Thursday’s University Board of Regents meeting included the approval of two North Campus renovation projects, seven honorary degree recipients and an update on the University’s research funding.
S. Jack Hu, interim executive vice president for research, delivered the annual research report, which showed that the University’s annual research funding fell to $1.3 billion in 2014 — a slight decrease from the record high $1.32 billion in fiscal year 2013.
“Research is an important mission of the University,” Hu said. “With research, we create new knowledge and understanding that enhance our educational process.”
This past year, Hu reported, the University funded more than 3,500 graduate students and 1,100 undergraduate students for research projects. Though the total number of research contracts awarded increased by 4.1 percent, he added, the total dollar value of those contracts dropped by about 16 percent.
Hu said the decrease in funding is due in part to the decline in federal support, which decreased 4.5 percent this year. To help curb decreasing federal sponsorship, the University has looked to other avenues to find funding, including to industries and foundations. Hu noted that nonfederal source funding was up 6.25 percent this year — a total of $124.4 million.
North campus renovations
The regents approved two North Campus construction proposals.
One included schematic designs for the North Campus Grove project, and granted the University authorization to award construction contracts for the renovation.
The existing North Campus lawn, which spans four acres and serves as the main outdoor gathering space on North Campus, will be improved to facilitate more opportunities for outdoor events, activities and displays.
University Planner Sue Gott said the project is essential in improving the North Campus atmosphere.
“As you know, this is a really sacred and iconic space for North Campus located in the heart of the core,” Gott said at the meeting.
The renovations will create an informal amphitheater and add a new central plaza to the lawn, as well as walkways, seating, trees and improved lighting, water and electrical infrastructure.
In addition, Gott said the plan calls for a new sand volleyball court, built for both formal and informal recreation use, Wi-Fi, energy efficient lighting and a stormwater management system, which will absorb water that later moves into the Huron River.
The board approved the Grove project at their meeting last April; with Thursday’s approval, the design phase will move forward. Gifts and College of Engineering resources will fund the project.
The second item approved was a $13 million renovation of the North Campus Recreation Building, originally built in 1976. The project will add 18,000 square feet to the existing space — making room for a new gymnasium, spaces for cardio and group exercise and a new entry to the building.
In addition, the existing racquetball courts, restrooms and locker rooms will be updated, along with electrical, heating and plumbing system upgrades.
The project’s design, which has been contracted to Integrated Design Solutions in association with RDG Planning and Design, will begin immediately.
The renovation is part of a larger initiative to improve the University’s unions and recreational sports facilities.
In April 2013, the regents approved a $65-per-term student fee for facility renewal. The student fee, which was administered to fund renovations of the University’s unions and recreational sports facilities, will fund the NCRB renovation.
Honorary degree recipient approval
The regents approved seven honorary degree recipients for the Spring 2015 Commencement, including Paul Saginaw and Ari Weinzweig. The duo will be this year’s commencement speakers, and are the co-founders of Zingerman’s Community of Business.
Zingerman’s Community of Businesses includes eight separate businesses, employs over 600 people and receives annual sales of close to $50 million. Saginaw and Weinzweig founded Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan.
President Barack Obama famously visited the deli last year and touted the company’s commitment to responsible wages and benefits for employees.
“Zingerman’s is a business that treats its workers well, and rewards honest work with honest wages,” Obama told University students in a speech advocating higher federal minimum wage last spring. “And that’s worth celebrating.”
Former U.S. House Rep. John Dingell will also receive an honorary degree. Dingell is the longest-serving member of the House in history. During his tenure, he supported civil rights and progressive policies, voting for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Affordable Care Act, and chairing the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.
In November 2014, Dingell earned the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award a U.S. citizen can win. His wife, Debbie Dingell, succeeded him when he retired from his post in January of this year.
Other honorary degree recipients include award-winning journalist Robin Wright, author and economist Robert Shiller and Tadataka Yamada, former chair of the Department of Internal Medicine.
“The seven individuals submitted for approval are remarkable in their achievements and impacts on our society,” University President Mark Schlissel said at the meeting.
Central Student Government report
CSG President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy senior, gave his monthly summary of CSG affairs to the regents.
He explained that, after talking with University administrators, changing the Fall 2015 academic calendar so classes would end prior to Dec. 23 is not a possibility. This issue was highly contested last month, when a student group called Crush the Calendar created a petition that amassed thousands of votes in support of rescheduling classes so students wouldn’t need to travel home on Christmas Eve.
His main point, though, was to reflect upon the University’s mental health resources.
“I’d like to apologize for misstating an argument I have made to this board in the past,” he said. “Previously, I had stated that there is nothing else that more Michigan students participate in than Michigan football … I now know, upon reflection and looking at data, that the single thing that affects most students, that most students go through on a day-to-day basis, is their mental well-being.”
Dishell said 36 percent of students at the University have had some form of mental health counseling in the last year, and added that 21 percent still do currently. He said that the second leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 is suicide.
“The frightening thing about this statistic is that over 15,000 of our students have sought help in the past year,” he said. “That means they are even more affected by mental health and depression day in and day out. I am one of these students. I battle with depression every day of my life … today I am winning that battle. I was able to get help, and I still do. I would not be here before you today if I hadn’t.”
Dishell asked the board to examine the University’s resources, including Counseling and Psychological Services and the Depression Center, to further examine ways to fight mental health stigma.
Speakers discuss divestment from fossil fuels, sexual misconduct awareness
During the meeting’s public comments section, LSA senior Katelyn Maddock, a student representative from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, asked the board to encourage faculty to include the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Policy in course syllabi.
Maddock said including the policy in syllabi would educate students about the sexual misconduct resources available on campus and engage faculty in the discussion about sexual assault.
“We have an incredible need for language like this on campus,” Maddock said, citing the high number of sexual assaults reported on campus last year.
In 2014, the University had the second highest total number of reported sexual assaults on college campuses.
Citing the University’s responsibility to combat climate change, Scott Bloomberg, a third-year law student and member of the Divest and Invest Campaign, was one of three to speak on behalf of the organization.
Bloomberg touted a resolution that Divest and Invest members co-authored with CSG representatives, which calls for a committee to investigate the University’s potential for divesting from oil and coal companies.
He said the resolution indicated campus-wide support for the mission of Divest and Invest, and said the campaign’s success was at the very least grounds for a one-on-one private meeting with either the Board of Regents or Schlissel.
“I think we’ve earned enough to be able to meet with you all as a group and I think that’s what we’d like as a next step,” Bloomberg said. “From what I understand you meet behind closed doors at least once a month before the meeting and I think we’d really like to be invited to that or be invited to give a prolonged speech here.”
Members of BAMN, a group that advocates for affirmative action, integration and immigrant rights, also spoke at the meeting
BAMN’s demands include calls for on-site admission programs and the “10-percent plan,” which has been adopted in Texas. Under this plan, the top 10 percent of every in-state high school graduating class is guaranteed admission to any of the state’s public institutions.
LSA freshman Sandhya Medapuram — who is running to serve as a CSG representative for BAMN’s political branch, Defend Affirmative Action Party — said the organization would shut down another regents meeting if the group’s demands for were not met.
“BAMN and our representatives with CSG under the Defend Affirmative Action party, shut down the Regents meeting last semester over a discussion about on-site admissions in Detroit and we will do it again if our demands aren’t met,” Medapuram said.
She added that BAMN hopes to adjust the University’s admissions processes to increase minority enrollment.
“The way the University approaches admissions is indubitably racist and that’s what we’re targeting,” Medapuram said. “A campus that admits a larger (number of ) minority students will lead to a better representation of the state of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Detroit and the American society itself.”
Daily News Editor Michael Sugerman contributed reporting.