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The University of Michigan Senate Assembly met Monday to discuss electronic voting, student-faculty relationships and faculty rights.

The Senate Assembly planned to vote on the creation of electronic voting and digital attendance, the Senate Assembly Committee on University Affairs Nomination Committee and  making the currently ad-hoc Davis, Markert, Nickerson Academic Freedom Lecture Committee permanent. However, only 21 faculty members attended, meaning the quorum required for a vote was not met..

Senate Assembly Chair Neil Marsh began the presentation by discussing the University’s new Standard Practice Guide regarding relationships between faculty and students. Marsh said the Office of the Provost asked SACUA to revise the guide and explained it will be put into effect in February.

“The University is seeking to revise its Standard Practice Guide on romantic relationships between faculty and students and SACUA has been asked to review and revise that SPG and we will submit our comments to the provost’s office,” Marsh said. “The provost wants our comments by the 5th of February — they wish to implement it by mid-February.”

Professor of historty Hitomi Tonomura asked how graduate students were differentiated from undergraduate students in the revised Standard Practice Guide.

Marsh said the guide encompasses any person in a position of power at the University. The guidelines are essentially the same for both graduate and undergraduate students.

“So the Standard Practice Guide being redrafted addresses relationships between anybody who is in a position as an instructor, whether that’s as faculty, graduate students or undergrads who are teaching or writing reports,” Marsh said. “It sets out guidelines for who they may or may not be in a relationship with when they are involved in those kind of teaching roles.”

SACUA Vice Chair Joy Beatty, associate professor of management studies at U-M Dearborn, said there are notable differences in age and power dynamics between graduate and undergraduate students, and the new Standard Practice Guide should address this.

“The new plan basically prohibits all relationships,” Beatty said. “(Before) there didn’t seem to be a clause saying, ‘Oh, oops, if you happen to be in a relationship, here are the procedures to follow.’ So there was quite a bit of concern, more for the graduate students, because there are clauses in it that refer to undergrads, which I think a lot of us don’t have a lot of trouble with, but then the graduate students — we have graduate students who are like 40 years old, so you’re not dealing with an issue of power dynamics in quite the same way. It could be, but it’s different than dealing with a 19-year-old.”

Sonya Dal Cin, associate professor of communications, echoed Beatty’s point that  some students are older, including adults returning to school or first-generation students who are just now getting a chance to attend the University. Dal Cin wondered how the Standard Practice Guide on romantic relationships would work to accommodate romantic relationships with significantly older students.

“There are a variety of programs at this institution that are undergraduate programs that recruit folks who are in a second career,” Dal Cin said. “And that, particularly faculty that are perhaps coming from first-gen backgrounds that have first-gen spouses that have waited their turn to have an education and that those students should be allowed to enroll in whatever program in whatever university they want. … Do we have any idea what they consider exceptions, what the process might be?”

Marsh said one exception to the policy is if a faculty member’s spouse enrolls. In regard to the older or first-generation students Dal Cin mentioned, he said the University is “sensitive” to these situations, but there would most likely be paperwork to file in the case of a romantic relationship.

The conversation moved to the topic of resolutions up for a vote if the Senate Assembly reached a quorum of 100 members.

SACUA member Sarah Lippert, associate professor of art history at U-M Flint, discussed the current way faculty are treated at the University. She said many faculty members are not given due process, especially in terms of faculty conduct cases.

“One concern is that faculty don’t have the right to appeal an OIE (Office for Institutional Equity) complaint — students do, but faculty don’t — and that seems a little uneven,” Lippert said. “This is my first year on SACUA, and already we’ve probably had at least four or five cases been discussed that we don’t see due process for faculty. We’re seeing problems. Faculty are experiencing some pretty serious challenges.”

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