The University Record, April 19, 1999

Next steps in implementing the Life Sciences Initiative

By Jane R. Elgass

During discussion following an informational briefing on the Life Sciences Initiative, President Lee C. Bollinger told the Regents last week he hopes to bring a series of proposals related to project to their May meeting.

"We understand what we need [to launch the Initiative]," he said, "and now must decide how to make it happen.

"We want to make certain that it will fit into the University of Michigan culture and improve that culture in terms of an institute and where facilities might be. Our ideas are moving in that direction [a single institute] and there is physical space available that does what we want to do intellectually.

"We don't know how precise we can be or want to be at this stage. This is a multi-year process. It will take one to two years to form an institute, six months to a year to recruit a director and another two years for recruitment of faculty and development of courses. It's a five-year timeline to really be in operation, and over the course of that time we'll need institutional flexibility to address unforeseen issues."

The Regents support project, but several noted in their comments issues that need further attention.

"You've done a terrific job [in the presentation], it's reasonably understandable and exciting," said Regent S. Martin Taylor, "but the difficulty will come in communicating generally, in determining how to market it." There are multiple audiences, he noted, and each will require different forms of communication.

Regent Olivia P. Maynard echoed Taylor's comments, adding that the project is "too big not to have the support of the public sector."

Regent Laurence B. Deitch had been looking forward to the presentation, indicating that the Initiative is one of the "most exciting things to happen in my six years on the board. We stand on the brink of a very important frontier," he said.

Complimenting Bollinger, Commission members and other, Deitch noted that when the Board appointed Bollinger they asked him "to think deeply about where the University needs to go and you have done that. This is an exciting event for the University and the people of Michigan.

"If we don't do this, we go backward. This has to happen. At the end of the day, to be a great university you have to be at the cutting edge."

Practical matters were on Regent Andrea Fischer Newman's mind when she raised several issues she'd like to see addressed in any proposals that are brought forth. They include:

  • How resources will be allocated among the schools and colleges. Newman is concerned that the Medical School would receive "the lion's share" of funding.

  • The impact of fundraising for the Initiative on fundraising for other units as well as the source of funding for ongoing expenses. "This is just the beginning," she noted. "The last thing we need to do is create it and have it go down because we can't maintain it for lack of funding." She also wants to know the role outside pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies might play in the Initiative.

  • The impact of the Initiative on the Dearborn and Flint campuses and their roles in the project.

  • Direct benefits to the state.

    Newman also expressed concern about tuition, noting that it should not increase as a result of funding needs for the Initiative.

    The Initiative marks "a signature moment" for the University, said Regent Rebecca McGowan, and will strengthen the University's ability to provide a modern education to its students.

    Regent Daniel D. Horning offered his enthusiastic support for the Initiative, noting that "Michigan must be a leader" in the life sciences. "We need to do it right, we need to move forward."

    Regent David Brandon noted that one cannot be successful without having a vision and creating a case for that vision. "That's been done. I'm a believer as it relates to a case for change," he said. "We must challenge ourselves to create a picture for people who are not as technically close to this, a picture of what it will look like when we are successful."

    Regent Katherine White noted that there are two aspects to the Initiative, the academic, for which the University is committed to move forward, and, equally important, the opportunity to transform the state's economy and move it off its historical reliance on the Big Three automakers.

    "A biotechnology corridor could transform the whole region," she said.