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December 08, 2005 - Image 16

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-12-08

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You rage against the machine,
I'll get a new engine

It's Over Your Head


Architecture Column

By Austin Dingwall

S tandard Operating Procedure is the way
things are done because that is the way they
are done. Why struggle against the current
when it is easier to go with the flow? Mightier
ihan a paradigm, standard operating procedures
do not have to be thought about or accepted in a
society. Mainly, standards evolve out of common
'ense business practices that are never thought
abTout twice. Rarely are they even discussed due
to their inherent banality. Only when one tries to
step out of the routine do they come to attention
because we soon realize that evading the com-
monplace is not simply about seeking alternatives,
it is about fighting a system.
Erecting a building is all about standard pro-
cedures. The construction industry is basically a
sequence of steps that leads to a structure. Over
time, a long list of techniques has been honed to
provide a predictable outcome within an accept-
able time frame for a particular price. Recently,
however, it has become increasingly apparent that
these standard building practices are detrimental
to both our natural and human environments.
In the United States, buildings account for
approximately one-third of all greenhouse gas
emissions, raw material use and waste output.
Around 70 percent of all waste volume in land-
fills comes from the construction industry. One-
twelfth of the entire world's energy is consumed
to heat and cool U.S. buildings, and it takes, on
average, as much energy to heat and cool a build-
ing for three years as it did to build it in the first
place. Clearly, there is something defunct with the
architectural SOP. In terms of pollution, energy
consumption and a slew of other health related
issues like indoor air quality, we are seemingly
not building toward the future but rather digging
our own graves.
Yet this is no dirty little secret. Worldwide,
there are architects, builders, scholars and stu-
dents promoting sustainable architecture. The
craze is upon us, and the word sustainable has
now reached buzzword status. If there is so much
attention drawn to this environmental crisis, why
is it still so hard to actually create a truly sustain-
able building? Because SOP is stronger than even
the most rational reasoning. The ease of using old
fashioned, outdated and expected modes of pro-
duction usually outweighs the risk associated with
trying something new and better.
Here at the University, there are two new con-

struction projects that starkly and unexpectedly
contrast each other in terms of promoting sus-
tainability. The architects and donors for the new
Stephen M. Ross School of Business have actively
integrated sustainable aspects into their project.
Although business and environmental interests
are stereotypically at odds, Business School Dean
Bob Dolan said that creating a sustainable building
for his school plainly "makes sense." By focusing
a sub-committee on sustainability from the very
beginning stages of the design process, the archi-
tects were able to interweave green aspects into
the entire project. Using the U.S. Green Building
Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmen-
tal Design (LEED) rating system, the architects
will gain LEED certification but are more inter-
ested in achieving a sustainable environment.
Across campus, there is a fervor of talk about
the new C.S. Mott Children's and Women's Hos-
pital, yet there is little talk of making the new
facility environmentally friendly. Around the
country, more hospitals are getting recognition
for becoming LEED-certified. The children's and
women's hospital can optimize sustainability as
comparable hospitals have done. This building,
used to promote health, is being envisioned in a
far less environmentally friendly manner. Also
interesting to note, is that the C.S. Mott Foun-
dation, which is chipping in $25 million of the
$498 million for construction, actually describes
itself as "supporting efforts that promote a just,
equitable, and sustainable society." Apparently,
building a less than sustainable building pro-
motes the sustainable society of the C.S. Mott
Seemingly backwards, this hospital with a sus-
tainable-minded donor will be less healthy than
the new Business School. The difference being
that the Business School modifies the SOP of con-
struction while the hospital just goes along with
the standards.
At the heart, the issue boils down to SOP.
There are nearly 200 environmental stewardship
projects at the University. There are various aca-
demic programs and courses focused on sustain-
ability as well as numerous student groups and
initiatives. In 2003, President Mary Sue Coleman
initiated an Environmental Task Force to assess
the University's impact, and the Office of the Pro-
vost has recently launched the Graham Environ-
mental Sustainability Institute - a $10.5-million

of-state tuition, is that, with University tuition
comparable to that at elite privates, the best
and brightest Michigan students would no
longer have an incentive to attend the Uni-
versity of Michigan over Northwestern Uni-
versity, Harvard, etc. Consequently, the
University's reputation and academic excel-
lence, which is defined in no small part by its
undergraduate body, would suffer. But if the
University maintained a discount for in-state
students, even when private, it could remain
more attractive than peer institutions outside
the state. In theory, the University would still
be able to attract Michigan's top high school
In fact, as long as the in-state rate of tuition is
still relatively low compared to the out-of-state rate,
Michigan students will have a financial incentive to
accept an offer of admission from the University.
While a $20,000 tuition bill is sizeable, undergradu-
ate in-state tuition would remain far below the mar-
ket value of a University education Courant said. He
argues that because the University is currently the
best institution in the state, it has the room to ratchet
up tuition. without losing students. "People will be
unhappy, but they'll come," he said.
Even with an annual tuition rate of around
$20,000, the University would still offer a "tremen-
dous return on investments for... upper middle-class
students," who constitute 50 percent of the Universi-
ty's undergraduates.
But simply having the cash to privatize is not
sufficient. Critical to the question of privatization is
whether the state's citizens would allow the neces-
sary constitutional amendment. While the Macki-
nac Center brushed over this political obstacle in
its endorsement of privatization, Courant feels oth-
erwise. In an interview with The Michigan Daily,
Courant indicated that such a change would require
"enormous political upheaval."
But even if the change required enormous
upheaval, it could conceivably be pushed
through. If analysis shows privatization to be in
the public interest, the political battle necessary
to privatize the University could be won. This
obstacle, while potentially difficult to circum-
vent, could eventually be overcome - if advo-
cates could effectively support and sell their

4Just because the past
provost (Courant) and
some others were will-
ing to commit financial
aid ... that doesn't
mean it will be main- x
tained in tougher times.
- Edward St. John
author of "Privatization
and Public Universities."
What are the drawbacks?
ut all experts are not convinced that
privatization of the University is in the
school's best interest - or the state's.
Education Prof. Edward St. John,
author of "Privatization and Public
Universities," which will be published-
by the Indiana University Press next
year, has argued that the state and university are
metaphorically married, and that "even though it's
a rocky period ... good marriages go through rocky
According to St. John, while it is perfectly pos-
sible to privatize the University, it would be in neither
the state's nor the institution's interest. The reputation
value of being one of the world's best public institu-
tions "far, far outweighs," in St. John's words, "the
benefits of being a third-rate Harvard." "Our public
nature is an essential part of who we are," said Uni-
versity spokeswoman Julie Peterson, "It would be a
loss for us to shift our mission."
Furthermore, the linkage between the state and
University has provided "cultural-capital value" to
both the state and University. On one hand, fund-
ing from the state has helped the University grow
to its present size, while on the other, the economic
and moral contributions of the University have had
tremendous impact on the state's history and devel-
Most importantly, however, St. John believes
that full privatization would endanger the Univer-

sity's long-standing public mission of providing an
affordable education to Michigan citizens. If the
University raised its in-state tuition to the levels
needed to privatize, those hailing from low-income.
backgrounds would be shut out of the University:
"You would only have access for poor kids in the
state at regional campuses," he said.
Right now, as part of the University's mission to
the state, it has publicly promised to meet the finan-
cial need of all in-state undergraduates. Even while
tuition increased this year, the burden on students
from families making less than the state's median
income was offset by larger increases in financial
aid. As a private institution, the University would
have no such obligation to ensure access. "Just
because the past provost (Courant) and some others
were willing to commit financial aid ... that doesn't
mean it will be maintained in tougher times," St.
John said. Without significant financial aid, a priva-
tized University would exclude lower income stu-
dents - and without any responsibility to the state,
the University would have no duty to maintain
But even if the University maintained its com-
mitment to financial aid, the $20,000-plus sticker
price could easily scare many low-income students
away from even applying. Even now, Courant fears
that the University's price - high relative to other
Michigan institutions - keeps many low-income
students from applying. If the University privatized
and raised tuition, it is logical to predict the Univer-
sity's applicant pool would shrink further. Conse-
quently, the University would have a smaller group
from which to select the incoming freshman class.
The smaller pool would translate not only into a
less diverse incoming class, but also, arguably - a
lower quality class.
There is also the relevant fear that a priva-
tized University would shrink - significantly
- its incoming classes. With a student body of
over 37,000 students, the University is far larger
than any private institution. Yet, this large class
size is integral to the University's character and
mission. "While elite private universities were
important in setting the standards and charac-
ter of higher education in America, it was the
public university that provided the capacity and
diversity to meet our nation's vast needs for
postsecondary education," argues Duderstadt.

30 f-



t000L }



The new C.S. Mott Children's and Women's Hospital is far from environmentally friendly.

interdisciplinary initiative. All this well-meaning
conscientious activism is basically akin to salmon
fighting their way upstream due to the challenges
of SOP. To achieve a lesser environmental impact,
the University must willingly change its standard
operating procedures.
First and foremost, rather than a piecemeal
building-by-building approach, Michigan can
change its policies University-wide. If the Board
of Regents makes a mission not to approve any
building that won't achieve at least LEED certi-
fied status, then the entire system changes. From
then on, all University buildings will have to
comply with a more environmental protocol.
Secondly, we must realize that new policies
leading to greater efficiency are relative to days of
old. Comparing sustainability to the current base-
line only justifies the present system. As William
McDonough, a leader in the sustainable move-
ment, says, "Being less bad is no good." Using
the EPA's Energy Star program, the University
has saved $9.7 million of electricity yearly. That
sounds great. Another way of looking at it, we

were spending $9.7 million more than we needed
before - due to antiquated SOPs.
Lastly, there is a perception that building green
costs more. True, there is usually an increased
cost of construction, though many buildings have
shunned negative criticism of new green technol-
ogy by being both clean and cheap. If the SOP
changed to more sustainable construction, the
~initial cost increase would disappear. Also, low
energy costs of green buildings succeed in mak-
ing them economical over the length of their lives.
The University must unify their accounting to
consider both original construction costs and con-
tinuing operating and maintenance costs together.
In order to achieve a brighter future, we must
stop bending to the standard operating procedures
of current architecture and construction practices.
But continually fighting the existing system is not
the answer. Changing today is the only way to
change tomorrow.
Dingwall is the Daily's architecture columnist.
He can be reached at adingwal@umich.edu.

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