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Robert F. McClellan papers

Identifier: MSS-311

Scope and Content Note

The McClellan papers offer excellent documentation of the faculty organization and agitation for union recognition in the early 1970s. The collection also offers insight into the establishment of the AAUP after becoming the collective bargaining unit for the faculty at Northern Michigan University. McClellan was the informal faculty advisor for the Black Student Union, and his papers include records documenting the black student sit-in of the dean of students office in 1969. Records include, but are not limited to, correspondence, memorandum, reports and students, and union grievance material.


  • 1963 - 1985


Access Restrictions Note

The records of union grievances are restricted from public access. For more information, please contact the university archivist.

Conditions Governing Use note

Permission to publish material from the Robert F. McClellan papers must be obtained from the University Archivist. The University Archivist may be reached by phone at 906-227-1225, or e-mail, The University Archivist may also be reached in Room 126 of the Learning Resource Center, Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI.

Biographical Note

Dr. Robert McClellan was a professor of history from 1966 until his retirement in 1994. Dr. McClellan was a dedicated member of the faculty and an Episcopal priest with a strong commitment to social activism. He personified his generation’s antipathy toward authority and its resistance to injustice. McClellan brought this philosophy and a strident personality to the classroom in ways that challenged and provoked his students and colleagues.

In 1967, President Edgar Harden summarily dismissed McClellan because of his public challenge of the University's expansion plans. Hoping to expand the university northward beyond Wright Street, the administration devised a plan that required the relocation of numerous homes and families in the area. The neighborhood was largely working class and poor, and McClellan interpreted Harden’s expansion plan as an elitist abuse of power and unfair to the residents of the area. As a class exercise, he involved his students in a campaign to educate the residents of their rights and encourage them to resist the University. McClellan’s actions enraged Harden, who interpreted it as a usurpation of his presidential authority.

McClellan’s colleagues and students responded to his termination with indignation and rebellion. For his part, McClellan fought back and enlisted the legal support of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association. Faculty and students organized rallies and marches supporting McClellan and attacking the administration and the Board of Control. Their activities culminated in the fall semester of 1968 with “McClellan Week,” a 16-point program that included a boycott of classes, marches through town, a mock funeral, the burning of effigies, and numerous sit-ins throughout campus. Interpreting McClellan’s dismissal as an affront to academic freedom and a violation of the university’s termination policies and regulations, the faculty joined students in class boycotts and marches; they passed resolutions of condemnation, and the Faculty Senate resigned en masse.

Despite the protest, the Board of Control refused to rescind McClellan’s termination. In response, 137 members of the faculty, in addition to the Associated Students of Northern Michigan University, filed a lawsuit against the administration for violation of McClellan’s civil and academic liberties. Incoming President John X. Jamrich settled out-of-court and reinstated McClellan, but the action came too late to heal the open wound now festering between the faculty and administration.

The McClellan Controversy was the spark that pushed the faculty toward unionization. Dr. McClellan led this effort initially as a proponent of the National Education Association and later as a leader of the American Association of University Professors. For the later, he served as the first chief negotiator for the union's first contract.


2.5 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

This collection was changed from a University Series collection to a Manuscript collection, necessitating the creation of a new finding aid.

It was previously Univ Series-001.

Related Archival Materials Note

American Association of University Professors (AAUP) - NMU Chapter, records, Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives.

John Watanen papers, Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives.

Robert F. McClellan papers
Marcus C. Robyns
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives Repository

Harden Learning Resources Center 126
1401 Presque Isle Ave
Marquette 49855 United States
906-227-1333 (Fax)


This collection guide includes collections from member organizations of UPLINK (the Upper Peninsula Digital Network) as well as the Central Upper Peninsula and Northern Michigan University Archives. UPLINK collections document the history of the Upper Peninsula broadly, while the Central UP & NMU Archives focuses on such topics as Northern Michigan University history, the local iron mining industry, and the politics, economics, religion, environment, and culture of the Central Upper Peninsula region.

These finding aids will give you an overview of the contents and context of each collection. Finding aids only exist for collections that each organization has shared with UPLINK or (in the case of the NMU Archives) for processed collections. For a more comprehensive list of collections that might help with your research, please contact the relevant heritage organization(s) directly.

Northern Michigan University
1401 Presque Isle Ave. • Marquette, MI 49855-5301 • 906–227–1000
© 2018 by the NMU Board of Trustees. NMU is an equal opportunity institution.