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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon with Rebecca Cunningham, vice president of research at the University of Michigan, to discuss the pilot phase in the reopening of research labs amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.


SACUA chair Colleen Conway, professor of music education, started the meeting by approving the agenda for the meeting and reviewing corrections made to language of the Regents’ Bylaws 5.09 resolution


Conway referred to an informal conversation that she had with University President Mark Schlissel Monday morning where they discussed the statement SACUA put forward and stated that the language is quite supportive of due process.

“I think the way that we softened the language does make it clear that we are not saying that criminals should not be having their pay suspended,” Conway said. “We are saying that we are concerned about the way the document reads in a few spots.”


Cunningham discussed her vision for the reopening of research labs at the University in the coming months.  

“The most amazing thing about this campus is the ability to bring together folks from humanities and sociology with physics and chemistry and the strengths across all of the 19 schools,” Cunningham said. “I’ve seen the magic of that happen….If you look on our research page of the many COVID projects that are going on, we can see that that is everything from how we might eventually find a vaccine to what it means for health disparities and early childhood development in COVID.”

Cunningham emphasized the importance of returning to research – as it is a defining component of the University  –– while pointing out the need for safety precautions.

“It is important to us to get back to this mission of research,” Cunningham said. “But, we also have a larger responsibility both to the coworker community that we participate in with research as well as the community that we live in broadly in Southeast Michigan and Ann Arbor. How bringing back a large research workforce will impact them is a responsibility that we all have to collectively own … We will be moving incrementally. It is a slow ramp up, which is important because we are a giant enterprise. ”

SACUA member Allen Liu, associate professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering, asked how the procedures would be carried out, stressing the importance for researchers to be aware of the specifics in order to efficiently staff their labs. 

“I think that it is important for the researchers to know that we can staff our labs,” Liu said. “We have more people than the maximum capacity and without knowing that, how this is going to be done is very hard for people to plan.”

Cunningham provided a general overview of how the capacity of the labs will be handled, stating only 30 percent of the total capacity that a wet lab space will be allowed back during the pilot wave.

“As a start, the people who are approved to come into the building during that pilot wave will be just those people,” Cunningham said. “The idea is that you want a group of people that come in at staggered times to be the same group of people. If you were swapping people out in all of the labs, you would have tripled the amount of people that came into contact with each other during a day.”

SACUA member Annalisa Manera, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, asked about the measurements that will be used to deem the pilot as successful. Cunningham responded with some means that will be utilized such as confirmation that researchers are observing the social distancing criteria, confirmation that buildings are at the correct amount of capacity and confidence in the consistent availability of disinfectant supplies, personal protective equipment and staffing support.

Cunningham closed by addressing how the processes being employed by the University compare to the processes of other universities in reopening their research labs.

“I am talking to vice presidents of research around the country in multiple institutions,” said Cunningham. “We are all sharing information and struggling with the same issues as we are trying to do something that universities have never done before which is shut down and restart all of their research enterprises. Most of the metrics from around the country are operating under similar principles for safe distancing.”

Daily Staff Reporter Alexandra Greenberg can be reached at



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