UM Regents Road Trip to Grand Rapids

Brandon promotes stadium suites; parking rates raised

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (April 15, 2010): Under the high ceilings and crystal chandelier of an historic hotel in downtown Grand Rapids, university regents and administrators gathered Thursday for their monthly meeting in a venue designed to recognize UM’s ties with the western part of the state.

Dave Brandon

Dave Brandon addressed the UM Board of Regents for the first time publicly as athletic director, speaking at their April 15 meeting at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids. (Photos by the writer.)

Though most of the meeting entailed presentations and reports – focused on UM programs with links to the Grand Rapids area and western Michigan – the regents also unanimously approved several action items, with little discussion.

Increases for parking permit fees – 3% in each of the next three fiscal years – were set, as was the transfer of the Henry Ford Estate to the nonprofit Ford House foundation. The estate had been given to UM in the 1950s along with land that became the university’s Dearborn campus. Regents also approved a major expansion of the Institute for Social Research building on Thompson Street.

During public commentary, two leaders of the lecturers’ union spoke to regents, charging that UM lecturers are being asked to shoulder an unfair burden as the university tries to cut costs. The union is negotiating with the administration for a new contract – its current contract expires May 15.

After the meeting – held at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel – regents, executives and staff headed over to the nearby J.W. Marriott hotel for a reception hosted by the UM Alumni Association.

Opening Remarks

Mary Sue Coleman began Thursday’s meeting by noting that many of the regents and administrators had been in town since Wednesday, meeting with community and academic leaders in Grand Rapids. She noted that there are already many connections between the university and the western side of the state, pointing out that the president of Grand Valley State University, Tom Haas, is a UM graduate.

Another link comes through the Michigan College Advising Corps, a statewide initiative that UM announced on Thursday. The program aims to increase the number of low-income, first-generation and underserved students entering college by recruiting and training recent UM graduates to work full-time for up to two years as college advisers in underserved high schools. It will launch this fall in eight communities, Coleman said, including five in western Michigan: Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Grand Rapids, Jackson, and Muskegon.

Coleman noted that the university is preparing for President Obama’s visit to the May 1 commencement in Ann Arbor, which Gov. Jennifer Granholm will also attend – among about 80,000 others. The ceremony will be broadcast live on the Big 10 Network starting at 10:30 a.m., and will be streaming live on the UM website. “It’s going to be an exciting day,” Coleman said.

Board chair Andy Richner gave brief remarks as well, saying that Thursday’s meeting underscored the strong connections between the university and Grand Rapids. He said he was especially glad to be in this particular venue – the Gerald R. Ford Ballroom – because it honors the legacy of Ford, “who just happens to be a graduate of the University of Michigan.” He promised that regents would more regularly visit the western part of the state. Their last meeting in Grand Rapids was held in 1998.

Wayman Britt, Cynthia Wilbanks, Mary Sue Coleman

At left: Wayman Britt, Kent County's assistant county administrator, talks with UM vice president for government relations Cynthia Wilbanks and UM president Mary Sue Coleman before the start of the UM regents meeting in Grand Rapids.

Speaking on behalf of the Grand Rapids community was another UM graduate: Wayman Britt, Kent County’s assistant county administrator. Britt told regents that he had been captain of the UM men’s basketball team, which had gone to the NCAA final four in 1976. His daughters also went to school at Michigan, he said.

Britt was glad to see a strengthening of ties between the university and the Grand Rapids area, saying “we know how to get it done here in west Michigan.” One example: The State Games of Michigan, which launches in June and is co-chaired by Britt. He concluded by saying he hoped to see growing enrollment at UM from the western part of the state, and that he looked forward to regents regularly visiting Grand Rapids and Kent County.

New Athletic Director Promotes Upcoming Events

Though he was hired earlier this year and has been on the job about five weeks, Thursday was the first time that Dave Brandon had attended a regents meeting to address the board publicly as athletic director. Himself a former regent, Brandon gave an update on Michigan Stadium renovations and spoke briefly about the football program – though not mentioning or even alluding to the NCAA investigation of the program and coach Rich Rodriguez’ coaching practices.

Brandon reported that the stadium renovations will be done in time for the Sept. 4, 2010 season opener against the University of Connecticut. “I’m here to say there are plenty of suites and club seats still available,” he quipped. [The $226 million renovation project includes 83 private suites and 3,200 indoor and outdoor club seats.]

Brandon noted that tours of the suites will be given during this Saturday’s spring football game at the stadium. The free event allows fans to watch the team’s final spring practice, and will raise money for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital through sponsorships and donations. [Brandon, with his wife Jan and Lloyd and Laurie Carr, are leading the fundraising campaign for the new hospital.]

Brandon said he’d had the chance to see some practices, and reported that the football team “looks terrific.” The players are “less young than they were a year ago,” he said, and have a better understanding of what big-time college football is all about.

In addition to football, Brandon highlighted several other UM sports. The Dec. 11, 2010 “Big Chill” will turn Michigan Stadium into a hockey arena, he said, between rivals Michigan and Michigan State. They’re hoping to break the world attendance record for spectators at an outdoor hockey game.

Spring sports teams are doing well, he said. Women’s softball, coached by Carol Hutchins, consistently ranks No. 1 or 2 in the nation – the previous day, they’d given Central Michigan an 8-0 “drubbing,” Brandon noted. Among the other sports he cited were the women’s gymnastics team, which recently won the Big 10 championship, and women’s water polo, which won its division title for the third consecutive year. There’s a lot of positive energy in the athletics program, he said.

In wrapping up, Brandon said that while they’d been making Michigan Stadium more beautiful, that made Crisler Arena look “even less beautiful.” He was looking forward to starting a major renovation project there. [Regents previously approved a $23 million addition to Crisler – a two-story, 57,000-square-foot basketball training facility that 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. Another $20 million will be spent on renovations to the existing arena.]

Brandon said the Crisler project will get underway as soon as Obama departs.

Parking Rate Increase

Regents unanimously approved were informed about increases for parking permits – 3% in each of the next three years. The change means that the highest-level Gold permit will increase from $1,443 this year to $1,577 by FY 2013, while Blue permits jump from $611 to $667 over that same period.

Chart of UM parking permit increases

UM parking permit increases 2010-2013. (Links to larger image)

Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, told regents that the additional revenues were needed to help pay for the university’s parking infrastructure. He noted that in FY 2010, they’d held rates flat for all permits except Gold, which had increased by 4.5%.

According to a cover memo about the increases, parking revenues help fund debt service for new construction, as well as operations and annual maintenance projects. Capital projects include an addition to the Thompson Street parking structure and the Fuller Road Station, a joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project that includes a large parking structure.

The memo states that fees for Gold permits are in line with rates charged by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority. [The DDA charges $130 for monthly parking permits to city structures, or $1,560 per year.]

Other Capital Projects

Two other major projects were approved on Thursday: an expansion to the Institute for Social Research (ISR), and an upgrade to the pneumatic tube system at the UM hospitals.

Institute for Social Research

A four-level, $23 million expansion is planned for ISR, adding 44,700 gross square feet to the existing building at 426 Thompson St. Another 7,200 square feet will be renovated. The project, to be designed by the architectural firm of Lord, Aeck & Sargent Inc., will be paid for in part by federal stimulus funds via a grant from the National Institutes of Health. The expansion will allow the institute to house its research programs under one roof.

ISR’s director, James Jackson, attended Thursday’s meeting but did not address the regents.

Pneumatic Tube Upgrade

This $3 million project will entail improvements to an extensive pneumatic tube system that’s used to transfer patient materials among 120 stations in multiple buildings at UM’s medical complex, including the University Hospital, Cancer Center, Taubman Health Care Center, and Maternal Child Health Center. It will also integrate the system into the new C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital.

According to a cover memo about the project, the upgrade is expected to increase delivery times by 30-40%, and increase the system’s throughput during peak times from 150 to 200 transactions per hour.

Handing over the Henry Ford Estate

Regents unanimously approved transferring the Henry Ford Estate – Fair Lane to the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, a nonprofit foundation. The property – originally the residence of Henry and Clara Ford – had been given to the university in 1957 by the Ford Motor Co., along with a $6.5 million donation. The gift helped UM establish its Dearborn Campus, located adjacent to the estate.

The transfer includes the main house, powerhouse, greenhouse, dam, garage, boathouse and surrounding property. Also included in the transfer are personal property on the estate, and endowment funds that had been restricted for use on the estate.

UM has been paying more than $300,000 annually for upkeep on the estate, and an estimated $12 million investment is needed over the next 10 years in infrastructure improvements. The estate is designated a National Historic Landmark.

Several regents noted that it was unusual for the university to give away property – it’s a deal that’s been discussed for several years. Mary Sue Coleman said she was pleased that they were able to arrive at this outcome.

Public Commentary: Lecturers’ Union

At the end of the meeting, two speakers during public commentary focused on current negotiations between the university and the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO).

Elizabeth Axelson: Noting that she’d been a lecturer at UM for 20 years and is currently lead negotiator for LEO, Axelson said they’d initially been heartened to hear the provost say that budget goals could be met without layoffs, with resources for some new initiatives, and a “moderate salary program.” But that’s not what’s being offered to lecturers, she said.

Elizabeth Axelson

Elizabeth Axelson, lead negotiator for the Lecturer Employees Organization (LEO).

Minimum salaries for the classification of Lecturer I or II are $31,000 in Ann Arbor, $26,000 in Dearborn and $25,000 in Flint, she said. The median full-time lecturer salary in Ann Arbor is $44,000. This is less than the starting pay for new high school teachers with a master’s degree, she noted, and less than the national average of $53,112 for lecturers, according to the American Association of University Professors.

LEO is asking for 3% annual raises over the next three years. The goal is to eventually gain equity with the teaching portion of the current median professor salary on each campus, Axelson said. The university has offered 1.75% increases for Ann Arbor lecturers. For Flint and Dearborn, raises would be tied to those given to tenure-track faculty, which could be flat. There would be no increase in minimum salaries.

Axelson said the university’s new cost-sharing proposal for benefits, which requires employees to bear more of the cost for health care, will effectively eliminate the 1.75% increase. LEO estimates that the average lecturer will end up losing about 4%.

Axelson also told regents that the union’s vice president, Kirsten Herold, who has taught in the English department for 18 years, had not been reappointed. “We see her non-reappointment as an abuse of the performance evaluation provisions of the contract; it would be a wrong move at any time, but doing it now looks like intimidation.”

She concluded by saying that lecturers were willing to share the burden of a difficult economy, but should not be expected to bear a greater burden than full-time employees who are better paid. “We hope you can help us achieve the goals of greater equity, a fair part of cost sharing, and a moderate salary program, at the bargaining table,” she said.

Catherine Daligga: Speakers for public commentary are required to sign up in advance – Kirsten Herold had signed up, but was unable to attend. Instead, Daligga read remarks prepared by Herold.

The remarks outlined the impact of layoffs on students in the College of Literature, Science & the Arts (LSA). First-year winter semester writing courses were full for the first time ever, with students being wait-listed, faced with having to take the course next year instead. One of Herold’s students wasn’t able to get into a fourth semester of Spanish until eight months after completing her third-term course. The student has experienced problems getting into other courses as well, and is concerned that she won’t be able to complete her degree in four years. (Herold’s statement noted that if the meeting had been held in Ann Arbor, the student would have been able to attend and speak directly to regents.)

With 6% budget cuts coming over the next three years, the worst is yet to come, according to Herold. They’ve heard that cuts are being discussed that would affect the heart of the undergraduate curriculum – for example, discussion sections for physics, which are taught by lecturers, as well as courses in psychology and first-year Spanish. Anthropology is cutting its part-time lecturers, and at least half of physics lecturers expect to lose their jobs, Herold noted. English lecturers are being replaced by graduate students.

The anxiety across the college is palpable, according to Herold. And LEO members are angry that they seem to be bearing a larger share of the burden – or in some cases, like Spanish, all of the cuts. It’s not clear that tenure-track faculty will be moved into courses that were previously taught by lecturers. If not, Herold pointed out that undergraduates in particular will be affected.

Michigan Student Assembly: New President

Former Michigan Student Assembly president Abhishek Mahanti was on hand to introduce MSA’s new president, Chris Armstrong, who was elected to that office in March. Mahanti described Armstrong as someone who’s “got a laugh that can light up an entire room.” Armstrong told regents that his priorities for the coming year would be to push for Saturday night dining and gender-neutral housing options. He also hopes to work with the administration on prohibiting exams on election days.

Armstrong brought up the fact that he’s received a lot of attention – including some national media – because he’s the university’s first openly gay student body president. The attention wasn’t something he sought, Armstrong said, but it was an opportunity to engage students in a positive way, and he’s excited for what that means to others on campus.

Presentations: Highlighting the Grand Rapids Connection

Regents heard four presentations during Thursday’s meeting that each touched on a link to the western side of the state. The meeting also included a signing ceremony for a new pharmacy admissions program.

Pharmacy Partnership Agreement

Near the beginning of the meeting, the presidents and provosts of UM and Grand Valley State University, along with UM pharmacy dean Frank Ascione, moved to a table in the corner of the room to officially sign a partnership agreement between the two institutions establishing the Pharmacy Preferred Admission Program. The program reserves up to eight spots each year in the UM College of Pharmacy‘s doctoral program, set aside for students from Grand Valley State who complete certain pre-pharmacy undergraduate coursework. The Grand Rapids-based university doesn’t have a pharmacy school.

Tom Haas, president of Grand Valley State, spoke briefly before the signing ceremony. He recalled that three years ago he, UM president Mary Sue Coleman and provosts from both institutions had lunch to discuss ways of partnering. The first result of that effort was a preferred-admission agreement signed last year, allowing UM kinesiology students to enter Grand Valley’s graduate program in occupational therapy. The pharmacy program is the second significant agreement, he said. “We’ll continue to look for those kinds of opportunities for continued mutual gain for the state of Michigan.”

Elementary Mathematics Laboratory

Deborah Ball, dean of UM’s School of Education, described the Elementary Mathematics Laboratory that will be expanding this summer to Grand Rapids. The two-week program is a combination teaching and research effort, bringing in students who’ll be entering the fifth grade and who are struggling with math. They receive intensive training, both in a classroom and with one-on-one tutors.

The “lab” component comes into play because the teaching is observed by researchers, veteran teachers, teachers-in-training, mathematicians and others who are interested in how kids learn and how teachers teach. They’re trying to understand why different teachers – given the same resources and environment – achieve dramatically different academic outcomes for their students. Their findings can be used in teacher training and instructional design.

The lab is a prototype that the school would like to develop more broadly, Ball said – they’re planning to launch a secondary-level lab this summer in Ann Arbor.

After the presentation, UM president Mary Sue Coleman held up a copy of the March 2, 2010 New York Times Magazine – Coleman said she saw it and thought the woman on the cover looked like Ball, and sure enough, it was. Ball was featured extensively in the issue’s cover story, “Building a Better Teacher.”

Research on Down Syndrome and Autism

Up next was Dale Ulrich, a UM kinesiology professor whose research focuses on people with Down Syndrome and autism. He described growing concerns over childhood obesity, and noted that the problem is even greater among kids with Down Syndrome, because they tend to be more inactive than the general population. Less than 10% know how to ride a two-wheel bike, for example. Medical advancements have extended the life span for people with Down Syndrome, he said, but what’s being done to improve their quality of life?

Ulrich leads the UM Center for Motor Behavior and Pediatric Disabilities, and discussed the work they’ve done at week-long bike-training clinics, including ones held in the Grand Rapids area. [Link to video about the bike camp] The camp uses bikes equipped with special rollers instead of back wheels – working one-on-one with aides and gradually adapting the rollers, most of the children are able to ride a regular bike by the end of the week, Ulrich said. The more remarkable thing is to see how their lives change after learning to ride, he said, as they gain self-confidence and independence.

The center has partnered with Grand Valley State’s College of Health Professions, among others, to develop a research project based on these efforts. Steelcase Foundation funded initial pilot studies, and now the project has received a $596,000 federal grant from the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research. The funds will support a three-year intervention program, with the goal of reducing sedentary behavior and body fat, increasing social skills and interaction, and increasing participation in community activities.

Offshore Wind Energy Research

Dennis Assanis, director of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute at UM, described a large-scale research project aimed at studying offshore wind energy. The institute is partnering with Grand Valley State’s Michigan Alternative and Renewable Energy Center, led by Arn Boezaart.

Studying offshore wind energy is important, in light of the country’s reliance on fossil fuels, Assanis said – there are compelling environmental, economic and national security issues involved. Wind is an untapped renewable energy resource, and a great opportunity for Michigan to create clean energy jobs, he said: “We know very well how to design drive-trains,” needed for wind turbines.

The project aims to build a research platform and tower in Lake Michigan, to collect data and push forward the commercial wind-energy development in the Great Lakes. To do that, they are trying to raise an additional $5 million, having already secured $1.427 million from the U.S. Dept. of Energy, $1.336 million from the Michigan Public Service Commission and $334,100 from UM. Additional funding will likely come from the private sector.

Boezaart described several things they’d like to learn from the research, including: 1) the impact of the environment on the platform and tower, 2) how the tower and platform impact the environment, 3) how to navigate the licensing, permitting and regulatory process, 4) the economic potential for the Michigan’s lakeshore region and western part of the state.

Boezaart said they need to move quickly, because other states and countries are leading the way with research and technology development. “Wish us well and favorable winds,” he said, “because we’ll need those.”

UM Health System Collaboration

Jack Billi, UM associate vice president for medical affairs, spoke to regents about several statewide partnerships the University of Michigan Health System has formed to improve the quality of care and cut costs.

The UM Faculty Practice Group was chosen five years ago as one of 10 sites nationwide to participate in the Medicare Demonstration Project – an effort to demonstrate how health care costs for Medicare patients can be lowered while at the same time improving prevention and care for chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension. UMHS is coordinating the project among doctors at 50 hospitals statewide. Aspects of this project were incorporated into the recently passed federal health care act, Billi said.

UMHS is also involved in the Physician Group Incentive Program, supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The university is helping 26 physician groups and more than 90 clinics statewide redesign care for patients with chronic illnesses, using “lean thinking” principles they learned from the auto industry, Billi said.

The Michigan Quality Improvement Consortium is another effort in which UMHS is playing a role. The project’s goal is to develop clinical practice guidelines and performance measures that can be adopted by health insurance plans statewide.

The bottom line, Balli said, is that it’s possible to lower costs and improve care at the same time. Collaboration, he added, is key to all of these efforts.

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

Next board meeting: Thursday, May 20 at 3 p.m. at the Fairlane Center on UM’s Dearborn campus, 19000 Hubbard Drive. [confirm date]


  1. By ChuckL
    April 18, 2010 at 1:34 pm | permalink

    It is infuriating that the likely increase in tuition will more than blow away any paltry increase the LEO members will get.

  2. April 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm | permalink

    UM Regents’ actions have significant impact on people and our area. We wouldn’t be where we are without the UM–for good or difficulty. The constitutional authority of the Regents puts them in a position to act within the protocols of the UM alone.
    Ten years ago, working on behalf of concerned residents, I worked to promote the transfer of UM property to a non-profit entity, as UM has now done with the Henry Ford Estate. In my example, the Dexter area property, known as Gordon Hall, had been donated to UM in 1951 and, after 50 years, deemed outside the UM educational mission. The plan was to divest. And indeed they did. Instead of donating the village founder’s estate to the community he founded, the UM’s choice to seek bids forced the community to raise money for the purchase–a stunning $1.5 million. Although it is “unusual”, the UM has the authority to return resources to the public in keeping with precedent. I wish “discussions” had resulted in a better outcome for Dexter’s Gordon Hall. The UM could have facilitated the ongoing project, but chose to do the opposite. Thanks instead, to continuing extraordinary community effort, Gordon Hall has “come back” to Dexter. It will just take longer, and more money, to make things right again, for a landmark also worthy of national status.