The department of special education at Eastern Michigan University turns 100

Commemorative events start Friday, May 16 through Sunday, May 18

by Debra Johnson, Published May 16, 2014


YPSILANTI – A remarkable collection of historical artifacts, tours of Rackham Hall and a dinner with keynote speaker Barbara Ransom are just some of the events planned for the 100th anniversary of the special education program at EMU. 

Events kick off with a tour of the Historical Archives Display in the McKenny Gallery, located in McKenny Hall. Attendees will be treated to a collection of historic photos of the Rackham School, as well as more contemporary photos of the department and lots of other memorabilia that spans the 100-year history of the special education program.

There will be books authored by faculty members from the special education department, dating back to the first such publication in 1930 to current day, as well as an array of historic assessment measures that were used to assist in determining if a child required special education services. McKenny Gallery will be open for tours on Fri. May 16 from 12 – 5 p.m., Sat. May 17 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sun. May 18 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.


Lynne Rocklage and Nancy Halmhuber, both emeritus special education faculty members, compiled the array of historical artifacts, photos and other collectables.

"The exhibit in the McKenny Gallery provides a retrospective look at the rich history of the special education department and celebrates a century of excellence in special education, said Rocklage." “The Rackham School of Special Education, constructed in 1938-39 on the campus of Michigan State Normal College, was the first building designed with that dual educational purpose in mind and served as a model for the nation.”

For the first sixty-five plus years of its existence, the special education department provided education and therapeutic services to children with exceptional learning needs, while concurrently providing a teaching and learning laboratory environment for undergraduate and graduate majors in special education, occupational therapy and speech/language pathology. Below are the events planned for the celebration:

Friday, May 16:

  • Historical Archives Display - 12 - 5 p.m., McKenny Gallery, located in McKenny Hall. Display of special education historical archives. This event is free and open to the public.

Saturday, May 17:

  • Campus Tours - 9 - 11 a.m. Guided tours of campus originating from the John W. Porter Building. Guests may also take self-guided tours of EMU's Sculpture Walk.
  • Historical Archives Display - 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., McKenny Gallery in McKenny Hall.
  • Lecture by Barbara Ransom - 10:30 - 11:30 a.m. in room 203 Porter Building. Ransom has more than 20 years experience as a plaintiff’s attorney in disability rights and is a keynote speaker in the 2013-2014 Porter Chair Speaker Series in urban education at EMU. She will speak on the topic of "Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline with Advocacy, Common Sense and the Law." This event is free and open to the public.
  • Tours of the Rackham Building - 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit the original home of the special education program.
  • Share Your Memories - 12:30 - 4 p.m. in room 205 Porter Building. Capture and share memories from your time in the Department of Special Education on video.
  • Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - 1 – 1:45 p.m. in the Porter Building. The ceremony will honor Charles Elliott and Francis Lord, two distinguished professors in special education. This event is free and open to the public.
  • Special Education Research Symposium - 2 – 4 p.m. in the Porter Building. The Symposium will be broken into three presentations and will explore the topics of autism spectrum disorders, curriculum, EMU Special Education Summer Institutes and speech-language and behavior. This event is free and open to the public.
  • Feature Presentation: Best Buddies Organization - 4 - 4:30 p.m. in Porter Building. This event is free and open to the public.
  • Celebration Dinner with Keynote Speaker Barbara Ransom - 6 – 9 p.m. in the EMU Student Center Ballroom. Ransom will be presenting on the topic "Public Law 94-142 went Unfulfilled in the 20th Century: Let Lessons Learned Enable us to Develop Each Child's Maximum Potential in the 21st Century." Tickets are $40/person or $25/student. The deadline to register for the dinner is Friday, May 16 at 11:59 p.m.

Sunday, May 18:

  • Casual Sunday Morning Brunch - 9 - 11 a.m. at Bentley’s American Grille, located in the Ann Arbor Marriott at Ypsilanti Eagle Crest. The restaurant will take payment for items ordered.
  • Historical Archives Display - 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. McKenny Gallery in McKenny Hall.

“From its humble beginnings providing summer institute training for students choosing to become teachers of children with exceptional learning needs, the special education department designed and launched undergraduate and graduate professional preparation programs in all areas of exceptionality and that tradition continues today,” said Rocklage. 

For the complete schedule of all events, please visit the 100th Anniversary of the Special Education Events homepage.

Debra Johnson

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