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The University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly met virtually Monday to hear from Provost Susan M. Collins on the University’s plans for the fall 2021 semester and progress on the University’s anti-racism initiatives. The Assembly also voted to form a new committee to establish rules for electronic meetings and began elections for SACUA. 

SACUA Chair Colleen Conway, professor in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, began the meeting by updating the Assembly on the ongoing collaboration between SACUA and Guidepost Solutions, the firm hired to help implement recommendations from the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert. 

Conway said Guidepost is currently meeting with University SACUA committees, like the committee on oversight of administrative action and the academic affairs advisory committee. Updates and progress made from these meetings will be shared at the next Faculty Senate meeting in April, Conway said. 

“On April 19, I will be able to report where we are at this juncture, in really the most important work of our semester, in making sure that Guidepost is hearing from many and diverse voices,” Conway said. 

Collins then spoke about the fall 2021 plans to hold a primarily in-person semester. She emphasized the importance of administration and faculty working together in the transitional process of reopening campus. While the University said the fall semester will likely be “more normal,” with many more in-person classes offered, they said this plan is based on the presumption that graduate student instructors and faculty will be vaccinated and that some social distancing and masking will likely be required.

“It is very clear the next academic year will be a transition year,” Collins said. “It’s not one in which everything is going to be figured out and certainly not one in which we simply go back to the way things used to be.”

Collins said she believes the University can reopen without negatively affecting the community. 

“I firmly believe that we can do this with minimal health risks for our faculty, GSIs , our staff, students and the broader community as well,” Collins said.

She said her optimism is based on improvements in vaccine distribution, medical treatment for COVID-19 and decreasing student cases on campus. 

“It’s now the case that there are treatments that mitigate serious illness for symptomatic carriers, and our testing enables us to be able to diagnose the disease very early,” Collins said.

Collins also stressed the University’s commitment to the quality of teaching and well-being of the community while classes are mostly remote. Recently, students have questioned this commitment due to the reported ineffectiveness of the two well-being days that replaced Spring Break. 

“I think we should say it early and often that our commitment to the highest quality teaching that we can manage in a given context is a really important principle,” Collins said. “I’m also increasingly concerned about the impact that the overwhelmingly remote experience has had on emotional and psychological well-being and the sense of community and connection across campus.”

Collins spoke about the upcoming course registration dates and the need for faculty and administrators to work together to determine what courses should be in-person.

“Registration is coming up and we need to work together to get as many of the course modalities clarified so when students are registering they can make decisions, understanding the choices they are making,” Collins said. 

Collins then shifted her attention to the anti-racism initiatives announced in Oct. 2020, which included creating a scholarship in honor of George Floyd and strengthening commitment to hiring faculty from diverse backgrounds. Collins focused on two separate measures: the faculty initiatives and the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force, which was created in response to anti-policing demands issued by graduate students during their Sept. 2020 strike following a summer of protests against police brutality.  

Included in the initiatives is a campaign to hire 20 faculty members whose research focuses on issues of racial inequality. Collins described the process as “highly interdisciplinary” and said 15 schools across the University have received submissions for research positions. 

Collins said the task force, which was created after numerous instances of police brutality in Washtenaw County, aims to identify problems in policing and public safety in Ann Arbor. This also follows the implementation of the controversial Michigan Ambassadors program over the summer of 2020. The program initially aimed to enforce COVID-19 public health regulations by having groups of students, accompanied by armed DPSS officers, patrolling campus. The program, which removed the armed officers after student pushback, was officially terminated in September due to concerns from the campus community. 

“I appreciate the work that our students did to really highlight whether we have a public safety approach that is the best it can be for a University campus,” Collins said. “The task force focuses on the Ann Arbor campus including Michigan Medicine, and it will address how DPSS, our Department of Public Safety and Security, responds to and interacts with members of our community.” 

Dinesh Pal, assistant professor of anesthesiology, asked Collins if there was a specific goal for the diversity initiatives in terms of faculty representation. Collins responded that there was no specific target in terms of representation and the University is instead focusing on diversity in research, teaching and engagement.

Ashley Lucas, associate professor of theatre and drama and director of the Prison Creative Arts Project, asked about the impact the task force will have on policing strategies and methods in Ann Arbor.

“I'm wondering what the differences are between the public safety task force and the existing (Independent Community Police Oversight Commission),” Lucas said. “What level of influence does the new public safety group have? Are they empowered to make pretty big recommendations or actually implement policy?”

Collins responded that the task force will not be making direct policy changes but will instead report recommendations to her and University President Mark Schlissel. Collins and Schlissel will then review the recommendations and decide whether to implement policy changes. 

The Assembly then moved to discussing the creation of a temporary ad hoc committee to review current senate rules that are incompatible with online meetings, review other public institution’s existing rules that support the online format and create proposed rules for future online and in-person meetings.

The motion to create an ad hoc committee passed unanimously.

Those running for SACUA — the executive arm of the Senate Assembly that is made up of nine elected Senate members who serve for three-year terms — then gave their statements to the assembly. The candidates included Michael Atzmon, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences; Donald Freeman, professor in the School of Education; Damani Partridge, associate professor of anthropology and Afroamerican and African studies; Frank Pelosi, associate professor of internal medicine at the Medical School; and Kanakadurga Singer, assistant professor in pediatric endocrinology at the Medical School.

Three candidates will be elected for three-years terms and a fourth will hold the position for a year. The election began Monday and will be open for 24 hours to allow all Senate members to vote, including ones in other time zones or those who could not attend the meeting. 

Daily Contributor Teagan Stebbins can be reached at teagans@umich.edu

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