On March 12, 1968, Robben Wright Fleming was inaugurated as the ninth president of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was a time of great turmoil on college campuses across the country, especially at Michigan, which was in the vanguard of the radical student movement. Fleming had been hired to replace the retiring Harlan Hatcher largely because of the reputation he had built for controlling student unrest while chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.
Fleming’s background was as a labor negotiator, and he preferred to engage students in reasoned discussion and debate rather than send in the riot squad. As he related in his autobiography, “Tempests into Rainbows,” after learning of his interest in taking the top post at Michigan, the regents of the university invited him to the Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit, where for two hours they talked mainly about how he would deal with student disruptions.
Fleming explained to the regents that he “thought force must be avoided insofar as humanly possible, that indignities and insults could be endured if they averted violence, and that … these problems would last for some unspecified time, but that they would eventually end.” The next day he was offered the presidency.