BOT to purchase research facility, review hiring practices

2817+Research+Dr.%2C+located+four+miles+south+of+campus+in+Rochester+Hills.

Photo Courtesy of Oakland University

2817 Research Dr., located four miles south of campus in Rochester Hills.

Lauren Karmo, Staff Reporter

The Oakland University Board of Trustees (BOT) met Monday, Oct. 12 via WebEx to review enrollment, diverse hiring practices and potential expansions of research facilities, as well as announce the new vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. 

President’s report

President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz revealed final enrollment numbers did not suffer as much as expected because of COVID-19. Based on previous years’ enrollment, the projected number of students for fall 2020 pre-COVID-19 was 18,810 students, and this year’s was 18,552 (-2.4%). 

This number is more than 1,000 students above the projected drop in enrollment (17,527 students in the projected “realistic case”). According to Pescovitz, the 2.4% decline in enrollment is smaller than that of 11 of the 15 public universities in the state. 

While both summer semesters had a high enrollment (+5.1%, +2.7% respectively), the full credit hours enrollment for fall saw a slightly larger decline than student enrollment did with -2.5%.

Pescovitz also noted that OU has remained the “school of choice” with its high attraction to transfer students.

“Very importantly, again this year, 2020, just like in 2019, Oakland University is the No. 1 transfer destination among all 15 public universities in the state,” Pescovitz said. “This is a really significant statistic, which makes us very, very proud.”

In addition to enrollment, Pescovitz addressed the five-point plan titled “Grizzlies Protect Grizzlies,” where precautions like wearing masks, getting tested and monitoring cases are used to lower COVID-19 cases on campus. As of Oct. 12, there have been 68 positive cases since July 12, with only 22 being students living in on-campus housing.

“When I walk through campus or on weekends outside when I ride my bike across campus, I am stunned to see every single student, and faculty and staff member wearing a mask,” Pescovitz said. “I don’t see this when I visit other campuses or other institutions across Michigan.”

Diversity, equity and inclusion in faculty and hiring

Currently, OU has 25 active faculty searches and expect to see that number rise. Annually, OU typically recruits 40 new faculty members and hopes to employ diverse hiring practices in order to allow for the faculty to match the student population. 

Overall, under-represented minorities make up 9% of the faculty and 15% of students. In 2019, 21% of new hires were under-represented minorities. The university has committed to improving the diversity among faculty in upcoming searches through the diversity advocate program.

“In that program, a diversity advocate is trained and developed and then serves as a voting member of the search committee,” Cynthia Miree, interim associate provost, said. “As a voting member of the search committee, they are tasked to ensure that unconscious bias is mitigated and not having a negative impact on candidates as they are moving through the process.”

Expansion of research into off-campus facility

The BOT approved the $3.715 million purchase of 2817 Research Dr., located four miles south of campus in Rochester Hills. The 50,000-square-foot facility, which sits on 3.55 acres, will add 40 laboratories, offices, collaboration spaces and more following a $10-12 million renovation.

“Ultimately I think [an on-campus facility] would be preferred, but because of the cost differential this purchase at $3.7 million plus $10 million renovation is about $280 a square foot, as opposed to $600 plus per square foot on campus,” BOT Treasurer John Beaghan said. “So, the thinking is that we’re going to get much more space in a much shorter time frame close to campus in an industrial area where many of our partners and potential partners also have facilities.”

This facility will house faculty from the School of Engineering and Computer Science, currently in Dodge Hall. The 50,000 square feet of space will exceed the current projected need of research space of 21,000 square feet based on the 2016 Campus Master Plan

Currently, OU does not have the space to accommodate faculty and hope the expansion to 2817 Research Dr. will fix that issue until the university can afford to create a comparable on-campus facility.

Other matters:

  • Britt Rios-Ellis will assume the position of executive vice president of Academic Affairs and provost on Jan. 4, 2021.
  • Trustee Melissa Stolicker said OU’s previous fiscal year has a clean unqualified audit opinion but is currently awaiting results of the single audit. This is delayed due to new rules based on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. 
  • South Foundation Hall renovations are awaiting approval from the state level while designs for Varner Hall renovations are in progress. 

The next BOT meeting will be on Monday, Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. in the Oakland Center Banquet Room A.