University Center naming honors UM-Dearborn’s fourth chancellor

July 20, 2022

Chancellor James C. Renick’s legacy of campus growth, inclusive strides and community partnerships was recognized during the Board of Regents July 21 meeting.

Chancellor James C. Renick spoke at the College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters Garden dedication in 2001.
Chancellor James C. Renick spoke at the College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters Garden dedication in 2001. All photos courtesy of Mardigian Library archive; special thanks to Autumn Muir

Chancellor James C. Renick had met author Ralph Ellison, boxer Muhammad Ali, playwright LeRoi Jones and U.S. President Bill Clinton, among others. But, even with his prominent connections, the former chancellor chose to showcase a different part of his life: In his Administration Building office, there was a photo of a small, white-frame house. It’s the Midwest home he grew up in.

“I keep it on my desk to remind myself where I come from,” Renick said in a 1999 interview. Renick, who passed away at age 72 in 2021, served UM-Dearborn from 1993 through 1999.

Renick strongly believed in remembrance and recognition — for example, Renick made his mother’s maiden name, Carmichael, his middle name after his grandmother passed away as a tribute.

Following Renick’s example of remembrance and recognition, Chancellor Domenico Grasso requested naming the campus' University Center to honor the fourth chancellor — and the inclusive strides, campus growth and community partnerships Renick made as a campus leader — at the July 21 Board of Regents meeting. The Regents gave unanimous approval.

The James C. Renick University Center — one of the most frequented buildings on campus where students, faculty and staff socialize — is a testament to Renick’s legacy and a reminder of the impact he’s had on shaping the campus. Built in 1980 and renovated in 2002, the 75,729 square foot building is primarily used for student services and events.

James C. Remick met with U.S. President Bill Clinton when the president visited UM-Dearborn in 1994.
Chancellor James C. Remick met with U.S. President Bill Clinton when the president visited UM-Dearborn in 1994.

Peggy Renick, Chancellor Renick’s wife of 43 years, said her husband didn’t seek public recognition — but he would be humbled by the honor. 

“Jim worked day and night to make the world a better place through education and I am glad he’s being recognized for the work he was so dedicated to,” she said. “Jim was very humble. But, if he were here today, I know he would be pleased. We sure are. Thank you to the Board of Regents and Chancellor Grasso for this incredible honor. My family and I are deeply moved.”

Hearing the naming news, Vanessa Maxwell — who has worked on the UM-Dearborn campus for 33 years as a custodian — attested to Renick’s character and leadership. 

“I am so glad we are doing this. Chancellor Renick was such a good man and I cannot think of a better person for this honor. If you worked hard, he respected you and your work no matter what your title was or the circumstances you came from,” she said. “He was here to lift you up. Chancellor Renick made changes on our campus for the better. Now more people here will learn his name and the impact he had at UM-Dearborn.”

Photo of Chancellor James C. Renick at his 1993 UM-Dearborn inauguration.
Photo of James C. Renick at his 1993 inauguration.

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. “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.

With a focus on building relationships with business, political leaders, local schools and social communities, Renick described Dearborn as an “interactive university.” He served on the boards of New Detroit and the Detroit Urban League. He also initiated a Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the university, now an annual campus tradition — celebrating 30 years in 2023 — where students, faculty, staff and alumni work together to make an impact in Detroit, Dearborn and other Southeastern Michigan communities in positive ways. 

Maxwell said Renick didn’t just advocate for inclusive practices at a high level — he also took action when witnessing unjust treatment anywhere.

“In the 90s, people often looked the other way when it came to discrimination. But not Chancellor Renick. I don’t want to get into details, but when I was treated unfairly (at work), he came to me and asked what I’d like done to correct it,” Maxwell said. “I didn’t want anyone to lose their job, but I did want an apology and to be respected at work. The next time I saw that person, I got an apology. Chancellor Renick was a very busy man who didn’t think twice about taking the time to make the situation right — that’s the type of leader he was.”

And that leadership grew out of humble beginnings — a small Midwestern house — and was strengthened through hard work and access to education.

The focus of access and attainment was central to Renick’s vision and continues to be prioritized across campus today through underserved community initiatives like the Go Blue Guarantee, Dearborn Comeback, Destination Dearborn, STEM Scholars and more. 

“There is a range of talented students with different talents, different backgrounds and different ideas. That diversity is part of the education universities should offer,” Renick said in a 1999 interview. “Education has a liberating effect, and we need to use education and our intellectual ability. That is what will help us to move beyond some of society's problems.”

There will be a naming ceremony in the fall. Details will be shared in September. 

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.