Jul 202009

For a university president to be dissing the study of the past in this way is just wrong. The tone is similar to the anti-intellectualism of Henry Ford when he said, “History is bunk.” Here is the way Ford said it on one of the occasions when he said it:

History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history that we make today.

Compare that with the following from the MSU student newspaper :

Proposed Monday by Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the Michigan Center for Innovation and Reinvention (MCIR) would replace the Michigan Library and Historical Center in Lansing. Under a plan submitted by MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon, state library holdings would be moved to the MSU Libraries and the MSU Museum would be consolidated with the State Historical Museum as part of the new center.

The proposal of the center follows an executive order issued Monday by Granholm that abolished the state’s Department of History, Arts and Libraries to balance the state’s budget. It is projected to save $2 million annually. The MCIR would serve as a “visible symbol” of the future of Michigan, Simon said in a letter to Granholm.

“We appreciate the opportunity to share in developing a vision and ‘road map’ for a modern facility that would serve the needs of a modern Michigan,” the letter said.

I can understand the need to save money in these troubled economic times. I don’t see how this proposal accomplishes that if it’s replacing one thing with another. But that’s not my complaint.

My complaint is the attitude that we need to get rid of the library and replace it with something futuristic and modern, that we need to shove the past aside to make way for the new. Because there is no room for the Library of Michigan collections at the current MSU facility. Either new facilities will need to be built, in which case there goes the savings, or they’ll be dumped in some second-rate location where they won’t be very useful to anyone.

I hope that’s not what’s really meant, but it’s hard to know what IS meant by something like a “Center for Innovation and Reinvention.” I guess we won’t hear details until next year, but here’s a suggestion. How about just auctioning the Historical Center to the highest bidder, preferably to some greedy capitalists who will make obscene profits from it, and who will then pay taxes to help sustain Michigan’s economy? What could be more innovative and reinventive than that?

That wouldn’t be my first choice of what to do, but if the library has to go elsewhere, why not?

My first choice would be for the president to help people understand that some of our current social problems have their roots in the past, and that perhaps we should respect the study of the past before planning this wonderful new future she speaks of. You don’t do that by shoving aside the old information and replacing it with new.

There is so much that’s wrong with what is being proposed. I keep thinking it all has to be a huge misunderstanding or a very bad dream. But what we’re reading in the newspapers makes it sound like the spirit of old Henry Ford.