FLINT — The University’s endowment has reached its highest amount ever at nearly $8 billion, according to the University’s 2011 financial report released yesterday.

At its monthly meeting here yesterday, the University’s Board of Regents discussed the University’s financial health, renovations to Yost Ice Arena, improvements to campus buildings and Winter Commencement honorary degree recipients.

As of June 30, the University’s endowment was valued at $7.8 billion, according to the report released at the meeting. The University has also seen a high rate of investment returns at 24.3 percent from investments made with endowment funds. At the same time last year, the endowment was worth $6.6 billion.

Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer,wrote in the financial report that the investment rate is one of the highest among universities.

“As a result of their dedication in building on our strong foundation and tradition of excellence, we continue to have the resources to make strategic investments in the facilities, programs and people that make our institution one of the best public research universities in the world,” Slottow wrote in the report.

Over the last decade, the University has overstepped the customary benchmark for investment returns by approximately 3 percent, White said. She also mentioned that the hard work of the University’s investment office, led by the University’s Chief Investment Officer Erik Lundberg, has paid off in the 2011 fiscal year.

In an interview after the meeting, Lundberg said the endowment is instrumental to the University’s operation, and he anticipates further growth in the future through increased gifts and smart investing.

Lundberg said he is excited about the establishment of the University’s new initiative, the Michigan Investment in New Technology Startups, which will invest up to $25 million in University start-up businesses over the next decade. He added he is confident that returns on the University’s investment in start-up companies will be lucrative.

“There’s a lot of good things about the initiative,” Lundberg said, “but for me, it had to overcome the hurdle of being able to justify taking risks with the endowment money.”

Next phase of Yost Ice Arena project backed by regents

The regents approved the schematic design and funding to improve seating and fan amenities at Yost Ice Arena.

Slottow said during the meeting that this part of the project must be approved to ensure that construction doesn’t interfere with the hockey season and finishes by the fall 2012 deadline.

“We are requesting your approval of the schematic design and also to go out (and) to (solicit) bids with some early procurement packages to fit this aggressive schedule,” Slottow said.

The regents were shown renderings of the proposed renovation, which includes additional accessible seating for people with disabilities, more concession stands and a new press box. At their June meeting, the regents approved the $14.7 million renovation of the 88-year-old building.

Cardiac Catheterization laboratory to be housed in new hospital

The regents gave the green light to finish the 11th floor of the new C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital as a cardiac catheterization laboratory. The hospital is scheduled to open in November.

The laboratory project — estimated to cost $3.45 million — will be funded by the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers’ resources.

In an interview after the meeting, Slottow explained that some space in the hospital had been left unfinished to accommodate for future needs that may arise. He said he hadn’t anticipated the need for a cardiac catheterization lab so quickly, but trends show that a pediatric unit in the lab is necessary.

Regents approve Central Power Plant modernization

The University’s Central Power Plant, which allocates power to Central Campus, will receive an update to its control system after the regents passed a $6.75 million upgrade.

At the meeting, Slottow said the project will revamp the Central Power Plant’s system, which heats and cools much of the campus. The project is scheduled to be completed in fall 2014.

Regents approve honorary degrees for Winter Commencement

The regents heard the recommendations and approved honorary degrees to be awarded at Winter Commencement to four people in a variety of fields.

University President Mary Sue Coleman read the nominations for honorary degrees. Jill Abramson, executive editor of The New York Times, will give the keynote address at the commencement ceremony on Dec. 18 at Crisler Arena. Abramson will also receive an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Coleman said Abramson is a compelling candidate for the degree because she serves on the board of directors of the Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University. Knight-Wallace fellows are professional journalists who are given a grant to study at the University for a one-year period.

Coleman added that Abramson represents powerful, professional women as the first female executive editor of the Times — a position she assumed Sept. 6.

“We are very excited that she is going to be our commencement speaker,” Coleman said.

Nancy Cantor, chancellor of Syracuse University, will receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony. Leslie Benet, professor of biopharmaceutical sciences and pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Robert Putnam, the Peter and Isabel Malkin professor of public policy in the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, will each receive an honorary Doctorate of Science degree.

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