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The University of Michigan Board of Regents convened its final meeting of the school year Thursday afternoon, and approved multiple construction projects on the University’s three campuses and the appointments of senior officers. All members of the board were present, except for Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) who phoned into the meeting.
Inglis House Sale
The meeting’s public comments portion centered around the sale of the Inglis House, a property approved for sale by the board as a non-agenda item last month. The 80-year-old estate, donated to the University by the Inglis family in 1951, operates as a guesthouse and meeting place for prominent visitors to the University and Ann Arbor.
During his opening remarks before the public comment speakers, University President Mark Schlissel explained the Inglis House would cost too much to renovate, and the money would be better suited for University scholarships.
“While we appreciate the thoughts and concerns expressed by neighbors and Ann Arbor residents, Inglis House has been shuttered and unused since 2012,” he said. “It would require extensive and costly initial renovations and incur significant ongoing operating costs to bring it back online … We estimate it would cost close to $5 million for remodelling to bring the house up to today’s standards including ADA accessibility.”
Four speakers railed against the house’s sale, and a majority of the audience in the room raised signs reading “RE-VOTE on the sale of the INGLIS HOUSE” asking the board to reconsider their decision.
Esther Kyte, a member of the Inglis family, emphasized her relatives are “unequivocally” opposed to the sale of the house, noting the building could be demolished without the University’s protection. Kyte read a letter signed by more than a dozen members of the Inglis family condemning the sale and received a standing ovation for her remarks.
“It has also come to the collective attention of the Inglis family that it has been publicly circulated that we are very pleased with this decision and that the living relatives approve of the sale,” she read. “The intent of this letter is to formally set the record straight and let it be known publicly and in writing that we as a family unequivocally do not approve of the sale of the Inglis House.”
Ann Arbor resident Bridget Bly, a neighbor of the Inglis House, criticized the University for failing to take community members’ disapproval into account.
“We in the Highland neighborhood got no community meeting prior to the regents’ decision,” she said. “No community input was sought or evaluated. The March vote to sell the Inglis property was added to the agenda in such a way to completely preclude any member of the public from commenting on it.”
Schlissel adjourned the meeting after Kyte’s comments.
“We will consider everything we learned today as we move forward with the sale,” he said.
One of the board’s first items of business was to approve the naming of a new $75 million robotics lab on North Campus after the Ford Motor Company. Ford donated $15 million to the 14,000 square foot facility and will establish a research laboratory in the building to collaborate with engineering students. The building, which was approved last September, will house the autonomous vehicle project — the largest industry-funded research project at the University.
Kevin Hegarty, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, noted the importance of this next step between Ford and the University.
“This will be the first Ford research facility co-located in an academic building,” Hegarty said. “Ford and Michigan have a longstanding partnership and history together.”
The building will also be close in proximity to Mcity, the University’s — and the world’s — first test site for driverless cars.
Fundraising And Construction Projects
Jerry May, the University’s vice president for development, announced at the meeting donors to the University have raised over $4 billion for the University as part of its Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign, which was launched in 2013 and intended to be used for student support and engaged learning. He also said the University has raised $917 million of its $1 billion goal for scholarships and student support.
“There are still many opportunities to make an impact in the months ahead,” he said. “Student support remains our top priority.”
At the February meeting, the board approved a budget of $21 million to renovate Bennie Oosterbaan Field House. The current construction plans reduce the field by 30 yards in order to build a new football weight room.
Elena Ramos, vice president of the Club Sports Council and the Women’s Club Lacrosse captain, spoke during public comment about how the construction project will negatively impact 31 club sports who use Oosterbaan for practice and games. She said the plan for a new indoor track building does not have the legal dimensions or safety regulations for many sports to play games.
“The low ceiling heights and reduced run-off room alone are safety concerns for many of our sports,” she said. “That leaves us without a regulation-sized competition field.”
Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) asked E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, to follow up with Ramos after the meeting was adjourned about her comments.
The board also voted on building construction developments for the North Campus Recreation Building, the Trotter Multicultural Center, the W. K. Kellogg Institute and Dental Building. The NCRB and Trotter projects will now start accepting bids and awarding construction contracts to companies.
Renovations to the Kellogg Institute and Dental Building received a budget increase from $122 million to $140 million to account for rising construction costs. The University will now seek approval from the state for the budget increase.
CSG And SACUA Transition
LSA senior David Schafer, former Central Student Government president, delivered his final presentation to the board, and introduced incoming president Anushka Sarkar, an LSA junior. Schafer paid homage to his signature “this Michigan of ours” and reviewed his administration’s major accomplishments over the past year: the creation of the Leadership Engagement Scholarship, the establishment of a number of student advisory boards and creating the body’s first mental health taskforce. In a year of political tension on and off campus, Schafer said CSG did well to make the assembly more inclusive of all students.
“Our year in CSG was guided by a singular vision that Micah and I set for our team: the realization of a campus in which students, regardless of identity or background, are well positioned to thrive, feel included, and have their voices heard,” he said. “One year later, I am proud to say that I believe we were successful in that aim and that Central Student Government is now more inclusive and productive than it was before.”
Harper commended Schafer and outgoing vice president Micah Griggs, an LSA senior, on their service to the student body. Schafer, she joked, lent a new meaning to the word “persistent.”
“Our outgoing leaders, David and Micah, you have been a dynamic duo,” she said. “You’ve provided the students at the University with outstanding leadership during a really tough year. A strong student governing system strengthens a great University.”
The meeting also marked the transition in leadership for the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs, as outgoing chair Bill Schultz, a professor of mechanical engineering, provided reflections on the state of faculty-administration relations. Executive officers, he said, could do better to seek perspectives from faculty on controversies affecting students such as divestment and commencement speakers.
Schultz also urged his successor Robert Ortega, associate professor of social work, to improve faculty’s solidarity with unions representing graduate students and lecturers at the University. In light of a last-minute contract agreement between the University and the Graduate Employees’ Organization, Schultz said it saddened him to see faculty sitting opposite graduate student instructors.
“Taking our graduate courses and sweating through our joint research, (graduate students) are often our legacy and they have their own mental health issues possibly compounded with concerns about their ability to travel across international borders for a summer break,” he said. “They should have more faculty support in spite of the differences in our union status.”
The board voted two faculty members into senior academic positions Thursday afternoon. Bishr Omary, current chair of the Molecular and Integrative Physiology department, was named executive vice dean for research at the Medical School. Omary arrived at the University in 2008, and previously worked in a number of supervising positions at Stanford University for 19 years prior. His position is effective May 1.
The board also appointed Rebecca Cunningham associate vice president for research health-sciences, beginning July 1.