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The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents held its third meeting of the year via Zoom on Thursday to approve recommended revisions to the Regents’ bylaws and address ongoing changes in University operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic. University President Mark Schlissel said Regent Katherine White (D) was not present due to an assignment with the National Guard, but all other Regents and executive officers of the University attended. The meeting was live streamed on the University’s website and YouTube.
The board unanimously approved changes to the bylaws concerning the dismissal, demotion, termination and severance pay of tenured faculty. The changes include refusal of severance pay in cases of alleged misconduct. Sally Churchill, vice president and secretary of the University, said the changes were reviewed by a group of nine professors from all three University campuses.
“The group was charged with furthering the University’s commitment to upholding tenure; addressing egregious situations deserving of expedited proceedings and interim measures; and reviewing and revising existing by law language,” Churchill said. “Decisions regarding the dismissal of tenured faculty within a reasonable time frame while respecting their due process rights are beneficial to both the faculty member and the University.”
The revisions come two months after David Daniels, a former Music, Theatre & Dance professor accused of sexual misconduct, was dismissed at the March Board of Regents meeting. Daniels had been on paid leave since sexual misconduct allegations against him surfaced in August 2018. The University began its official firing process in April 2019.
Schlissel noted the recommendations were shared with the community and the board sought feedback for final revisions.
“The process for how we consider the removal of tenure is one that cannot be taken lightly,” Schlissel said. “Tenure is essential for the integrity of the academic enterprise. I again thank everyone who has helped us develop these revisions to make us a better University.”
Schlissel commended the University for supporting the state of Michigan’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted ongoing efforts in patient care, research and education that have helped the state save lives and develop an understanding of the effects of the pandemic. He noted several laboratory research programs resumed in-person activities on Wednesday in accordance with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order 2020-90.
Schlissel reiterated the University is still developing a plan for the upcoming semester, but he said he was hopeful it would be possible to offer in-person instruction on campus.
“The University of Michigan will look very different in the months ahead than what we’ve become accustomed to, but I am optimistic about our future,” Schlissel said. “The planning taking place at all levels of our University to adjust on how we deliver on our mission is thorough and impressive. This includes our preparations for the fall as we hope to be able to deliver a public health-informed fall semester with a mix of in-person and online instruction on our campuses.”
Schlissel took a moment before addressing items on the agenda to offer his condolences to those who have been affected by extreme flooding in Midland County on Wednesday.
“I want to express my sympathy to the thousands of Michiganders affected by the flooding in Midland and in nearby communities,” Schlissel said. “The disaster comes at a time when residents were already experiencing major hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our hearts go out to everyone in mid-Michigan facing this disaster.”
Members of the board congratulated the graduating class of 2020 throughout the meeting. Schlissel emphasized the graduating class will be increasingly important amid the difficult situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year’s class graduated into an historic moment for our world and an extremely challenging set of circumstances,” Schlissel said. “In times of crisis, society places a premium on smart, well-educated, hardworking people, making a Michigan degree more valuable than ever.”
Schlissel commented on new campus sexual misconduct regulations from the Department of Education, which must be implemented by Aug. 14. The regulations mandate colleges must hold live testimony hearings with cross-examination in campus sexual assault cases and narrow the definition of sexual harassment. Schlissel said the University anticipates the new regulations will affect employees and the University’s hearing model, which was already altered due to a ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“As always, we’ll follow the law when it comes to our implementation,” Schlissel said. “But we’ll do it in a way that respects our values, and we will share information as soon as we can.”
After the board completed the items on its agenda, 15 individuals called in to provide a public comment. The comments addressed the contract negotiations between Michigan Medicine and hospital workers, issues relating to financial support amid the pandemic, carbon neutrality efforts and equitable funding and resources for all three University campuses.
Margaret Smith, president of the University House Officers Association, criticized administrators for pushing to implement cuts in compensation for hospital and healthcare employees. Smith argued the University should use endowment funds and other emergency financial measures to compensate workers and resolve the HOA’s contract negotiations with Michigan Medicine.
“Now is not the time to be punishing health workers who have made a commitment to serving the public good during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Smith said. “Asking our resident physicians to lock into a three-year contract that will not meet their needs is not the right position to take. House officers are there for our patients, and the administration needs to be there for house officers.”
Regents Paul Brown (D) and Shauna Ryder Diggs (D), a former house officer and member of the HOA, thanked Smith for her work in the pandemic and urged the Michigan Medicine administration to provide hospital residents with a contract that pays them fair wages.
“I wanted to do this publicly to call on the administration to complete the negotiations by agreeing to a fair contract that recognizes the hard work and value of the house officers so that they and you can put all your focus on the importance of caring for the citizens of Michigan,” Brown said.
Brian Lent, a physician assistant at University Health Services, asked the Regents to recognize the United Physician Assistants at Michigan Medicine as the representative unit of other PAs. He explained UPAMM aims to provide a collective bargaining option for PAs and said PAs receive lesser compensation and fewer benefits than their equivalent nurse practitioners.
“Over the years it has been evident that bargained-for employees at U of M receive numerous benefits,” Lent said. “Physicians assistants have a history of providing quality and compassionate care to those in need. Through UPAMM, we want to continue this trend as well as reduce the inequalities that exist between PAs and their bargained-for employees.”
Regents Mark Bernstein (D) and Jordan Acker (D) congratulated the UPAMM speakers for forming the union amid the pandemic. Bernstein said the Michigan Medicine administration should not make changes to the terms of employment for PAs after they’ve worked during the pandemic to provide patient care.
Rackham student Timothy Jugovic, a Rackham Student Government representative, urged the administration to consider freezing increases in tuition and other expenses in order to keep education opportunities accessible to those who have been affected by the pandemic. Jugovic cited the freezing of cost increases at Michigan State University and Central Michigan University and said the University’s profits from tuition and student expenses will continue to outweigh the potential lost income from freezing costs.
“I ask you to care about students in this time of crisis,” Jugovic said. “I beg you to ensure our current and future financial security in this time of crisis. I implore you to freeze cost increases to students in this coming year. I know you will make the right decisions for all Wolverines.”
Regent Denise Ilitch (D) said she supports Jugovic’s comments and the administration has been having similar conversations about how to support students.
Several public commenters voiced support for items on the One University Campaign’s agenda to reduce inequities between the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.
University of Michigan-Dearborn senior Mitchell Dobson-Green, student body president, shared that the U-M Dearborn Student Government has passed a resolution supporting the One University Campaign and its objectives. Dobson-Green noted the large proportion of non-traditional, first-generation and underrepresented students at U-M Dearborn.
“At this moment, the students who need these programs most are those most vulnerable members of society,” Dobson-Green said. “These decisions will be how you and I are remembered when society looks back to the time.”
In response, Brown said the COVID-19 pandemic creates a unique opportunity to invest in U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn.
“We can take advantage of changes in the markets, especially vis-a-vis our competition,” Brown said. “We’re incredibly fortunate to have our current chancellors at Flint and Dearborn and I totally support their long-term plans. That said, I know we can and should do more. Frankly, the most aggressive, entrepreneurial and well-researched and supported ideas I’ve been presented with have come from (One University), and I’m completely in favor of their premise that we need to use resources from outside their siloed budgets to make these investments.”