could take over the family business.

Sometimes, though…

Stevens looked through the police report. His latest client had gotten into an altercation at a house party in the student ghetto (over a boy) and she’d been caught trying to cut her romantic rival’s brake lines with a pair of scissors. Red-handed, she had stabbed her discoverer in the leg with the aforementioned shears and fled in her car–in the presence of 8-10 witnesses, no less!–causing minor scrapes and damage to other vehicles in her wake. One of the witnesses had actually been a reporter for the student newspaper, allowing the incident to be blown up and lurid on the next day’s front page (“SOUTHERN MICHIGAN STUDENT STABBED IN ATTEMPTED MURDER”) with exclusive pictures.

The girl in question had blown a .10 when she’d been taken into custody–12 hours after the incident!–and been found carrying an aspirin bottle filled with Ecstacy and methamphetamines. So there were no less than 13 indictments or other charges facing the girl, and her father had literally faxed a blank check from his tri-state plumbing supply business that morning.

Stevens sighed, and began composing a short press release for the SMU student paper.

The student-run newspaper at Southern Michigan, the SMU Times, was notorious for exactly two things: the number of alumni that had gone on to work major news desks all over the country, and the absolutely infernally wretchedly awful state of its copy editing. Some, myself included, have opined that there must be some relation between the two.

Who could forget the time that the paper blew the lid off the extraordinary rendition and torture practices of the SMUPD? That epochal headline had read “Arson Suspects Held in Campus Fire.”

Then–this one is legendary–we have the spoonerism in one of the Times’ “Voice on the Street” posts. The reporter, paraphrasing an interviewee, had clearly meant to write “sorority girls sucking from university funds.” He was worried that Phi Qoppa Mu was taking cash away from the other student organizations, but when the paper published the story, it read (if you’ll pardon my French) “sorority girls fucking some university funds.” Microsoft Word helpfully changed “srom” to “some,” proving once and for all that Bill Gates does in fact have a sense of humor.

There was also the time the Times spoke of a quote from former South African president “Nelson Mandevla.” I couldn’t quite decide if that brutal misspelling evoked a Mandela under development (Mandevla ver. 0.93a) or a twisted lovechild of Mandela and Dmitry Medvedev.

“I’m proud to say that the design process had full investment in the sociocultural impact of modern university construction,” said SMU professor of engineering and urban planning Veronica Chatham. “Earthmother Hall is fully conscious of the implications of its layout in social justice terms, as well–something that less progressive engineers often overlook entirely. For instance, it’s oriented with windows facing south-southeast–toward the poorest section of town–and north-northeast–toward the campus wetlands endangered by new stadium construction.”

“My students and I were less interested in the engineering details of the building’s and construction than their implications for the wider planet,” Chatham continued. “I’m proud to say that all our construction personnel earned a living wage, and that all components were sustainably sourced even though it tripled the cost of certain aspects of fabrication. Earthmother Hall is designed to biodegrade naturally over the course of its useful lifespan and leave ruins that will be useful a a habitat for endangered local animals.”

Earthmother Hall, formerly Wildermann Hall, was constructed by Dr. Chatham and a team of her students with a bequest from the late Gloria Wildermann, widow of engineering professor George Wildermann. The ribbon cutting, attended by many Southern Michigan University luminaries, was held early last year. “We had the land blessed by a representative of the Ojibwone nation, who are the rightful owners of the land, and a geomancer from Chungking who is among the rightful owners of the land on the opposite side of the planet,” said Chatham of the ceremony.

When asked about the various allegations that had been raised about the structure before its collapse last week–student and faculty complains of subsidence, leaks, blinding light at sunrise and sunset, and an internal layout with no bathrooms above the second floor–Dr. Chatham was dismissive. “Unfortunately, reactionary thinkers are always an impediment to progressive design,” she remarked. “After all, we created conditions of fear and uncertainty that most of our privileged white students and instructors have never felt but which afflicts fully two-thirds of the world’s population.”

From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, June 15 2005:
…Inmotion is first computer animation firms established in the state. “We mainly do animation for local commercials and series of stills for industrial plants in the western part of the state,” says Jay Harris, an intern from Osborn University. “But the owners have plans to expand if they can, and I for one have some big dreams about what we could do.”

From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, July 27 2007:
…feel that the move to Detroit will really help Inmotion to grow,” says Jay Harris, vice-president and COO. With the purchase of a 15,000 square foot complex abandoned by the city, Inmotion is primed to expand beyond their current market according to Harris. “Commercials and industrial stuff may be our bread and butter, but I’d love to start working on more creative endeavors.”

From the Detroit Democrat-Picayune, August 18 2009:
…an entirely new filmmaking paradigm, the indie animated feature,” says Inmotion CEO Jay Harris. Enticed by the success of Inmotion’s first animated short, investors and venture capitalists have been impressed enough to contribute toward the full-length fantasy/sci-fi feature under development. By relying on independent funding to produce and distribute the film, Harris hopes to encourage more filmmaking and innovation in Michigan and Detroit. “The whole thing is being done with profit sharing in mind,” Harris continues. “Everyone from our actors–and we have some big names–to our community partners will get a slice.”

From Vanity Magazine, Fall Film Issue, October 15 2010
…and box office records of another kind were set by the independent animated film Realms of Anon, a picture independently financed by Michigan animation house Inmotion–by far the worst opening weekend of any film showing on more than 1000 screens. Despite an impressive cast and film festival plaudits, the ambitious fantasy/sci-fi film never found an audience, and with less than $500,000 in box office receipts against a $50 million budget, it’s unlikely to break even in the long run.

From the Cascadia Post-Gazette, October 8 2011
…Osborn University, hit hard by the recession, has announced plans to close its computer-aided design program. Jay Harris, an instructor for CADC 101, had bitter words for the move. “It’s just going to be one more thing driving people out of this tattered mitten of a state,” he says. “Osborn should be cultivating local talent for projects that will put Michigan back on the map, and instead they’re being short-sighted, like everyone else.” Harris, former CEO of bankrupt Detroit-area animation studio Inmotion and co-director of the only animated film to come out of the studio, is perhaps the most high-profile in a series of layoffs that will result in the elimination of nearly 100 faculty, staff, and scholarships.

His name was Sidney, but everybody called him Sid Viscous on account of his weight. On those rare occasions when we saw him walking the halls, he roiled and bobbed like the high seas in a storm. It’s anyone’s guess how he made it in and out of the building, since he always seemed to be there before everyone else, few ever saw him leave, and the car in his spot was a compact.

The best description of his place in the department would be “sage.” He never taught, but ran the independent study program like a personal fiefdom and knew the university’s bureaucracy in and out. If you needed to squeeze out one more credit hour, tiptoe around a rule or two, deal with a troublemaker off the books, or something like that, Sid Viscous was your man.

He demanded a price, of course. Sometimes it was as easy as owing him a favor; the vast network of favors owed him probably went a long way toward explaining why his workload was so light. Other times the price was more dear; Sid was a collector of everything from 80’s hair metal on vinyl to anime figures only available as pachinko prizes. More than one ABD supplicant had come to hm only to be sent away looking for a trinket like a first edition copy of a Franco-Belgian comic book in exchange for Sid’s largesse.

“It’s homework,” Aileen said, snatching the paper back. “We’re supposed to take a crack at Loussac’s Number.”

Gale cocked a pierced eyebrow. “What’s that supposed to mean? Have pity on your poor art major roommate, Ail.”

“Pierre Loussac,” Aileen huffed, “was one of the great mathematical minds of the last century. When they found him dead at his desk in 1987, he was holding a piece of paper that said ‘28,114.’”

“Good for him,” said Gale. “So your assignment is to do the same and die with that number in your hand?”

“That number is one of the great unsolved mysteries in mathematics,” Aileen said. “It’s not prime, it’s not one of a hundred other kinds of special numbers that make art majors’ heads pop like overripe grapes. My assignment it to come up with a reason behind Loussac’s Number.”

“Good to see they’ve got their standards nice and high.”

“I’ll fail. So will everybody else. And that’s exactly the point.”

Stjepan Pečenić, originally from the city of Split in Dalmatia, came to Southern Michigan University in 1981 to teach mathematics. Dr. Pečenić claimed that the Yugoslav government had been persecuting him for his political beliefs; that argument got him asylum, but word had it that was just a glossy cover story. Dr. Cvijić in Engineering was particularly outspoken in her claim (inherited from her father) that Pečenić had been forced to flee after the death of his patron, Tito, and that he’s been a loyal party man until power struggles had forced him out.

In the mathematics department and among his students, Pečenić was known as the “Ragin’ Croatian” for his heavily accented outbursts in which he would rail semi-intelligibly against everything from the laziness of his students to the lack of creativity in his peers to the administration’s short-sighted reluctance to raise his salary. Most students hoped they didn’t get him, and Pečenić was happy to oblige, preferring research to teaching.

That said, nobody was quite expecting to find him face-down on his desk one Monday morning with a particularly difficult set of linear equations soaking up his lifeblood. He’d been shot in the temple at close range.