Regents Get Update on Town-Gown Relations

Updates from Kosteva, Ann Arbor firefighter
Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety.

Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke to UM regents at their Sept. 17 board meeting about how possible firefighter layoffs could affect campus safety. (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan Board of Regents (Sept. 17, 2009): UM regents heard two presentations at their Thursday board meeting that closely linked the university and the community of Ann Arbor. Jim Kosteva, UM director of community relations, gave an update on the ways that the university is involved with the city, including payments as well as partnerships. And Matt Schroeder, president of the Ann Arbor firefighters Local 693, spoke during public comment on the possibility of additional layoffs among city firefighters and the potential impact it would have on the university.

Regents also heard several other reports and updates: from the director of the Life Sciences Institute; an architect working on the new basketball practice facility at Crisler Arena; and two alumni who hope to get the university more involved in an effort called Patriot Week.

And during her report on the board’s personnel, compensation and governance committee, regent Andrea Fischer Newman said that UM president Mary Sue Coleman had requested – and the committee agreed – not to raise Coleman’s salary this year.

We’ll begin with the issues most directly related to the Ann Arbor community: Kosteva’s report, and Schroeder’s public commentary.

Community Engagement

Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, introduced Kosteva’s presentation by saying that in any relationship there are ups and downs, and that UM works to achieve more ups.

Kosteva cataloged several ways that the university interacted with the community, starting with UM’s relationship with the city government. UM and city staff meet monthly, he said, to discuss construction projects and other issues that might require planning and coordination. The university contributes about $125,000 annual to street repaving, he said, and is currently providing rent-free space for the Ann Arbor Police Department’s detective bureau, during construction of the city’s new municipal center.

UM partners with several government-related entities, Kosteva said, including the Downtown Development Authority and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. He cited specific examples, such as the proposed Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station, the Forest Avenue parking structure (a joint DDA/UM project) and the M-Ride agreement, in which UM pays AATA to allow university students, faculty and staff to ride AATA buses without paying a fare when they board.

The university also pays the city about $8 million each year for water, sewer and stormwater fees, which Kosteva said represented about 20% of the city’s total water and sewer operating revenues. Connection fees that the university paid the city related to construction projects have increased four-fold over the past five years, and represent over 50% of the city’s total connection fees for that period. Examples include about $550,000 for the Kellogg Eye Center, $500,000 for the Biomedical Science Research Building, and $350,000 for the Cardiovascular Center.

Though the university is exempt from paying property taxes, they pay roughly $23 million annually in leases for space they occupy in privately owned off-campus buildings, Kosteva said. The university currently accounts for about 15% of the area’s occupied commercial lease market, he said.

For bus service, the university paid AATA over $1.073 million in fiscal 2009, Kosteva said. There were 2.2 million UM riders on the bus system during that year. Those ridership numbers, coupled with the university’s own bus system, leveraged $895,000 in federal funding for regional transit in fiscal 2009, he said.

In addition, other UM payments include the rental of parking lots and classrooms from the Ann Arbor Public Schools, and payments for Ann Arbor police services during home football games and other events, Kosteva said. He also listed partnerships between the university and local groups, including:

Kosteva concluded by citing several projects that are being discussed between UM and the city, including the possible closure of Monroe Street, the Fuller Intermodal Transportation Station, and the issue of easements and staging for the East Stadium Bridges replacement project.

It was the Stadium Bridges project that elicited the only question from a regent following Kosteva’s presentation. Andrew Richner asked what the time frame was for completion of that effort, an estimated $22 million project to reconstruct the current structurally impaired bridges that span South State Street and the Ann Arbor Railroad. [See previous Chronicle coverage for an update on that project.] Kosteva said he believes the city is planning to start construction next fall. “The sooner, the better,” Richner said.

Ann Arbor Firefighters

Speaking during public comment time at the end of the meeting, Matt Schroeder, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 693, said that his union was concerned about the possibility of 14 layoffs and the possible closure of two stations, due to city budget cuts. They are currently in negotiations with the city, he said, and he was coming to the regents meeting to inform them of the situation. Statements from city administrator Roger Fraser about possible layoffs “send an alarming message to us regarding citizen safety and the safety of our crews,” he said, noting that layoffs would have a direct impact on their ability to provide basic services. There are currently 92 Ann Arbor firefighters.

Schroeder passed out a document that included information on national standards for fire ground staffing, as well as comparisons between communities in the Big Ten and throughout Michigan. Those comparisons looked at general population size, student populations, number of firefighters and equipment. Ann Arbor has the lowest number of career firefighters per 1,000 population of any community in the Big Ten, he said. All but Iowa City have more than 1.1 firefighters per 1,000 people – Ann Arbor has 0.804, a figure that would drop to 0.682 if 14 firefighters were eliminated.

He reminded regents that the university has many large buildings, and relies on Ann Arbor firefighters to respond. [The university does not maintain its own fire department and does not make regular payments to the city for fire service. It does provide rent and operating costs for a north campus fire station, on Beal Avenue near Plymouth Road, which is staffed by Ann Arbor firefighters. The university occasionally makes other contributions, such as $300,000 it paid in fiscal 2004 for a city fire engine.]

Regents expressed support for the issues that Schroeder raised. Regent Larry Deitch said that he was concerned, adding that no other group of people are more selfless and brave than firefighters. Deitch asked what the regents could do to help. Schroeder said that they just wanted to convey the current situation, and that they feel they can’t absorb additional layoffs.

Regent Denise Ilitch said that her sister had been involved in a fire at a Chicago hotel, and a firefighter had saved her life. Rest assured, she told Schroeder, that university officials will do whatever they can to make sure that people in Ann Arbor and students at UM are safe.

President’s Salary: No Raise This Year

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman reported that the board’s personnel, compensation and governance committee had evaluated UM president Mary Sue Coleman and were in unanimous agreement that she was a great president. Newman said she hoped that the Sept. 17 USA Today article, an obituary for NCAA president Myles Brand which mentioned Coleman as a possible successor, was “nothing more than sheer speculation.” Newman cited several accomplishments under Coleman’s tenure during the past year, including completion of a $3.2 billion fundraising campaign and the purchase of the former Pfizer research complex in Ann Arbor.

In recognition of the state’s economic climate, Coleman requested the board not give her a raise this year, Newman said, adding that they complied with that request. [Coleman receives $783,850 in total compensation, including a base salary of $553,500. Last year she received a 4% raise.] Coleman pointed out that none of her executive officers or deans had taken pay raises this year.

Regarding the NCAA job, Coleman said she hadn’t yet seen the article, adding “I’ve got the best job in the world. I just love it.” When someone pointed out that Walt Harrison, a former UM vice president for university relations, was also mentioned as a candidate for the job, Coleman said she thought he’d be great for that position.

Crisler Arena: Practice Facility

Don Dethlefs, CEO of the Denver-based architecture firm Sink Combs Dethlefs, showed regents the schematic designs – which they subsequently approved – for a $23.2 million basketball training facility at Crisler Arena. The two-story, 57,000-square-foot structure will include offices for men’s and women’s coaching staffs, locker rooms, two practice courts, film-viewing and hydrotherapy rooms, conditioning space and other amenities.

The design includes a “Hall of Fame” entry lobby on Crisler’s south side and a “champions” room overlooking the practice courts. These areas are envisioned for use in fundraising and other events. The lobby will be designed with a lot of glass walls and dramatic lighting, creating more of a “front door” to Crisler, Dethlefs said.

A tunnel will connect the facility to seating and the playing court at Crisler. Though the current project won’t include a roof plaza, Dethlefs said that the building will be designed to support such an addition in the future, and the athletic department hopes to eventually raise money to build it. The current project is expected to be finished in the fall of 2011. When the training facility is completed, the Crisler parking area will have about 100 fewer spaces.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman asked for a report at some future date, giving a summary of all the construction projects that the athletic department has undertaken since Bill Martin took over as athletic director in 2000. Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, noted that a $3 million renovation to the UM football locker room in 2003 was the first investment after the department’s “difficult, dark days,” referring to the years when the department ran a deficit under the previous athletic director Tom Goss.

Other Construction Projects

The regents approved several other capital projects, with no discussion. They include:

  • A $9 million electronic building access system. The university will install electronic card readers on the exterior doors of over 100 buildings on campus, which are currently locked and unlocked manually. The system will provide increased security, said Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, giving them the ability to remotely lock down buildings during emergencies, for example.
  • Authorization to issue bids and award construction contracts on a $6 million soccer stadium – regents approved schematic designs for the project in June 2009.
  • A $1.5 million infusion center at the East Ann Arbor Health and Geriatric Center.
  • A $4 million project to upgrade the University Hospital emergency power system.

Life Sciences Institute

Early in the meeting, Alan Saltiel, director of the Life Sciences Institute, gave an update on the organization that was founded six years ago. When she introduced Saltiel, UM president Mary Sue Coleman said that he’d been inundated with calls since he announced his most recent research findings: A gene found in mice appears to control obesity. “Everyone wants to join the human clinical trials,” Coleman joked. Saltiel said his main job in life had become managing expectations.

The LSI started with the goal of recruiting a diverse group of top scientists who could work across disciplines to make new discoveries in the life sciences, Saltiel said. They now have 29 faculty with labs at the LSI building, with disciplines ranging from biology and bioinformatics to genetics and chemistry. In total, some 450 researchers work at LSI, including 150 students from across 14 different departments. They’ve secured over $150 million in research funding since the institute’s inception.

Collaboration is their mantra, Saltiel said. He cited his own research into the “obesity gene” – which long-term has potential to treat diabetes – as stemming from collaboration with several other researchers at the institute.

After Saltiel’s presentation, regent Martin Taylor asked whether the institute was the right size. Saltiel said that the building is full, but that it’s difficult to say whether it should be larger. Now, everyone knows each other, which makes it easier to collaborate. Coleman said that it’s a legitimate question to ask – the LSI model might extend to the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), the new name for the 174-acre former Pfizer site that UM acquired earlier this year.

Research Funding

In his report to regents, Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, noted that the university had crossed a major threshold by logging a record $1.016 billion in federal research funding during fiscal 2009, which ended June 30. That’s up 9.4% from the previous year, he said, and includes only a very small amount – about $130,000 – of federal stimulus funding. Stimulus dollars will show up in the report for the current fiscal year, he said. So far, university researchers have been awarded $103.2 million in stimulus grants.

He joked that it took the university 192 years to reach the $1 billion mark, but he has set the goal of reaching $2 billion in eight years. “We’re well on our way,” he said.

Public Commentary

Patriot Week: Two speakers came to encourage UM to become engaged in Patriot Week, which ran from Sept. 11 through Sept. 17, Constitution Day. UM alum Michael Warren, an Oakland County circuit court judge and former member of the state board of education, said that he and his 10-year-old daughter, Leah Warren, came up with the idea for Patriot Week as a way to celebrate the country’s history and founding principles. Each day is dedicated to a different principle – such as the rule of law or equality – as well as a specific historical figure, founding document and symbol, as represented by a flag. He encouraged the university to embrace the event. [On a related sartorial note, Warren was wearing a bow tie with a stars-and-stripes motif.]

Accompanying Warren was David Weissman, who said he holds medical and undergraduate degrees from UM. He noted that Americans – even elected officials – score embarrassingly low on tests of civic knowledge and American history, and that it’s increasingly difficult to compete for attention to teach this information. Patriot Week is a focused approach to address this problem. He said they’d like to see UM host symposiums, student debates and celebratory events to mark the week, and to get students involved in partnerships with local high schools and elementary schools.

In response to a question from regent Andrew Richner, provost Terry Sullivan said that since 2005, the university has already been involved in events related to Constitution Week, which runs from Sept. 17-23. Specifically, she cited a panel discussion being held later that day at the law school, focused on court cases that have challenged the Constitution.

Department of Public Safety: Two people spoke on the same issue related to the DPS. Douglas Smith, a UM alumnus, spoke about the treatment of Dr. Andrei Borisov, whom Smith described as a whistleblower who was beaten by campus police then arrested for assaulting police officers. Smith said Borisov had been a research assistant professor in the university’s pediatrics department when a tenured faculty member took control of – and credit for – some of his work. Smith described a chain of events that he said led to several UM administrators conspiring to fire Borisov and prevent him from getting other jobs at the university. At one point, DPS officers escorted Borisov to his office to retrieve his personal property, Smith said, and ended up arguing with him about the contents of a briefcase, ultimately pushing him against a wall and charging him with trespassing. Smith said that Borisov discussed this incident with Stephen Hipkiss, chair of the DPS Oversight Committee, but that Hipkiss discouraged Borisov from filing a complaint against the officers. This matter should be investigated, Smith said.

Hipkiss also spoke during the time for public comment, and defended both the DPS and the oversight committee that he chairs. He described the committee’s role, and said that it was an advisory group, not a tribunal – they hear grievances, then make recommendations to the university’s chief financial officer, who has responsibility for the department. Hipkiss said that DPS has complied with all of the committee’s requests for information during the 11 years he has served on the committee. He disputed Smith’s claim that there’s not adequate oversight.

A bottle of hand sanitizer was placed on the table where media sit during the UM board of regents meetings.

The media desk during the UM board of regents meetings. The bottle contains sanitizer for hands, not news reports. (Photo by the writer.)

One Comment

  1. September 21, 2009 at 9:21 am | permalink

    Another great piece of work, Mary. Thanks.