Meeting Ogden Johnson, 44 years later

Ogden Johnson

Ogden Johnson, interim NMU president 1967-1968

Interim NMU president David Haynes is not the first interim president to take the reigns in a complicated financial time. William Vandament, the tenth president of Northern, started his term as an interim president and was immediately faced with the question of whether to open the Superior Dome in 1991 because of financial difficulties.

Another interim president who is lesser known in Northern’s past is Ogden Johnson, president during the 1967-68 academic school year, who was the link between two incredibly influential presidents. Edgar L. Harden, president from 1956 to 1967, saw enrollment increase from 888 to more than 7,000 students; the number of faculty members grew from 48 to 400; and the buildings on campus increased from 11 to 49. And after Johnson, John Jamrich became president. Under Jamrich, Northern grew with the implementation of the nursing program, computer science was added to the math department, and many physical buildings that are still on campus were completed: Learning Resources Center, Jamrich Hall, PEIF, and Jacobetti Center.

But who was Ogden Johnson? Johnson was previously the chairman of Northern’s Board of Control and put off retirement to take the interim presidency.

By the end of his year as president, it seems that Northern students appreciated his service to the university. As the school year was ending, the Northern News ran an editorial, thanking Ogden for his service to NMU, even during a time of some controversy.

Ogden Johnson

Click on the picture to see the Northern News editorial

One of the primary issues that Johnson dealt with as president was the letting go of professor Robert McClellan controversy for informing surrounding neighborhoods about the potential expansion of the university. Harden was the president who had let go of McClellan, but Johnson became president as a lot of the debate heated up in result: “Ogden Johnson would be the man to bear the scorn to follow,” the Northern News editorial said. More information can be found in the archives’ online exhibit about the controversy.

Johnson was also president during controversy with the NCAA. Northern was admitted into the NCAA in January 1968, but as soon as March the Northern News reported that because of a paperwork error, Northern was disqualified from post-season tournaments. That was resolved by the following year.

But Northern saw some significant growth during the year Johnson was interim president. The language and literature program was split to become the English department and the foreign languages department. Psychology and Education also split into separate departments. A couple of master’s programs were added that year: chemistry and math. That made the total of the grad programs at Northern, six.

Though the Learning Resources Center was completed when Jamrich was president, Johnson saw the beginning of its construction in the summer of 1967. The building cost $5,500,000, and it was intended to house the library, television and radio stations, and student study area. The library at the time was seeing an increase in circulation, from 122,816 in the 1966-67 school year to 141,478 in 67-68. The new library would aid in the growth.

It’s clear from the editorial that Northern felt shattered after the McClellan controversy. Ogden, however, acted as a glue that the university needed and provided optimism that NMU would move forward and become a “truly great” university.

“All of us who have any faith in Northern probably have similar feelings and when these feelings someday become fully realized, it would do well to reflect back and once again thank Ogden Johnson for being the administrator he was during that critical interim period.”

Written by Lucy Hough

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