The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs discussed how the University addresses faculty requests to teach remotely and policy toward sexual misconduct Monday evening. Maria Deckmann/Daily. Buy this photo.

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Several Senate Assembly members are concerned the University of Michigan is not being transparent in its reasoning for denying many faculty the ability to teach online this semester, this week’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs’ hybrid meeting revealed. 

The meeting comes as the University’s administration is facing community pushback for discontinuing classroom COVID-19 notifications and following a faculty petition for increased guidelines and protections.

At their weekly meeting, the Senate Assembly convened in groups to share their experiences teaching in person this semester and faculty requests to teach remotely. They also discussed the University’s sexual misconduct policy.

Amy E. Hughes, professor in the School of Music, Theater & Dance, said it goes against University values of faculty autonomy to deny professors the ability to teach online. She also said because each school has a different policy on online learning qualifications, there is increased confusion.

“The value of faculty autonomy (is that) our classroom is our domain and we know what our students need and how they will thrive,” Hughes said. “I’ve heard so many stories recently about how folks are being strongly encouraged at best — (and), in some cases, strongly forbidden — to practice their craft of teaching in the way that they feel is best.”

SACUA Chair Allen Liu, Engineering professor, said he and Vice Chair J. Caitlin Finlayson, associate professor of English literature at UM-Dearborn, met with University President Mark Schlissel last week and discussed faculty qualifications for online learning. 

Liu said there are currently 28 cases of professors who requested permission to teach remotely this semester. Four or five cases are still pending approval. Finlayson added that two pregnant women requesting to teach virtually were denied.

Lindsay Admon, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, then asked if and how the University is planning to implement booster vaccines. The booster vaccine is a third shot of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine administered eight months after a second dose. Liu said this subject was also brought up in his meeting with Schlissel. 

“I think currently the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends people 65 and older or with high risk to get the booster shot,” Liu said. “I’m not sure if the University will have a different policy, but Schlissel said he’s interested in providing the booster shot to students.”

University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald previously told the Daily it is too early to make decisions regarding booster shots for many members of the University community and they will wait to amend the University’s vaccine policy until further guidance is issued by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. 

Rebekah Modrak, School of Art & Design professor, discussed the lack of transparency and guidelines in the COVID-19 classroom notifications, which the University began sending during the first few weeks of the semester. The University stopped sending these notifications last Tuesday because they were of “limited benefit” to the community, leading to mixed reactions from the campus community.

“The criticism of the notifications was that the lag time in receiving them was between five to eight days and students were being told that ‘in one of your classes’ there was a case,” Modrak said. “It wasn’t enough information for them to go on, but instead of correcting these problems and hiring more staff to handle the notifications process so we could receive them faster and with a little more clarity, the University just eliminated them.”

Liu also provided an overview of the work that SACUA and the Senate Assembly have done this past year, including the creation of a task force to review the law firm WilmerHale’s report on allegations of sexual misconduct by former University Provost Martin Philbert. 

Liu also spoke about the University instituting vaccine and mask mandates for the fall 2021 semester. 

“Dearborn had a 39% vaccination rate just a few weeks ago, and because of the vaccination mandate it went up to 84%,” Liu said. “I think the work that SACUA was able to do during our summer retreats when SACUA met every two weeks was really able to help with that effort.”

Liu also provided a list of topics for SACUA to focus on during the upcoming year, including increasing transparency between University leaders and community members and how the University handles sexual misconduct on campus. The University is currently finalizing a new sexual misconduct policy that is planned to be released in October. 

Colleen M. Conway, SACUA member and Music, Theater & Dance professor, then gave a presentation on the University’s handling of sexual misconduct cases the past few years.

“SACUA documented back in 2015 that (the University’s sexual misconduct) procedures lack due process, including fair and adequate notice, fair investigation process and the ability to appeal,” Conway said. “Federal regulations for Title IX cases now require an appeal, yet for non-Title IX cases there has been no appeal process.”

Conway said an update on the appeals process will likely be discussed in October, when Tamiko Strickman, executive director of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, will answer any questions on the new sexual misconduct policy.

Daily Staff Reporter Vanita Seed can be reached at vseed@umich.edu.