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Dingell to become UM guest lecturer and scholar

David Shepardson and Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

John Dingell, the recently retired longest-serving member of Congress, announced Wednesday a partnership with the University of Michigan, where he will serve as a guest lecturer and scholar in residence at the Dearborn campus to inspire the next generation of civic leaders.

Former U.S. Rep. John Dingell receives an honorary degree at the University of Michigan commencement Saturday.

The announcement comes as the University of Michigan's Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor is celebrating Dingell's decision to donate his papers – 600 to 700 boxes of material dating to 1955 when he was elected to fill his late father's seat in the U.S. House, and running through his retirement in January. Dingell, 88, served a record 59 years.

Dingell will discuss his experiences with students in conjunction with regularly scheduled courses at UM Dearborn's College of Arts, Sciences and Letters in areas such as labor, environment, health policies, civil rights and urban affairs. He'll also promote the school's longstanding internship program in Washington.

Dingell, who won't be paid, will have an office on campus starting July 1, officials said.

"He's got a wealth of information and knowledge, and many stories to tell," said Dale Thomson, who helped set up the partnership as chairman of the social sciences department.

In addition to guest lectures, Dingell will likely consult on student research projects, and students studying journalism are interested in recording an oral history with Dingell, Thomson said.

Dingell wanted to find something where he could use his expertise. "A fella needs something to do," he said in an interview Tuesday. "Second of all, a fella needs something to do that is of interest to him."

Dingell ran congressional committees, sponsored dozens of key pieces of legislation and worked on hundreds of important laws — and he wants to impart that to the next generation.

"I've always been a great supporter of students and education and kids," Dingell said, noting he raised four children on his own. He said he has a "keen interest" in making sure the next generation understands the workings of Congress and the government.

"With all of the bad things that are being said about government and about those of us who served there, maybe I can help them feel just a little better about it," he said.

Former Rep. John Dingell, left, and former President Bill Clinton on Feb. 10, 2009, as he became the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives.

Dingell on Saturday received an honorary doctor of laws at UM's spring commencement ceremony. He was in intensive care as part of an 18-day hospital stay in December, followed by a stint of rehabilitation, but is feeling much better, he said. "I am all right now," Dingell said.

He said he might write a book and has been talking to an author, whom he declined a name, about his life in Congress. He's remaining active on Twitter. Dingell says he has had lot of offers about other job possibilities, and says he expects to have more to announce soon.

Dingell's wife, Debbie, was elected to succeed him.

Asked about life after Congress, Dingell said he is keeping busy — and juggling his new role as a congressional spouse. "The trouble is I have more time and she has less," Dingell said.

UM Dearborn also plans to launch the John D. Dingell Speaker Series with talks on important policy and political topics. Discussions are underway with the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the Ann Arbor campus for opportunities for Dingell to engage with students and faculty there.

"To have a man of Mr. Dingell's importance in shaping U.S. policies and laws share his experience with our students and the Dearborn community is invaluable," said Martin Hershock, dean of the College of Arts, Sciences and Letters.

Terrence J. McDonald, history professor and director of the UM Bentley Historical Library, stressed the breadth of issues Dingell covered during his tenure, from domestic programs under the mantle of Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society to authoring the Endangered Species Act.

One of Dingell's committee aides, Sharon Davis, who has been working on indexing the papers, noted that one document included is a statement Dingell placed in the congressional record complaining President Dwight Eisenhower was too old to run for re-election.

"Anyone who wants to write the history of 20th century politics in America is going to have interest in his papers," McDonald said.

mburke@detroitnews.com