Forty eight buildings, including parking garages, lost electricity.
"It started flickered and I said, 'The room is haunted.' It wasn't haunted, but then it flickered again and went out, so we got a little afraid," said student Heather Brewer.
"The first things that occurred to me was it was 911," said WSU Student Melanie Samona.
Early afternoon Public Lighting notified the university that it needed to shed an electrical load to help relieve problems with the entire system.
"Shortly after that initial notification they called back and indicated they would literally turn various PLD buildings off," said facilities worker Jim Sears.
The university used backup generators in buildings where equipment had to be protected.
Some professors continued in the dark. Students used battery power from laptops and flashlight apps on their cell phones.
Other instructors sent students home as the heat built up in darkened rooms.
"It gets a little hard to communicate, they can't see me and I can't really see them," said law professor Peter Henning.
Finally the university cancelled all classes.
It's not clear when power will be restored to the area. However, the university says classes and business will resume on Thursday. Extension center classes are not affected.
Aerial video: Power out at Wayne State campus
Extreme heat and a cable failure are being blamed for the outage.
Wayne State is on the city of Detroit's Public Lighting Department electrical grid.