Eight SACUA members meet over zoom with a panel featuring all those who are attending in-person.
Courtesy of Tina Yu

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met in a hybrid format in the Ruthven Building Monday to discuss the SACUA summer retreat, mask policies for the upcoming fall semester and lecturer representation in the faculty senate. 

SACUA members first discussed inviting past chairs to speak at the annual SACUA retreat, an off-campus meeting before the fall semester during which members reflect on the previous year and plan for the upcoming one. 

SACUA chair Silvia Pedraza, a sociology professor at LSA, proposed that SACUA invite David Potter, SACUA chair from 2008 to 2009 and professor of Greek and Roman history, to talk about the history of SACUA. Potter was also invited as a speaker during last year’s retreat. Pedraza said SACUA should take this opportunity to better record and preserve the history of SACUA. 

Rebekah Modrak, SACUA member and professor in the School of Art & Design, said she also believes it would be beneficial to invite past SACUA chairs to the retreat to bring in different perspectives on the University’s administration over time. 

“It would be interesting to hear from people before the University administration became so autocratic,” Modrak said. “To hear their perspectives, but also just (to hear from) a range of people from different parts of the University (and from) different genders.” 

Some of the past SACUA chairs mentioned by members during the meeting include Scott Masten, Neil Marsh, Bill Schultz and Robert Ortega. 

SACUA members then discussed including U-M lecturers in SACUA meetings. Pedraza outlined the concerns faculty have expressed regarding allowing lecturers to participate in the Faculty Senate. 

“Sometimes people are afraid to include the lecturers in the Faculty Senate because there’s so many of them,” Pedraza said. “They’re afraid that if you include the lecturers, they will essentially be a vote, that they will carry the vote in whatever issue they vote on because there are so many of them.” 

Pedraza said Kirsten Herold, vice president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO), suggested SACUA include Lecturers II, III and IV at meetings. These lecturers tend to teach more classes and remain at the University for longer periods of time as compared to Lecturers I. Herold said she hopes this will alleviate people’s worries about lecturers dominating the discussions in SACUA. 

Simon Cushing, SACUA member and professor at U-M Flint, said he believes all lecturers should have a voice on the topics that concern them. 

“I understand the saying that Lecturer I’s are just temporary appointments, but they still deserve a voice over the issues that matter to them,” Cushing said. “But of course, they wouldn’t have anything to say about requirements of research or anything like that, because that’s not part of their contracts.” 

SACUA then discussed their visions for mask requirements in the fall semester. Modrak said she believes the University should leave the decision on whether or not to require a mask in classrooms to individual instructors. 

“I’ve been reading a lot of other university websites’ policies about this, and a lot of them grant the instructor the autonomy to decide whether they have masks in their classes or not, which is something that I would recommend,” Modrak said. 

Pedraza agreed that instructors should have the freedom to decide whether or not to require masks in classrooms. She said she felt masks hurt the quality of her instruction and are not necessary for bigger classrooms. 

“I found having to teach a class of 75 students — I have a slight accent — and wearing a mask very difficult,” Pedraza said. “Last year, I felt like I could not express myself very clearly. I sometimes could not understand my students either. And on the other hand, we were far enough away, certainly more than six feet.” 

Sergio Villalobos-Ruminott, SACUA member and professor of Spanish, also said he believes in the importance of giving instructors autonomy on this matter because the environments in some campus buildings are not safe enough for mask-free teaching. 

“I usually teach in the (Modern Language Building), which is one of the worst buildings in the campus,” Villalobos-Ruminott said. “In the basement of that building, we have rooms without a window. We have to protect the faculty and the lecturers and the graduate students teaching.” 

SACUA then addressed the response rate on their Administration Evaluation Committee (AEC) survey. Each year, SACUA’s AEC designs a survey to gauge faculty members’ opinions and perceptions of University administrators. The response rate of the survey this year was 40%, which was considered low by the AEC. 

Tom Braun, SACUA member and professor of biostatistics in the School of Public Health, cited the administration’s lack of trust in the survey results and possible fear of retaliation as the reasons for the low response rate. 

“The number one way that this university can get people to fill out a survey is to actually use the survey to evaluate people,” Braun said. “I also know that there is still this fear of retaliation. People are afraid to put in written comments about things because they’re gonna get identified. It’s just too easy to figure out who’s talking about a certain situation.”

Kentaro Toyama, SACUA member and professor at the School of Information, said the amount of interactions that faculty members have with the administrators is a factor that should be considered when regarding the results of the survey. 

“It might be that we need to do a different baseline survey to ask what percentage of the faculty really do have any real sense for the provost, the president, their Deans, and then to incorporate whatever we get from that baseline into the survey results as well,” Toyama said. 

Pedraza said that she will recommend a few experts on surveys introduced to her by her colleague in the sociology department to AEC members to help them improve their survey design and the response rate. 

Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at tinapyyu@umich.edu