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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs addressed lingering questions regarding faculty free speech and University sexual misconduct policies in a meeting on Monday. Topics included the University of Michigan’s new umbrella policy for addressing sexual misconduct across all three university campuses and an ongoing issue regarding associate professor John Cheney-Lippold’s refusal to write a recommendation letter for a student’s study abroad program in Israel last year.
The University has moved to adopt a new sexual misconduct policy which applies to all three of the University campuses. This new umbrella policy applies to all University employees and students, as well as third parties involved in a sexual misconduct allegations. Christine Gerdes, special counsel to the Provost, said the content of the document isn’t much different from the original.
“The substance of much of what you’ll see (in the document) isn’t all that different from the substance today,” Gerdes said. “But it looks a lot different.”
The new policy clarifies previous policies and includes a fixed list of definitions of prohibited conduct, specifying what to do when an allegation falls under the jurisdiction of multiple misconduct committees. The new policy also reevaluates the list of responsible employees and confidential resources within the University.
The committee addressed a policy issue pertaining to how employees couldn’t appeal against a potential suspension. The new umbrella policy doesn’t require the employee to be notified of a future suspension or allow for the employee to submit a grievance in regards to their sexual misconduct case. While this doesn’t apply to tenured or clinical professors, SACUA agreed all parties should be given the opportunity to submit an appeal and be able to get their affairs in order before getting their pay taken away.
Other grievances with the policy included inconsistency between the timelines for employees and students when reviewing the preliminary report of their case, nonspecific language within the report and employees' inability to appeal to the Office of Institutional Equities. SACUA chair Joy Beatty voiced these concerns, wondering aloud if employees would be allowed the opportunity to challenge a suspension.
“What is the rationale for not providing an employee with the opportunity to challenge a suspension without pay?” Beatty said. “Why are the timelines shorter for employees than they are for students?”
Cheney-Lippold also spoke at the meeting to discuss the University's response to his decision to rescind a study abroad recommendation letter in 2018. Cheney-Lippold said he rescinded the letter because of his participation in an academic boycott of Israel organized by Palastenian activists. In response to the incident, the University moved to take away Cheney-Lippold’s sabbatical, freeze his pay and threatened to potentially dismiss him. Cheney-Lippold asked to meet with SACUA to discuss faculty political freedom.
“The Dean’s office seemed to stop caring about faculty wellness at all,” Cheney-Lippold said. “I believe my case raises specific concerns regarding faculty academic and political freedom.”
Senate Assembly Member, Sara Ahbel-Rappe, a professor in the classical studies department, pushed back against Cheney-Lippold's decision to decline to write the recommendation letter, referencing discrimination within American institutions. She said the fact that Cheney-Lippold isn’t boycotting the United States is a double standard.
“Black people are shot everyday because they’re Black. I find it surprising when you say that you won’t write a letter for anybody going to Israel, and you would write one for someone in America," Ahbel-Rappe said.
The SACUA committee agreed that their original statement regarding the case was rushed and didn’t represent the true beliefs of SACUA members. Multiple committee members mentioned that Cheney-Lippold’s case was worrying because it showed the relative powerlessness of the faculty senate. Instead of having a say in the proceedings, SACUA’s statement was used to bolster the position of the University administration.
Correction: A previous version of this article identified Christine Gerdes as a member of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. She is special counsel to the Provost.