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On Thursday, more than 150 students, alumni, faculty, donors and community members — including demonstrators — gathered in the University of Michigan Biological Sciences Building for a ribbon cutting ceremony and to hear remarks from University President Mark Schlissel and other campus leaders. Interim LSA Dean Elizabeth Cole began the event by thanking those who have dedicated time and resources to the building and noted many people may not be aware of the amount of work and many different types of work that went into its creation.
“When the college began designing this building, they recognized that science is more collaborative and interdisciplinary than it was in the past,” Cole said. “The BSB was conceptualized as a place that would not only foster great innovations in biological sciences but would also be the kind of space that would encourage collaboration and would be a bridge for the public to explore the research that is being done here. Now, as we stand here today, this building is changing the nature of the work we do for faculty, students and staff alike, and it’s changing the way we achieve our mission to share our work with others.”
The 312,000-square-foot building sits near the Central Campus Transit Center and the Hill Neighborhood bridge. It was approved by the University’s Board of Regents with a $261 million price tag in early 2014 to give the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology departments a better working space than the deteriorating 104-year-old Kraus Building.
In 2017, the Museum of Natural History announced plans to join the EEB and MCDB departments in the new building, and the building now also houses the Museum of Paleontology faculty and staff. The Ruthven Museums Building, which formerly housed the Museum of Natural History, will be the new headquarters for University administration when the Fleming Administration Building is demolished.
Cole said the building houses teaching collections, the museum, offices, classrooms, social spaces and labs, among other things. She said the BSB’s layout enhances education quality and allows for interactive teaching and researching.
Additionally, Cole noted the BSB’s “research neighborhoods,” which require researchers to share space, equipment and ideas. She said this is one example of collaboration becoming the norm in the new building. Like other speakers at the event, Cole said she hoped the BSB could serve as a bridge for the general public to see the University’s research.
“This space is really an opportunity for visitors to connect with science,” Cole said. “You can’t deny the excitement that the new spaces bring, nor the immediate impact the BSB has already had on that promise. And I’m thrilled by the potential and the possibility that are held in this space, and I think you will be, too, as you get to see it.”
Schlissel began his remarks by acknowledging the alumni and donors present at the event. He said the University has been a leader in the past, and this building will help the University tackle the biological questions of the future.
Schlissel also said the University’s many disciplines, resources and tools position it to redefine boundaries and help broaden understanding of the natural world and biological problems. The BSB in particular will make the University’s work accessible to the general public, Schlissel said.
“I am confident that this building and its resources will bring us closer to answering some of life science’s most pressing questions of today and of tomorrow,” Schlissel said. “It represents our enduring commitment to better understand the world around us.”
Schlissel thanked his predecessor, staff and regents for their ongoing support and said the ribbon cutting launched a new era of discovery at the University.
When Schlissel began his remarks, climate demonstrators displayed posters relating to climate change, the Climate Action Movement, carbon neutrality and fossil fuels from the second floor directly behind Schlissel’s podium. The Climate Action Movement has been critical of Schlissel for not committing the University to carbon neutrality by 2030, the inclusion of representatives from statewide energy providers on his President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality and for the University’s decision not to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels.
The Climate Action Movement organized the March 15 Washtenaw County Climate Strike, which brought upwards of 3,000 people to the Diag, and a subsequent sit-in at Schlissel’s office, which led to 10 arrests.
In an email to The Daily following an April 9 special public session, at which none of their demands were met, some student demonstrators present at the event wrote they felt they needed to take more visible and potentially disruptive actions.
“The Museum of Natural History is dedicated to studying, preserving, and teaching about ecology, biodiversity and life on Earth,” the email read. “We are currently undergoing a mass extinction induced by climate change, and natural science researchers recognize this. By not taking ambitious steps on climate, President Schlissel is disregarding the very scientific research he claimed to honor in his opening remarks. Therefore, we used this opportunity to call out President Schlissel specifically (not the BSB or its faculty or staff), and his hypocrisy of claiming to honor science while refusing to act on climate change.”
In an earlier interview with The Daily, Schlissel said one of two members are from major energy corporations, making them a minority on the 16-person commission. Schlissel also said the two corporations, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy, have a personal incentive to improve their sustainability practices. Additionally, he has responded to the movement’s request for carbon neutrality by 2030, saying the University plans to create a plan before deciding on a date.
After Schlissel finished his remarks, the ribbon was cut and the crowd moved from the West Atrium to the East Atrium to hear more remarks and watch a time capsule be lowered into the ground. This weekend’s visitors have the opportunity to contribute to the capsule, which will be unearthed in 2118.
Amy Harris, director of the Museum of Natural History, said the job of museum professionals in the new building is to connect the public and researchers. She said it will be a goal in the BSB for researchers to effectively communicate what their research is and why it is important to visitors.
Harris also noted many upcoming events at the BSB and museum, including the museum’s public grand opening with extended hours on Sunday. There is also a student grand opening event on April 26, and Harris said there are more exhibits coming in November.
“It was hard to say goodbye to the old museum — we loved you — but we’ve been there for years and we love this place, too,” Harris said. “This is just an incredible facility and an incredible opportunity for our museum to move into the 21st century and make available to the public the amazing active research that goes on in this building.”