UM Research Highlighted at Regents Meeting

Also, public comments touch on DPS, parking, racial disparity

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Jan. 20, 2011): The university’s top research administrator, along with a faculty member who has successfully straddled the academic and entrepreneurial worlds, addressed regents at their January meeting about how university research is aiding economic development.

Stephen Forrest, David Lampe

Stephen Forrest, left, talks with David Lampe before the start of the Jan. 19, 2011 University of Michigan board of regents meeting. Forrest, UM's vice president for research, gave a presentation on the university's research efforts. Lampe is vice president for communications. (Photos by the writer.)

Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research and chair of the board for economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK, described the concept of an “innovation pipeline,” with the input of funding and ideas yielding an output of jobs, prosperity and expanded opportunities for faculty and students. The process has leaks and clogs, he noted, but the university has strategically applied patches – citing as an example the Venture Accelerator program that launched this month.

And Jim Baker, director of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences, was on hand to embody the efforts of faculty who successfully translate research into economic development. Baker’s talk focused on the rewards of creating new businesses – he observed that one reason why students come to UM is to enhance their economic prospects and improve their lives. Baker talked about the importance of keeping those graduates in Michigan to aid in the state’s economic recovery – and doing that requires jobs. He noted that the four companies he has helped launch in Ann Arbor have brought in $160 million in investments and created 45 new jobs so far.

Regents took action on several items during the meeting, including approval of two projects related to the athletics department: A $52 million renovation and expansion of Crisler Arena – the second phase of a major overhaul of that facility, which was built in 1968; and a $20 million project to install video scoreboards at Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena and Yost Ice Arena. David Brandon, UM’s athletic director, made a brief appearance at the meeting but did not address the regents publicly. And this month’s biggest athletic-related news at UM – that Brady Hoke was hired as head football coach – received only a mention as part of president Mary Sue Coleman’s opening remarks. He did not attend the meeting.

Seven people spoke during public commentary on a variety of topics. Among them were: (1) a call to reassess Fuller Road Station, a proposed parking structure and possible train station near UM’s medical campus; ( 2) questions about the medical leave of Ken Magee, executive director of UM’s Department of Public Safety (DPS); (3) thanks from the leader of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival for the university’s support of that annual event; (4) criticism of the use of live animals to train survival flight nurses; and (5) a plea for financial support for The Loyal Opposition to the Status Quo (LOSQ), a nonprofit launched to address disparities between African-Americans and Caucasians.

President’s Opening Remarks

Mary Sue Coleman began by saying she was honored to have been in the state capitol the previous night to attend Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address. He delivered a powerful vision for the state and its return to prominence, she said, and public universities will play a role in that rejuvenation. The state is facing serious economic challenges, and “as a university, we are ready to do our part” for Michigan’s recovery, Coleman said. She noted that they were also awaiting word on the state budget, which will include appropriations for Michigan’s public universities.

A strong spirit of enthusiasm and optimism isn’t limited to Lansing, Coleman said. She welcomed Brady Hoke as UM’s new football coach, and thanked the campus community for making him feel welcome. They all sense his deep affection for the university, she said, and they’re looking forward to the 2011 season.

Mary Sue Coleman, Nancy Asin

University of Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman, left, talks with Nancy Asin, assistant secretary of the university, before the start of Thursday's regents meeting.

Coleman then highlighted several honors recently bestowed on people connected with the university. Nine faculty members had recently been named as fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a prestigious honor. Allen Kim, a UM engineering student, was named College Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur magazine. He was recognized for his startup Bebarang, a baby clothes rental service. Of the five finalists for that award, two were from UM, which Coleman said speaks volumes for how the university is embracing the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Two new university building projects received architectural awards, Coleman noted: (1) the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) was given the 2011 American Institute of Architects (AIA) Honor Award for Architecture, one of the top honors in that field; and (2) the newly expanded Michigan Stadium was given a Best of the Best Award by McGraw-Hill Construction. Each building provides entertainment and inspiration, Coleman said, adding that it’s wonderful to see recognition for the extensive work that’s gone into them.

University Research & Economic Development

The meeting’s main presentation – by Stephen Forrest and Jim Baker – focused on the university’s research efforts. Forrest is UM’s vice president for research; Baker is a faculty member who wears many hats, including as director of the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences and co-founder of several technology firms.

Forrest began with a bit of historical context, noting that the regents had passed a resolution in 1996 that supports a strong technology transfer program as an “integral component” of the university’s overall mission. The statement of support had far-reaching implications, he said – it seems passive, but a lot of activity has flowed from that.

Rick Snyder, who helped launch the economic development agency Ann Arbor SPARK, and Mike Finney, who served as its president, have recently risen to positions of extreme importance statewide, Forrest noted – Snyder as governor, and Finney as head of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., an appointment made by Snyder. Snyder and Finney both expect universities to participate in the state’s recovery, he said – and “that’s not a passive expectation.” They expect action. But UM can’t be “green” in a brown field, Forrest said. If the state overall isn’t prosperous, the university won’t be able to attract the students and faculty they need.

Graphic of an "Innovation Pipeline"

Graphic of an "Innovation Pipeline." (Links to larger image)

The old model of a university as an ivory tower is outdated – now, UM bleeds out into the city and beyond, making it a “rather blurry-edged university,” he said. Partnerships with other organizations – including government entities, universities, industry and international institutions – create a university that’s connected, he said.

Forrest showed a Rube Goldberg-esque graphic of an “innovation pipeline” to illustrate the dynamic nature of the research process, and obstacles potentially blocking that process – he observed, for example, that university culture can act like a wad of hair or steel wool in the pipeline. The goal is to identify leaks, breaks and blockages, and patch them, he said. The outcome is jobs and prosperity.

One of those patches recently hit the news, Forrest said: UM’s Venture Accelerator, a new business incubator that opened earlier this month at the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), the former Pfizer site. About 500 people attended the grand opening, he said, and most of them were from outside the university.

Though they’ve been talking about a business incubator for more than a decade, it was the regents’ decision to buy the Pfizer site that “flipped a switch” to make it happen, he said.

Saying that if they aspire to be the best, they’d better know where they stand now, Forrest showed a chart comparing UM to peer institutions in three research metrics: Licensing agreements, number of start-ups using university technology, and revenues from intellectual property – for example, from royalties on licensed research or from an equity stake in a company.

Chart showing research metrics at various universities

Chart showing research metrics at various universities. (Image links to higher resolution file.)

Agreements are important because they show what’s at the beginning of the pipeline, Forrest said. He also cautioned that revenues can be “bursty,” reflecting perhaps just one technology that “hits” for a particular period. Overall, UM is in the top tier, he observed, “but we’re definitely not at the top.”

At UM, revenues from technology transfer approached $40 million in fiscal 2010, which Forrest attributed in large part to one-time revenues from the licensing agreement for FluMist, which was developed at the university. This year, that figure will likely be significantly lower.

Forrest then announced the recipients of the 2011 Distinguished University Innovator Award: Ken Wise and Khalil Najafi, who are both faculty focused on microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. They’ve spurred their students to start many companies based on academic research, Forrest said, making UM “the center of the MEMS world, which is a big world.”

Forrest concluded his remarks by saying there’s urgency to take advantage of the current climate. Because of changes in Lansing, the Ann Arbor SPARK model will be rolled out across the state, he said. [Forrest serves as chair of SPARK's board of directors.] He appealed to the regents to be patient, saying there is no quick fix or single action that will improve the innovation pipeline, “but I think we’re well on our way.”

Jim Baker focused his part of the presentation on the rewards of creating new businesses. Students come to UM to improve their lives, he said – and part of that includes enhancing their economic prospects. He reported taking his daughter on a university admissions tour, and observed that many parents looked distressed – most of their questions during a Q&A related to financial aid, he said. They want a better life for their children – for the university, he said, “this mission can’t be ignored.”

UM has a heritage of providing opportunities that aren’t available elsewhere, Baker continued. As an example, he noted that he graduated from Williams College in 1975 – the first year that the institution admitted female students. [UM admitted its first female student in 1870.]

Current challenges make this role of economic enhancement crucial, he argued. There’s a widening economic disparity, especially in Michigan. Our future is knowledge-based, he said, and most wealth creation will be due to new businesses. That was part of the governor’s message in his State of the State address, Baker said.

Baker acknowledged that universities don’t create jobs, but said that their actions can support job creation. They need to change their culture in order to help entrepreneurs thrive, and to keep them from leaving Michigan. Baker noted that he’s CEO of NanoBio, a company he co-founded. He’s not CEO by choice, he added, but rather because it’s difficult to recruit someone to take that job.

He asked, rhetorically, whether it’s possible to change their culture in this way while still maintaining UM’s high academic standards. Yes, he said – and doing so will put more emphasis on translating basic research into marketable applications, provide for a broader range of research activities, and bring in support from a wider variety of sources.

The four companies that Baker has helped launch – NanoBio, Avidimer Therapeutics, PhotonAffinity, and BioPartners LLC – have brought in $160 million in investments, including $30 million in the past 18 months, he said, creating 45 new jobs.

Baker concluded by saying that he hoped these companies could serve as examples to students, showing them how to improve their own lives, “and more importantly, keep their lives here in Michigan.”

After his presentation, regent Larry Deitch told Baker they were honored to have him as part of the university community. Deitch asked what they could do better – in what ways is the university not supporting faculty who are brilliant researchers and would-be entrepreneurs?

Baker replied that they often talk about needing money or lab space, but the most important thing is people. Every year, the university brings 6,000 of the most remarkable kids in the country to UM, he said. The university needs to find a way to keep them here. If students graduate and stay in Michigan rather than leave for jobs in Chicago or the coasts, it would transform Michigan’s culture, he contended. Graduates need to know that there’s an opportunity here to make their mark.

Capital Projects: Crisler Arena, Scoreboards, Tunnels

Regents approved several building-related projects at their Jan. 20 meeting, including two items that weren’t on the original agenda: A $52 million second phase of renovations at Crisler Arena, and a $20 million project to add video scoreboards at Crisler, Michigan Stadium and Yost Ice Arena. In introducing the items at the table, UM chief financial officer Tim Slottow cited the tight timetable the projects are under as a reason for being added at the last minute. UM president Mary Sue Coleman added that this wasn’t their preferred method of handling it, but said that in this case, it was necessary.

Tim Slottow

Tim Slottow, UM's chief financial officer.

Crisler Arena Renovations

Regents unanimously approved a $52 million renovation and expansion of Crisler Arena – the second phase of a major overhaul of that facility, which was built in 1968. The new construction will add about 63,000 square feet for new retail spaces, spectator entrances, ticketing areas and a private club space. About 54,000 square feet will be renovated to improve Americans with Disability Act accessibility, and increase the number of restrooms and concession stands, among other things.

Regents also approved TMP Architecture of Bloomfield Hills, working with Denver-based Sink Combs Dethlefs, to design the project. At their January 2010 meeting, regents had approved a $23 million phase one renovation of infrastructure and replacement of spectator seating at Crisler. A schematic design for that phase was approved in July.

The same architecture firms also designed the new basketball player development center at Crisler, a two-story, $23.2 million addition that will be completed later this year. That project was approved by regents in September 2009.

Video Scoreboards

In a second sports-related agenda item, regents unanimously approved a $20 million project to install video scoreboards at Michigan Stadium, Crisler Arena and Yost Ice Arena. The high-definition scoreboards will be put in place before the start of the 2011-12 season.

In addition, the Michigan Sports Television production studio – which manages operation of the scoreboards – is relocating to Michigan Stadium. The studio is normally housed at Crisler, but will be at its temporary location until renovations at Crisler are completed in 2012-13.

Tunnel Refurbishment

Over the past few years, regents have approved several projects to repair and refurbish the utility tunnels that run underneath campus. An agenda item for a $2.55 million repair of a utility tunnel running under Huron Street received unanimous approval from regents at their Jan. 20 meeting. The project covers a 500-foot stretch of tunnel, with plans to completely replace about 120 feet and repair the rest of it with patches and epoxy injections. Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber – a Grand Rapids engineering and construction firm – will design the project, which is expected to be finished in the winter of 2012.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman joked that this must mean the tunnel system actually exists – it isn’t a myth. Slottow indicated that a tunnel tour could be arranged for her.

Institute for Social Research

The regents most recently got a report on Institute for Social Research activities at their September 2010 meeting, when director James Jackson gave an overview of ISR’s work. A $23 million expansion of ISR’s building on Thompson Street had been approved by the board in April – they signed off on the project’s schematic design in July.

This month, the regents unanimously approved a $1.5 million project to install a fire suppression system in the oldest part of the building, now known as Wing One. That 82,000-square-foot structure was built in 1965. According to a memo accompanying the request, the fire suppression system will eliminate the need for fire separation barriers between the existing building and the addition.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Regents authorized 10 items that required disclosure under the state’s Conflict of Interest statute. The 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.

This month, four disclosures related to leases between the university and start-up companies that are leasing space in UM’s North Campus Research Complex, as part of the Venture Accelerator program: Phrixus Pharmaceuticals Inc.; Civionics LLC; 3D Biomatrix Inc.; and Eng XT Inc.

The remaining disclosures involved deals with the following entities: TechSpek (website development); Cornell Farms (to house sheep for research purposes); ElectroDynamic Applications (to provide development support services for a 100 kW class Nested Hall Thruster); Li, Fischer, Lepech and Associates LLC (technology licensing agreement); Ascentage Pharma Group Corp. Ltd. (research agreement); and Proteostasis Therapeutics Inc. (research agreement).

There was no discussion on these items.

Michigan Student Assembly Report

Chris Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly, gave his monthly report to regents about MSA activities. Among the MSA’s projects are efforts to develop an open housing policy, improvements in course guides, and support of a petition requesting that UM stop using live animals in its survival flight nurse training.

Armstrong also noted the popularity of MSA’s Airbus service to Detroit Metro airport, reporting that over 2,000 students had used the service on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and even more people used it over the holidays. He said that MSA is working with UM’s parking and transportation office on a car rental service for student service groups. A similar program was previously offered by the university’s Ginsberg Center, but has been discontinued.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman asked about the rental car service – who has the liability for that? Armstrong said MSA was simply providing the funding. It was his understanding that liability issues caused the Ginsberg Center to drop the service. Sue Scarnecchia, UM’s general counsel, said this was the first she’d heard about the program – though she allowed that others in her office might be handling it. She assumed the program would be insured by the university, but told regents that she’d look into the matter.

Public Commentary

Seven people spoke at the end of the meeting, during the time set aside for public commentary.

Robb Woulfe

Robb Woulfe, executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

Robb Woulfe, executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, told regents that the festival is preparing to celebrate its 28th season, and he was there to say thanks for the university’s support. For 21 days each summer, the festival transforms Ann Arbor with its offering of music, films and other entertainment, drawing thousands of people to the city. It wouldn’t be possible without their partners, Woulfe said, particularly the university. He thanked them for supporting this community tradition.

Douglas Smith has spoken at several previous regents meetings, often criticizing the university and UM’s Department of Public Safety for its treatment of Andrei Borisov, who was dismissed as a research assistant professor in the university’s pediatrics department. [Smith also spoke at the Jan. 5, 2011 meeting of the Washtenaw County board of commissioners, questioning the use of Tasers by law enforcement officials.] At this month’s regents meeting, Smith began by asking “Where the heck is Kenny Magee?” He noted that DPS has been without leadership since Magee, the department’s executive director, went on paid medical leave in October 2010, and said that complaints filed with the department have been stymied. Smith said that the official reason given for Magee’s departure is medical leave, but he claimed that rumors are rampant that it’s related to sexual harassment allegations.

Ken Magee

Ken Magee, director of UM's Department of Public Safety, in a photo take at the Jan. 22, 2009 regents meeting.

Smith told regents that he has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the university for “any records or communications regarding any allegations, suspicions or complaints of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct” by Magee. However, he reported that his FOIA request has been denied, with the university citing attorney-client privilege. He said he was appealing the decision to the regents, asking them to overturn it and grant his request, which he doesn’t believe is covered by attorney-client privilege. He said he also doesn’t believe the university has provided all the documents that would be responsive to his FOIA request.

[By way of background, Magee – who grew up in Ann Arbor, and whose father was a UM professor of neurology – worked in a variety of law enforcement jobs, including with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), before returning to Ann Arbor. He was hired by the university to lead the DPS in November 2008.]

Magee’s attorney, Nick Roumel, said in a phone interview that they are aware of the rumors but that “the rumors aren’t true” and Magee is “absolutely on approved medical leave.” No investigation is being conducted, he said. Roumel acknowledged that Magee helps out at Antelope Antiques, but said he’s not employed there. Nor has he opened a magic shop, Roumel said, though he has leased retail space in the cluster of shops where Antelope is located. In general, UM considers outside employment acceptable if it doesn’t conflict with someone’s job duties at the university, Roumel said – again stressing that at this point, Magee is on medical leave and not working elsewhere.

In a phone interview with The Chronicle, UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said that Magee went on medical leave in October, and that there’s no investigation being conducted. Beyond that, he said the university does not comment on personnel issues.

Raymond Mullins introduced himself as an Ypsilanti native, and a graduate of Howard University and the UM law school. He has been president of the Ypsilanti/Willow Run chapter of the NAACP, and is a co-founder of The Loyal Opposition to the Status Quo (LOSQ). The nonprofit group was launched to address disparities between African-Americans and Caucasians, including the academic achievement gap, imprisonment and poverty. When members of LOSQ met with university officials last year seeking support, they were told that because of the state’s anti-affirmative action laws, UM can’t fund efforts to increase the academic proficiency of minority students, he said. In that case, Mullins said he was asking regents and university executives to direct his group toward development entities that could help LOSQ raise money to meet their goals.

Mullins said a major program to address these goals is called the LOSQ Challenge, aimed at helping minority students in grades 6-12 in the areas of visual and performing arts, humanities, sciences, math and business. They’ll be sponsoring a free event on Feb. 26 at the Peace Neighborhood Center in Ann Arbor – the Fourth Annual Celebration of African-American Life in Washtenaw County, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The LOSQ general membership meetings, which are open to the public, are held on the third Saturday of each month at 30 N. Washington St. in Ypsilanti, from 2-4 p.m.

Ellora Gupta came to the regents meeting to ask for their support of the 21st Asia Business Conference at UM’s Ross School of Business. Gupta is co-chair of this event, which will take place on Jan. 28-29 and feature 21 speakers on nine different panel discussions. The conference is only about 55% toward its fundraising goal, she said, and they need help in putting on this event, which she described as something that helps set UM apart from other institutions. Funds are raised by students, she noted, and it’s been difficult in this economy, especially since UM isn’t located in a business hub.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman asked whether Gupta’s group had talked to UM’s solar car team – that team does a great job in raising money, she noted. Newman encouraged the students to be creative in their fundraising, not just this year, but going forward. “I know you guys can figure this out,” she said.

Joel Batterman

UM graduate student Joel Batterman urged regents to explore alternatives to expanding their parking system, and to reassess the need for the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Joel Batterman, a graduate student in urban planning who is specializing in transportation issues, spoke to regents about the university’s transportation policies, in light of UM’s phase 2 draft reports for its Integrated Assessment of Campus Sustainability. [.pdf file of Batterman's remarks to regents]

Batterman pointed to findings that he said have significant implications for the university’s transportation policies, specifically as they relate to expanding its parking facililities. He described the university’s perceived parking capacity problem as really a problem of parking allocation. Though parking near the central campus and medical campus is at capacity, for example, many other lots – such as those in the north and south campus areas – are underutilized, with average vacancy rates of 20% and 28%. UM’s purchase of the former Pfizer facility, now called the North Campus Research Complex, has increased parking capacity even more.

Structuring the pricing system for parking to better match demand would prompt more people to use the existing park-and-ride lots and shuttle buses, Batterman said, which would make additional parking in high-demand areas unnecessary. It would also yield operational savings, he noted, and affect future investments. He observed that each parking space at the proposed Fuller Road structure is estimated to cost $44,000 – or the equivalent of undergraduate tuition for four years. Related to that, Batterman said he and others would be meeting with university and city staff to ask them to reassess the proposed $43 million Fuller Road Station, a joint city/UM parking structure, bus depot and possible train station located near UM’s medical campus. He urged regents to support an approach that would cut costs and pioneer innovative transportation solutions.

UM students Joseph Varilone and Akshay Verma both spoke against the use of animals in UM’s survival flight nurse training, strongly objecting to the practice. Varilone noted that in November 2010, the Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution urging the UM Health System’s Surivival Flight Course to use simulators rather than animals. The administration has been secretive about this issue and its policy is opaque, Varilone said – “we not only expect, we demand better.” Verma noted that animals feel pain and stress, just as humans do. He wondered how UM can claim to be “leaders and best” when they’re using an archaic pedagogical technique. [UMHS issued a statement last year regarding the use of animals in flight training.]

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Larry Deitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andrew Richner, Kathy White. Denise Ilitch participated in the meeting via conference call.

Absent: Julia Darlow, Martin Taylor.

Next board meeting: Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming Administration Building, 503 Thompson St., Ann Arbor. [confirm date]