The University of Michigan’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday to vote on a motion for electronic meetings and a proposal for a committee on anti-racism. Members also created a task force to form suggestions based on the WilmerHale investigation into former University Provost Martin Philbert’s sexual misconduct.
SACUA further discussed the possibility of holding a vote of no confidence in University administration, which was first discussed in an emergency Faculty Senate meeting last Friday afternoon. More than 550 people attended and SACUA members said they were excited to see record turnout at the Monday meeting.
SACUA Chair Colleen Conway, a professor of Music Education at the University, said she was proud that SACUA held the meeting, especially because she was worried about turnout beforehand.
“I have to say that I was terrified going into it, just because we didn’t know who was going to come or how many people were going to come,” Conway said. “It was really very eye-opening to see so many people from our community.”
SACUA member Deirdre Spencer, a librarian at the University, said the meeting showed the importance of advocating for those with less power.
“I heard more about people wanting faculty to use our voice to help to advocate for staff and those who are under us because we have power,” Spencer said. “There was definitely a call for us to look out to those who are less entitled and help to speak their truth as well.”
The meeting transitioned to vote on the motion for electronic meetings, which would allow the Faculty Senate to meet online during and after COVID-19.
MaryJo Banasik, the director of the Faculty Senate Office, said the motion would not replace in-person meetings altogether but would permit meetings to also occur electronically.
“Looking at the participation we’ve been able to have in the last Faculty Senate town hall and also in the Faculty Senate meeting, we want the ability to actually have electronic meetings after COVID as well,” Banasik said.
The motion was unanimously approved and will be proposed to the Faculty Senate on Sept. 16.
SACUA then discussed a proposal to create a committee on anti-racism. The committee would aim to “define racist and anti-racist behaviors and their subsequent manifestations,” according to Conway.
SACUA member J. Caitlin Finlayson, an associate professor at U-M Dearborn, said the proposed committee would need to have clear objectives to be effective.
“Having a clear set of areas to work is a good starting point,” Finlayson said. “Without that, I’ve had the same experience where you sit on a committee where there’s no clear charge, so nobody knows what’s going on and it often ends up being a waste of time.”
SACUA members also addressed the Philbert report, which was released to the University community at the end of July. The legal firm WilmerHale completed the report, which detailed a six-month investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against Philbert.
SACUA member David Potter, a classical studies professor at the University, proposed creating a task force to look into how to improve administrative culture.
“There’s an underlying cultural issue that drives this entire process, which is an administrative tendency to tell people to shut up and that there’s no protection for people who make complaints,” Potter said. “This culture we have of silencing people who try to report something is what has led to (Philbert’s misconduct).”
SACUA members decided the task force would begin their work around Oct. 1 and aim to have a report sometime in February. Conway said this timeline would give SACUA enough time to revise it and discuss it with the Faculty Senate Assembly before giving it to the Board of Regents.
SACUA decided the proposed task force would be composed of three faculty members: one SACUA member, one person with experience in faculty governance and preferably one person with legal expertise.
“We want (the regents) to look at (the task force’s report) and say across the board, all different kinds of faculty are coming forth to take a look at (the Philbert report),” Conway said.
Daily Staff Reporter Lily Gooding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.