The Student and His Professor
by David J. Young, M.D.
- The Student and His Professor: John Hannah, Ralph Aigler and the Origin of the Michigan State-Michigan Rivalry explores the long-standing, adversarial relationship between Michigan State President John Hannah and Michigan Law Professor Ralph Aigler. Their behind-the-scenes feud—based in large part on the controversial “athletic” scholarship—arguably played a major role in eventually transitioning a lopsided, politically mandated intrastate football series into a bona fide rivalry of national interest; one that even included a trophy!
The story of that relationship and its role in advancing the intrastate series is built around four historical events: Michigan State’s quest for membership in the Big Nine; the Spartan Foundation Probation of ’53; the Paul Bunyan Trophy controversy; and the ‘name change’ civil war of 1954-55. As it turned out, Professor Aigler and fellow Wolverine leaders—obsessed with keeping the newbies in their rightful place—played no small part in trying to influence each outcome.
It was late September of 1921; the second week of the academic year in Ann Arbor. The lecture on procedural law had just ended. Professor Ralph Aigler asked the student to step forward. He was impressed with the young man’s presence under fire during didactic dialogue a few minutes earlier. The student performed extremely well considering the arcane question had nothing to do with the assigned readings. They shook hands. The professor predicted a bright future for the Grand Rapids native. Nine months later, John Hannah would drop out of law school. He planned to transfer to Michigan Agricultural College and study poultry science instead. Professor Aigler was surprised by the decision. He wished him well.