Several University regents raised questions about the University’s long-term housing strategy at their monthly meeting yesterday.
The questioning came after the regents unanimously approved renovations to East Quad and Baits II Residence Halls. The Board of Regents also tackled issues concerning the state budget and addressed the ongoing scandal at Pennsylvania State University.
E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, said at yesterday’s meeting that the East Quad and Baits II projects aim to improve student residential living standards on a short-term scale. But Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R–Ann Arbor) said she’d like University Housing to focus more on the “bigger picture” of improvements.
“As good of a job as we’ve done, I think the North Quad experience has had an impact on all of us,” said Newman, praising the new residential-academic complex.
Newman asked Harper how University Housing will deal with the decreased bed space for students next year since East Quad and Baits II will be out of commission. Baits I is also closing at the end of this academic year due to sub-standard boilers and fire safety system.
The East Quad and Baits II renovations, both of which will be completed in summer 2013, could displace 150 to 300 returning residents during the next school year, according to Harper.
University President Mary Sue Coleman said Northwood II and Northwood III Apartments will house for some displaced students. Additionally, the reopening of Alice Lloyd Residence Hall, which is closed this year for renovations, will help with the accommodation.
University Regent Laurence Deitch (D–Bingham Farms) said he disagrees with using the Northwood apartments as space for students since the space is primarily meant for families.
“We need to focus on building more facilities like North Quad, or a public-private partnership,” Deitch said.
Harper added that University Housing will come up with a “master plan” for on-campus housing by this spring and present the first installment of it to the regents soon.
University Housing’s long-term goals include improving the commute to and from North Campus and upgrading more residence halls, Harper said.
The regents approved the $116 million East Quad renovation in July. The project plans to rework the infrastructure of the 300,000 square-foot building. The residence hall was erected in 1940 and received additions in 1948 and 1969.
The Residential College has called East Quad home since 1967, but Harper said the space the RC occupies was never meant for academic use. The renovation will add class space and common areas while maintaining bedroom numbers. Approximately 860 students currently live in East Quad.
Harper said the update of Baits II on North Campus is especially timely because of the recent announcement of the upcoming Baits I closure. The Baits II project will cost about $12 million and will include improvements to the fire safety system, windows, roofing, Internet service and individual room furniture. About 575 students currently inhabit the 175,000 square-foot residence hall.
“We have been working hard to enhance the vibrancy and appeal on North Campus,” Harper said.
Coleman’s budget letter approved by regents
The regents approved a letter signed by Coleman and University Provost Philip Hanlon that laid out the University’s funding suggestions to State Budget Director John Nixon. The regents unanimously approved the document, but a few board members suggested editing the letter to include stronger wording before sending it.
Regent Martin Taylor (D–Grosse Pointe Farms) said he wants the letter to contain stronger language concerning the University’s misgivings about formula funding — which determines allocations for state universities based on standards such as freshmen retention and graduation rates.
“This business of trying to fit it into a cookie-cutter kind of approach to evaluate just seems like a disturbing development to me,” Taylor said.
Cynthia Wilbanks, the University’s vice president for government affairs, said officials will re-draft the letter to make the language stronger as per the regents’ request.
Coleman said though the University is “financially sound,” formula funding may not be the best method with which to go forward.
“I don’t know of any state that has found some magic solution with formula funding,” Coleman said.
Coleman said the University is happy to have the opportunity to give the state constructive input about funding. She added that she is concerned about more budget cuts and maintaining the University’s AAA rating — the highest rating a university can achieve — under the formula funding model.
Hanlon said the letter addresses the University’s reservations about formula funding and its efforts to cut costs and generate entrepreneurial activity.
In the letter, Coleman cited the University’s accomplishments in pioneering research and keeping costs down during a 30-percent decrease in state funding over the last decade. She wrote that the state needs to evaluate the University by another means and not compare it to other state universities if the state is to allocate a sufficient amount of funding in upcoming fiscal years.
Regents support Coleman’s statement on Penn State situation
Regent Denise Ilitch (D–Bingham Farms) read a statement on behalf of the regents, urging the University community to learn from the scandal at Penn State.
“The regents whole-heartedly support President Coleman’s recent statement regarding Penn State,” Ilitch read. “Over the coming months, we intend to use this tragic situation as a catalyst for thoughtful re-examination of our institutional values, our culture and our community.”
Coleman sent an e-mail to all students, faculty and staff members Tuesday afternoon, advising the University community to act if an abuse or a crime were brought to their attention.
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and Penn State President Graham Spanier were fired last week after developments in an investigation of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky’s alleged sexual abuse of boys.