The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon to discuss the revised UM Inclusiveness Statement proposed by the Committee for Justice, Equity, and Inclusion (CFEI), the presidential research underway and to hear from University Vice President Susan Collins.
SACUA Chair Allen Liu, Associate Professor of Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering, introduced CFEI Chair Mark Allison, Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Michigan-Flint, who shared the goals of the new declaration.
“The main area we’ve been working on has been looking to better integrate inclusive resources across all three campuses,” Allison said. “Most relevant to this meeting today is redefining and updating our definition of inclusion. “We hear what you say” is the language used in the old model, but it’s not really inclusive, it’s too passive to encourage change. »
CFEI came to the meeting hoping to get feedback from faculty on their revised statement. The revised statement reads: “We are committed to ensuring that our university is a place where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respected, and every individual has equal access to opportunities and resources.”
Allison said this new statement is concise and will help make the University a more welcoming place.
“Let’s close the back door and make our environment so welcoming that students and faculty choose to stay,” Allison said. “Let’s attract the best talent and keep it. This is the first and most important step for us to move forward.
Social work professor Rogério M. Pinto said the revised statement is a step in the right direction but still contains passive language.
“I think if one of the main goals is to use active language, then the statement is still lacking,” Pinto said. “The beginning of the statement always uses the phrase ‘We are committed’ which is not definitive or measurable. I’m always one to make short statements, but what we have to do is use active verbs like “We will.” Without this (guarantee of) inclusion, it will be difficult for people to feel supported by this statement.
Allison said CFEI discussed specific goals in the statement, but decided it would be premature to commit to specific action plans.
“We are the stocks,” Allison said. “We can review our work and validate our actions instead of using definitive actions in our statement. We ran into the question of how much to put in this definition. It feels like we’ve left things out, but until we have numbers showing progress, we can’t make any assumptions about exactly what we’re going to do.
The committee then hosted Regent Jordan Acker (D), chairman of the board of regents, to discuss the ongoing presidential search prompted by the January 15 firing of former university president Mark Schlissel, which followed to an internal investigation which revealed that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.
“The dismissal of President Schlissel was a real shock,” Acker said. “Whether you’re a first-year supervisor or the president, his actions were not tolerable. The board’s goal remains that the campus is safe for everyone and that people feel safe to teach, learn and conduct research.
The Presidential Search Committee will work with students, staff, and faculty members to search for the next President of the University. The committee met for the first time on February 8, and the board hopes to have the university’s next president elected by the summer of 2022.
Derek Peterson, professor of history and African studies, said certain academic groups were underrepresented on the research committee.
“Candidates with a background in the social sciences are not represented in the president’s search,” Peterson said. “Are the regents working on the presumption that the new president and provost will be (doctors)? I think we need to expand representation to include areas like mine.
Acker said that while he couldn’t reveal many concrete details, no candidate would be excluded from the preliminary process on the basis of their field.
“We are committed to finding someone with the vision to lead our institution,” Acker said. “We have arts representatives and at least six humanities committee members. Unfortunately, I do not see a situation where the search committee is enlarged to more than 26 members than there are already.
Art and design teacher Rebekah Modrak said she and the majority of teachers noticed problems with Schlissel long before the Regents.
“It’s a bit surprising to hear that you were surprised by Schlissel’s departure,” Modrak said. “I think more attention needs to be paid to the voice of faculty. We have a good understanding of the effectiveness of people in positions of power and would like to share our input. »
Acker said the Regents were surprised by the specific allegations that prompted Schlissel’s dismissal rather than the dismissal itself.
“I think the next president needs to have the ability to listen and better engage with our university community,” Acker said. “We are very aware of this as an important aspect of University leadership. You cannot be an effective leader without being an effective communicator.
Another issue raised at the meeting was the fact that there has only been one female president of UM and no people of color have held the position. LSA professor Luke Williamson Hyde said people across campus are worried about the identity of the new president.
“It is surprising that our presidents have lacked diversity since the University should prioritize inclusiveness, especially in positions of power,” Hyde said. “I’m also concerned about the merger with Michigan Medicine and think there might be a bias in favor of picking a doctor as the next president. But being a doctor does not make someone particularly qualified to run a university.
Information professor Kentaro Toyama said it would be helpful to have an open search process, so members of the university community can hear from applicants’ former employers.
“I think if you announce the (presidential) research finalists, we can hear the institutions where they come from,” Toyama said. “Brown’s students and faculty said Schlissel wasn’t handling things well there, but that only came to our attention after Schlissel was already active here. I understand it may be uncomfortable for applicants to have their names announced, but I believe it will be for the greater good.
Acker said while a public and open process would be ideal, it could limit the number of applicants and pose a problem if applicants have to tell their current institutions that they plan to leave.
Collins also attended the meeting and said that despite the obstacles the University has faced over the past two years, the institution always appreciates feedback on faculty services.
“University central offices want to know how we can help faculty continue their important work of supporting our students and fellow faculty,” Collins said. “In order to create a comprehensive infrastructure for students, we need to build compassion to meet complex needs. We need to make student services more visible so they can find the help they need. We can expand peer support programs and increase access to testing.
Peterson questioned Collins about Schlissel’s dismissal and what the professors could have done to prevent the events that occurred. Collins said she had no particular comment on the situation, but believes it should be used as a cautionary tale to correct systemic flaws in the University.
“I think we need to work together now more than ever to have the culture we all deserve,” Collins said. “The policies we have put in place should apply to everyone, but I want to focus on the future and the positive news for our university. I want to highlight the enormous value that our professors and students add to the world. We need to work together to get to a better place.
Daily reporter Sejal Patil can be reached at email@example.com.