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Board of Regents September meeting highlights

The Board of Regents’ Sept. 10-11 meeting was its first of the new academic year

By Adam Overland

Regents Seal

September 16, 2009

The Board of Regents’ Sept. 10-11 meeting was its first of the new academic year. The board recognized new Regents Professors, examined the impact of the federal stimulus act (ARRA), reviewed the 2010 State Capital Request, discussed the U's H1N1 flu preparedness, and more.

Friday's meeting opened with the board's recognition of the newest Regents Professors, the highest level of recognition given to faculty by the University. The three new Regents Professors are Bruce Blazar, chief, University of Minnesota Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) Program; Thomas Johnson, professor of geological sciences; and Lawrence Que Jr., Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. A profile about Lawrence Que can be found at Iron man. Blazar and Johnson will be featured in upcoming profiles.

Stimulus funds
University researchers have been competing energetically for grants under the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), also known as the federal stimulus bill. "The U has so far received sponsored grants and contracts in amount of 123 awards for $69 million," said President Bruininks.

Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy said the University of Minnesota is among the top universities nationwide in terms of proposals submitted for ARRA's roughly $21 billion in research funding opportunities. As of September 9, U faculty and staff had submitted 858 proposals for a potential $672 million in funding. "Hopefully that translates into awards," said Mulcahy. Examples of stimulus research awards approved thus far are available at the September Federal Relations report.

The board was also briefed on the significant administrative challenges that come with accepting ARRA awards. The unprecedented reporting requirements of the awards--for each individual ARRA award, the Office of Management and Budget requires 120 data elements in a quarterly report, which is due just 10 days after a quarter ends. While some ARRA grants provide additional funding to meet the act's new reporting requirements, ARRA research grants generally do not.

The number of awards has grown quickly recently weeks, with half being awarded in the last five weeks and September expected to be the peak. Mulcahy acknowledged that "staff have put in a huge amount of overtime, working evenings and weekends." He credited both staff and strategic planning in the U's ability to so far effectively manage the administrative challenge. "If we didn't have these systems in place, this would be an impossible task," he said.

Members of the board also heard about the impact of $89.3 million provided to the University by the ARRA under the category of State Fiscal Stabilization Funds (SFSF). Over FYs 2010 and 2011, these one-time funds will be utilized for significant tuition mitigation, including a new middle-income scholarship for undergraduates, and to create and retain University jobs, among other priorities. The Office of Budget and Finance estimates that these federal resources will save more than 245 University jobs that would otherwise have to be eliminated and will create more than 65 additional temporary positions.

2010 State Capital Request
The board was presented with the University's intended $242 million 2010 capital request. President Bruininks called the request "lean," adding that "it's typical for the state to cut this in the process."

Much of the capital request ($100 million) focuses on repair and renovation of basic University infrastructure projects. These are known as Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) funds, and would be paid for entirely by the state. Additional funding requests include:   

  • $36.5 million to renovate Folwell Hall, built in 1907. Of the 40+ languages are spoken on the Twin Cities campus, 27 are taught in Folwell Hall. "This building needs some work, from accessibility to modernization of classroom learning," said Bruininks.
  •  $80 million for a physics and nanotechnology facility to replace the current physics lab (Tate Hall), which is nearly 80 years old and was last remodeled in 1965. Physics is second behind cancer research in terms of sponsored funding or grand awards and growing fast. Bruininks said the building is an important part of the U's long-term strategy and part of the long-term east bank revitalization plan. 
  • $10 million for an American Indian Learning Resource Center on the Duluth campus 
  • $10 million for general laboratory renovation 
  • $5.5 million for the Itasca Biological Station 

Regents will vote on the capital request in October. The request would then go to the Legislature, which convenes in February. If the request were fully funded, the U would be responsible for $47.3 million of the total cost.

In other action:

A board committee heard from University public health and emergency management officials on its plans and response to the H1N1 pandemic influenza. The latest information on the U's H1N1 activities can be found at the H1N1 Emergency Preparedness Web site.

UMore Park
On Friday, the Board of Regents reviewed a resolution related to the creation of a limited liability company to be formed to manage UMore Park. The board also reviewed the creation of a legacy fund to manage any revenue from the development and mining of a portion of the land. Any proceeds would be dedicated to University funding needs not typically funded by the state. About 1,700 of the land's 5,000 acres are thought to hold the largest remaining aggregate gravel deposit in the state of Minnesota.

Union contracts
The Board approved four collective bargaining agreements with locals from the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union and IBEW Local 292. The deals cover about 3,000 University clerical, health care, and technical employees in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Crookston, and Morris. Union members had ratified the agreements July 23.

Presidential Performance Review

The Presidential Performance Review Committee reviewed the president's performance for 2008-09. The committee interviewed all members of the board, selected senior administrators, and representatives of faculty and student leaders. The committee noted evidence of significant accomplishment and improvement, especially in graduation rates, research grants, and fundraising for TCF Bank Stadium, in what was a challenging year for higher education across the country.

Chair Clyde Allen acknowledged President Bruininks's foresight to leverage the TCF Bank Stadium to bring in not only $86 million for athletics but also nearly that much in academics. Bruininks was commended for raising graduation rates more than any other president, for helping to create a collaborative climate crucial to the U's gains, and for helping raise over $250 million in scholarships during the past five years.

TCF Bank Stadium
The board approved a capital budget amendment to TCF Bank Stadium to add a brick wall to the inside of the field, thanks to a $500,000 gift. Thursday evening, just days before the first game in the new stadium (a game the Gophers won 20 to 13), the board and former members of the board toured the stadium and recognized a number of individuals who were instrumental in completing the $288.5 million project on time and within budget.

Provost Tom Sullivan led a review of the annual University Plan, Performance, and Accountability Report. The report is available to the public and will be online soon.

A work session was held to discuss the quality, tuition, and financial aid of graduate education.

A work session was also held to discuss the University's relationship with the University of Minnesota Physicians and Fairview Health Services.

More information can be found at Board of Regents.