The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents met to approve the renaming of the softball stadium, as well as the construction of new facilities on the Ann Arbor and Flint campuses Thursday afternoon. The regents also voted to discontinue one of the two undergraduate programs offered by the Department of Chemistry, alter the U-M Dearborn academic calendar for the coming two academic years, amend the University of Michigan Health System Board bylaws and appoint a new vice president for communications.
The Graduate Employees’ Organization held a small rally in front of the Alexander G. Ruthven Building before the meeting convened. After rallying in support of their own contract bargaining platform, the GEO members attended the meeting in support of the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services staff who, according to GEO, are systemically underpaid by the University.
While addressing the regents, Athletic Director Warde Manuel recommended that Alumni Field, the softball stadium at the University, be renamed to “Alumni Field at Carol Hutchins Stadium” after the winningest coach in the University’s and collegiate softball’s history. The regents approved the renaming in a unanimous vote. Manuel praised Carol Hutchins, who was in attendance, for her contributions to the University Athletic Department and to women’s collegiate sports.
Hutchins retired in 2022 after 38 seasons as Michigan softball’s head coach, including 29 seasons in which she led Wolverines to the NCAA tournament. She has been commended by former players as a champion for women’s athletics. Hutchins expressed her gratitude to Manuel, the regents and the athletics program as a whole. She said it was an honor to help mentor so many young athletes during her tenure at the University.
“Athletics is meant to be part of education, and at Michigan we do that really well,” Hutchins said. “It’s the honor of my lifetime to have worn the block ‘M.’ To be part of this program, it’s the greatest honor of all, so thank you so much.”
The Board of Regents then discussed and unanimously approved the schematic design for U-M Flint’s College of Innovation & Technology Building project. The building, designed by architectural and engineering firm Integrated Design Solutions, will not have gas heating infrastructure in line with the University’s carbon neutrality goals and is expected to be completed by summer 2025 on the north end of the U-M Flint campus.
The regents continued with their review of agenda items related to innovation. Following the urgings of Martino Harmon, vice president for student life, and LSA senior Kevin Orloski, president of the student advisory group Building a Better Michigan, the regents approved the construction of two new fields on Hubbard Road, which will be available for the use of intramural and club sports on the Ann Arbor campus. Harmon said that the new Hubbard Road fields would be especially important given that the Central Campus Housing and Dining project would necessitate the loss of the Elbel Field site.
“This is a vital part of our effort to support student health and well-being,” Harmon said. “And these fields will provide critical space by supporting many intramural sports programs, club sports practices and competitions, student drop-in use and other recreational sports programs to minimize disruption to the tens of thousands of students, faculty staff and community members who use our fields.”
The regents then discontinued one of the two current undergraduate chemistry programs — the Bachelor of Science given to students who major in chemistry. The decision was made because of the program’s comparative lack of flexibility, with only one elective course. According to the recommendation by Linda Tesar, senior faculty advisor to the Dean of LSA on strategic budgetary affairs, and University Provost Laurie McCauley, the program was difficult for students to navigate because many upper-level chemistry courses required for the program could not be offered each semester due to low enrollment. These changes were made in favor of reinstating a revised chemistry major, which offers students greater flexibility and increased accessibility toward a career in chemistry. The regents unanimously approved the change.
The regents also approved the appointment of Richie C. Hunter to the position of vice president for communications. In his remarks at the opening of the meeting, University President Santa Ono welcomed her to the University.
“We’ve … been searching for a permanent vice president for communications to replace Kallie Michels following her retirement,” Ono said “Last week, I announced that after a deliberative search, we have found our candidate in Richie C. Hunter. She has an exceptional background, including extensive experience in marketing, branding and media relations and communications leadership roles … I’m convinced she’s a fantastic fit for our university.”
During the public comments section of the meeting, several attendees spoke in support of the formation of a union that would represent respiratory therapists and technologists at the University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. Ashley Greene, a registered respiratory therapist at Michigan Medicine, spoke on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected her workplace negatively and caused extreme stress among her and her coworkers.
“We were subjected to suspension of retirement matching, departmental budget cuts, call time pay reduction and frequent critically low staffing levels,” Greene said. “The news and the media called us health care heroes, but in our reality, we didn’t feel appreciated or cared for or heard. These feelings were the driving force behind our support for a union.”
Members of the CAPS staff then asked the regents to finalize their ongoing salary review by the end of May. The CAPS representatives also asked the regents to include the salary increases CAPS employees advocated for in an open letter to Harmon in their review. Carolyn Scorpio, CAPS staff social worker, emphasized the need for higher wages in order to maintain a well-staffed office.
“Specifically, we ask for (the University’s) support to ensure that the ongoing CAPS salary review is completed by the end of May and that it results in substantial salary increases needed to effectively retain and hire clinical staff,” Scorpio said. “If the University truly values the mental health and well-being of students, providing a competitive wage to CAPS staff is imperative.”
Members of GEO also spoke during the public comments segment of the meeting in support of demands from GEO’s platform, including reducing mental health copays and establishing a non-police emergency response service. At the end of the meeting, GEO members stood up and began to chant, pledging that they would strike.
“We’ve been bargaining for months and we’re still paid below the rate of inflation,” GEO members chanted. “We will not accept another pay cut. We are ready to strike.”