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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs at the University of Michigan met on Monday afternoon to elect an interim officer to the assembly, as well as discuss issues of attendance and the consideration of electronic participation in the future.
Ravi Pendse, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, spoke to the assembly about the need for better communication between SACUA members and University faculty and staff. Pendse was appointed this August.
Pendse previously served in a similar capacity at Brown University. When arriving at the University this summer, Pendse said he wondered why the University wasn’t one of the top leaders in technology use in the classroom and across campus. From employing technological advancements like voice recognition of professors in the classroom, or transparency for students in regards to how their personal data is used by the University, Pendse asked the assembly to consider the implementation of such breakthroughs.
“The question is now … would it be possible when I walk into the classroom for it to recognize me and have the technology in the classroom adapt to my needs?” Pendse said.
Pendse explained his philosophy behind effective communication between him and his staff. In his job, he provides staff with weekly memos and offers his cell phone number if they ever want to contact him when off the clock. Pendse emphasized the need to relay missions of teamwork and unity to his staff by making goals for the technology aspect of the University tangible.
“The excitement of what is possible is there,” Pendse said. “I believe that our future is really bright, and it will be a matter of us working collaboratively.”
The meeting continued with the nomination and election of LSA professor David Potter as the interim Faculty Senate secretary. Potter, who will serve another three-year term, was approved unanimously by the assembly.
Issues regarding participation and attendance among the assembly have also been debated throughout the semester. One solution the assembly has proposed is the incorporation of electronic voting and remote participation for meetings, instead of attending meetings in person each week. Though this would potentially solve attendance problems, assembly members believe there are other technical difficulties worth considering before votes are made to change the policy.
Sarah Lippert, SACUA assembly member and associate professor of art history at U-M Flint, expressed concern over safety in regards to online meetings. Without a password to the live-streamed meeting, Lippert said any individual on a computer could hypothetically join the meeting, raising questions of security.
“I’m already pressured in unfortunate ways, just based on being on this body on my campus,” Lippert said. “If meetings were public in terms of them being broadcast and anyone could just listen in, I would not be able to participate.”
This issue was among various disadvantages discussed by the assembly at Monday’s meeting. When meeting through video chat or live stream, as SACUA member Bill Schultz, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, noted, there is a far greater possibility of miscommunication or technical difficulty as opposed to meeting in person.
“From attending a couple of SACUA meetings remotely, you get about 50 percent of it … you miss a lot of the conversation,” Schultz said.