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The University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly met virtually Monday afternoon to provide an update on the work of the Faculty COVID-19 Council, specifically discussing how to improve messaging from administration to students. Senate Assembly also heard from Kevin Hegarty, the executive vice president and chief financial officer, who will be retiring at the end of the semester, and voted for the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’ nominating committee.

Luke Hyde, a professor of psychology and member of the Faculty COVID-19 Council, said conversations between members of the council and administration revealed that members from across the University community should be offering their input on COVID-related changes. The COVID-19 Faculty Council was established in October to serve as a faculty voice in administrative decisions after the Faculty Senate passed a vote of no confidence in U-M President Mark Schlissel’s leadership in September.

“The faculty COVID Council has met five times bi-weekly on Friday mornings,” Hyde said. “The President and Provost have expressed that they have found it helpful for them to get feedback from sort of average or non-COVID medical and public health-related faculty.”

Hyde assured faculty that Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins have been addressing all issues and ideas brought forth by Senate members. Hyde said Schlissel and Collins have been responsive to concerns, though he admitted that faculty members have differing views on how issues should be addressed.

“Some of the major topics that we've addressed so far have been messaging and communication both about COVID broadly but also vaccine rollout, and also sort of messages to students,” Hyde said. 

Hyde said he was disheartened to hear that the University has the capacity to vaccinate more than 25,000 students a week but is not receiving enough vaccines from the state to do so.

“I will be honest, probably the hardest thing that I had in the last meeting was learning that even if things go really well, they may not be vaccinating undergrads until the fall,” Hyde said. “And for whatever it’s worth, this is not U-M’s fault.” 

Hyde said the council has discussed ways to better communicate with faculty to make sure they are getting the right information about COVID-related changes. 

“Faculty are either overwhelmed with the amount of messaging they're getting about COVID or (feel they are) not getting enough messaging,” Hyde said. “Even within the council, there's a wide variety of questions in terms of how much people have read or not read the emails. And I think one of the other challenges is that we're learning a lot — I'm learning a lot personally — via the council, but (the council doesn’t) have a very good way of propagating that information and (the council is) not totally clear if that's our job.”

Conway attended this week’s meeting of the Student Relations Advisory Committee  and said the committee discussed how to efficiently communicate with students about how to be safe on campus. 

“There were a lot of ideas shared about how to make students feel welcome at this time… because the SRAC was going after the idea that student safety and willingness to follow the rules is related to this engagement piece,” Conway said. “And so if they don’t feel engaged in what’s going on in the University, they’re not going to listen to what we’re suggesting.”

Hegarty then spoke to the Assembly about the financial state of the University, noting that when he retires, the University will be in good financial standing despite the pandemic.

“I've tried to really go to efforts to leave it better than I found it,” Hegarty said. “And I'm here to tell you that financially, the university is in great financial shape.”

Hegarty said he knows there are still challenges the University will continue to face, including the lost revenue from canceling most contracts in residence halls after the fall semester.

“We have to get through the COVID-19 impact,” Hegarty said. “I can tell you one of the things that we're dealing with now is how do we cover off on deficits that are going to come out of this next round? Meaning, we have about 1,300 undergraduates back for the semester. The dorms, we purposely left pretty empty. And so (…) Student Life is forecasted to lose a lot of money over the course of this next semester.” 

Hegarty said the University’s administration is working to improve their communication with faculty, especially after the fall’s vote of no confidence in Schlissel’s leadership.

“Whether one agrees or disagrees with the process that went on where the faculty voted no confidence in the president, I think it was a wake-up call to both those in the administration and absolutely for the president and provost, that they really need to listen harder, communicate better, show the faculty that they're listening,” Hegarty said.

The vote for the SACUA nominating committee — a group of faculty in charge of nominating other faculty members to be voted onto SACUA — took place at the start of the meeting via online ballots. Colleen Conway, SACUA chair and professor in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, said the nominating committee will be preparing for the upcoming SACUA election in March. 

While the vote took place on Monday, winners of the election will be notified before the Faculty Senate Office to make sure that they are willing to serve on the committee before it is officially created. According to Conway, the Faculty Senate Office will be notified of the winners within a week or so, and she didn’t say anything specifically about notification to the public.

“We want to make sure that we contact the people that had the highest votes, see if they are willing to (serve), and then we will put that nominating committee together,” Conway said.

Daily Staff Reporter Martina Zacker can be reached at mzacker@umich.edu.

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