UM Regents: Report on Space Use

Also: state funding, zoological collection, Jazz Pie Music
Michigan Student Assembly leaders distribute T-shirts to UM regents and administrators

Michigan Student Assembly president Abhishek Mahanti, far left, points to Royster Harper, UM's vice president for student affairs. MSA leaders distributed "Go Blue – Beat OSU" T-shirts to UM regents and administrators at the Nov. 19 regents meeting. The T-shirts were not effective in ensuring a Michigan victory on Saturday. (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan Board of Regents (Nov. 19, 2009): Some media outlets that attended the Nov. 19 regents meeting didn’t get what they came for – namely, comments from UM president Mary Sue Coleman regarding the ongoing NCAA investigation of the university’s football program.

What they heard instead was a report on a five-year initiative to use UM’s physical space more efficiently, including its classrooms and labs. The meeting also included a brief report on the outlook for state funding, discussion of renovations to house the Museum of Zoology’s extensive specimen collection, a question about the band Jazz Pie Music.

President’s Opening Remarks

UM president Mary Sue Coleman typically begins each meeting of the board of regents with remarks highlighting university achievements over the past month. This month, she applauded UM chemistry professor Brian Coppola for being named 2009 U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. “This is a big deal,” she said, adding that it speaks volumes for the quality of UM undergraduate education. She also cited the fact that seven UM faculty and 28 students were awarded Fulbrights for 2009-10, leading the nation in a tie – with Michigan State University, she said, smiling.

Moving on, Coleman described going to the Ann Arbor office of Google recently, and asking how many of the employees there were UM graduates. About 80% raised their hand, she said. Many of them had left the state but returned for the job at Google – an example of how Google is enticing college grads to return to Michigan, she said.

Coleman also noted that UM was recently honored by the Ann Arbor Business Review’s Deals of the Year for its purchase of the former Pfizer research campus, now known as the North Campus Research Complex. The NCRC was recognized for its potential as a catalyst for innovation within the state, she said.

Coleman’s remarks were perhaps most notable for what she didn’t address – recent news that UM athletic director Bill Martin planned to retire next year, an ongoing NCAA investigation into UM’s football program, and results of a UM internal audit earlier in the week that revealed a lapse in mandatory reporting on the amount of hours that football players spend in practice. Her silence on that front actually resulted in a few news articles – several members of the media had attended the meeting specifically to report that issue.

Regent and board chair Andy Richner did address the topic, briefly, following Coleman’s opening remarks. After praising Coleman for her recent inclusion by Time magazine as one of the nation’s top 10 college presidents, Richner said that obviously the NCAA investigation had resulted in a lot of media interest and concern. He said that regents had been well-informed about the status of the investigation, but that they’d been advised by counsel not to comment at this time.

So they didn’t.

Space Utilization Plan

UM Provost Teresa Sullivan introduced a presentation about the university’s space utilization initiative by describing it as a five-year plan aimed at using current buildings most effectively. The project focuses only on general fund space – that is, buildings that are paid for out of the university’s taxpayer-supported general fund budget. That excludes athletics, housing, the health system and parking, she said.

Frances Mueller, the initiative’s project manager, gave a formal presentation, noting that the effort began in 2007 as part of a broader cost-containment effort. The goal is to limit the need for future expansion, make sure that the university’s best spaces are being fully used, and contribute to UM’s energy efficiency efforts.

The approach is to encourage a greater sharing of space, converting space that’s been under-utilized, and changing the culture on campus. In the past, Mueller said, space was considered a free good. Some people believed that once they were allotted space, it was theirs indefinitely. But in fact, it’s an institutional resource, she said, and should be used for the university’s highest-priority needs.

As part of the initiative, the university is developing processes and policies for space utilization. For example, units that request major expansion projects are required to provide analysis of their current space usage. Standard reporting procedures have been put in place to track the use of classrooms and research labs, as well as energy usage within buildings.

Mueller said the university has developed time utilization reports, which provide a detailed look at usage by day and by hour. The goal is to reach 70% time utilization, and 65% seat utilization – that is, to have a classroom occupied 70% of the time, at 65% occupancy within the room.

Another goal: By the fall of 2010, all general-purpose classrooms campus-wide will be shared and made available for scheduling between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon. Historically, Mueller said, individual academic units had control over their classroom space. The project is also looking at shared computing space as well as facilities for animals used in research, which might be consolidated, she said. Consolidation would free up space to be used for other purposes.

The university is also looking at ways to convert existing space into new uses. Mueller cited the examples of converting classrooms in the Dennison building on East University into office space, and renovating the former University Stores warehouse on Varsity Drive into storage space for the Museum of Zoology collection – a project discussed later in the meeting. The goal is to decrease lease costs by over $1 million and avoid construction costs in the tens of millions, she said.

Mueller said that their efforts have been able to slow the university’s average annual growth rate, as measured by square footage of general fund space. From 2000 to 2007, that rate was 1.84% – it has since slowed to 0.45%, she said. Mueller estimates that the university is saving $185 million in one-time construction costs and $7.5 million in annual operating costs, because of the slower growth rate.

Overall, Mueller said that the past two and a half years have been laying the foundation. “Those things are just starting to show results now,” she said.

Regent Libby Maynard asked what kind of pushback Mueller had received from faculty. “You don’t have to name names,” she joked. Mueller said that when she began this job, she held a lot of focus groups and quickly realized that “space is an incredibly sensitive topic” – a remark that drew laughs from regents and administrators. She said she’s worked hard to build relationships, and consults with a faculty advisory group. “They may not always like what we’re doing, but I think they understand it.”

Several regents asked questions about space utilization during off-peak hours, like evenings and weekends. Regent Larry Deitch asked Sullivan, “What happened to the 8 o’clock class?” Sullivan said that when deans approach her with requests for more space, they know she’ll respond by saying there’s lots of space available before 10 in the morning or on Fridays. As they build a database for central scheduling, it will be easier to figure out what space is available, and when, she said. For example, the use of space in the evening will likely increase because there’s high demand from student groups, but now it’s difficult to find out what rooms are open. With a central database, “that’ll be easy,” Sullivan said.

Report from Lansing

Cynthia Wilbanks, UM’s vice president for government relations, gave a brief report on state funding for higher education, in the context of other financial challenges that legislators in Lansing are confronting. Since her last report, she said, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed the higher education budget for the current fiscal year, which allots $316 million for UM’s general fund, plus an additional $8.7 million in one-time federal stimulus funding.

State revenues continue to decline, Wilbanks said – that’s been the case for months. In addition, federal stimulus funding that at one point was expected to support higher educations funding through fiscal 2011 is now almost depleted, and either won’t be available at all or will be significantly lower than anticipated. To be eligible for federal stimulus dollars earmarked for higher education, a state must fund its higher education budget at a level at or above its funding in 2005-06 – a so-called “maintenance of effort” level. Wilbanks said it’s possible that Michigan will ask for a maintenance-of-effort waiver from the feds, meaning that funding for higher education could go below its 2005-06 level.

Wilbanks reported that departments within the state have been asked to cut their budgets by double-digit percentages. All of these are factors to consider as the university begins its planning for fiscal 2011, she said.

MSA President: T-Shirt, Anyone?

Abhishek Mahanti, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, began his monthly report to regents by talking about the funding situation in Lansing and the recent cuts to the Michigan Promise Scholarship. He said the vision in a quote by James B. Angell, UM’s longest-serving president – that the university’s mission is to provide “an uncommon education for the common man” – is slipping away. The MSA has been lobbying lawmakers, Mahanti said, and he thanked administrators for their support of a video project that allows students to record what it means to be a Promise scholar.

Mahanti noted that he was wearing a T-shirt rather than his usual suit and tie, “but I’m still dressed appropriately.” The shirts – with a “Go Blue! Beat OSU!” logo – were part of MSA’s warm-up to the football game on Saturday, and there were extra T-shirts for everyone who wanted one, he said. Part of the week’s festivities included a pizza-eating contest, and MSA vice president Mike Rorro – who also attended the regents meeting, had eaten six slices in a minute, Mahanti reported. “Was it Little Caesar’s?” joked regent Denise Ilitch, whose family owns that company. “No – don’t tell me!”

Construction, Renovation Projects

Jeff Hausman, director of the Detroit office of the architecture firm SmithGroup, gave an overview of the schematic design for renovations at a Varsity Drive warehouse – the new home for about 6 million specimens currently housed at the Alexander Ruthven Museums Building on central campus. That’s the majority of the “wet” collection – specimens stored in glass jars filled with highly combustible ethyl alcohol from UM’s Museum of Zoology.

The $17.6 million project, originally approved by regents in late 2008, includes renovating about 46,000 square feet at the Varsity Drive building. The site previously was a warehouse for University Stores – the zoology collection will take up only a portion of the space, and will be self-contained with its own climate controls and fire protection system. The same building also houses the UM Herbarium, which has its own climate control needs.

Hausman told regents that the renovations will include a new road for better fire-service access to the collection, as well as areas inside the building for students and faculty to conduct research. The project also includes renovations to about 6,800 square feet in the Ruthven building, said Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer. The project is expected to be finished in the summer of 2011.

The board approved the schematic design for this project. They also voted to approve several other projects, totaling an additional $13.8 million:

  • $6.3 million to renovate 61,000 gross square feet on seven floors of the Wolverine Tower office building, located at South State and Eisenhower. The project will be completed in the fall of 2011. Slottow warned regents that this renovation only covered a portion of the 225,000-square-foot, 11-story building – he said he’d likely be back in the future for additional work. About 700 university employees from five different units – including the department that Slottow supervises – work in the building.
  • $3.8 million for the 2010 information technology maintenance and replacement program. The project would include upgrading the data network between campus buildings as well as upgrades to the campus wireless network.
  • $2.2 million to renovate four existing labs for the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department and the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department, to be completed in the fall of 2010. The renovations would cover the first four floors of the Kraus building on North University Avenue, near the intersection with Thayer Street.
  • $1.5 million to replace a steam absorption chiller in the chemistry building, also located on North University Avenue. The university estimates the new equipment will result in $300,000 in utility savings each year.

How Is a Jazz Band a Conflict of Interest?

State 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. For example, UM athletic director Bill Martin is also owner of First Martin Corp., which owns office space that the university leases. These leases are required to come before the board for a vote.

In general, conflict-of-interest items are approved without comment, though on occasion regents will recuse themselves from voting if they have a connection with one of the parties involved. At their Nov. 19 meeting, however, regent Andrea Fischer Newman raised a question about one of the items. She wasn’t concerned about the conflict of interest – rather, she wanted to know why this particular item required regental approval. The item was a $900 payment to Jazz Pie Music.

Jazz Pie Music is a band that includes the musicians Roderick McDonald, Christopher Smith and James Dapogny – McDonald and Smith are also UM employees, and Dapogny is a professor emeritus. The UM Law School’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations wants to hire the band for a reunion tailgate party it’s holding. When a university employee stands to benefit from a contract that the university executes with an outside entity, these kinds of disclosures and approvals are required.

There is no dollar threshold that triggers the need for a conflict-of-interest vote, Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, told Newman. It’s the law. Regent Kathy White, an attorney and law professor at Wayne State University, agreed. “I just don’t think we have any discretion in this matter.”

The Jazz Pie Music item was unanimously approved, along with three additional conflict-of-interest disclosures. Regent Andy Richner recused himself from one of those items – a tech transfer agreement between the university and TruEnamel LLC, which is owned by Brian Clarkson, a UM professor of dentistry.

Public Commentary

Douglas Smith was the only person to speak to regents during the time set aside for public commentary. He had previously spoken at the regents’ Sept 17, 2009 meeting concerning an incident with the UM Department of Public Safety. This month his comments also were related to DPS. From the Sept. 17 Chronicle coverage of his remarks:

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.

At the Nov. 19 meeting, Smith told regents that he was concerned about how the trespass warning is being used by campus police, particularly in how it’s being applied to students and faculty. The process, if abused, “can ruin careers and crush dreams,” he said. He asked regents to have the DPS oversight committee review the policies regarding the use of the trespass warning.

Following his comments, regent Denise Ilitch asked Smith how frequently trespass warnings are issued. Smith says that when it occurs, it’s devastating. The university needs to balance the individual’s rights with the safety concerns of the community. He said you don’t need to file a written complaint against a person – you just have to contact DPS. There’s no process by which to determine whether an individual is truly dangerous, he said.

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

Next board meeting: Thursday, Dec. 17 at 3 p.m. in the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman chaired the Nov. 19 meeting of the UM Board of Regents, wielding the gavel with her left arm. Her right arm is broken and in a cast wrapped in a neon maize bandage. (Photo by the writer.)

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman chaired the Nov. 19 meeting of the UM Board of Regents despite the yellow cast on her left arm. In the foreground is regent Andrea Fischer Newman. (Photo by the writer.)