U-M in Ann Arbor Receives $20M for Library, Media Studies

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has received a $10 million gift to name a directorship for the William L. Clements Library and another $10 million gift to further opportunities for students studying media and business.
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William L. Clements Library
The Avenir Foundation has donated $10 million to the William L. Clements Library to name a directorship. // Photo courtesy of the University of Michigan

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has received a $10 million gift to name a directorship for the William L. Clements Library and another $10 million gift to further opportunities for students studying media and business.

The library houses one of the most comprehensive collections of early American history in the world, and its rise to international prominence is largely due to the library’s founding director, Randolph G. Adams, who transformed the personal archive of William Clements into a leading research library specializing in the collection and preservation of primary source materials from the 15th-19th centuries.

To celebrate Adams’ legacy and the work of the three directors who succeeded him, The Avenir Foundation made the donation to name the directorship the Randolph G. Adams Director of the Clements Library through the establishment of the Adams, Peckham, Dann, and Graffagnino Endowment Fund. The named directorship was approved Thursday by the U-M Board of Regents.

Adams led the Clements Library from its opening in 1923 until his death in 1951. He was also a history professor at U-M and tripled the size of the library’s collection during his tenure. The fund was named for the four men who served as director since the library’s opening: Adams, Howard H. Peckham (1952-1977), John C. Dann (1977-2007), and current director J. Kevin Graffagnino.

“As only the fourth director in the library’s 96 years, I know I stand on the shoulders of my predecessors in overseeing all aspects of the library’s activities, programs, and initiatives,” says Graffagnino. “As I close out a 40-year career as an Americana curator, scholar, and administrator, nothing could make me more proud than to be a part of the Clements story and its continued tradition of collecting, access, and service in early American history that these former directors established here.”

Graffagnino will retire in December. He oversaw a $17 million renovation and expansion of the library from 2014-2016. This project was also funded in part by The Avenir Foundation.

The foundation’s gift will allow the Clements staff to plan and execute new projects, acquire and conserve primary source material, and create programming.

The library’s rare book room will also be renamed The Norton Strange Townshend Room. The Norton Strange Townshend Family Papers, which document family relationships and everyday life in the 19th century, are part of the collection.

“Scholars and curatorial staff regularly utilize the extensive papers of Townshend and his family in exhibitions, in the classroom, and in the Avenir Foundation Room,” says Graffagnino. “The materials in their papers are relevant to some of the social justice struggles still happening today.”

Townshend lived from 1815-1895 and had a career in politics, medicine, social reform, and agricultural education. His accomplishments included antislavery activism, political involvement at the local level and in the U.S. House of Representatives, work on the Underground Railroad, a role as a medical inspector in the Civil War, and an advocate of scientific training for farmers. He was a co-founder and the first professor of agriculture of Ohio State University. He and his wife, Margaret Bailey, also participated in the women’s suffrage movement.

The library was designed by Albert Kahn and funded by William L. Clements, a U-M alumnus, former regent of the university, and collector of rare books and manuscripts, which make up the heart of the existing collection. Clements made his fortune supplying equipment for the construction of the Panama Canal.

The Patricia W. Mitchell Trusts will help students studying media and business and have made a combined $50 million gift to U-M; the University of California, Los Angeles; and the USC School of Cinematic Arts. The gift honors the legacy of the John H. Mitchell, founder of Columbia Pictures Television and Patricia W. Mitchell’s late husband.

U-M will receive a $10 million portion of the gift that will be split between the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

At LSA, a $5 million endowment will support students, faculty, and programming at the Department of Film, Television, and Media, connecting students with faculty, other academic leaders, industry professionals, learning and work experiences, and more. It will create a scholarship fund, an internship fund, an internship program fund, a visiting professorship, a critical conversations fund to form a speaker series, and a community outreach fund.

At Michigan Ross, the $5 million endowment is the first gift of its kind to support faculty in business ethics and will establish the Mitchell Program for Business Ethics and Communications. The program will encompass a professorship in business ethics, a scholarship fund, an internship fund, and a lecture series fund.

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