UM Regents Updated: Research, Renovations

Student leader criticizes Ann Arbor council on couch ban

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (Sept. 16, 2010): This month’s public meeting of the regents lasted just over an hour and included some unusual elements, along with the usual fare.

Royster Harper, Kelly Cunningham, Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong, right, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, talks with Royster Harper and Kelly Cunningham before the Sept. 16 UM Board of Regents meeting. Harper is vice president for student affairs. Cunningham is director of UM's Office of Public Affairs. (Photos by the writer)

Board chair Julia Darlow read a brief statement near the start of the meeting, stating support for anyone in the university community who comes under attack for their identity – an oblique reference to what’s been characterized as the cyber-bullying of Chris Armstrong, the Michigan Student Assembly president. Armstrong, who is gay, is the target of  the “Chris Armstrong Watch” blog, maintained by Andrew Shirvell, a state assistant attorney general.

Later in the meeting during his regular report on MSA activities, Armstrong criticized the Ann Arbor city council for its recent proposal to ban porch couches, noting that although he planned to meet with some councilmembers later that day, they had not consulted students before taking action on the issue. At their Sept. 20 meeting, council is expected to vote on an ordinance amendment to ban upholstered furniture on porches.

Also during Thursday’s meeting, regents approved renovations and upgrades for several facilities on campus. The vote for a high-profile project to add permanent night lighting at Michigan Stadium passed without comment, while a seemingly innocuous elevator replacement at South Quad yielded an uncharacteristic, albeit relatively brief, discussion about long-term planning for the renovation of that dorm.

Regents heard a presentation about the research work being done at UM’s Institute for Social Research, given by ISR’s director, James Jackson. They also heard from Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, that the university had for a second year passed the $1 billion mark in research expenditures for fiscal 2009-10, increasing 12% over the previous year.

Not faring as well are donations to the university. Jerry May, vice president for development, reported that contributions dropped 4% to $254 million during 2009-10, which ended June. 30. However, there was an uptick in the last half of that fiscal year and the first two months of this year, which May described as “very healthy.”

The meeting concluded with one speaker during public commentary. Douglas Smith criticized regents Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman for, among other things, failing to deliver on a campaign promise to hold tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Noting that the two Republicans were running for re-election, he urged the public to vote against them in November. After his remarks, three of the Democrats on the board came to the two Republicans’ defense.

President’s Opening Remarks

UM president Mary Sue Coleman began the meeting, as she typically does, by highlighting events and achievements at the university. The start of classes brings a burst of energy to campus, she said, and this year’s incoming class is particularly remarkable – the average high school GPA for UM freshman is 3.8, and 13% had achieved a 4.0 GPA. Her annual open house, held earlier in the week, brought hundreds of students through the president’s home on South University. “As always, I came away impressed with their ideas and plans,” she said.

Lion Kim

Lion Kim, a UM student golfer, was recognized at the Sept. 16 regents meeting for winning the 85th annual U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July.

Coleman mentioned the “house warming” event held on Sept. 15 to mark the opening of North Quad, the university’s new student dorm at the corner of Huron and State. Also newly opened is the Central Campus Transit Center on North University, she said, though additional work on the center will continue through the fall.

Coleman made note of several accomplishments related to UM’s athletic department, starting with the unveiling of the newly expanded and renovated Michigan Stadium, which she said has met with an enthusiastic response.

Coleman noted that the men’s gymnastics team, which won the 2010 national championship earlier this year, had been honored by President Barack Obama at a White House reception on Sept. 13. The team had attended the regents’ May 20, 2010 meeting in Dearborn, where they were recognized for their achievement.

Coleman also praised Lion Kim, a UM student golfer who won the 85th annual U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July. That victory gives him an invitation to play in the 2011 Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia. Both Kim and UM men’s head golf coach Andrew Sapp attended Thursday’s meeting, and regent Larry Deitch asked whether they had any extra tickets for the Masters, a remark which yielded laughs around the room. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman added, “When you get your new golf facility, you’ll have more of these moments.” Earlier this year, regents approved the construction of a $2.5 million men’s and women’s indoor golf practice facility, and approved the schematic design at their July 15 meeting.

Coleman mentioned the recent death of Ron Kramer, a former Michigan player who had kept strong ties with the university over the years. She said that Kramer loved Michigan, both the university and the state. On the Wednesday before every home football game, he would bring apples to her office, she said. “We miss him greatly.”

Looking ahead to next month’s meeting, Coleman said that the October regents meeting is usually held in Flint. But this year, because the university will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s speech at the Michigan Union, where he first described an idea that eventually became the Peace Corps, the regents will meet in Ann Arbor, she said. An array of events are planned in connection with that anniversary, she said, adding that UM’s connection to the Peace Corps is one of the university’s “signature points of pride.”

Finally, Coleman congratulated regent Julia Darlow on being named by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as one of the state’s most influential female attorneys. Darlow received a round of applause. [Three other Ann Arbor attorneys are on this year's list: Kelly Burris, Jean Ledwith King and Susan Kornfield.]

Julia Darlow

Julia Darlow, chair of the UM board of regents.

Statement by the Board Chair

Julia Darlow, the board’s chair, made a brief statement after Coleman’s remarks, saying that whenever a member of the university is targeted because of their identity, “we are all attacked.” She said they will continue to stand together and hold the university’s values with dignity and respect. When Darlow finished, Coleman added that those sentiments are shared by the entire university community.

The statement was likely a reference to recent news that state assistant attorney general Andrew Shirvell has been using his blog – the “Chris Armstrong Watch” – to attack Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, criticizing him for his openly gay lifestyle and “radical homosexual agenda.” The blog has been characterized as cyber bullying, and attorney general Mike Cox has stated that Shirvell’s “immaturity and lack of judgment outside the office are clear.”

Institute for Social Research

James Jackson, director of the UM Institute for Social Research, gave regents a presentation about the institute’s activities. At their April 2010 meeting, the board had authorized a $23 million expansion project for ISR’s building at 426 Thompson St., and approved a schematic design for the project at their meeting in July.

ISR is celebrating its 61st year, Jackson said. For the 2009-10 fiscal year, the institute received over $130 million in funding, including roughly $41 million in federal stimulus dollars. ISR employs about 1,230 people in its five research centers, including 254 research scientists which Jackson says he thinks of as entrepreneurs. They are committed to hiring an additional 40-50 scientists over the next decade, and Jackson said that when ISR’s expansion is completed in 2013, they will already be out of space.

James Jackson

James Jackson, director of UM's Institute for Social Research.

During his presentation, Jackson highlighted several research studies that are ongoing at IRS, many of which have spanned decades.

The Reuters/University of Michigan Surveys of Consumers, led by Richard Curtin, is the only social science project on the federal government’s index of leading economic indicators, Jackson said. Curtin is projecting that unemployment will rise through the first half of next year, and the gains in the second half of the year will hardly dent the staggering job losses suffered so far.

Jackson cited several long-term studies managed by ISR. Every year since 1975, ISR’s Monitoring the Future Study has surveyed 50,000 American youth regarding their use of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs, Jackson said.

The American National Election Studies, conducted since 1948, is one of two ISR studies recently named to the National Science Foundation’s “Sensational 60” list of the most influential projects the federal agency has funded in its 60-year history. The other study receiving that honor is the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which started in 1968 and is the longest such study in the world. It’s a longitudinal look at the changing socioeconomic dynamics of families, currently collecting data on 22,000 people.

Several ISR studies look at the impact of our society’s aging population, Jackson said. The ISR Health & Retirement Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, began in 1990 and is the largest federally funded project at UM. Over 150,000 interviews have been conducted with more than 30,000 people aged 50 or older.

Jackson also mentioned the Society 2030 Consortium, a three-year effort to assist corporations in developing products and services for the aging population. Jackson likened it to developing spinoffs – via a university/corporate partnership – in the field of social sciences.

The final ISR project that Jackson highlighted is the U.S. Army’s Study to Assess Risks and Resilience in Servicemembers (STARRS), with the goal of preventing suicide and improving the mental health of army personnel during and after active duty. The five-year study, now in its second year, will survey 90,000 active duty soldiers, as well as families and peers of those who’ve committed suicide, and people who attempted to take their lives. A longitudinal follow-up will track 15,000 soldiers.

Regental Committee Reports

The regents have three committees: 1) finance, audit and investment; 2) personnel, compensation and governance; and 3) health affairs. The health affairs committee, chaired by regent Larry Deitch, was created earlier this year to provide oversight to the UM Hospitals and Health Centers. None of the committee meetings are open to the public.

The chairs of each committee give cursory reports at each monthly regents meeting. On Thursday, Deitch reported that the health affairs committee had held its first-ever meeting and was setting a schedule for a “deep dive” into the operations of the health system. He said he expected their work to cover everything from the development of the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) to how long it takes to get an appointment at a UM clinic.

Michigan Student Assembly Report

Chris Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA), gave his monthly report to regents, highlighting events on campus and MSA-sponsored activities. He reported on the Ann Arbor city council’s proposed resolution to ban porch couches, saying that while the fire at a South State Street house that killed a student earlier this year was tragic, the council’s response has been “skewed.” He noted that there are other ways to address fire safety, and that the council didn’t involve students at all before proposing this resolution. Armstrong said that representatives from MSA would be meeting with some councilmembers that night to talk about how students might be more involved with these kinds of decisions in the future.

By way of background, the resolution – sponsored by councilmember Christopher Taylor (Ward 3) – was initially on the council’s July 19, 2010 agenda, but was taken off the agenda before that meeting. It passed on first reading at council’s Aug. 5, 2010 meeting. Taylor wrote an opinion piece published on Sept. 5 by the Michigan Daily, the university’s student newspaper, focusing on the issue of fire safety – though the proposed resolution would amend the city code chapter on public nuisances, not fire prevention.

The council heard a staff presentation on the issue at their Sept. 5 meeting, and MSA member John Oltean spoke during a public hearing on the issue that night, urging council to postpone action. He also encouraged them to deal with the issue fully by considering how rental housing may not be up to code in other ways, describing a lot of the city’s student rental housing stock as “ancient.” Action was subsequently postponed until the council’s next meeting on Sept. 20.

Donations to the University Decline in 2009-10

Jerry May, UM’s vice president for development, reported that contributions to the university were down for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010. Contributions during the year totaled $254 million, compared to $265 million the previous year.

Overall, since the university wrapped up its “Michigan Difference” capital campaign, the severe economic downturn has had an impact on philanthropy at UM, May said. However, he added that they saw a significant uptick during the second half of the fiscal year, and the first two months of this year – July and August – have been “very healthy.” He noted that of the $254 million, $56 million was given specifically for scholarships and fellowships.

May highlighted three large gifts in particular: 1) a $15 million gift from the Ted and Jane Von Voigtlander Foundation for the new women’s hospital, which regents named the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, 2) the $10 million gift from Bob and Ann Aikens for a UM Law School addition, the largest gift received from living individuals, and 3) the $2 million gift from Ed Elliott to endow a professorship at the UM-Dearborn campus.

Research Activities

Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, reported that research expenditures at the university had grown 12% during fiscal 2009-10, to $1.14 billion. It was the second year that UM had exceeded the $1 billion milestone, he said. Of that, 5.1% was attributable to stimulus dollars. This year, the university is on a similar track, Forrest said.

Stephen Forrest

Stephen Forrest, UM vice president for research.

For federal research funding, the National Institutes of Health contributed more funds than any other federal agency, accounting for $507 million, or 44.5% of UM’s total research funding. Corporate sponsorship dropped 9% for the year, to $39 million, while overall non-federal research funding fell 4.7%, to $106.7 million.

Forrest also highlighted the recent $12.5 million in federal funding for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, a collaboration with Chinese researchers to develop clean vehicle technology. Dennis Assanis, a UM professor and director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, will take the lead in this effort, Forrest said.

Later in the meeting, president Mary Sue Coleman noted that she was recommending a renewal of Forrest’s contract, which regents ultimately approved. His appointment will run from Jan. 1, 2011 through Dec. 31, 2016. Coleman cited his leadership in efforts to support economic development and several large projects during his five years as head of university research. He received a round of applause.

Building Projects, Renovations

Regents approved several construction projects during Thursday’s meeting, all but one passing without discussion:

  • A $4.9 million renovation to the Auxiliary Services Building on North Campus, for the School of Art & Design. The renovation of 33,000 square feet will allow the school to consolidate graduate student and faculty studios into one location – the school, which is also located on North Campus, currently leases two off-campus sites for those studios. The project is expected to save $114,000 in annual leasing costs and add 13 faculty studios. The architectural firm of SHW Group will design the project, which is expected to be completed in the summer of 2011.
  • Schematic design for a $11 million renovation and expansion of the Memorial Phoenix Laboratory – a project that regents initially approved at their Dec. 17, 2009 meeting. The building houses the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute. The architectural firm of Lord, Aeck & Sargent Inc. is designing the project, which includes renovating 10,000 square feet of research space and building another 10,000 square feet for administrative use. Terry Sargent presented the schematic design at Thursday’s meeting.
  • The addition of permanent night field lighting at Michigan Stadium, at a cost of $1.8 million. The lights are being added in advance of the Dec. 11 “Big Chill at The Big House” hockey game between Michigan and Michigan State, which begins at 3 p.m. but is expected to last into the evening. A night football game at the stadium is also on the 2011 schedule.

Though the issue of night lighting at Michigan Stadium has received some media attention, it drew no comments from regents during Thursday’s meeting. The building-related issue that did provoke discussion related to the seemingly innocuous request to approve an elevator replacement at the South Quad dormitory.

The request was for a $1.15 million replacement of a freight elevator that serves three floors, installing instead a service and passenger elevator that would serve nine floors. The project also requires modification of the building’s kitchen exhaust system, separating it from the elevator exhaust to meet current building codes. South Quad, which houses about 1,250 students, was built in 1951. The elevator is about 60 years old.

Andy Richner

Regent Andrew Richner.

Regent Andrew Richner noted that the kitchen is now located a long way from where food is served in the dorm, and he wondered whether the elevator replacement – which includes altering the kitchen exhaust system – takes into account long-term plans to renovate the building and possibly relocate the kitchen.

Tim Slottow, the university’s chief financial officer who’s responsible for facilities projects, said that he’d be bringing a strategic plan to the regents later this year about renovation plans for several residence halls, including South Quad. UM is nearly complete with major renovations of the older “heritage” residence halls on the Ann Arbor campus, he said, but several more residence hall renovations need to be renovated. Among those, East Quad is a priority, he said.

Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, added that the South Quad elevator replacement can’t be done without modifying the exhaust systems. Richner said he simply wanted them to consider the longer-term plans involving the kitchen, so that they could possibly avoid spending money on something now that would need to be altered again in the future. Slottow offered to pull the proposal and bring it back to the regents next month. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman suggested that regents go ahead and vote on the item, with the understanding that next month Slottow would report back regarding longer-term renovations.

Richner then joked that he might have to recuse himself from the vote, because his son lives in South Quad. He noted that his son, a freshman, lives on the ground floor and doesn’t take the elevator.

The regents voted and approved the elevator item, along with the rest of the construction items.

Conflict of Interest Items

Regents approved 14 items that required disclosure under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute. The law requires that regents vote on potential conflict-of-interest disclosures related to university staff, faculty or students. Often, the items involve technology licensing agreements or leases.

This month, the disclosures involved deals with the following companies: Logical Images Inc., Accuri Cytometers Inc., Jazz Pie Music, Sherm’s Musical Instrument Repair, Sakti3 Inc., Productivity Improvement LLC, Structured Microsystems, Sakai Foundation, Nico Technologies Inc., Lycera Inc., Rehabilitation Team Assessments LLC, Hearing Health Science Inc., and 3D Biomatrix LLC.

There was no discussion on any of these items.

Public Commentary

Douglas Smith, a UM alumnus, was the only speaker during the public commentary portion of Thursday’s meeting. He noted that two incumbents – regents Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman – have been nominated for re-election, and that it was a good time to reflect on their service. [Candidates for the board are nominated by their respective political parties and run for eight-year terms. Richner and Newman are Republicans.]

Doug Smith

Douglas Smith, speaking to the UM board of regents during public commentary at their Sept. 16 meeting.

He said that both Richner and Newman ran in the last election on promises to limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation, but that since 2002, tuition has risen at nearly three times the rate of inflation. Regents Denise Ilitch and Julia Darlow both voted against a 6% tuition increase last year, he noted, but the other regents did not.

Smith raised concerns about several other issues. The university is transferring some of its health care costs to employees, he said, by increasing employee contributions to health insurance by 50%. He criticized UM’s relationship with China, saying “the real exporter of American jobs to China is not Rick Snyder, it is the University of Michigan.” [Snyder, an Ann Arbor businessman, is the GOP candidate for Michigan governor and has been accused of outsourcing jobs to China while leading the computer company Gateway.] Smith accused the university of allowing its technology to be transferred to Chinese researchers and businesses – particularly technology that can be used for military purposes.

Smith also rebuked the regents for not ensuring adequate oversight of the UM Dept. of Public Safety, and argued that they have allowed the administration to stifle dissent regarding cases involving Andrei Borisov, Catherine Wilkerson and Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality (SOLE) protesters.

“In summary,” Smith said, “the performance of this board includes rapidly rising tuition, out of control budgets, new taxes on employees, massive technology transfers to China, lost opportunities for Michigan students, censorship and abuse of police power. I will not be voting to re-elect the incumbents and I would urge the rest of Michigan voters to do the same.”

When Smith finished his remarks, regent Larry Deitch – a Democrat – defended his Republican colleagues, saying he’d served with Newman for 16 years and Richner for eight. Though they didn’t agree on everything, Deitch said they had done a superb job. Regent Libby Maynard said she agreed with Deitch. Regent Martin Taylor said he agreed with Maynard, which prompted a laugh from most of the officials sitting at the table.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Larry Deitch, Denise Ilitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Martin Taylor, Kathy White.

Next board meeting: Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]


  1. By Mark Koroi
    September 20, 2010 at 1:53 am | permalink

    Support the re-election of Regents Richner and Fischer.

    They deserve our support; they have done an excellent job.

  2. By Rod Johnson
    September 20, 2010 at 11:52 am | permalink

    Thanks for the link to the Chris Armstrong Watch blog. I hadn’t heard about this before, but Googling Andrew Shirvell has turned up some truly appalling stuff. Holy cow.

  3. By Jack F.
    September 20, 2010 at 1:20 pm | permalink

    He was a paid member of the AG’s campaign staff as well.

  4. By Tegart
    September 20, 2010 at 5:07 pm | permalink

    If you click on his hate blog, you can report it for abuse. Let’s get this fringe wacko off the air. It’s scary to think he might actually be a part of the justice process.