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The University of Michigan Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met on Monday for their first meeting of the academic year. Members primarily discussed various Senate Assembly committees, such as the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee, the Government Relations Advisory Committee and the Student Relations Advisory Committee.

SACUA Chair Joy Beatty, U-M Dearborn professor of organizational behavior, began the meeting with several announcements updating the group on the University’s application to host the 2020 presidential debates on campus. She said the University should hear within the next six weeks if it receives the bid. 

“It could be a really tremendous opportunity for classroom activities related to the election,” Beatty said. “But we don’t know if it’s happening yet.”

Beatty then asked SACUA members to provide feedback to the provost’s office on the emergency alert opt-out project, which would automatically register all University students, faculty and staff to receive emergency alerts. 

Currently, the University has an opt-in system, meaning individuals must voluntarily sign up to receive alerts. During the March active shooter scare, many University community members did not receive alerts because they had not opted-in to the system, Beatty pointed out. 

All SACUA members agreed the project would be a positive step. Deirdre Spencer, a University librarian, highlighted the opt-out system still gives users choice.

“I think it’s nice to have an option,” Spencer said. “You’re taking your life in your hands. If you opt-out, it’s a risk.”

The rest of the meeting was dedicated to discussing members’ experiences on several Senate Assembly committees. While some reported positive engagement with productive, organized committees, others expressed concern their committee experience was a waste of time. 

While acknowledging the time commitment required, Beatty emphasized the importance of SACUA members attending committee meetings. 

“I get it, it takes a lot of time … especially if you’re going to one that felt like ‘This is not the best use of my time,’” Beatty said. “I think there’s still something about making sure SACUA is at these meetings and has a presence, if we can.”

Nursing professor Ivo Dinov questioned if the Senate Assembly had too many committees.

“Quite frankly, I’m not convinced that SACUA needs twenty independently-run committees,” Dinov said. “Are these all faculty-related business? Why can’t we handle it with less? It sounds like we’re all over the place, with overlaps and synergies. If there’s time later in the year, let’s reconsider that.”

Neil Marsh, a former SACUA chair and chemistry professor, noted there had to be a minimum of 11 committees, as each University vice president was responsible for chairing one. Beatty proposed SACUA further examine the necessity of the nine additional committees at a later meeting. 

Members also reviewed each committee’s goals for the year. In this discussion, Classical Studies professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe emphasized she would like to see focus on the issue of free speech protections for faculty communicating about politics. 

“I do think these issues are problematic and dangerous,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “As we move into a situation where they seem to be less democracy and less freedom, I think it’s important to clarify the legal protections that are in place for our faculty.”

SACUA then moved into closed executive session to discuss an update on a 5.09 matter, which is the University’s procedure for dismissal, demotion or termination of tenured faculty. 

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