Regents approve South Quad renovations

By Peter Shahin, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 20, 2012

The University’s efforts to revamp residence halls on campus have continued with the approval of a $60-million renovation of South Quad Residence Hall.

In addition to approving updates to the residence hall, the University’s Board of Regents voted to raise the salary of University President Mary Sue Coleman and discussed the impact of Coursera technology in the classroom during its monthly meeting Thursday afternoon. Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, also reported that the University’s research budget was increased by 3 percent this year, a historic high.

The 106,700 square-foot renovation of South Quad will increase the size of the dining hall, the upgrade the restrooms, improve study lounges and add more of study spaces throughout the building.

A majority of the project’s funds will be devoted to utility upgrades including a new air conditioning and heating system and improved wired and wireless Internet access. Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the renovation will involve a “total revamp” of the first two floors.

In an interview before the meeting, E. Royster Harper, the University’s vice president for student affairs, said the project would be similar to previous renovations in other residence halls, noting that improving the student experience while preserving the history of the building is key.

“In our heritage halls, because some of the buildings are so iconic and so beautiful, we’re really investing in them, and investing heavy in the infrastructure,” Harper said. “The majority of the money has been in the infrastructure, in the wiring, in the HVAC systems.”

According to Harper, the renovation of East Quad Residence Hall is still on schedule and slated to re-open in time for the fall 2013 semester. However, closing South Quad at the same time as East Quad’s reopening will result in a net loss of 300 beds in the University Housing system.

“We’ll be in this kind of crunch for several more years,” Harper said. “We’ve been doing pretty good at accommodating students who want to stay in the residence halls, and making sure we have a place for our first year students.”

After the renovation of South Quad is complete, Harper said the University will move forward with a planned renovation of West Quad Residence Hall. Harper added that this effort will largely complete the renovations of the Hill neighborhood and the “heritage” residence halls.

Harper reiterated that Baits I on North Campus will not reopen as a residence hall, but may be used as temporary office space in the future.

Regents vote to raise President Mary Sue Coleman’s salary

The regents also voted to increase University President Mary Sue Coleman’s salary by 3 percent, a total of $17,574. In addition to her base salary, Coleman also receives a $100,000 retention bonus, $55,350 in direct and supplemental retirement income, the use of the University-owned President’s House and an automobile.

Before her raise, Coleman’s base salary was $585,783. But, immediately after the regents unanimously agreed to the raise, Coleman said she would donate the entire increase to study abroad scholarships at the University to encourage students to experience overseas studying opportunities.

“I’m perfectly well compensated,” Coleman said. “I want more students to travel abroad.”

Regent S. Martin Taylor (D–Gross Pointe Farms) said Coleman’s base salary is low compared to other similarly sized and comparable colleges and universities, and praised her in her annual performance review.

“The base salary of the President is certainly not out of line,” Taylor said. “If anything, it’s too low.”

Last year, the regents gave Coleman a 2.75 percent raise, which she also donated to the University to help fund study abroad scholarships.

University research budget reaches all-time high

Stephen Forrest, the University’s vice president for research, reported to the regents that the University’s research budget has grown this year by approximately 3 percent. The total research budget has risen to $1.27 billion, an increase of $37.5 million, the largest in the University’s history.

Still, Forrest cautioned that he didn’t expect a rapid reinvestment in research from the government in years to come.

“Looking ahead, there’s no doubt that the overall pace of growth of funding from the federal government is slowing,” Forrest told the regents.

According to a press release issued by the University, the increased funding came from a variety of government departments and agencies, absorbing the loss of funds from the end of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Private investment also rose by 5.6 percent to $42.8 million.

Board discusses impact of Coursera program

The month’s featured presentation to the regents focused on the University’s involvement in the online education clearinghouse, Coursera. The University of Michigan was one of the launch partners for Coursera, alongside Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton University.

Martha Pollack, the vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, explained that the University is expanding its role in the world of online education.

“What we can do is we can shift some of the pure knowledge transfer to the online format, and free up more time and more resources for hands-on work,” Pollack said.

Pollack said many of the courses the University has offered have drawn thousands of students to the online courses, adding that offering the content online was consistent with the University’s mission as a public entity to offer its talents and information.

“We think this is a very valuable and exciting way to connect with our alumni, prospective students and with the citizens of the state,” Pollack said. “And since I’m the budget person, it provides potentially even revenue, and we’re really looking into that.”

Coursera’s most popular classes are open to anyone with Internet access, and therefore impossible to monetize, Pollack explained. However, she said the sale of certificates of completion for some courses is one way to potentially draw revenue from the service, though no formal policy has yet been instituted. University students, faculty and staff have free access to any course in Coursera’s catalog so long as it is used on campus.

Scott Page, the director of the center for complex systems, taught the first Coursera class offered by the University, which attracted about 90,000 students,

“Interacting with 40,000 people is really a strange thing to do,” Page said. “I’ve had deans of public health schools in South Africa and Czechoslovakia come to me and ask, ‘Can we use your particular set of lectures for this unit in our course?’ It’s been a fabulous opportunity for me to share.”

Page said the modular focus of the course was beneficial for student scheduling because they could jump in and out of the class whenever they wanted without getting lost. However, he also said the feedback from an in-person course was much greater than what was available with Coursera.