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Friday, September 19, 2014

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Old issues pending as Schlissel settles in

By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 4, 2014

The Michigan Daily is publishing an article each day this week to cover the start of University President Mark Schlissel’s first semester. He will be formally installed as the University's 14th president during a day of inauguration festivities Friday.

Fewer than two months have passed since University President Mark Schlissel moved into the president’s office in the Fleming Administration Building, and his plate is already full.

Last year was one to remember, with big issues springing up across the Diag. In the fall, students from the University’s Black Student Union launched the #BBUM Twitter campaign that trended nationally and challenged the University to improve campus climate and address minority enrollment.

In the spring, the U.S. Department of Education launched an investigation into the University’s handling of allegations of sexual misconduct and the administration was prompted to respond to the concerns of faculty and staff after the University opted to consolidate more than a hundred department-level staff to a shared services center.

But while Schlissel is still getting his bearings, University units pushed ahead through these challenges over the summer.

The Trotter Multicultural Center, which was a focus of BSU’s protests, smells of fresh paint and sawdust from recent renovations — an achievement of the BSU’s dialogue with the administration. The $300,000 renovations are just a temporary fix, and plans to move Trotter to a more central location, which the BSU originally demanded, are also in motion.

Jackie Simpson, the new director of the Trotter Multicultural Center, said that while she hasn’t met with Schlissel personally, he did make the cross-campus walk from the Fleming Administration Building to Trotter a few weeks ago for a tour.

Schlissel said it was a “nice place, old building,” according to Simpson, who said a new Trotter is still three to five years away. The process though, has already begun: an architecture firm has been hired and monthly focus groups to gather student feedback on the type of space desired are set for September, October and November. After that, blueprints will be sketched and the search will begin for a proper and available plot of land.

Simpson said students are looking for a place where they can easily stop by to study, organize and meet new people.

This summer, headquarters of the Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center, or SAPAC, moved locations due to renovations underway at West Quad.

SAPAC director Holly Rider-Milkovich appeared eager to push the small but influential organization ahead into its busiest time of year and solve a pressing problem: a sexual assault reporting rate that has improved, but isn't satisfactory.

According to a Washington Post analysis, in 2012, the University had the second-highest number of reports of sexual offense on campus — 32. Rider-Milkovich said 1 in 33 men and 1 in 5 women are assaulted in college.

“Our numbers do not yet reflect that rate of victimization,” she said.

Though Schlissel may be aware of the statistics, he has yet to meet Rider-Milkovich or visit SAPAC.

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said he has “no doubt” Schlissel was aware of the campus happenings, but the community should be realistic about the experience of a transitioning president.

“The number of issues that he can personally be involved in is limited,” Fitzgerald said. “Everybody wants some of his time. Particularly this early in his presidency, he is naturally relying on the administration around him.”

At the beginning of August, the Shared Services Center received its first wave of staff. Plans for the center were delayed last year after the University received negative feedback from many faculty and staff about the University’s plan to save money by consolidating staff from different departments in a central location off campus. Many critics condemned the University for failing to be transparent and equitable when carrying out the plans.

Pam Gabel, the director of the center, also hasn’t spoken directly to Schlissel, but said she has kept the center on track to transition the next 150 staff members this winter.

“Certainly people weren’t happy they were selected (to relocate), but we have a pretty hefty engagement plan to help them make that transition,” she said.

Fitzgerald said there is a more-than-capable team around Schlissel, adding that his restraint from laying out detailed action plans for many issues is for good reason.

“As (Schlissel) said very early in that initial media briefing, he is going to take time to listen and understand the University deeply before he creates priorities,” Fitzgerald said.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the new location of the SAPAC office.