The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs convened Monday afternoon to discuss amending the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities — a University of Michigan document written by and for students that outlines University standards and norms of behavior — making tuition more affordable for students and increasing the faculty’s role in diversity, equity and inclusion. 

LSA senior Anushka Sarkar, Central Student Government president, served as a guest speaker and discussed amending the statement to include biased motivated misconduct as a violation of University behavior. The section regarding bullying and harassment violations does not explicitly state that biased and prejudice motivation against another student results in heightened sanctions, according to Sarkar.

“Under the statement, there’s no codification that says that if a student stalks another person or hazes another person and it’s bias-motivated — you hazed a person because they were Black, you hazed a person because they were gay — that you would receive heightened sanctions for that,” Sarkar said. “Myself and a lot of students find that to be wrong and that is something that should be codified in documents.”

Sarkar proposed amending the document to add “Violation V,” which clarifies bias-motivated misconduct language.

“Bias-motivated misconduct is a violation of community behaviors, including but not limited to characteristics such as race, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression,” Sarkar said.

Sarkar also announced a second amendment that will outline the measures that will be taken if a student is in violation of bias-motivated misconduct.

“Should a student be found of having committed an act against another person with bias or prejudice motivation that their sanctions be heightened automatically,” she said.

The purpose of these amendments is to deter students from committing bias-motivated acts, as they will know there will be heightened sanctions as a consequence. The level to which sanctions will be heightened will be treated on a case-by-case basis up to the discretion of the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, and each of these cases will result in two separate charges, according to Sarkar.

“The goal here is to set the precedence in our governing documents that action that is taken against another person in a malevolent way with biased or prejudice motivation will not be tolerated and will be sanctioned,” Sarkar said. “Not only will you be sanctioned for the act you committed, but you will also be sanctioned for the motivation that you had to commit the act.”

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, discussed the degree to which OSCR is engaged in the process of these incidents.

“(Students) believe the only recourse is the criminal recourse,” Harper stated. “Sometimes it’s not a crime in the criminal kind, it is a violation of our own values and standards.”

Martin Philbert, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, served as a second guest speaker and reported University President Mark Schlissel believes the University should not tax the income of graduate students.

“These are people who have already engaged in undergraduate education and are going to contribute to society in a deeper and sometimes broader level through the acquisition of even higher education, and adding a financial tax on that commitment to deeper engagement to society just seems unwise,” Philbert said. “It puts them in financial jeopardy and deepens the divide between those who can afford and those who we would like to bring in but can’t necessarily afford.”

Though the University would like to reach this goal, the reality of budgeting interferes with any chance of it. According to Philbert, current budget proposals, being in the tens of millions of dollars with some reaching $20 million, create a challenging obstacle for administrators.

However, based on this financial need among students, Philbert is hopeful to make tuition as low as possible.

“There is a clear sense among staff and the student body that along with making a healthy living, there is a healthy need to make the world a better place, but that frequently comes at the cost of making a healthier financial living, so I think we need to provide as affordable education as we possibly can,” Philbert said.

Philbert also discussed the faculty’s role in diversity, equity and inclusion and how to create a more open campus climate that welcomes dialogue.

“The nearest I have come to it is: Are we welcoming of everyone?” Philbert asked. “Within that welcome we are mindful of the fact that people come from different places, different experiences, and they are all here, so that for faculty, students and staff this is a place of learning.”

When discussing solutions to reach this goal more effectively, Philbert emphasized the importance of using the humanities to connect with people rather than relying solely on science and numbers.

“Let’s not underestimate the power of the humanities in describing the world, describing society and the power of using the narrative rather than the measurement,” Philbert said. “One of the ways that President Schlissel has articulated this is by placing a greater emphasis on public engagement.”

Sami Malek, Senate Assembly member and associate professor of internal medicine, discussed the need for more open dialogue, since many faculty members believe they will be marginalized or labeled if they stand up for an issue that is important to them.

“We ought to look at the way we are permissive towards open dialogue,” Malek said. “There are many places in this University and this society that are not open to open dialogue, and unless people feel that they can say what’s on their mind without feeling ostracized for it, I think we’re missing the boat.”

Philbert emphasized students and faculty alike should be more open to exchange and challenging their own thinking through education.

“Campus ought to be a dangerous place for ideas and a very safe place for people,” Philbert said.

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