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The Senate Assembly met virtually Monday afternoon with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel to discuss sexual misconduct policies and reopening plans for the Fall 2021 semester. The Electronic Meetings and Accessibility Task Force also presented the finalized digital accessibility guidelines to the committee.
Schlissel said the challenges of sexual misconduct at the University have extended beyond the WilmerHale report, which investigated allegations against former U-M Provost Martin Philbert. Schlissel said it is crucial for the University to build a community where there is no tolerance for sexual misconduct and to systematically make progress on this issue.
“Every time we have a discussion about misconduct, I hear stories about disappointment in how (the Office of Institutional Equity) approaches problems,” Schlissel said. “We need to establish an overall level of trust in campus leaders and one another in order to make progress on this problem.”
Some of the systematic approaches Schlissel discussed included changing the way internal candidates are vetted for senior leadership positions. Moving forward, Schlissel said all relevant human resources and department files will be reviewed, retroactive vetting will be used and a new policy for personal relationships between supervisors and staff will be clearly defined. The changes come after a number of sexual misconduct allegations against University faculty and staff have surfaced in recent years, including English professor Douglas Trevor and Computer Science and Engineering professors Peter Chen and Jason Mars.
Schlissel also discussed how the lack of certainty around vaccine availability presents challenges to the planning process for the upcoming Fall semester. According to Schlissel, there will not be any major changes to operations during the spring and summer semesters, as they will be remote, except for events that necessitate in-person involvement.
Schlissel reiterated to the Senate Assembly that the limitation on announcing plans for Fall semester is unknown vaccination supply.
“We are working with the public health experts and the modelers to develop a few different scenarios about what the fall may look like,” Schlissel said. “The big uncertainty is vaccination. The problem is supply. All of the supply we are getting right now is adequate for just second doses.”
Last week, Michigan Medicine halted appointments for first-dose vaccinations due to a limited supply. Since only members of Phase 1A and 1B are eligible for vaccines, many students do not fall into those high-risk groups and have not yet been vaccinated. Schlissel said he hopes to announce in the next few weeks what conditions will look like for the Fall semester and maintains hope for a robust vaccination progress once supply from the state is available.
Later Monday afternoon, the University’s official Twitter account announced the administration’s optimism for a more “normal” fall semester.
Following discussion of the Fall semester, the Electronic Meetings and Accessibility Task Force, which was established last semester to address issues of digital accessibility, presented their finalized recommendations to the Senate Assembly.
“Digital accessibility is about ensuring that people with disabilities have access to and can engage with digital products, tools, information and resources in a way that is equitable, inclusive and empowering,” Phil Deaton, digital information accessibility coordinator, said.
The Best Practices guidelines recommend using an accessible meeting format and detailing procedures for requesting to speak, ask questions and report technical issues. Recommendations from the task force were first introduced to SACUA at the Feb. 1 meeting.
“If a real person shows up and they encounter a barrier, we have to adjust in order to make it accessible to that person,” Stephanie Rosen, University librarian and accessibility specialist, said.
The task force’s recommendations identify gaps in accessibility for meeting procedures and encourage use of procedures that break barriers to accessibility, such as distributing documents prior to meetings and enabling live transcript. The recommendations also offer best practices to improve accessibility for individual Canvas courses.
“I found the document very comprehensive,” Vilma M. Mesa, Education and LSA professor, said. “I was surprised about how little I knew and how I can better do my work.”
The Senate Assembly voted to endorse these recommendations with 37 voting in favor and none voting against or abstaining.
Daily Contributor Scarlett Bickerton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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