The University Insider is The Daily’s first faculty and staff-oriented newsletter. This weekly newsletter will give U-M faculty and staff the ability to see the most important issues on campus and in Ann Arbor — particularly those related to administrative decisions — from the perspective of an independent news organization. It will also provide a better understanding of student perspectives.
The University of Michigan Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met at Palmer Commons Monday afternoon to discuss how to increase civic engagement on campus in advance of the upcoming primary elections.
SACUA Chair Joy Beatty first began the meeting by addressing the sexual misconduct allegations against Martin A. Philbert, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. She said she emailed University President Mark Schlissel before this meeting regarding the matter, then read from his response to her email.
“While the allegations are serious, the investigation being conducted by an independent outside law firm is not yet complete and everyone should reserve final judgments until that point,” Beatty read from Schlissel’s email. “We all need to encourage people to come forward if they have any information on prohibited conduct. The fact that people came forward to report misconduct is a positive sign.”
Beatty also explained changes proposed by the Senate Assembly, including the realignment of the committees. Instead of having nine standing committees as there are now, the Senate Assembly proposed to move to six standing committees and one ad hoc committee, which gathers only as needed.
“The downside of having an ad hoc committee is that if you got something that needs to be done quickly and you got to pull together a committee, I think it will be difficult,” Beatty said. “It seems like a type of committee where it would really help to have people who have the expertise (on the bylaws), whether they’re from law, from policy or some unit like that.”
Gina Cervetti, associate professor of the School of Education and chair of Student Relations Advisory Committee, discussed the committee’s role in civic engagement on campus. This committee consults with and advises the vice president for student life.
Cervetti said they have been discussing how to think about the election in relation to the campus climate and issues facing students. She has been particularly interested in using the election to help University students think about their role as citizens and as an opportunity to support civic conversations on campus. She said this might help U-M win the Big Ten Voting Challenge, a competition across the Big Ten Conference to increase student voter registration and turnout.
Mary Jo Callan, director of the Ginsberg Center, said she wants to foster different ways to promote student life. She said she will work to promote democratic involvement.
“We know at the University of Michigan, our students are interested in all kinds of pathways in impacting public life,” Callan said. “We will be focusing on voting and some of the key skills and commitments toward democratic nature.”
Callan also discussed declining support for democratic processes. She noted 17 percent of U.S. residents agree the government can be trusted to do what is right always or most of the time.
“It’s important to mention this to give you a sense of, ‘Where are we in this context, and why is there renewed focus considering civic engagement as part of the Michigan education?’” Callan said. “Our hope at Ginsberg Center and working with partners across campus and some of our national civic partners, we know we want change in that scenario, creating confidence in the democratic structures, processes, et cetera that go beyond voting and are also about discussion, dialogue and information in news media.”
Erin Byrnes, leader of the Big Ten Voting Challenge at the Ginsberg Center, mentioned there was a large jump in voting in 2018 with 41 percent voting, a 26.7 percent increase from 2014.
“It’s a lot of great work there,” Byrnes said. “We nearly tripled our voting rate and it was kind of our high-in-the-sky goal … With the hard work of our student team and our staff we were able to do that.”
Byrnes also commented on the high projections for the voter turnout this year in the U.S.
“In looking ahead to 2020, in the fall, projection is around 65 percent turnout among eligible turnouts which will be the highest turnout since 1908, so over 100 years,” Byrnes said. “We are seeing a lot of movement, a lot of activity, a lot of energy.”
Dave Waterhouse, associate director of the Ginsberg Center, discussed how to incorporate civic engagement into working with students. He mentioned the Ginsberg Center is compiling a group of resources for faculty to connect their work and disciplines to promote civic engagement among students in a nonpartisan way.
“Even just asking the questions: ‘Are you voting? Do you have a voting plan? Are you registered to vote?’ in your classes,” Waterhouse said. “(You can) make students aware of what different positions are out there in terms of valid initiatives and what positions candidates are taking, but you need to do so with balance. You can encourage them to vote, but you can’t encourage them to vote in a particular way.”
Byrnes addressed absentee ballots and their availability, noting that Michigan no longer requires an excuse to vote absentee, so a student can easily receive a ballot to the address they list.
“I think we will see an upturn on absentee voting from students and really among folks all across the state,” Byrnes said. “We are encouraging students to request an absentee ballot at least two weeks out from the primary election, so we would encourage everyone roughly to in about a week.”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify it was Mary Jo Callan, director of the Ginsberg Center, who gave the presentation, not MaryJo Banasik, director of the Faculty Senate Office.
Reporter Saini Kethireddy can be reached at email@example.com.