You can pack a lot into a two-hour meeting if there’s virtually no discussion on any of the agenda items, and the University of Michigan Board of Regents did just that on Thursday afternoon.
- They gave President Mary Sue Coleman a 4 percent raise, bringing her salary to roughly $553,500, effective Aug. 1, 2008. They said she’s doing a great job. She said thanks. Everyone clapped.
- They approved a controversial $48.6 million parking and office structure on Wall Street, near Kellogg Eye Center, and authorized hiring of an architect. This came after several people, including Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje, spoke during public comment session and asked the university to reconsider the project. Several smaller, multimillion-dollar projects were also on the agenda and approved without discussion.
- They signed off on a raft of appointments, including 1) Laura Lein as new dean for the School of Social Work, and her husband, Ben Kuipers, as a College of Engineering professor, 2) UM professor Dan Atkins as associate vice president for research cyberstructure, and 3) Robert Dolen, dean of the Ross School of Business, to the new endowed deanship at the school, funded with $5 million from The Frey Foundation, in honor of UM grad Edward J. Frey.
Much of the meeting was taken up by reports from executive officers and other senior staff. Jerry May, UM’s vice president of development, gave an update on the multi-year “Michigan Difference” capital campaign, which reached its $2.5 billion goal in mid-2007 but continues until year’s end. For the fiscal year ending June 30, UM received $342 million in donations, up 14 percent from the previous year.
Bob Winfield, the university’s chief health officer, gave a briefing on UM’s emergency preparedness. Earlier this year the university conducted a “tabletop” exercise about what needs to happen if there’s a shooter on campus. (It’s called “tabletop” because people sit around a table talking through the process, rather than dealing with a mock attack.) In response to a question, Winfield said the broader Ann Arbor community isn’t deeply involved in these plans. However, there are separate drills conducted specifically for Michigan Stadium that do include the Ann Arbor police and fire departments, state police and Huron Valley Ambulance.
(Interestingly, on Wednesday the Washtenaw County commissioners heard a similar report from Donna Sabourin, who’s helping organize a daylong, countywide conference on Monday to build a network of emergency response following a disaster. It’s unclear how involved UM is in that effort, if at all.)
Aside from these and other reports, the public comment sessions at the beginning and end of the meeting took the bulk of the two hours. Of the eight speakers (each with a five-minute time limit), five spoke about the Wall Street project and urged the regents to pull back from their construction plans. Just down the hill from UM’s massive medical complex, the project calls for a parking structure on Wall Street to provide 550 new spaces and a small transit center, and a 40,000-square-foot office building to house the Michigan Business Engagement Center. A major expansion of the Kellogg Eye Center – an eight-story, $121 million project – is already underway there. Another parking structure is proposed, but wasn’t part of the project that regents approved Thursday.
“You’re now deeply involved in a plan which to us doesn’t make sense,” said Ray Detter, a longtime community activist and chair of the Downtown Area Citizens Advisory Council. He said there needs to be a shared vision that would bring vitality to the area, and called UM’s proposal “a slap in the face.”
Others spoke of environmental and health concerns, both to the Huron River and to individuals affected by increased traffic, vehicle exhaust, construction dirt and noise pollution. They said the project seemed at odds with UM’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Concerns about crime in the parking structures was also raised. And Rosemary Sarri, a UM professor emeritus, presented the board with copies of a petition signed by roughly 300 residents, protesting the development.
Heiftje, who was given the podium without a time limitation, called for a “pause” in the project, allowing university and city officials to discuss alternatives, such as building a parking structure on North Campus and providing shuttle service to UM’s medical complex. He said he believes that both a north/south and an east/west commuter rail would be completed by 2010, and could provide a viable alternative for employees who now have to drive to UM’s medical campus.
Later in the meeting, Julia Darlow, a regent from Ann Arbor, thanked residents for airing their views, and Regent Larry Deitch said their concerns needed to be taken seriously. The board then unanimously approved the project.
Some of the regents seemed most animated during one of the last public comment speakers, Bernard van’t Hul, a retired UM English professor, who delivered a droll yet scathing indictment of the Michigan Stadium renovations and the regents’ role in approving it, describing the new structure as an “ostentatious monument to Mammon.”
Saying she didn’t agree with his point, Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said his speech nonetheless was “just marvelous.”
“Thank you – I guess,” van’t Hul replied.
Regents present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Olivia Maynard, Rebecca McGowan, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Martin Taylor, Kathy White. Absent: None
Next meeting: Thursday, Oct. 16 23, 3 p.m. at the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St. UM-Flint campus, Harding Mott University Center, 303 E. Kearsley, Flint.