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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met to discuss the impact of international influence on research and electronic voting in faculty governance Monday afternoon. 

Before launching into the discussion on research, Classical Studies professor Sara Ahbel-Rappe, reminded the committee of issues raised during the previous meeting by guest speaker U-M Dearborn Professor J. Caitlyn Finlayson. Finlayson alerted SACUA to the gutting of the arts and music departments at U-M’s Dearborn campus and the limited class options for Dearborn students. 

“Dearborn is the fourth highest-ranked state education provider in the Midwest,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “To think that the students aren’t getting an adequate liberal arts education is very deplorable.” 

The committee vowed to continue working towards improved tri-campus relations and ensuring students at all University of Michigan campuses get exposure to the arts.  

Michael Imperiale, vice president of research, spoke to SACUA on the University’s efforts to comply with the federal government’s desire to protect U.S. research universities from international influence.

“The government is concerned that China is taking a different approach towards superiority in the world, which is to aim for economic advantage,” Imperiale said. “One of the ways (Congress thinks China is) trying to get to that advantage is to collect as much intellectual property as possible.” 

In addition to the government’s fears over national security, federal funding agencies have raised concerns with conflicts of interest and commitment when University faculty use international financing, Imperiale said.

“The taxpayer is paying for us to do research, and if we’re also getting funding from another country to do that same research, then in effect we could be double-dipping and then taxpayer dollars are not being well spent,” Imperiale said. “So (the federal government and Congress) are trying to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, and they expect us as institutions to also be good stewards of those dollars.” 

The University has responded to the federal government’s concern over technology theft and wasted taxpayer dollars by simplifying the policy for reporting conflicts of interest or commitment, overhauling the system for reporting violations of compliance, Imperiale said. The University is also hosting town halls with faculty to discuss keeping research confidential while maintaining the University’s commitment to global collaboration.

After Imperiale’s presentation, the committee turned to Medical School Professor Ivo Dinov, who advocated for the implementation of an electronic voting system to increase faculty participation in Senate affairs.

“We have struggled for a while to get quorum at the faculty Senate meetings,” Dinov said. “If we get less than (quorum) but have an electronic voting system in place, and the items are clear… people can vote before, during or after the actual meeting.” 

He spoke to the desire to move forward and use 21st century technology, as well as increase accessibility and clarity of Senate-related matters. 

The committee unanimously passed a motion to develop an e-voting platform for the purposes of faculty governance. The motion is part of a wider initiative by SACUA to increase faculty engagement.

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