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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon to discuss faculty perspectives on reopening plans for the fall semester, improving institutional diversity through anti-racist work and the final slate of SACUA candidates for upcoming elections on March 15.

SACUA Chair Colleen Conway said that she and MaryJo Banasik, the director of the Faculty Senate Office, recently met with University Provost Susan Collins to incorporate faculty perspectives on all reopening plans. Last month, the University of Michigan announced its optimism in offering a “more normal” Fall 2021 semester, though no official plans have been made yet.

Conway said the University’s faculty should be aware of all plans as soon as they are made.

“We don’t want to relive what happened last fall in terms of going all summer and not knowing what’s going on and how are decisions being made,” Conway said.

Conway said she and Collins discussed recommendations for some form of central guidance for all departments on resuming in-person activity, which could help support faculty in making decisions on when to resume face-to-face teaching. 

“Encouraging the opportunity for faculty to make these decisions would demonstrate that the Provosts’ Office trusts the faculty and respects their point of view,” Conway said. “Deans allowing their faculty to make these decisions would also demonstrate trust and respect.”

SACUA also met with Tabbye Chavous, the director of the University’s National Center for Institutional Diversity, to discuss methods to improve institutional diversity. Chavous said the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues of inequity among faculty.

“We would be seen as disingenuous if we tried to create a picture of diversity that doesn’t exist yet,” Chavous said. “What (students and faculty) want … is to feel like they’re a part of something … That we understand the challenges of the environment and are working on them. That we’re not asking them to come here to be the diversity.”

Chavous said the University should leverage the expertise already on campus to ensure that the researchers and scholars conducting anti-racist work are able to connect with one another. Additionally, she answered questions from SACUA members about “cluster hires,” or faculty members the University is hiring to promote research on structural racism.

“One of the Provosts’ initiatives is to support these new faculty hires and help expand our capacity to study and act on racial inequality,” Chavous said.

SACUA member Deirdre Spencer, a librarian for history of art, said the new Faculty Senate Committee on Anti-Racism will help move the University toward institutional change. The new committee will recommend policy changes to promote anti-racism, serve as a body that faculty can report racist experiences to and sponsor at least one public anti-racism event per year. The Senate Assembly passed a proposal to create the committee at a Sept. 22 meeting after debate over whether the group was charged with dismantling institutional racism or dissuading individuals from being racist. 

“Having a group of people of color that are looking at these issues is important, because many are problems that get buried,” Spencer said.

Additionally, Banasik shared the four candidates on the final slate of SACUA elections: Education professor Donald Freeman; Damani Partridge, professor of anthropology and Afroamerican and African studies; and Medical School professors Frank Pelosi and Kanakadurga Singer. 

Elected SACUA members are charged with providing input on the strategic direction of the University, staying informed about issues that affect faculty and acting as liaisons between their department and SACUA.

Conway said the governing body will vote on approving a temporary rules committee at the next meeting, which aims to adapt participation rules and voting procedures to accommodate for the electronic environment.

“This is a temporary rules committee that will meet four to six times between mid-March and the end of May in hopes of putting together rules for electronic meetings in the fall,” Conway said.

Daily Staff Reporter Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at sbick@umich.edu.

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