UM Regents Discuss More Than Land Deal

Regents salute McGowan, honor Rhodes scholar, spend money
Becky McGowan served her last meeting as a UM regent, after 16 years in that role.

Rebecca McGowan served her last meeting as a UM regent on Thursday, after 16 years in that role.

UM Board of Regents (Dec. 18, 2008) Thursday’s meeting of the University of Michigan regents was overshadowed by news about its purchase of the former Pfizer facility, but before they voted on that item, the board spent an hour dealing with a range of other issues – including a farewell to one of its longest-serving current members.

Early in the meeting, the board paid tribute to Rebecca McGowan, who has served for two terms – a total of 16 years – but did not run for reelection this year. Regent Libby Maynard gave an emotional presentation, calling McGowan a friend and an important colleague. “Becky, you’ve given Michigan your wisdom, your vision, your care – no institution could ask for more.”

Among her accomplishments, Maynard cited McGowan’s role in championing anti-discrimination measures, including a 1993 clause to university bylaws protecting students and employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a more recent revision passed in 2007 protecting gender identity and expression. Later in the meeting, the student government president, Sabrina Shingwani, praised McGowan, saying “you relate really well to students.”


Abdulrahman M. El-Sayed, a UM graduate student and Rhodes scholar.

The regents also honored Abdulrahman M. El-Sayed, who was recently awarded a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. A 2007 graduate who delivered one of the commencement speeches that year, he is now pursing a joint medical/doctorate degree at UM. Regent Katherine White recalled how El-Sayed had impressed Bill Clinton, who also spoke at the 2007 commencement and who said, “I wish every person in the world could have heard you speak today.” El-Sayed thanked the regents, saying “this will always be my academic home.”

Finance and property

Tim Slottow, the university’s chief financial officer, did not elaborate on the investment report other than to say “we continue to experience the same environment that the rest of our peers are experiencing.” That “environment” – referring to the roiling financial markets – caused the value of UM’s long-term portfolio to fall from $7.6 billion at the end of June 2008 to $6.9 billion by Oct. 31. Results for November were not yet available.

Later in the meeting, the board quickly voted to approve several projects, with minimal discussion. They included:

The regents also approved six conflict-of-interest disclosures between the university and various businesses, without comment.

Environmental update

Hank Baier, UM’s associate vice president of facilities and operations, gave a report on the university’s environmental efforts. He passed out a 44-page report – printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper (and to be posted eventually online) – that highlighted UM initiatives in a variety of areas, including waste disposal, water use, energy use, electronics recycling and more.

Kudos to Coleman

As a prelude to her summary of the board’s finance committee, Regent Katherine White thanked UM President Mary Sue Coleman and her husband Ken Coleman for giving $25,000 to kick off fundraising for an effort to increase students’ opportunities to study abroad. Regent Martin Taylor said he’d noticed a pattern – that every time regents gave Coleman a raise, she ended up donating it back to the university. “So next year I’m going to move that we double her salary,” he joked. (In September, regents approved a 4% raise for Coleman, bringing her salary to $553,500. According to an annual salary survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education, she is the fifth-highest compensated president among U.S. public universities.)

Public comment

Six speakers made comments during the portion of the meeting set aside for the public. (Speakers are required to sign up in advance. More details on how to do that are here.)

James Toy: A UM alumnus, Toy expressed gratitude for Rebecca McGowan and her work toward seeking justice for the gay community. He said her example will guide and inspire others as they continue the work of justice and healing.

Tiernan Seaver: Justice was also the topic for Seaver, a UM student and member of Students and Workers Together for Justice. Her group is asking the university to reconsider its $65 million investment in HEI Hotels & Resorts. Seaver said HEI workers are struggling and have tried to unionize, but those efforts have been met with resistance and even retaliation by HEI. The university, Seaver said, has the responsibility to express its concern about what’s happening.

Ken Srdjak: Srdjak is also involved with Students and Workers Together for Justice, and also spoke about the HEI situation. He said that Tim Slottow, the university’s CFO, had agreed to send a note to HEI executives saying that the university was paying attention to the situation. Srdjak asked regents to consider signing a letter that sent the same message.

Richard Ryskamp: A resident of Caledonia, Michigan, Ryskamp criticized the university for “killing babies” and urged the regents to end the practice and teaching of abortion in its medical system. “No doubt you would get a lot of criticism for it, but it’s still the right thing to do.”

Jerry Lobbezoo: Lobbezoo also asked that regents use their authority to end abortions at UM, and said that instead they should direct women to alternatives like the ArborVitae Pregnancy Help Center.

Keiva Shults: Shults spoke about UM’s in-state residency requirement. She said her family moved here five years ago so that her husband could attend graduate school at UM. She has been working as a licensed nurse here, they own a home and pay taxes. Now she has applied to graduate school herself, but is not considered a resident because her husband moved here for school. She said this policy views spouses as attachments, and is especially difficult for women who often put their careers on hold to move with their husbands. After her comments, Regent Martin Taylor said that the regents plan to look into the criteria used for establishing residency, and that he’ll be looking at her case as well.

Supplemental agenda item

At the end of the regular agenda, UM President Mary Sue Coleman added a supplemental agenda item: the authorization to buy real estate. After several comments by UM executives about the decision to buy Pfizer’s former research complex, Rebecca McGowan moved the motion to approve, calling it “a 100-year decision.” It was her final motion as a UM regent.

One Comment

  1. December 20, 2008 at 1:25 am | permalink

    As a tax payer it is a disappointment, but I agree that the long term prospects for the University and the area are well served by the purchase.

    The cost for the University to put together that kind of space and facility would probably be twenty or thirty times the purchase price.