UM Regents Hear from Grad Student Union

Also: UM president reacts to proposed state budget

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Feb. 17, 2011): About midway through Thursday’s meeting, dozens of graduate students quietly streamed into the boardroom, many of them carrying signs of protest and wearing brightly-colored T-shirts emblazoned with the Graduate Employees’ Organization logo.

University of Michigan graduate student research assistants and instructors at Feb. 17, 2011 regents meeting

University of Michigan graduate student research assistants and members of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO) crowded the boardroom at Feb. 17, 2011 board of regents meeting. (Photos by the writer.)

They came to support four speakers during public commentary, who were advocating for better benefits and working conditions for graduate student employees. Also speaking during public commentary were five professors from the medical school, urging regents to support a flexible “tenure clock” that would give faculty more time to achieve that professional milestone.

The meeting’s main presentation focused on international aspects of the university – students from other countries who study at UM, and American students who study abroad. Mark Tessler, vice provost for international affairs, told regents that three-quarters of the UM students who study abroad are female – they’re trying to find out why male students aren’t as interested.

The presentation led to several questions from regents, who wanted clarification about why UM doesn’t offer an international program in Israel. They also cited the importance of finding incentives to keep international students in Michigan after graduation.

Regents also voted on several items, mostly without discussion, including: approving the next step in a major renovation of Alice Lloyd Hall; giving departmental status to the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies; and officially naming the new Law School commons in honor of Bob Aikens, a UM alumnus who donated $10 million to the project.

Another UM alum, Gov. Rick Snyder, had released his proposed state budget earlier in the day. Prior to the meeting, several university executives huddled with Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations, to get updated on the implications for their own budget – funding for higher education is among the many cuts Snyder has proposed. President Mary Sue Coleman also addressed that issue in her opening remarks.

President’s Opening Remarks

President Mary Sue Coleman began by acknowledging that Gov. Rick Snyder had released his state budget proposal earlier in the day. Clearly the state faces severe budget challenges, she said, and will require shared sacrifices.

The university has anticipated this day, she said, and for years has been preparing for a reduction in state funding. The university faces substantial cuts in the governor’s budget, she noted. “There’s no denying this will be painful, but we are fully prepared to do our part.”

Tim Slottow, Cynthia Wilbanks, Jerry May, Phil Hanlon

Before the start of the Feb. 17 regents meeting, Cynthia Wilbanks, UM vice president for government relations, confers with other executives about the state budget that Gov. Rick Snyder had proposed earlier that day. From left: Tim Slottow, chief financial officer; Jerry May, vice president for development; and provost Phil Hanlon.

[Under the proposal, state appropriations for UM's Ann Arbor campus would be cut 19.4% from FY 2011 levels, to $254.9 million. If the university complies with tuition increases recommended by the governor, it would receive an additional $13.8 million. Under that scenario, the university would receive a total of $268.8 million – a cut of $47.5 million, or 15%, from the FY 2011 appropriation of $316.3 million. It would reduce funding levels to about the amount received in 1990-91.]

The university is committed to providing a world-class education that is accessible to Michigan residents, regardless of income, Coleman said. The budget proposal is the beginning of a conversation, and there’s much to review – including the impact on the University of Michigan Health System. They expect to be fully engaged, she said, adding that Snyder – a UM graduate – understands the importance of higher education to the state’s economy. She noted that they’d be able to demonstrate that importance the next day, when Snyder was scheduled to attend the Feb. 18 awards ceremony on campus for the Clean Energy Prize competition.

Coleman also highlighted some achievements of UM’s arts community. Michael Daugherty, a professor of music, earlier this month won three Grammy awards for his composition “Deus Ex Machina.” Daugherty won the award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and the album was awarded Best Orchestral Performance and Best Engineered Album in the classical music category. Also, Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, received the Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, which recognizes those whose outstanding service, creative thinking, and leadership have had a significant impact on the profession. “Ken certainly fits that criteria,” Coleman said.

Mary Sue Coleman, Kim Clarke

UM president Mary Sue Coleman, left, goes over her prepared remarks with Kim Clarke, director of executive communications.

She pointed out that spring break begins soon – from Feb. 28 through March 4 – and she was pleased that 450 students are participating in alternative spring break programs, doing community service across the country. She commended them for giving up their vacations.

Finally, Coleman noted that next month’s regents meeting will be held in Detroit, on March 17, to highlight and celebrate the university’s partnerships there. UM was founded in Detroit, she said – it is the state’s most important city, and the university is committed to strengthening the community and its citizens. [The meeting will be held at the Westin Book Cadillac hotel, site of last year's Washtenaw Community College trustee retreat.]

Internationalization at UM

The main presentation at Thursday’s meeting was given by Mark Tessler, UM’s vice provost for international affairs. His talk focused on two aspects of international studies at the university: Students from other countries who study at UM, and UM students who study abroad. He began by noting that internationalization had been the focus of the university’s 2010 accreditation process.

About 5,200 international students are on campus, from 117 different countries. Of those, the mix is 70% graduate students and 30% undergrads. UM has the nation’s sixth largest international student population, he said. The number of international students has increased almost 35% since 2000, and is increasing as a percentage of the overall student population as well. In 2001, international students represented about 10% of the overall student population. Today, they make up 12.5%.

Having international students enriches campus life, Tessler said, and UM is looking for ways to deepen the relationships between U.S. and international students – many of whom will eventually become leaders in their respective countries.

Tessler said students are drawn to the university for many reasons, as a result of UM’s reputation, its partnerships with institutions in other countries, and its international network of alumni recruiters. One example is a student from Oman, he said, who won a scholarship to attend a U.S. university, and was advised by the country’s cultural affairs officer to pick UM. The student, an Arab, got involved in Judaic studies at UM, and is now back in his country active in political affairs.

Of the roughly 5,200 international students at UM, about 80% come from 10 countries: China (38%), India (20%), South Korea (18%), Taiwan and Canada (6% each), Malaysia (4%), and Singapore, Japan, Turkey and Brazil (2% each).

Turning to UM’s American students, Tessler said each year they send about 3,200 students to 85 different countries, including semester- or year-long studies and shorter summer programs. Most students still go to Europe, though proportionally that number is declining. They’re trying to develop more programs in Asia, Africa and Latin American. He noted that he had studied abroad two times as a student – in Israel and Tunisia – and described the experiences as life-changing. It’s important, as U.S. citizens, to develop “global competence,” he said, and the experience enriches life on campus when you return.

In the last five years, the number of students studying abroad has doubled, but they’re hoping to increase those numbers even more. Some of the reasons that students don’t go is a lack of financial aid, he said, or they have concerns that they won’t be able to graduate on time. So the university is offering a broader array of programs, including some that are shorter in duration. The university is also working with students to help them better plan for an international experience earlier in their academic career.

Tessler also pointed out that about three-quarters of the students who study abroad are female – it’s a national trend, he noted, but they’re trying to see what it would take to get more male students interested.

Internationalization: Regents Comments

Andrea Fischer Newman noted that Tessler had mentioned studying in Israel. There’s currently a student petition being circulated that advocates for UM to start a program there, she said. Though there’s no official program, UM students can study in Israel through programs at other universities, and transfer credits, Newman said. She asked Tessler to talk about why the university doesn’t have an international program in Israel.

Tessler said they have a lot of partnerships with institutions in Israel, but it’s a university policy to suspend programs in countries that are on the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory list, as Israel is. Students can go, he said, and it’s common for them to travel there through programs at other universities. There are also “non-regular” programs that UM faculty and students can create independently in countries that are under travel advisories – in that case, they sign a waiver before traveling.

Newman asked if it were fair to reconsider that policy. Tessler said it’s a fair question – some other institutions ignore the advisories, or ask students to sign waivers for their official programs. There are also universities like UM that take a more conservative view, and don’t feel they should substitute their own judgment for that of the state department. Ultimately, it’s not his decision to make, Tessler said.

At that, Newman turned to provost Phil Hanlon with a questioning look. Hanlon said it’s worth looking at the policy again, to see if it is still appropriate. Tessler noted that there are several other countries on the travel advisory list that they’d like to look at as well.

Denise Ilitch observed that regents had recently received an update on the status of UM students studying in Egypt, in the wake of the uprising there. Tessler said Egypt hadn’t been on the advisory list, but it would be now – a remark that elicted laughter.

Andy Richner asked whether Tessler had data on the number of international students who stay in Michigan after graduation. Tessler said he didn’t, but he imagined it would be a small number. Richner said he’d heard otherwise.

Larry Deitch said they might consider how to incentivize people to stay. Some of the innovation in Michigan has been driven by immigrants, especially those educated here. Richner noted that the governor has expressed interest in this as well.

Internationalization: Student Perspective

Two undergraduates who’ve been involved in UM’s international programs talked about their experiences.

Grace and Bianca Renae Lee

UM undergraduates Grace van Velden, left, and Bianca Renae Lee chat before Thursday's regents meeting started. They both spoke to regents during a presentation on the university's international programs.

Bianca Renae Lee, who’s studying sociocultural anthropology and is graduating in April, described a wide range of programs she’s attended abroad, including studies in Ghana and Ireland. She also worked in New Orleans through UM’s Global Intercultural Experience program – because of that, she’ll be going back to Louisiana after graduation, as a Teach for America worker.

Lee said her international experiences allowed her to grow academically and spiritually, and to build many important relationships. “My life wouldn’t have been the same without these international opportunities,” she said.

Grace van Velden – a junior and president of the UM chapter of Sigma Iota Rho, an honor society for international studies – thanked regents for allowing her and Lee to represent the voices of their peers. Originally from South Africa, she moved here when she was in grade school, but returns in the summers to work in HIV/AIDS and malaria clinics outside of Johannesburg. She also has worked at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Van Velden said she’s grateful that UM pushes students and nurtures their desire to travel, both internationally and within the U.S. – she hopes those efforts will continue.

Michigan Student Assembly Report

Chris Armstrong, president of the Michigan Student Assembly (MSA), gave a brief report to regents, summarizing the student government’s recent work. On Feb. 19 they were co-hosting the Stand Up to Bullying event at the Ypsilanti District Library – speakers would include Washtenaw County sheriff Jerry Clayton and former state legislator Alma Wheeler Smith. The MSA is continuing to work with university administrators on an open housing initiative, he said, and is working on a campuswide campaign to solicit ideas about what to fix on campus. He reported that the MSA’s environmental commission had collected over 1,400 signatures to ban plastic bottles on campus. Armstrong also urged regents to strongly encourage negotiations between the administration and the Graduate Employees’ Organization as they discuss their upcoming contract.

CAAS To Become a Department

Regents unanimously approved reorganizing UM’s Center for Afroamerican and African Studies (CAAS), an institution founded in 1970, into the Department for Afroamerican and African Studies, part of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts. The new status aims to strengthen the undergraduate program, allow the unit to develop additional graduate studies, and aid in recruiting and promoting faculty.

No financial costs are anticipated as a result of the change, which would take effect on Sept. 1, 2011.

Law Commons Named for Aikens

Regents voted to officially name the new UM Law School commons in honor of Robert B. Aikens. A 1954 graduate of the law school, Aikens gave the university a $10 million donation for the school’s current expansion and renovation project, which includes the new commons. It’s the largest gift ever given to the law school by a living individual, according to Jerry May, vice president for development. May praised Aikens and his wife Ann Aikens as being lifelong supporters of many parts of the university, with previous gifts to the UM School of Art & Design and the athletics department.

Capital Projects: Alice Lloyd, School of Social Work

Several capital projects were unanimously approved by regents at their Feb. 17 meeting, with little discussion. They include:

  • Authorization to seek bids and award construction contracts on a $56 million “deep” renovation of Alice Lloyd Hall, located at 100 S. Observatory. Regents had previously approved the project’s schematic design at their Dec. 17, 2010 meeting. The 176,000-square-foot dorm houses about 560 students. Construction is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2012.
  • A $1.85 million renovation project at the School of Social Work. About 18,400 square feet in the atrium of the building – located at 1080 S. University Ave., at the corner of East University – will be renovated into a new clinical suite to allow students to practice and observe clinical approaches, and to accommodate expanded continuing education programs. The project is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2011.
  • A $2 million renovation project on the fourth floor of the C.C. Little Science Building, located at 1100 N. University Ave. The roughly 10,600 square feet of renovated lab and support space will be used by recently recruited faculty for the Dept. of Geological Sciences. Construction is expected to be finished by the fall of 2011.

Bylaws Revised

Regents approved three revisions to their bylaws, with no discussion. [.pdf of bylaws revisions] Changes were made to:

  • Reflect the fact that recreational sports programs are now overseen by the division of student affairs, not the athletics department.
  • Delete the entire Chapter VII on student affairs, which refers to entities that either no longer exist or that are covered in other sections of the bylaws.
  • Reflect a change in the reporting lines for the Museum of Zoology and Herbarium.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures

Regents authorized five 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.

Items included: (1) a contract between UM and the Gladwin Center – a meeting facility on Liberty Road, just west of Wagner; (2) option agreements with Cardiavent LLC and Wolverine Energy Solutions Technology Inc.; and (3) licensing agreements with Omni MedSci Inc. and Atrial Innovations Inc.

All items passed unanimously, with no discussion.

Public Commentary

Public commentary occurs at the end of regents meetings. On Thursday, two topics dominated speakers’ remarks: a proposed flexible “tenure clock” for faculty; and issues affecting graduate student workers.

Flexible Tenure Clock

Five faculty members of the UM Medical School addressed the regents in support of a more flexible timeline for achieving tenure. The provost, Phil Hanlon, is considering extending the maximum allowable period to 10 years – the change would ultimately require action by the regents. The current maximum is eight years, though many units of the university set shorter timelines.

Timothy Johnson, chair of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, told regents it was the democratically right thing to do – faculty at the medical school have discussed it for more than a decade, and support it. Given their clinical duties, the medical school faculty are quite different in how they achieve scholarship, so a flexible tenure clock is required. There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding funding for staff – at the federal level, support from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is changing, and health care reform will have an impact on reimbursement for physicians. These are turbulent times, he said, and people in Michigan are further stressed by the exigencies of this state’s economy. Having a tenure clock that’s shorter than their peer institutions puts them at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

John Carethers

John Carethers, chair of UM Medical School's department of internal medicine.

John Carethers, chair of the department of internal medicine, said he represented the medical school’s largest department, with over 640 faculty. Flexibility in achieving tenure is important for their ability to attract and retain the best faculty, he said, with diversity in race, gender and discipline. There are at least two dozen examples of faculty who had difficulty in achieving tenure over the past few years, and a disproportionate number of them were women, compared to the makeup of the overall faculty. There are many reasons for this, he said, including delays in getting NIH funding, the collaborative nature of their research, or health and child-related issues. He concluded by reading a letter from Maria Silveira, an assistant professor of internal medicine who practices palliative care. The letter described Silveira’s own health struggles, noting that she had to petition the dean to extend her tenure clock. Without flexibility, tenure is possible only for those who are privileged or lucky.

Toby Lewis, a pediatric pulmonologist and environmental epidemiologist, described her research, which addresses childhood asthma in low-income neighborhoods. The community-based approach is collaborative and interdisciplinary, she said, and is time- and labor-intensive. There are challenges in working with vulnerable communities, and a typical study takes five to seven years to complete. Lewis said she was giving regents this information because research like this needs to be done for intractable problems, and the university needs to embrace and promote faculty who are taking risks to do this work. Flexibility in the tenure clock is needed so that high-performing faculty have the time to complete their research.

Carol Bradford

Carol Bradford, chair of the UM Medical School's department of otolaryngology.

Carol Bradford, chair of the department of otolaryngology (ear, nose and throat), described her career path from the time she joined UM as an assistant professor in 1992. She listed many of the accomplishments she’s been able to achieve – she is president-elect of the American Head and Neck Society, the first woman to hold that role – but said that were it not for mentorship and some lucky breaks, she might not be here today.

Susan Goold, a professor of internal medicine, said that she’s an Ann Arbor native who also joined the medical school faculty in 1992 – she became the first tenured women in her division. She recalled that when she was a young resident, she had lunch with a national leader in her field. When Goold expressed admiration for another female researcher, he told her that the researcher wouldn’t have been as successful if she’d had children. Goold said that the pressure of a ticking tenure clock often coincides with the urge to have a family. More flexibility in the tenure timeline would help recruit more female faculty, she said. But it’s not just about women and pregnancy, she added – it would also help those who face illness, or whose research just takes longer to get rolling. She concluded by noting that some people are concerned about the potential for abuse – delaying tenure in order to keep salaries lower. That’s something to keep an eye on if they extend the tenure clock.

Graduate Employee Concerns

Four graduate students spoke during public commentary, but at least two dozen others attended the meeting, many of them carrying signs that lobbied on issues related to contract negotiations between the university and the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO).

Chelsea Del Rio

Chelsea Del Rio, an officer in the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO).

Chelsea Del Rio, a GEO officer, thanked the university for meeting with GEO representatives, and said they looked forward to talking about issues like parents’ rights, health benefits and wages. She described the kind of work that graduate student instructors (GSIs) do – teaching classes, writing letters of recommendation, holding office hours and more – and said they do this because they’re invested in the success of their students and of the university. They’re asking for resources necessary to be the best possible employees that they can be, she said. They want a reasonable contract that will protect GSIs, she said. Del Rio described a recent situation when a professor pressured GSIs into staying late to grade papers, even though a blizzard was on the way. Another GSI had to sneak out into the parking lot to breastfeed, because there was no place else to do it – the university needs to provide clean and secure areas for this. She also noted that graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) aren’t protected by a union contract – they aren’t represented by a bargaining unit like GEO. Like GSIs, GSRAs contribute to the success of the university. “The University of Michigan works because we do,” she said. Del Rio concluded by saying she was confident they could reach an agreement.

Alix Gould-Werth, a graduate student research assistant (GSRA), described the type of work she does in studying the impact of unemployment insurance. Sometimes she prioritizes the work over her own studies, she said, but she likes it. She asked the university to recognize it for what it is: work. As a GSRA, she doesn’t have any say over her benefits or working conditions. Now, the GSRAs are talking about whether to join the GEO bargaining unit, and she asked the university to be neutral about it and not oppose the move, if that’s what the GSRAs decide to do.

Daniel Marcin

Daniel Marcin, treasurer of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO).

Daniel Marcin identified himself as the treasurer for GEO and a graduate student in economics. The GEO certainly understands the university’s economic constraints, he said, and they know that budgets are tight. They’re asking for a 3% raise in each of the first two years of the contract, and a 6% raise in the third year. “We know that you understand compound interest,” he said, adding that this is a fair starting point for the negotiations. Graduate student instructors earn $17,200 per academic year – “We do deserve a little more,” Marcin said, “and that’s what we’re asking for.”

Denise Bailey said she represented two minorities: graduate students with disabilities, and graduate student parents. Both bring unique perspectives to the university, and she hoped the university would make strides in accommodating them and integrating them fully into campus life. For graduate students with children, she advocated for: (1) removal of the current work/study requirement that’s needed to get a childcare subsidy; (2) sufficient parental leave that wouldn’t result in losing medical benefits; and (3) private space where lactating mothers could pump breastmilk or nurse their babies.

Regent Martin Taylor responded to the public commentary, saying he strongly supported the rights of workers to organize. He said he understood the administration’s concerns, but hoped they could come together and allow students to organize. Regents Kathy White and Julia Darlow indicated support for Taylor’s comments.

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

Absent: Olivia (Libby) Maynard

Next board meeting: Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 2 p.m. at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit, 1114 Washington Blvd., Detroit. [confirm date]


  1. February 22, 2011 at 1:50 am | permalink

    Did you really just use “incentivize” in a sentence, as if it were a real word?

  2. By Mark Koroi
    February 23, 2011 at 1:24 pm | permalink

    Last month the Michigan Daily chronicled allegations made at the public commentary period by former Professor Douglas Smith on the reasons for Public Safety Director Ken Magee’s leave and questions that the regents and Pres. Coleman did not answer on follow up.

    There have been FOIA requests resisted by U-M and found Magee selling wares in a local antique shop.

    The Magee absence has been the subject of three prior articles.

    Does anyone know about the status of Magee re this controversy?

  3. By Mary Morgan
    February 23, 2011 at 2:27 pm | permalink

    Re. Ken Magee: We reported on the public commentary by Douglas Smith in an article about the Jan. 20, 2011 regents meeting. (Smith’s public commentary, plus additional reporting based on an interview with Magee’s attorney, Nick Roumel, is near the bottom of the article.) Magee has occasionally worked behind the counter at Antelope Antiques on East Liberty dating back at least to 2009 – during that summer I ran into him there while reporting on another story. On Feb. 17, 2011, his position was posted on the university jobs directory.