In light of ongoing disputes over the University’s embryonic stem cell research efforts, the state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Higher Education passed a budget recommendation Friday seeking to strip the University of some of its funding from the state.

The recommendation comes more than two weeks after University President Mary Sue Coleman’s critical remarks to the committee about its budget formulation, and stems from a disagreement over the type of information the University should report to the legislators. Republican members of the committee insist that the University must provide specific data on the research, while University officials have resisted those efforts.

This year, instead of supplying the data points the committee requested, the University compiled what Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, called a packet of press releases and scientific journal articles on the University’s embryonic stem cell research.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University sent the package to legislators to provide them with a more in depth look at the research going on at the University.

“It gave the legislature a deeper, broader, richer understanding of the stem cell research than a simple list of five or six numbers,” Fitzgerald said.

Wilbanks added that one reason the University did not provide the data was that it does not generate documents that contain the data the committee requested.

“We have provided a lot of information that may in part include some of the data points that were identified in the higher education budget, but we don’t have documents that specifically provide those kinds of data because the research, as you know, is done in a variety of settings all across the campus,” Wilbanks said. “The data isn’t collected that in that form.”

Wilbanks also said that the committee’s request was unconstitutional, noting that state law promotes research of stem cells in the state.

“(In order) to ensure that physicians can conduct the most promising forms of medical research in this state, Article 1, Section 27 of the state Constitution — a provision passed by popular vote in 2008 — states, ‘any research permitted under federal law on human embryos may be conducted in Michigan,’” Wilbanks said.

Wilbanks added that since the University’s research complies with federal law and the limitations and requirements set out in the constitutional amendment, the state cannot obstruct it by asking for its data.

“Our belief is that there is a clash with what the constitutional amendment requires the University to do when performing this research, and what this specific language (in the state’s higher education budget) has asked,” Wilbanks said.

Neither Fitzgerald, Wilbanks, nor University Spokeswoman Kelly Cunningham, the University’s director of public affairs, were able to estimate how much of the University’s state appropriation is at stake in the budget disagreement.

The University is one of two institutions, along with Michigan State University, in the state being scrutinized under the provision in the fiscal year 2012 state higher education budget.

Though Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal would raise state higher education funding 3.1 percent from last year’s budget, Coleman and University Provost Philip Hanlon have been critical of the proposal’s institution of performance-based funding.

Coleman told the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs at its meeting last week that the performance metrics could have “unintended consequences” for the University in ignoring its strong graduate programs and research.

“We’ve been proposing alternatives with every breath we have,” Coleman said at the meeting.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said the recommendation by the House was a realization that the aims of the performance metric system may potentially harm University research programs. Irwin said even the threat of stripping the University of funding could damage the University’s ability to attract and retain world-class researchers.

“We have, in Michigan, this tremendous jewel which is the University of Michigan, where life-saving research and cutting-edge research happens,” Irwin said. “And here, we have, in Lansing, this group of legislators who are trying to (involve) their religious stances in their roles as legislators and make Michigan’s government more closely adhere to their interpretation of what the Bible says. That’s damaging the University.”

Despite the threat of funding cuts, Wilbanks and Fitzgerald said the University would not immediately send in the data requested by the state Legislature.

Wilbanks stressed that the committee’s recommendation still needs to pass in the full House and Senate, and be signed by Snyder before the threat materializes into a loss of aid, adding that the bill would likely be changed before Snyder signs the final budget.

Fitzgerald added that the University would stand firm in its protection of research initatives.

“At this point, we’ve submitted our response, and our response will stand,” he said.

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