The Ann Arbor Chronicles

UM Regents Skate Through Agenda

Olympic ice dancers honored, honorary degree OK'd for Obama

University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting (March 18, 2010): Thursday’s meeting was a routine, relatively brief session – punctuated rather dramatically by the arrival of four Olympic ice dancers, who turned the regents, as one of them observed, into “total groupies.”

Meryl Davis, Martin Taylor, Mary Sue Coleman

UM president Mary Sue Coleman, right, talks with Olympic silver medalist Meryl Davis, left, while regent Martin Taylor looks on. Davis is one of four ice dancers who attend UM and who competed in the winter Olympics. (Photos by the writer)

During the less rambunctious portions of the meeting, regents approved two building renovations – at the Duderstadt Center and Lorch Hall – totaling $3.8 million. They also authorized the awarding of six honorary degrees at the May 1 commencement ceremony, including one to the keynote speaker, President Barack Obama.

The main presentation of the afternoon came from Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, who updated regents on the status of employee benefits.

At the end of the meeting, one person spoke during public commentary. Ann Arbor resident Rita Mitchell urged regents not to proceed with the Fuller Road Station project, a joint UM/city of Ann Arbor parking structure and transit center planned on city-owned land near the university’s medical campus. She argued that the project violated both the spirit and intent of a city charter amendment passed in 2008, which requires voters to approve the sale of city parkland.

Thursday’s meeting was in its usual location – the boardroom in the Fleming administration building, on Thompson Street. UM president Mary Sue Coleman reminded regents that next month’s meeting will be held in a different venue: the city of Grand Rapids.

U.S. Olympians: “Proud Wolverines”

During her opening remarks, UM president Mary Sue Coleman alerted regents and others in the room that they’d be joined later in the meeting by the four UM students who had competed in the winter Olympics. Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates were on their way over after finishing practice, she said, in preparation for the upcoming World Figure Skating Championships, held March 20-29 in Torino, Italy.

Several minutes later, as Laurita Thomas – UM associate vice president for human resources – was wrapping up a presentation on employee benefits, the four Olympians quietly slipped into the room, taking seats that had been reserved for them behind the board table. They listened politely as Thomas concluded her description of health plan aggregate cost sharing and retiree contribution levels.

Group shot of University of Michigan regents and U.S. Olympians

University of Michigan regents get ready to pose for photos with students who competed in the winter Olympics. Front row, from left: Denise Ilitch, Andrea Fischer Newman, Julia Darlow, Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Emily Samuelson, Libby Maynard. Back row: Andy Richner, Evan Bates, Martin Taylor.

But as soon as Thomas was done, Coleman introduced the skaters and they stood up to a round of applause. Coleman told them that they’d not only represented the United States well, but also “the maize and blue.” She added: “You just did us all proud.”

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman went up to the podium to read the text from a certificate of recognition that each of the skaters received. She said that as soon as she had received an email announcing that they’d be coming to Thursday’s meeting, she had immediately emailed back, asking if she could make the presentation. “That’s the science behind getting to do this,” she joked. After Newman read the text of the certificate, regents and university staff gave the students a standing ovation.

The four Olympians spoke briefly. Meryl Davis thanked the regents for the recognition. Her partner and fellow silver medalist, Charlie White, explained his choice of sport: “At a young age, I knew I probably wasn’t going to make the football team,” he quipped. He noted that they were among the very few figure skaters who went to college, and they were proud of that.

Evan Bates said he was born and raised in Ann Arbor, and has always been a huge Michigan fan. “We do take the block M wherever we go,” he said. Emily Samuelson, who partnered with Bates to place 11th in the ice dancing competition, said they’d received incredible support from the entire campus: “We’re proud to be Wolverines!”

Regents then took a 15-minute recess from their meeting to talk with the students, take photos and try on their medals. “It’s the nicest piece of jewelry I’ve ever seen,” Denise Ilitch said.

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