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Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Lecturers’ Employee Organization could vote to go on strike as early as Sept. 8, not Sept. 5.
It’s been an eventful summer at the University of Michigan. While the pandemic remains front of mind, the University has also dealt with the fallout from a massive sexual assault tragedy, grappled with buildings named after prominent figures with problematic actions, committed to carbon neutrality and more.
If you’ve been away from the news for the summer, here’s what you need to know.
After numerous requests from community members, The President’s Advisory Committee on University History released a report that recommended the University remove Fielding H. Yost’s name from Yost Ice Arena. Yost was the University’s head football coach from 1901-1923; the University’s athletic director from 1925-1926; and led the Michigan football team to ten Big 10 conference titles and six national championships from 1921-41.
During Yost’s tenure as athletic director, he infamously benched Willis Ward, the second Black U-M football player and the 1933 Big Ten Athlete of the Year, for a game against Georgia Tech after Georgia refused to play if a Black player was allowed on the field. The Advisory Committee specifically cites this incident in their case for removing Yost’s name from the arena. The committee received hundreds of community comments on the report. University President Mark Schlissel said he will renew the conversation during the fall semester.
A class action complaint was filed on May 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the University of Michigan for its handling of allegations of sexual assault against deceased University doctor Robert E. Anderson.
The law firm WilmerHale, which was hired by the University to conduct the investigation into these allegations, concluded in its May 11 report that there was “no doubt” that the hundreds of complaints against Anderson were credible. WilmerHale’s report also recommended steps to improve the University’s practices around sexual and gender-based misconduct.
The class action complaint seeks a court order that will require the University to carry out major reforms surrounding the school’s best-practice policies and procedures related to sexual and gender-based abuse on campus. The University has made a motion to dismiss the case.
On June 11, Matt Schembechler, the son of former Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler, in addition to former players Gilvanni Johnson and Daniel Kwiatkowski, alleged in a press conference that Bo Schembechler was aware that Anderson sexually assaulted student-athletes. The claims sparked widespread debate on campus about renaming Schembechler Hall and removing Schembechler’s statue on campus.
At the Board of Regents meeting in May, Schlissel announced a commitment to becoming carbon neutrality by 2040 across the three U-M campuses after years of community activism. The announcement came two years after the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality was formed to draft recommendations and seek community feedback on achieving this goal.
The plan aims to eliminate Scope 1 emissions, which derive directly from the University’s operations, by 2040. The University committed to achieving carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions, which come from the purchase of power off-campus, by 2025. Defined goals for achieving carbon neutrality for Scope 3 emissions, which are any emissions indirectly related to the University, will also be laid out by 2025.
June 3: Weiser Hall retains its name
After a petition to rename Weiser Hall gained hundreds of signatures from members of the physics and astronomy departments, Schlissel decided to not recommend renaming the building. Weiser Hall is named for Ronald Weiser, U-M regent and chair of the Michigan Republican Party, as well as his wife Eileen Weiser.
In April, Michigan community members known as the Network for Ongoing Reconsideration of Our Nomenclature (NORON) voiced their displeasure with the hall’s namesake by hosting a mock “renaming,” calling the building the “Weiser Center for Voter Supression, Political Assassination and Witch Burning.”
The name derived from a remark Weiser made at a March 25 North Oakland Republican Club meeting, when he labeled Michigan’s top officeholders — three Democratic women — as “witches” and joked about political assassination. Soon after, Weiser was censured by the Board and removed from committees, though he remains on the Board.
For nearly two months this summer, fully vaccinated individuals were not required to wear masks in most indoor campus spaces. The University had reported single-digit COVID-19 cases in each of the previous six weeks. The move came the same day Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an end to all statewide mask and capacity restrictions as Michigan saw its lowest case numbers since the pandemic began.
After years of activism from cross-campus groups such as One University, the University expanded its signature financial aid program to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. The Go Blue Guarantee is a free-tuition scholarship for in-state students whose family income is less than $65,000 annually, which is the state’s median income.
The expansion was not without controversy, as some protested the requirement that incoming students at Flint and Dearborn earn an 3.5 incoming GPA to receive the scholarship — a requirement not in place on the Ann Arbor campus. University officials responded that nearly all Ann Arbor campus students enter with higher than a 3.5 GPA due to the Ann Arbor admissions process, so a GPA requirement is not necessary.
Faced with scrutiny for high-profile mishandling of sexual misconduct cases in recent years, Schlissel announced that the University would create a new unit known as the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office to replace the Office of Institutional Equity. ECRT will handle the same cases as OIE, but will focus on providing more “support and prevention” measures, Schlissel said.
Though the office was rebranded, it will continue to be led by Tamiko Strickman, the associate vice president and director of OIE who faced scrutiny over alleged mishandling cases of student sexual assault and racism during her time at the University of Nebraksa-Lincoln.
The University also attempted to reform the culture around responding to misconduct, including protecting those who report misconduct from retaliation; prohibiting supervisors from attempting to initiate a relationship with those they supervise; and outlining plans to improve how potential outside hires and candidates for board-approved appointments are vetted.
The University also established a large Title IX advisory group composed of students, faculty and staff that will provide input on matters related to sexual and gender-based misconduct policy and prevention.
Librarians, archivists and curators were formally recognized as a bargaining unit within the Lecturers Employee Organization, the University’s main union of non-tenure-track faculty on all three campuses. The new unit is called LEO-GLAM, which stands for galleries, libraries, archives and museums, to reflect the environments in which most LACs work.
As the Delta variant spread across the country after an early summer COVID-19 lull, the University announced it would require all students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated for the fall semester. The policy grants limited medical and religious exemptions, in addition to deferrals for students to get vaccinated right away once they arrive on campus.
The requirement was well-received, as community members said it alleviated confusion over different policies for vaccinated and unvaccinated students. The campus community has a higher vaccination rate than the surrounding area — 92% of students and 75% of employees are fully vaccinated, compared to 67% of eligible residents in Washtenaw County — but rates are much lower among University staff than students and faculty.
After Washtenaw County COVID-19 transmission rose to levels at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends indoor masking, the University reinstated its mask mandate regardless of vaccination status. Though student vaccination rates had surpassed the 75% benchmark originally set to allow unmasking in classrooms, the policy change means students will need to wear a mask indoors for the foreseeable future.
A large exception is for students living in residence halls, who will be able to go unmasked on their floors. Masks are encouraged, but not required, at large outdoor gatherings such as football games.
After negotiations stalled, University lecturers announced that LEO would quit their contract with the University due to pay inequities for lecturers on the Flint and Dearborn campuses. Though LEO’s previous contract with the University already lapsed on April 20, the union has spent the last several months attempting to negotiate the terms of a new contract before the start of the fall semester.
This decision means a large portion of faculty instructors could possibly go on strike on Sept. 8, during the second week of school. It would mark the second straight year of strikes to begin the fall term, as the Graduate Employees’ Organization striked for nine days in September 2020 to protest the University’s pandemic response.