The University Record, September 10, 1997

Mace an important part of tradition in ceremonial events

The top of the new mace (above); the old mace (below). Photos by Bob Kalmbach

By Mary Jo Frank
University Relations

Three feet long and weighing 2 pounds, 12 ounces, the University's mace bears no resemblance to the heavy, medieval war club (often with a spiked metal head) described in first references to the word "mace" in today's dictionaries.

The elegant symbol of authority that reigns at the U-M's most important ceremonial occasions-commencement, convocations, and inaugurations-will be carried by Senate Chair Louis G. D'Alecy at the head of the academic procession marking the beginning of the Sept. 19 inauguration ceremony for Lee C. Bollinger.

The mace, the second known to be used in the University's 180-year history, is made of red oak with silver ornamentation. At the top of the mace are seals of the University and of the State of Michigan. The names of the University presidents are engraved, as are drawings of an open book, scales of justice, lamp of learning, an unfurled banner, a handshake and a stag from the state seal. A smaller, tapered end piece, also made of polished silver, is less ornate.

The mace was given to the University in 1968 by the Senior Board, representing all the undergraduate schools and colleges, and was used for the first time in the 1968 Spring Commencement.

An earlier mace-now housed in the Bentley Library-was created from a walnut staircase that once was part of University Hall. Built in 1873, University Hall was demolished in 1950 to make way for an addition to Angell Hall. First used at the dedication of that Angell Hall addition in 1952, the older mace is made of 15 rods representing the University's then-15 schools and colleges. The rods are painted in the color of each school; the maize and blue ribbons that intertwine the rods symbolize the unity of the University. A model of a Greek temple of wisdom with six pillars supporting a curved dome forms the top of the mace.

The mace became part of University tradition through the efforts of Warner G. Rice, who died in January, and Frank E. Robbins, who died in 1963. Robbins, a Greek scholar, joined the faculty in 1912 and retired in 1954. He also was director of the University Press and an assistant to presidents Marion L. Burton, Clarence C. Little, Alexander G. Ruthven and Harlan Hatcher. For many years Robbins was responsible for academic celebrations involving costume and procedure, including serving as chairman of the committee that planned Hatcher's inauguration.

Rice, who joined the faculty in 1929, served as chair of the Department of English in 1947-68 and library director in '41-'54.

Rice had mentioned to Robbins that although he was marshal of the faculty and traditionally in charge of the faculty at all academic functions, he lacked a symbol of his office.

Rice and Robbins drew up a rough plan for the mace, which was made by Plant Service carpenters and painters under the direction of Plant Superintendent Walter M. Roth. The Ann Arbor News reported in its Sept. 17, 1952, edition:

"Striving for authenticity, they [Rice and Robbins] turned to the 'Laws and Ordinances of the University of Michigan,' dated Sept. 12, 1817, which contains a description of a proposed seal for the University, then located in Detroit and known as the Catholepistemiad."

Signed by President John Monteith, that first act of the first governing board reads, in part: "Be it enacted by the University of Michigania that on the Seal of the University there shall be a device representing six pillars supporting a dome, with the motto 'Epistemia' at their base, and the legend, 'Seal of the University of Michigania' around the margin, and light shining on the dome from above, and until such seal shall be provided the President may use any temporary seal which may be convenient."

Thomas M. Dunn, professor of chemistry and former University Senate chair, says that while the mace today is carried delicately, originally "it was a very offensive weapon and the carrier used it to protect dignitaries, whether that person be the mayor of London or a chancellor."

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Dunn says, it was not uncommon for competing cathedral schools to fight heated pedagogical and philosophical battles. For example, faculty of the Cathedral School of Chartes, with its more scientific bent, were regarded as heretics by their counterparts in Paris. In those days, mace carriers would have stayed close to their chancellors.