At the monthly Board of Regents’s meeting yesterday, Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government relations, provided the regents with an update on state funding.

Wilbanks told the regents that although the news from Lansing has been bad for the state’s colleges and universities in the past few months, it appears that it could get even worse in the coming months and years.

“Fiscal year ’11 may be much, much more difficult than the fiscal year ’10 budget,” Wilbanks said in an interview after the regents’ meeting yesterday.

Wilbanks said despite the state’s economic woes, investments in higher education must be maintained if the state hopes to improve its economy in the long-term.

“Policymakers have to make really difficult choices, and of course the University’s position is going to be education spending,” Wilbanks said. “Education investments are the best investments you can make. Education is the key to the economic diversity of the state.”

Many moving targets remain in the state’s current budget and the budgets for the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years, including a possible recession of higher education funding this year, Wilbanks said.

“The fact is that almost everything right now is a moving target,” Wilbanks said. “Projections currently suggest a $1.5 billion or so shortfall, so it’s clear that the state will need to set priorities.”

Regents approve $31.4 million in renovations

The regents approved $31.4 million in new funding for renovating facilities and upgrading operations at the meeting.

The largest of the projects, which is expected to cost $17.6 million, will be used to renovate 46,000 square feet of the University’s Varsity Drive storage facility and 6,800 square feet of the Ruthven Museums Building.

After the renovations, specimens from the museum’s “wet” collection will be moved to the University’s Varsity Drive storage facility, while select items will be kept in the teaching collection at the Ruthven Museums Building.

The regents also approved a project to renovate four laboratories in the Edward Henry Kraus Building for the estimated cost of $2.2 million. The project is expected to be completed in fall 2010.

A renovation project at Wolverine Tower, which houses much of the University’s business, finance and development offices, was granted $6.3 million from the regents. This project, which will renovate 61,000 square feet, is expected to be completed in fall 2011 and will temporarily displace 50 parking spots.

The regents also approved $1.5 million to replace a chiller — essentially a large air conditioning unit — that serves both the Chemistry Building and the Willard H. Dow Laboratory. Installation is expected to be completed next fall and is projected to save $300,000 per year in energy costs.

An additional $3.8 million was approved to upgrade the University’s wireless internet network and telephone switch. The project also includes additional outside cabling to the Wall Street complex, North Quad and the North Campus Research Complex.

School of Information takes control of master’s program

The regents approved a request to transfer the administration of the Master of Science in Information degree from the Rackham Graduate School to the School of Information.

Speaking before the regents yesterday, Provost Teresa Sullivan said the move is consistent with administrative practices in other professional schools, like the schools of Law, Engineering and Business.

“The MBA is not in Rackham; the MPH is not in Rackham,” Sullivan said in an interview on Wednesday. “It’s similar to that.”

— Chris Photiades contributed to this report.

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