A screenshot of the SACUA Zoom call.
Courtesy of Matthew Shanbom.

The University of Michigan Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs convened in a hybrid meeting Monday afternoon to discuss topics including tenure and committee nominations.

At the meeting, SACUA collaborated on an idea board relating to hypothetical guarantees for tenured faculty. Tenure was created to prevent the dismissal of faculty without proper cause. 

Many members described tenure as essential to maintaining academic freedom. U-M Flint professor Simon Cushing said he wanted to see tenured professors receive guaranteed salary increases. 

“Tenure does have something to do with salary,” Cushing said. “You can say ‘You’re getting $35,000 a year when everybody else is getting $100,000 a year, but don’t worry, we can’t fire you.’ ”

Heather O’Malley, an assistant research scientist at Michigan Medicine, said she wanted to remind the members of the distinction between tenure-track professors and other professors to make it clear that salary ranges are different.

“Being on the research track, I can tell you that I probably make at least $30,000 less than somebody at assistant rank on the tenure track,” O’Malley said.

Some SACUA members also expressed concerns that salary reduction within their salary bracket could be considered a demotion. SACUA vice chair Damani Partridge wondered how this might impact the process to remove a tenure professor, called a 5.09.

“(If) somebody was at the top (of their salary bracket) and then was informed that their salary will be reduced to the bottom of their range, but (still) within the range, has a demotion occurred and (does) that ought to implicate the 5.09 process?” Partridge said. “Or is (there) a set how much range is there for permissible reduction of salary pay.”

The committee decided to save further discussion on the topic for future meetings and keep their idea boards as living documents.

SACUA also discussed creating a nominations committee to draft rosters for faculty senate committees. Currently, this process is undertaken by the SACUA chair Tom Braun. Under the new plan, the committee would comprise all Senate Assembly members in the final year of their term.

Art & Design professor Rebekah Modrak said she was worried about this proposal because some University schools don’t have a third-year member to represent them.

“(With the current membership), no one from (the Art & Design School) would be advising (the chair) on members,” Modrak said. “I’m going to guess that there’s a number of schools that would fall through the cracks the same way.”

As an alternative, Modrak proposed that all members of senate assembly nominate committee members.

Braun addressed concerns that committees are having trouble finding members due to a lack of interest.

“You would think that with over 7,000 members of this group, we would find enough people to be on these committees,” Braun said. “We would love to populate these committees with voices from all the schools and units across this university. The reality is that our colleagues do not show interest in wanting to be on those committees.”

SACUA secretary Deirdre Spencer said she was also disappointed about the lack of awareness of the Faculty Senate among U-M staff.

“People just don’t know enough about what we do,” Spencer said. “We used to get people coming in all the time to talk about problems they were having … (People) didn’t know where else to turn.”

SACUA will vote on this resolution next week and intends to present it at the next Senate Assembly meeting.

Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom can be reached at shanbom@umich.edu.