The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.

The University of Michigan Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Monday to discuss immunization requirement policies and the provost’s recent revisions to the faculty handbook. 

Laurita Thomas, associate vice president of Human Resources at the University, also spoke to the committee on retirement planning, health benefit programs, future improvements in talent acquisition and retention, preventing sexual misconduct and addressing the demands of health and well-being across campus.

SACUA member Michael Atzmon, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, began the meeting by discussing the University’s immunization requirement. At many universities, immunizations are required for the entire student body; however, the University only recommends them for incoming students.

Atzmon expressed concerns the University might preferentially draw students who do not want to be immunized and asked if a different policy should be suggested to the administration.

“I think most of the Western world has had a very practical and reasonable solution and most diseases have been eradicated so we don’t want to go back — at least I don’t,” Atzmon said.

SACUA member Ruth Carlos, professor of radiology, brought up herd immunity, or the concept that vaccinations protect both the individual and the group, and how low vaccination rates can facilitate infection of an entire community. 

“Who has to assume the risk of vaccination in order to protect others?” Carlos said. “Would you want your child to assume the rare but potentially serious risk of vaccination in order to protect someone else?”

Other SACUA members brought up concerns about the image the University is presenting to the public by adopting this stance and the additional imposition on students and faculty where vaccinations are required. 

Following the vaccination policy discussion, SACUA member Sarah Lippert, associate professor of art history at U-M Flint, talked about Provost Martin Philbert’s revisions of the faculty handbook. The faculty handbook, published by the Office of the Provost, explains the guidelines for University faculty behavior. The current version is abridged and lacks original content, including any information about the faculty grievance process which details the procedure regarding a faculty employment concerns. The new handbook also includes a statement in the preface stating it is only for Ann Arbor faculty.

“This is like crisis level for the Flint faculty and I would say Dearborn as well because they’ve added a statement,” Lippert said.  “As far as I can tell, it’s a new statement that undermines decades-long tradition that we are one faculty on three campuses. That one statement is extraordinarily destructive in my opinion because it introduces all kinds of lack of clarity about who this applies to.”

Lippert expressed her concerns regarding Flint’s lack of a separate employee handbook. She requested the provost not change the preface of the handbook to suggest the rules only apply to the Ann Arbor campus.

“From my perspective, we’re in danger of having the bulk of the protections of the faculty code ripped away from the Flint faculty.”

SACUA chair Neil Marsh suggested they follow up on this issue with the Office of the Provost and add the full handbook to the Senate Assembly’s website.

Laurita Thomas then spoke on HR’s successful programs that help University employees plan for retirement and provide employees more health benefits, including help with in-vitro fertilization, facial feminization surgery and extending parental leave. She discussed adapting to change and how HR will continue to improve the health and well-being of people at the University after she retires in October.

“We see that there are many changes in our community, in the environment, in the world, that are going to impact the way we deliver HR services in the future,” she said.

She envisions future improvements to address recruitment and acquisition strategies, depression and anxiety resulting from stress and burnouts in both students and faculty and creating a safe environment by facilitating discussion with civility and respect. Increased attention and discussion of workplace sexual harassment and misconduct issues can also help improve the culture overall, Thomas remarked.

“Culture change is very, very difficult,” Thomas said. “Having been here 47 years, there is change that I can identify. I’m fully aware that when the dialogue happens where people live and work and study and discover and teach, that’s where the real change has to occur.”

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