Meeting Watch: UM Regents (20 Nov 2008)

Regents approve several building and renovation projects

Within the first few minutes of the Nov. 20 University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting, President Mary Sue Coleman led the group through three rounds of applause: Congratulating Larry Deitch on his recent reelection to the board, applauding vice president for development Jerry May and his staff for their work on the $3.1 billion Michigan Difference fundraising campaign, and wishing a happy birthday to Bill Best, who has led the Department of Public Safety for 10 years and is taking another job within the university. The remainder of the meeting was somewhat less festive.

Faculty report

David Potter, chair of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, gave an annual update from the faculty governance group. Among the various initiatives on SACUA’s plate is an effort to enhance the Ann Arbor “brand.” The area’s cultural resources and other assets – including those that make this a great place to raise children – aren’t well known around the country or even locally, he said. As an example, he mentioned the vibrant printing and publishing businesses in the Ann Arbor area, which is supported by the University of Michigan Press. Other examples are the many partnerships between UM and local schools, and arts and cultural offerings at both the university and in the community. Potter said that making these assets better known and expanding them will help UM’s recruitment efforts, which in turn will help strengthen the local and state economy.

Update on libraries

Paul Courant, former provost and current dean of libraries, gave a status report that he began with this summary: “The state of the libraries is good!” His overview included a quick cataloging of data points, including the fact that 4 million users enter UM libraries annually – enough to fill Michigan Stadium 37 times.

Courant talked about several of the university’s digitization efforts. He noted UM’s leadership in the HathiTrust, an effort to create the world’s largest digital library. Over 2 million public domain volumes have already been digitized for this project, he said. UM’s partnership with Google, which is digitizing UM’s collection, is more than a third of the way finished. He also noted that each of the regents had received books made on the university’s Espresso Book Machine, a print-on-demand device that produces paperback books from the UM digital collection. (From what The Chronicle could see as the regents examined their books, the covers were all designed in pastel shades of maize and blue. This might have been a coincidence.) And speaking of Espresso, Courant said, you can order one to drink at Bert’s Cafe, which opened earlier this year in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library and is actually making money.

After Courant’s presentation, Mary Sue Coleman said the university owed him and his staff a debt of gratitude for their role as advisors helping reach a settlement in the class action lawsuit brought by authors and publishers against Google. Another round of applause ensued.

Veteran services

Ann Hower, director of the Office of New Student Programs, gave a report on ways that the university is supporting veterans who become UM students. About a year ago, the university became aware of challenges faced by veterans at UM, including a sense of isolation, their changing roles, and difficulty navigating the campus. In response, UM has taken several actions: starting orientation and mentoring programs for veterans, hiring Philip Larson as a transition specialist, forming the UM Council on Student Veterans, and developing the Veteran’s Connection website as a gateway to the university. Hower noted that campuses nationwide are on the cusp of seeing some 1 million soldiers return as students, especially when the new GI bill goes into effect next year. Regents had no questions following her presentation.

Financial report

Timothy Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, presented the fiscal 2008 financial report, a 77-page document detailing the university’s performance for the year ending June 30, 2008. The more recent market turmoil was not reflected in that report – Slottow noted that October in particular wasn’t a stellar month for endowment investments. He said the 2008 report will eventually be posted online – previous year’s reports are on the business and finance website.

Action items

There were 19 items requiring a vote by the regents under the category of finance/property, presented by Slottow. All were approved, and most of the votes were dispatched quickly with no questions or comments by the regents. They included:

  • Renovating three levels in the Taubman Health Care Center, at an estimated cost of $1.39 million.
  • Renovating the UM Hospital morgue, for an estimated $1.35 million.
  • Replacing two elevators at the five-story Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building, for an estimated $1.5 million.
  • Upgrading infrastructure, including the electrical system, for the School of Public Health building, at an estimated cost of $9.475 million.

The only questions came during two items appointing an advisory board and a manager for the Wolverine Venture Fund, an investment fund operated by the Ross School of Business as part of its MBA program. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman questioned whether there were controls in place to prevent conflict-of-interest issues between board members and the funds they recommended for investment. Slottow said he wasn’t aware of any such policies, adding, “This is a very small fund, and there aren’t many winners here, I can tell you that.” Fischer said she’d like to see conflict-of-interest rules put in place.

Four of the eight advisory board members, appointed to three-year terms, are based in Ann Arbor. They are:

  • Mary Campbell, general partner of EDF Ventures
  • Donald Walker, managing director of Arbor Partners
  • Timothy Mayleben, president of EIMa Advisors
  • Marc Weiser, managing director of RPM Ventures

In addition, regents approved Timothy Petersen as alumni investment manager of the Wolverine Venture Fund, a post previously held by Mary Campbell. Petersen is managing director of Arboretum Ventures in Ann Arbor and a former WVF advisory board member.

Other votes

Among six other items approved by the regents was an annual operating request to the state for the Ann Arbor campus for fiscal year 2010, and renaming the Division of Kinesiology to the School of Kinesiology.

Public comment

Only one speaker made remarks during public comment. He excoriated the regents for their self-congratulatory remarks earlier in the meeting related to the passage of Proposal 2, which lifted bans on embryonic stem cell research in the state. Calling it an evil thing, he said the university could have thrown its resources into alternatives, such as advocating for adoption or urging fertility clinics to curb their activities. He said that while UM’s actions annoyed opponents of Prop 2, it also has incited the wrath of God.

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, Dec. 18, 3 p.m. in the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St.