UM’s Business of Research, Academics

Challenges ahead for federal funding; faculty address GSRA issue

University of Michigan board of regents meeting (Jan. 19, 2012): The sixth floor of UM’s Ross School of Business was the venue for January’s meeting, where regents and executives dispatched the university’s business with an alacrity called for by president Mary Sue Coleman. There was no indication at the time that U.S. president Barack Obama would be speaking here later this month. News of his speech – to be delivered on Friday morning, Jan. 27 at UM’s Al Glick Fieldhouse – was announced on Monday.

Mary Sue Coleman

Before the start of the Jan. 19 board of regents meeting, UM president Mary Sue Coleman scanned an article from The Chronicle – but not this Chronicle. It's a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education. (Photos by the writer.)

Instead, regents dealt with less high-profile matters, approving a range of action items with little discussion. Those included funding for a major expansion of the UM Health System into Wayne County, along the I-275 corridor; renovations that will transform the entrance to Schembechler Hall and make a museum of football memorabilia more accessible to the public; and improvements to the university’s Northwood apartment complex on north campus.

But much of the meeting consisted of reports. Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, presented a sobering outlook for future research funding, calling the climate for federal funding “worrisome.” After his talk, regent Andrea Fischer Newman pointed out that tuition is helping to support the university’s $1.2 billion research program – about 25% of those research expenditures are covered internally.

Regents also heard from dean Alison Davis-Blake, who described how the business school is countering the caricature of managers that are only focused on short-term profits, and whose management skills consist of the ability to say, “You’re fired!” Graduates of Ross are taught to think more broadly, she said.

An item not on the agenda of the Jan. 19 meeting received considerable attention during public commentary. One student and three professors spoke against an effort to unionize graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).

Also during public commentary, the chair of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley group raised concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station, saying that the joint UM/city of Ann Arbor project runs counter to the university’s sustainability efforts. Fuller Road Station’s initial phase is a proposed parking structure, located near the UM medical campus, that could hold over 1,000 vehicles.

President’s Opening Remarks

The board typically meets in the regents boardroom of the Fleming Administration Building, but the January meeting was held in a sixth floor conference room of the Ross Business School. Another event was scheduled in the same room following the regents meeting, so UM president Mary Sue Coleman began her remarks by noting that they needed to move through their agenda “with alacrity.”

Coleman thanked the business school and dean Alison Davis-Blake for hosting the meeting. Construction of the new building had been made possible through philanthropy, she noted. [The school is named for businessman Stephen J. Ross, who donated $100 million – the largest donation ever to UM.]

Coleman said she wanted to revel in the Sugar Bowl one last time. Several regents and UM executive had traveled to New Orleans for the game, she said, and it had been terrific to see the resurgence of the historic American city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Alumni were enthusiastic, the marching band outdid themselves, and coach Brady Hoke and the football team made the fans proud, she said, though at times nervous. It was a magnificent display of spirit and intercollegiate athletics, Coleman said.

Turning to academic honors, Coleman reported that UM chemistry professor Brian Coppola had received Baylor University’s Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching. It’s the most financially lucrative teaching award in the country, she said – $250,000 to the winner, plus $25,000 for his home department, to further develop teaching skills there. Coppola is known for his innovative teaching, Coleman said – he won the U.S. Professor of the Year award in 2009, and UM’s Golden Apple teaching award in 1994. She said she’d watched one of his lectures that’s posted on the Baylor website, and she highly recommended that others watch the video too.

Calling it a landmark event, Coleman also highlighted the fact that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has decided to open a satellite location in Detroit – its first office outside of Washington D.C. This region was selected because of its high number of patent applications, from the auto industry as well as university research. Coleman reported that UM, Michigan State and Wayne State had worked hard to convince government officials to open the office here. She said she expects the university law schools will form alliances with the office, too.

Unionization of GSRAs

By way of background, at the board’s May 2011 meeting, regents had passed a resolution of support regarding the rights of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs) to decide whether to organize and be represented by a labor union. The resolution was passed over dissent from the board’s two Republican regents – Andrew Richner and Andrea Fischer Newman. Before the vote, UM president Mary Sue Coleman had spoken in opposition to the action.

On Jan. 19, Newman asked provost Phil Hanlon for an update on a UM graduate student who had spoken at a press conference the previous day. [The event had been organized by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), a group that hopes to represent GRSAs if they decide to unionize. The student, Jennifer Dibbern, was a GSRA who alleges that she was fired by professor Rachel Goldman over her support of efforts to unionize the GSRAs.]

Hanlon responded to Newman, saying that a lot of faculty members had inquired about the situation. He said he had personally reviewed the student’s academic record and is convinced that the decision was justified and appropriate, and that the decision was made based on academic grounds. He strongly supported the action.

Unionization of GSRAs: Public Commentary

During public commentary at the end of the meeting, four people spoke against the unionization effort.

Stephen Raiman, founder of Students Against GSRA Unionization, started off the public commentary by noting that he had spoken to regents on the same issue at their November 2011 meeting. Now, he wanted to talk about the negative effects on the faculty. He said he’s talked to many people across campus at various levels, and encountered people who are afraid to speak out. One faculty member said his department chair didn’t want anyone to address this issue for fear of retribution from the board of regents, Raiman said. This feeling is pervasive, he said, and stems from the disagreement between the majority of board members and the university administration. He contended that the overwhelming majority of faculty are against the unionization of GSRAs.

Raiman noted that in order for the unionization effort to move forward, signatures from more than 50% of GSRAs needed to be collected – and this was completed by the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), he said. But many of the signatures were secured through misinformation or outright deception, he contended. He cited some specific examples of people he’d talked with, who told him that they hadn’t been informed about the $400 in dues they would owe to the GEO if the GSRAs are unionized. One person told him ”I signed their card to get rid of them,” Raiman said. These examples are anecdotal, he acknowledged, but he’s hearing more instances like this.

Victor DiRita

Victor DiRita, UM professor of microbiology and immunology, spoke during public commentary against the unionization of graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).

On Feb. 1, the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) will hold an administrative hearing on the legality of the election to unionize GSRAs, Raiman told regents. But his group is barred from attending – that means only one side of the issue will be represented, he said. He asked the board to ensure that the election is fair, if there’s an election. Raiman concluded by saying he was glad to see that there were faculty members brave enough to come and speak during public commentary.

The next three speakers were UM faculty: Victor DiRita, Finn Larsen, and Cagliyan Kurdak.

DiRita, a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, is also associate dean for graduate and postdoctoral studies at the UM Medical School. He agreed with the sentiments expressed by Raiman. Saying he understood the impulse to offer choices to students, DiRita said that in this case, the choice is based on the flawed premise that students are employees. The faculty views that premise as a serious affront, he said. Faculty take mentoring and academic progress very seriously, and in fact it’s a red flag if someone treats a student like an employee, he said.

Larsen and Kurdak also raised concerns over possible GSRA unionization. Larsen, who’s chair of the physics department’s graduate program, said it’s meaningless to distinguish between thesis research and GSRA-supported research. Doing so will have a negative impact on the education and research missions of the university.

Kurdak, director of the applied physics program, also objected to characterizing GSRAs as employees. The relationship between faculty and students is very personal, he said. When problems arise between the faculty member and student, often times the problems are academic in nature – and union involvement would not be effective. In fact, it might result in escalating the situation so that there are no solutions that benefit the student, he said. Kurdak encouraged regents to recognize the academic nature of GSRA appointments.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman thanked the faculty for coming to speak to the board on this issue.

Annual Research Report

Stephen Forrest, UM’s vice president for research, began his presentation by noting that this was the 90th annual research report to regents, but that it would be a more sober report than previous reports, because the university is entering sobering times. [.pdf of fiscal 2011 UM research report]

To put the research enterprise in context, Forrest noted its $1.2 billion in expenditures makes research the third-largest segment of the university, behind the health system ($2.4 billion) and education ($1.3 billion). He cautioned that these numbers can be misleading, because the three segments interlink in many ways.

Forrest then cited a 1962 quote from Harlan Hatcher, UM’s 8th president, on the occasion of the 40th annual research report: “The university fulfills three basic, interlocking functions: to educate youth in the widest possible variety of intellectual disciplines; to collect, increase, and disseminate knowledge that bears on these disciplines; and to perform those services for society, both individually and collectively, which, consistent with its education and research functions, it is peculiarly qualified to perform.”

Stephen Forrest

Stephen Forrest, UM's vice president for research.

The statement was true then, Forrest said, “and it’s certainly true today.”

The challenge now, he said, is how to make the research enterprise thrive during a time of flat or declining federal support. Federal funding is the largest source of research dollars at UM, accounting for 66.7% – $824.75 million – of total research expenditures in fiscal 2011. For UM, federal funding has always increased year-to-year, Forrest noted, even when the overall amount of federal dollars available for research nationwide has declined. In fiscal 2011, federal funding for UM research increased 9.8% compared to the previous year.

In fiscal 2012, the university had expected federal funding to drop, but it didn’t, Forrest said. Regardless of the noise coming out of Washington, both political parties agree that innovation is a driver of American economy, he said.

In looking at funding received by UM from specific federal agencies, 46.2% of all UM research expenditures in fiscal 2011 were funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of 12.6% compared to the fiscal 2010. UM’s medical school is the sixth largest recipient of NIH funding in the country, Forrest noted, and they ?? need to be concerned a little – “or maybe a lot” – about diversification, he said.

The university’s second-largest federal funding source is from the National Science Foundation. NSF funding increased 10.3% to $74.25 million in fiscal 2011. Federal energy funding grew 30.4% to $35.40 million – the largest percentage increase.

Research funding to UM dropped from two federal sources – NASA and transportation funds.

Total non-federal funding also decreased by 1.1%, to $105.63 million. Industry support accounts for $40.84 million of that non-federal total, an increase of 4% for the year. (Other non-federal sources are foundations and state or local government.)

Overall, funding from industry sources makes up only a small percentage of total research expenditures, Forrest noted. But it’s important, he said, because it serves as a catalyst for other funding. In the 1980s, the federal government started emphasizing “use-inspired” basic research – work that can eventually lead to the creation of jobs or that supports an “innovation economy,” Forrest said. Very often, federal grants require some kind of industry partnership.

Looking ahead, Forrest said the growth forecast is worrisome. The global growth domestic product (GDP) is hovering just above recession levels. The GDP dip in 2008 was “terrible,” he said, and subsequent shocks, like the tsunami in Japan or the debt crisis in Europe, have had an impact.

In the future, Forrest expects to see significant budget cuts across all federal agencies, as the nation’s debt catches up with it. The university dodged a bullet in 2012, he said, but shouldn’t get complacent. These trends are likely to persist over the next 5-10 years.

So what should UM do? It’s important to focus on the university’s research strengths that are priorities for the federal government and industry, Forrest said. The university’s “sweet spot” is use-inspired basic research, he said, in areas including health, energy, intelligent vehicle systems, advanced manufacturing and sustainability.

Secondly, UM needs to build on its culture and research environment, Forrest said. The university already has a reputation for strengths across disciplines, and for interdisciplinary cooperation, ties to industry, and international relationships, he said. Forrest also described the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) as the university’s “secret calling card,” with rapidly developing potential.

Finally, Forrest told regents that UM’s research operations need to streamline the administrative process. One example is the need to mentor young faculty, he said, so that they can more quickly start getting research grants. UM’s research administration needs to improve, he continued, by forging better relationships with the university’s office of technology transfer, business engagement center, and individual academic units.

The administration also needs to reduce barriers to working with industry, he said. Forrest concluded by telling regents that they can look forward to announcements about how the university will make it easier to craft intellectual property agreements, and in general improve its relationship with industry.

Annual Research Report: Regent Commentary

Andrea Fischer Newman said it seems that the university is losing money on its research – is that the case? Forrest replied that internal funding accounts for about 25% of UM’s total research program, paying for things like fellowships, infrastructure, and packages for startups that license university technology. Research returns a great value, he said, but it does cost a lot.

Newman said she wasn’t criticizing it. But she wanted to point out that tuition is used in part to subsidize the university’s research program.

Update from the Business School Dean

Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the UM Ross School of Business since July 2011, gave a brief overview of the school’s mission and approach to business education. Much has been written about the ill effects of business school graduates, she began – people who are narrow-minded, focused on short-term profits, and whose management skills consist of the ability to say, “You’re fired!”

Alison Davis-Blake

Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the UM Ross School of Business.

That’s a caricature, she noted, yet there’s some truth to it. The future of business requires managers who think broadly and who have subtle management skills – and those are the kinds of managers that the Ross School is training, she said.

The school offers the traditional business disciplines, Davis-Blake said. But it also take an action-based learning approach, she added, focusing on organization sustainability – doing more with fewer financial, human, temporal and environmental resources, while creating positive outcomes for people and organizations. The approach is done in a multi-disciplinary way, she said, and involves not only faculty and students, but also alumni, businesses, nonprofits and government organizations.

Davis-Blake gave three examples to illustrate this approach. An “advanced model factory” at the Tauber Institute will be coming online in September, she said. Located at the North Campus Research Complex, it will be a small-scale replica of a real production environment. Because it will be easy to reconfigure, it will allow students to examine the effectiveness of various production methods. The focus will be on lean manufacturing and “green” techniques, she said, using principles of “factory physics.” In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate students, workshops will be offered to Michigan businesses as well, she said.

Davis-Blake also cited work done by the school’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship. The emphasis is on cultivating positive emotions, positive connections and positive interpretations of events. A “job crafting” tool, for example, helps people change the way they work to make it more positive and productive.

In her final example, Davis-Blake described environmental sustainability work at the Erb Institute, a joint venture of the business school and the School of Natural Resources & Environment. Graduate students complete a thesis that involves a real client, and alumni teams choose projects that are suitable for publication. Three books – printed locally by Thomson-Shore – have been produced so far, she said, on the topics of climate strategies, hybrid organizations, and sustainable hotels.

Davis-Blake concluded by noting that her father had been a business school dean, and photos from his tenure showed an all-male faculty. Ross is not your father’s business school, she said.

Coleman thanked Davis-Blake, and commented that the energy from students in the building’s Winter Garden – the first floor lobby – was palpable.

Health System Expansion

A major expansion into western Wayne County by the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers was on the Jan. 19 agenda for regents to authorize.

The $39 million project entails opening a new clinic along the I-275 corridor, at a site located at Seven Mile and Haggerty Roads in Northville Township – about a half mile away UM’s existing Livonia Center for Specialty Care. Attracting patients from outside the market of Livingston and Washtenaw counties is part of the UM Health System’s strategic plan.

The plan calls for signing a 25-year lease on 100,000 square feet, with base rent of $27.25 per rentable square foot per year, increasing 5% every five years. The base lease covers expenses related to the land, site work, design and management fees, and a part of the building construction. Operating costs would be an additional expense.

Ora Peskovitz

Ora Peskovitz, UM's executive vice president for medical affairs.

The location is expected to include primary and specialty care; a musculoskeletal program; eye care for adults and children; radiology services; infusion for cancer and non-cancer treatment; and a medical procedure unit.

The site is expected to be ready by the winter of 2014.

When he introduced the item, UM chief financial officer Tim Slottow noted that there were several reasons why this particular lease required board approval – the lease is longer than 10 years, more than 50,000 square feet, and over $1 million annually. He said the project is something that has been worked on for several years.

Ora Pescovitz, UM’s executive vice president for medical affairs, spoke briefly about the project, saying it was a very important facility and pivotal for the health system’s strategic plans. It’s responding to the burgeoning clinical needs in communities along this stretch of I-275.

Outcome: The board unanimously approved the lease for the Northville Township health system expansion.

Executive Officer Reports

During every meeting, UM’s executive officers have the opportunity to give verbal reports, supplementing any written communications they provide to the regents.

Executive Officer Reports: Health Care Costs

Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, said that in light of changes to health benefits made at the state level, he wanted to remind people of the successes that the university has seen in its health benefits strategies. Changes that UM has made since 2003 have resulted in about $94 million of savings annually, Slottow said, or about $400 million cumulatively. Of that, greater cost-sharing by employees accounts for about 65% of the savings. Employees pay for 30% of their health care premiums and co-pays.

Other savings were gained from use of generic drugs, instituting a one-year waiting period before new employees get university contributions toward their retirement savings accounts, and reducing administrative costs, he said.

UM president Mary Sue Coleman said the administration recognizes that faculty and staff have been partners in cutting costs. Everyone is aware of the need to do that, she said.

Executive Officer Reports: Development

Jerry May, UM’s vice president of development, reported that there was a strong uptick in donations in December, but fiscal year-to-date giving to the university is only up about 2% – $140.88 million for the first six months of fiscal 2012, compared to $138.05 million for the same period in fiscal 2011. [.pdf of development report]

May noted that in 2009, UM president Mary Sue Coleman had issued a challenge grant, with $5 million in matching funds to provide a $1 match for every $2 in endowment gifts of up to $500,000. That meant that the development office needed to raise $10 million in contributions to the university to fund undergraduate and graduate study abroad.

That goal has been met, May said, and there is now a permanent $15 million endowment that over the years will benefit thousands of students.

UM Athletics: Renovations, Finance

Two action items on the Jan. 19 agenda related to university athletics – for renovations of Schembechler Hall and Yost Ice Arena. In addition, regents were provided with supplemental information related to a financial audit of the athletics department.

UM Athletics: Renovations – Schembechler Hall

Regents were asked to authorize a $9 million renovation to the entrance of Schembechler Hall, which will integrate the Margaret Dow Towsley Sports Museum area. The building at 1200 S. State St. was constructed in 1990 for UM’s football program, and contains locker rooms, meeting rooms, medical treatment rooms, training areas, weight rooms, and administrative offices. The project will add about 7,000 square feet to the building, and renovate an additional 7,000 square feet. Funding will be provided from athletic department resources.

Tim Slottow, UM’s chief financial officer, said the renovations would completely change the look and feel of the entrance. Regent Andrea Fischer Newman asked whether the changes would make the museum more accessible. “Absolutely,” Slottow replied. The museum is significantly underutilized, he said, and this project is rethinking its whole use.

Newman said that if the university is going to spend $9 million on renovations, the public needs better access. Slottow said the changes will result in the museum being far better used.

The museum is a collection of UM football memorabilia, including some of the program’s championship trophies. In a statement released after the regents meeting, athletics director Dave Brandon indicated that more interactive displays will be added to the museum during the renovations. There’s no admission and it’s open to the public, but hours are limited. It’s open Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m., and Friday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the renovations to Schembechler Hall.

UM Athletics: Renovations – Yost Ice Arena

In a separate vote, regents were asked to authorize issuing bids and awarding construction contracts for a $14 million project at Yost Ice Arena. The overall project was initially approved by the board at its June 2011 meeting, with a schematic design subsequently approved in October.

The project includes replacing seating on the east, south and west sides of the rink, improving accessibility and emergency exits, converting the west side media balcony into a series of loge boxes, adding a new level five on the west side for media, and constructing new corner and stair platforms for additional seating. The project will be paid for out of athletic department revenues, and has been designed by Rossetti Architects Inc. of Southfield, Mich.

There’s the potential that a donor might provide additional funding for enhanced window treatments at Yost, Slottow said – UM athletics director Dave Brandon and Jerry May, the university’s vice president of development, are working on that. If the donation comes through, Slottow said he’ll be returning to the regents asking for an approval of an additional $1-2 million for the project.

Outcome: Without comment, regents unanimously approved issuing bids and awarding construction contracts for renovations at Yost.

UM Athletics: Finance – Supplement to Audit

As an item of information, Slottow pointed regents to a supplemental report for the athletics department financial audit covering the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2011. [.pdf of supplemental audit information] Slottow noted that the information is required by the NCAA. The report includes reviews of financial contributions from various booster organizations, financial aid for one student athletic in each of 10 sports, compensation for 12 coaches, and several other items. No exceptions were noted.

Renovation Projects: Kraus, Northwood

Regents were asked to approve renovation projects totaling nearly $10 million for academic and student housing purposes.

Renovation Projects: Kraus

A $1.7 million renovation to the auditorium of the Edward Henry Kraus building was on the Jan. 19 agenda for approval. The Kraus building is used by biology departments and was constructed in 1915. Its auditorium – one of the largest on central campus – was last updated in 1990.

The current project would renovate about 5,100 square feet and include accessibility improvements, new seating, power for laptops and other devices, and other upgrades. The renovation will be funded by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the provost’s office. The work is expected to be complete by the summer of 2012.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the Kraus renovations.

Renovation Projects: Northwood

The board was asked to authorize a $7.5 million upgrade to the fire alarm and boiler systems at Northwood I, II and III – a 58-building apartment complex on north campus with 686 units of student housing.

The complex had been mentioned at the regents’ Nov. 17, 2011 meeting in the context of other housing changes on north campus and elsewhere throughout UM’s student housing system. At that meeting, regents approved renovations at two dorms – Baits II on north campus, and East Quad on central campus – and discussed the need for a broader strategic plan for student housing. Royster Harper, the university’s vice president for student affairs, had informed regents that the living/learning communities in the Northwood apartments I and II would be expanded to Northwood III.

The renovations to Northwood will be designed by UM’s department of architecture, engineering and construction, in collaboration with Riverside Integrated Systems Inc. and Structural Design Inc. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2013.

Outcome: Regents unanimously approved the Northwood renovation project, without comment.

Michigan Energy Institute

As an item of information, Stephen Forrest – UM’s vice president for research – noted that the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Institute is being renamed. As of Feb. 1, it will be called the University of Michigan Energy Institute.

When the institute launched six years ago, Forrest said, its name was chosen to reflect the legacy of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Institute, which had been formed in 1948 to focus on peaceful uses for atomic energy. It was a way to honor the more than 500 students and alumni who sacrificed their lives during World War II.

A prominent display about the Phoenix project will be located in the lobby of the building, he said, and the building itself will be named the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Laboratory on North Campus. [The building is located at the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) on Plymouth Road, site of the former Pfizer research operation.]

The institute’s new name will reflect a more interdisciplinary approach that draws on a range of disciplines, including science, technology, policy, business and other fields, Forrest said. It’s an academic research unit of the office of the vice president for research, with the mission of developing and promoting energy research and education.

Regents had no comments regarding the name change.

Conflict-of-Interest Disclosures

Regents were asked to authorize 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.

The items often involve technology licensing agreements or leases. This month, companies involved are Edington Associates LLC, ArborMetrix, Valley View Farms, FlexDex LLC, and Diapin Therapeutics LLC.

Outcome: In one vote, regents authorized the five conflict-of-interest disclosures, without comment.

Public Commentary

In addition to the four people who spoke during public commentary against the effort to unionize graduate student research assistants, as reported above, a fifth speaker raised concerns over the proposed Fuller Road Station.

Public Commentary: Fuller Road Station

Nancy Shiffler, chair of the Sierra Club’s Huron Valley group, congratulated the university for its Planet Blue sustainability efforts, saying she was impressed by its goal and scope. However, she’s concerned about a project that runs counter to those goals.

Nancy Shiffler

Nancy Shiffler, chair of the Sierra Club's Huron Valley group.

The proposed Fuller Road Station would be a parking garage for potentially 1,600 vehicles, and would directly contradict the university’s sustainability goals, she said. The garage would primarily be used by UM employees commuting by car, although eventually it might include a commuter rail station.

Shiffler outlined several concerns. If a train station is eventually built, having a large parking garage there would discourage people from using commuter rail, she said. The structure would increase air pollution and traffic congestion, especially during hospital shift changes. Building on parkland, repurposing the land for non-park uses, violates city zoning. An extended lease or use agreement amounts to a de facto sale of parkland, which by city ordinance would require a vote by residents for approval.

In addition, Shiffler noted that the project’s first phase is expected to be funded by UM and an undetermined source of local funding. For phase 2, the city hopes to secure a federal grant, she said, which would require an environmental assessment and possibly an environmental impact statement. However, construction could begin on phase 1 and negate the results of those environmental reports. The Sierra Club has contacted the Federal Rail Administration about this issue, she said.

Shiffler concluded by saying that UM appears to tout its sustainability program, but ignores the program when it’s convenient to do so. She didn’t think this was the image that UM wanted, and she urged regents to look at the project from the point of view of sustainability.

Regents gave no response to Shiffler’s commentary. Other residents have raised this issue at previous board meetings. For example, in March 2010 Rita Mitchell also spoke to regents about Fuller Road Station, urging them not to proceed with the project. Mitchell attended the regents’ Jan. 19 meeting, but did not address the board during public commentary.

Present: Mary Sue Coleman (ex officio), Julia Darlow, Denise Ilitch, Olivia (Libby) Maynard, Andrea Fischer Newman, Andy Richner, Kathy White.

Absent: Larry Deitch, Martin Taylor.

Next board meeting: Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012 at 3 p.m. at the Fleming administration building on UM’s central campus. [confirm date]

The Chronicle could not survive without regular voluntary subscriptions to support our coverage of public bodies like the University of Michigan board of regents. Click this link for details: Subscribe to The Chronicle. And if you’re already supporting us, please encourage your friends, neighbors and colleagues to help support The Chronicle, too!