Fourth town hall meeting addresses funding fears, long-term goals

President Julio Frenk and Provost Thomas LeBlanc held the fourth of seven scheduled town hall meetings Wednesday morning, focusing on initiatives surrounding research and innovation mentioned in the nine draft Roadmap papers.

The two-hour meeting discussed the university’s broader plans and opened the floor to students, faculty and staff to discuss the Roadmap and pose more specific questions. Several of the questions focused on current and future funding that would be affected by the initiatives.

Senior Jeremy Penn voiced his specific concerns for the funding of interdisciplinary programs, specifically the proposed Intersections Development in Action Laboratory (IDeA Lab).

The lab strives to promote “problem-based interdisciplinary collaboration” as well as manifest into a physical location for that collaboration. Penn feels that the IDeA Lab may be a repeat of other programs that would end up under resourced.

“I see a lot of interdisciplinary programs that already exist that do not get properly funded and are not given the resources they need to be successful,” Penn said. “I don’t want to have this amazing new IDeA Lab created and have it suck up all of the funding from the existing interdisciplinary programs.”

Responding to Penn’s concerns, Frenk emphasized the need for balance in funding, both in terms of the IDeA Lab and any other projects detailed in the initiatives.

“We’re not going to reallocate resources. That’s not the purpose,” Frenk said. “We hope that some of the other interdisciplinary programs will be energized by this initiative. We’re not going to build mountains by digging holes in other places.”

Chris Cosner, a professor in the mathematics department, asked Frenk and LeBlanc to discuss plans to strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at UM.

LeBlanc explained the roots of the program, addressing the fact that science and engineering has been “underinvested and under resourced” at UM, despite strengths in the Miller School of Medicine and Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS). LeBlanc also focused on concerns for STEM funding and the use of gifts.

“I want to dispel the concern that this is another way to send money down to the medical school,” LeBlanc said. “The whole point of this initiative is to raise to national caliber the science and engineering departments on this campus.”

Frenk also provided a broader context for the Roadmap initiatives and hoped to be transparent about the direction in which the university is heading, explaining that the process will be extensive.

“This is why it’s called a roadmap,” Frenk said. “It’s a map to get us to a destination. It’s not going to be quick.”

Steve Green, professor emeritus in the biology department, posed a more abstract question for Frenk, asking him what he hopes the university will be renowned for in 30 years time under the Roadmap initiatives.

“We should not lose the richness that comes from being comprehensive. Having said that, we’re not going to excel in absolutely every field,” Frenk explained. “That doesn’t mean that we disperse everything, but we should try to be very good, in a way that excellence permeates everything we do.”