Campus building debuts new name: the James C. Renick University Center

November 21, 2022

The fourth chancellor’s legacy of campus growth, inclusive strides and community partnerships is recognized through naming the “heart of campus” in his honor.

Photo of Renick UC after the naming ceremony

There’s a name across the top of the wall when you walk into UM-Dearborn’s most frequented building: James C. Renick University Center.

Chancellor Domenico Grasso recommended this honor for the university’s fourth chancellor, James C. Renick, and his lasting impact on campus as a way to outwardly celebrate Renick’s legacy. Renick, who passed away at age 72 in 2021, served UM-Dearborn from 1993 through 1999.

“This is the first honorific named building on our campus. It’s fitting for it to be named for James C. Renick because he lived up to our moniker of ‘Leaders and Best.’ He was committed to helping people gain access to earning a quality education like a Michigan degree,” Grasso said during a Nov. 17 naming ceremony, which was attended by Renick’s wife of 43 years, Peggy, daughter Karinda, son-in-law Nicholas and grandchildren Kasch, 11, and Kruz, 8.

People in the UM-Dearborn gather on the balcony of the University Center over the new name plate celebrating James C. Renick

Under Renick’s guidance, Grasso said the university experienced record enrollment growth and completed its first capital campaign. The Management, Engineering and the Center for Corporate and Professional Development buildings were completed. And construction on the Environmental Interpretive Center, the Wellness Center, and the new College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters buildings were started.

But, most importantly, Renick laid important groundwork to be inclusive in practice and responsive to community needs. There is already a nearly 30-year tribute in the UC to Renick’s contributions to campus — although his name isn’t on it — the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service T-shirt display, which is prominently visible on the wall near the Bookstore.

With a focus on building relationships with business, political leaders, local schools and social communities, Renick initiated a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the university. Now an annual campus tradition, students, faculty, staff and alumni work together to make an impact in Detroit, Dearborn and other Southeastern Michigan communities in positive ways. 

Photo of December 1993 commencement. Chancellor James Renick is on the far right

“Chancellor Renick held a strong commitment to student success while positioning the campus to be more responsive to the cultural, social, economic and intellectual issues of southeast Michigan,” Grasso said.

Humanities Professor Deborah Smith Pollard, an internationally renowned researcher on the origins and evolution of Gospel music, said Renick’s time on campus profoundly impacted her career. She said his support of Black artists — sculptor Elizabeth Catlett, poet Nikki Giovanni, artist Jacob Lawrence and novelist Margaret Walker came to campus — and inclusive practices lifted the UM-Dearborn community up and provided an environment where people could thrive.

After I applied to be an assistant professor of English and Humanities and then was offered the position here at University of Michigan-Dearborn (in 1995), a friend of mine told me not to take the job because she did not think it would be a safe city to work in for someone who looks like me," Smith Pollard said. "Well, things have worked out fairly well for this full professor in part because an African American chancellor was in charge when I came in, and he had several things in place that made me feel welcomed and seen."

As well-connected as Renick was — even President Bill Clinton made a stop on campus while Renick was here — his family shared another side of the chancellor with people gathered at the celebration: the polished professional let loose a bit when it came to his grandsons. He took them golfing and “spoiled them,” said Peggy Renick.

As a tribute video played, grandson Kruz laid his head on his dad’s shoulder. Daughter Karinda Renick took photos of Kasch — who said he misses his “Chacho” —  next to her father’s engraved image, which is prominently displayed in the Renick UC hall.

At the conclusion of the naming ceremony, Peggy Renick gave hugs and thanks to people in attendance who she hasn’t seen in years, including Smith Pollard, Custodian Vanessa Maxwell, Renick’s former Administrative Assistant Adele Henry and retired Athletics and Recreation Director Peggy Foss.

"Dr. Renick was one of a kind. He made a difference in the campus atmosphere,” Foss said in video-recorded comments. “Knowing him, he would have been very humbled. It’s well deserved. I’m so excited that this is happening for him.”

Peggy Renick said the time spent at UM-Dearborn and in the Dearborn community felt like a return home. "It’s been so wonderful seeing everyone. It’s like we never left,” she said. “I’m so thankful to the Board of Regents and Chancellor Grasso for honoring Jim in this way. I can’t even express how much I wish he was here to see it.”

Grasso said the Renick UC is the heart of the campus. And it's a fitting tribute for a leader who made such a strong impact — still felt decades later — in the university community.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.