Michigan

Tree Stands in Way of Costly UMich Renovations, So Admin Will Spend $400K Moving It

The tree has a 75 percent chance of survival.

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Lorax
The Lorax / Youtube

The University of Michigan is spending millions of dollars to spiff up its Ross School of Business—a building that is already among the most opulent school facilities in the country, having been renovated less than a decade ago. But a historic tree stands in the way of the construction project, so university officials have budgeted $400,000 to relocate the 200-year-old bur oak.

Consultants give it a 70-80 percent chance of surviving the move, according to the Ann Arbor News:

Workers dug a four-foot-wide trench and will place steel beams more than four feet below the tree's base. Lifting devices will be used break the the roots from the ground in order for it to be unearthed. The tree will then be loaded onto a flat bed and transferred less than a football field's distance away from its current location.

Jenny Cooper, a graduate student at the business school and U-M's School of Natural Resources, is one of 291 students, faculty and staff who signed a petition urging the school to save the tree.

"As I see it, the rationale for preserving the (legacy bur oak) tree is about history, tradition, pride and respect," she told The Ann Arbor News in a previous interview. "The tree is a symbol of strength and resilience and far predates the university as part of the landscape."

By the way, it should be noted that neither students nor taxpayers are directly covering the cost of the project, which is being paid for by billionaire philanthropist Stephen Ross, for whom the building is named. Ross has given hundreds of millions of dollars to the important cause of fancier buildings at UM, including $200 million in 2013 for the Business School and athletic facilities.

Ross can spend his money however he likes, of course. However, I can't help but wonder whether the students of this public institution would have been better served by a generous contribution to the university's general fund—and an accompanying tuition decrease. According to reports, UM fundraisers solicited Ross for the latest donation; they came to him, in other words. $200 million would have gone a long way toward halting the upward spiral of tuition prices at UM, but I guess that didn't come up in the conversation? ("Thanks for transforming our Business School into a spaceport, Mr. Ross; now let's turn our attention to the thousands of students who can no longer afford to attend UM, a public university that exists for the primary purpose of educating the children of Michigan residents.")

Good news for the tree, though.

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  1. “As I see it, the rationale for preserving the (legacy bur oak) tree is about history, tradition, pride and respect,” she told The Ann Arbor News in a previous interview. “The tree is a symbol of strength and resilience and far predates the university as part of the landscape.”

    I’ve read about this kind of thing happening at schools before, and while it usually isn’t the case you would think with rationales like this it would be conservatives behind it. Strange.

    1. Maybe liberals are the new conservatives.

  2. I love a huge tree, but I can tell you from experience (with actual bur oaks):

    Trees have lifespans. A 200 year old oak tree is way out on the curve. Its gonna die soon, regardless.

    1. I don’t know anything about bur oaks, but white oaks live up to 500-600 years. There are 300-350 year old oak trees all over the place in the South.

  3. This sort of thing is why I will never give any money to my alma mater. They just spend donations on stupid vanity project bullshit like this rather than on keeping tuition reasonable and funding actual academics.

    1. The problem is that I am guessing many donors don’t want to give unless they get something lasting with their name on it (kind of an Ozymandias mindset). Facilities can attract students and, well, facilitate educational endeavors, so the administration can’t really turn down the gift horse.

      1. Big donors do but they represent a very small minority of participation, which if my alma mater is any guide (and it may not be) is more important to the fund raising crowd than bagging elephants.

        Regardless, the schools play the tradition/heritage angle when they pass the hat every year, while at the same time look to tear as much/little of that down as possible to upgrade facilities.

      2. Have the student tuition credit be named after you. Every student who comes after you will remember your name.

        1. You read my mind.

      3. There’s actually a funny Michigan Business School story there. In order to build the Ross school, the U ended up tearing down the relatively new ‘Paton Accounting Center’ building that was standing in the way. The folks who donated funds for that building were none too happy. The U’s original position was — sorry — naming rights for a build last only as long as the building. But then they compromised and named the accounting center inside the new Ross school after Paton:

        http://www.michigandaily.com/c…..ter-father

  4. So each signatory on the petition will kick in somewhere between $1000 and $2000, right?

  5. Do they have euthanasia for trees?

      1. Damn your speedy fingers

      2. Very well, then. Send a trained tree doctor to deliver this painless, if mechanized, form of mercy-death.

    1. It’s called a chainsaw

  6. I can’t help but wonder whether the students of this public institution would have been better served by a generous contribution to the university’s general fund?and an accompanying tuition decrease

    No, you don’t want to fund the excesses of the faculty and administration. Donations with earmark limitations like vanity buildings are less painful in the long run because they don’t subsidize the bad behaviour of the administrators. Giving to the general fund would be exacerbating the problem that federal aid is causing in student costs. There would be no tuition decrease, only more spending on stupid shit. If you’re going to get stupid shit anyway, might as well get a vanity building.

  7. As I see it, the rationale for preserving the (legacy bur oak) tree is about history, tradition, pride and respect,” she told The Ann Arbor News in a previous interview. “The tree is a symbol of strength and resilience and far predates the university as part of the landscape.

    Remind me never to hire Jenny Cooper. Any graduate business student who puts this much value on pure symbolism with no discernable payoff isn’t someone I’d be inclined to trust with responsibility for making analytical business decisions.

    1. I was going to say that she should have her business degree revoked.

      1. She doesn’t seem to have one, yet. And from what I can tell from this (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacoop), it looks like the business degree is being given out as window dressing.

  8. The whole university is actually (almost) privately funded. State support for UofM is about 16% of the entire budget. There has actually been talk of taking it private, since I wouldn’t make much difference to the budget in any case.

    FWIW, in 1960 it was 78%. Wayne State gets the same number of dollars (in real numbers) from the state as it did in 2004, so it’s not surprising tuition has gone up–inflation has been 0 since then. It’s true that tuition has gone up faster than inflation, but state support for ‘state-funded’ schools has gone up much slower than inflation.
    And yeah, I know, libertarians are against state funding of schools in general. But we need to recognize that, at least for universities, state funding has been constant or falling for decades, so from a libertarian point of view that’s a move in the right direction.

    FWIW, I wish Steve Ross would shower a little of his ‘tree’ attention on WSU, since he’s a graduate.

    1. The problem with the declining state funding theory of tuition increases is that tuition rates have gone up just as fast at private universities that don’t receive state funding.

  9. Wouldn’t it be more charming and opulent to build around the tree?

    You could have an interior courtyard with a fountain watering it and a small garden with benches.

    1. I wondered about that, too.

      And going down just four feet? I thought trees had about as much mass under the ground as over it. They will be cutting off lots of roots. For a tree that old, that’s going to be a major shock.

      1. Some trees have tap roots. Those go as deep as the tree is tall. They do not transplant well at all. Other tree have no tap root.

        In all cases, the bulk of the feeder system is in the top couple of feet.

  10. You laugh but one of the oil companies spent over a million bucks doing the same thing at their new HQ in north Houston a couple of years ago.

    1. It certainly doesn’t speak well of them either.

      How many trees could you plant with a million bucks?

      1. One effing tree. I mean, if the tree has specific historical relevance or is significant as, I dunno, the world’s oldest tree, maybe I could see doing this. Otherwise, if it’s really for sentimental reasons, kill the tree but use the magic of science to clone a successor tree.

        1. Or, you know, collect some of its acorns and plant them.

          1. We can’t have pollen from other oaks involved here.

      2. Given it was probably the only oak tree of any age that survived the original logging of the property and the redevelopment? A lot. What is the cost/benefit number of having mature trees on a property in the right place? $1000? $10000?

        1. With all of the oak pollen allergies, I’m surprised it’s even legal to have an oak tree on campus.

        2. UM has been in Ann Arbor at the present site since 1837 — there are a lot of old trees on campus.

  11. I guess cutting into cord wood and donating to needy locals for heating next winter wasn’t considered? How about selling it to a lumberyard and using the proceeds to lower tuition?

    Hello? Is this thing on?

    1. No, no, no, it’s 200 year old oak – make desks out of it! You’d get much more money to waste.

      1. Another possibility is to use the oak to make barrels for aging bourbon, then selling the bourbon to alumni for an insanely high price.

        1. Now we are talking – then reusing it for ale.

        2. Wood Tannins in drinks don’t agree with me. Besides, you’d ruin all that nice grain for barrel staves that can come from younger, smaller trees?

          1. There are those who will pay a mighty high price for Michigan Sacred Oak Whisky.

        3. Wrong kind of oak. White oak or go home, hippie.

          1. Okay, not bourbon then. Michigan whisky.

          2. Burr oak is a white oak.

            1. Can someone tell me whether I can age a viable intoxicant with wood from this tree?

              1. Can someone tell me whether I can age a viable intoxicant with wood from this tree?

                It appears that any of the American white oaks are suitable for bourbon production. I never realize it referred to multiple trees.

                Although the French oaks used in wine barrels (and some whisky barreling) come from only two: Quercus robur and Quercus petraea.

            2. I bow to your knowledge of the mighty oaks.

              1. Gimme some Michigan Old Oak.

    2. That tree isn’t going to be worth much as lumber (even if the heartwood hasn’t started to rot, which is somewhat likely). You want tall forest trees with a long straight trunk without low branches for that. Could make a lot of firewood, though.

  12. Bah! I am unimpressed with your tree. We wasted $4Million moving an old theater

    http://www.startribune.com/local/11578471.html

    Oh, all that private money to renovate it? Never happened. It sat there unused from 1999 until 2005 when they successfully got the state to pay $12Million more to renovate it.

  13. If the donor has this much money, he should do both/and – making tuition more affordable *and* preserving the tree.

    WOODMAN, spare that tree!
    Touch not a single bough!
    In youth it sheltered me,
    And I ‘ll protect it now.
    ‘T was my forefather’s hand 5
    That placed it near his cot;
    There, woodman, let it stand,
    Thy axe shall harm it not.

    That old familiar tree,
    Whose glory and renown 10
    Are spread o’er land and sea?
    And wouldst thou hew it down?
    Woodman, forbear thy stroke!
    Cut not its earth-bound ties;
    Oh, spare that aged oak 15
    Now towering to the skies!

    When but an idle boy,
    I sought its grateful shade;
    In all their gushing joy
    Here, too, my sisters played. 20
    My mother kissed me here;
    My father pressed my hand?
    Forgive this foolish tear,
    But let that old oak stand.

    My heart-strings round thee cling, 25
    Close as thy bark, old friend!
    Here shall the wild-bird sing,
    And still thy branches bend.
    Old tree! the storm still brave!
    And, woodman, leave the spot; 30
    While I ‘ve a hand to save,
    Thy axe shall harm it not.

    -Edmund Clarence Stedman

    1. Ooh, and there’s this:

      “a building that is already among the most opulent school facilities in the country, having been renovated less than a decade ago.”

      Yeah, renovating this building is more important that letting the tree stand.

      How about taking the money that would go to making an opulent building even opulent-er, and use it to support needy and worthy students? Then there would be no need for uprooting the tree.

  14. Sometimes you jsut have to roll with.

    http://www.AnonWorld.tk

  15. Sometimes you jsut have to roll with.

    http://www.AnonWorld.tk

  16. The same Stephen Ross who is bankrolling this project is also continuing to try to extort hundreds of millions of dollars from the city of Miami to renovate Dolphins Stadium. Or whatever that stadium is called right now.

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