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On April 4, The Michigan Daily sat down with Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman for the final interview of the Winter 2022 semester. Coleman discussed COVID-19 on campus, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the removal of Jonathan Vaughn’s “Hail to the Victims” campsite.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: On March 14, the University of Michigan lifted its indoor mask mandate for most indoor spaces on campus. Can you speak on why this decision was made and which community members were consulted?
Mary Sue Coleman: As always, we pay a lot of attention to the county health department and to the CDC recommendations and clearly our public health people. We have the University Health Service, and they’re monitoring very closely what’s going on. We took in all that information. We talked about it pretty broadly and decided that lifting the mask mandate would be a positive development for the community because one of the things that we need to be doing is developing confidence for people that they can feel safe. We’ve had very high vaccination rates, and that’s another thing that really factors in the decision about what we’re going to do, but we felt comfortable.
TMD: Under what conditions will the mask mandate in classrooms be lifted?
MSC: Again, I think we need to monitor the situation carefully. It’s part of this comprehensive plan to build confidence. Classrooms are a little bit different from when you’re out and just around and whatever. So, we’ve been building confidence, and we’ll reassess for the spring term and the summer term and always (try) to use the evidence.
TMD: Who is involved in planning COVID-19 policies for Fall 2022? When should community members expect an announcement of said policies?
MSC: The same group — we use the people from the School of Public Health, we use the University Health Service (UHS), we’ve had COVID planning teams, we will look at the CDC, the county health department. All of those factors, and of course we want to let people know as soon as possible, but before the Fall semester comes up, we’ve got the Spring and Summer terms. So we’ll be dealing with those two, but we’ll try to let everybody know in plenty of time. Of course we’re monitoring the incident rates (of COVID), and we’ve been very happy that cases have gone down. Those cases that have existed — because we have such a high vaccination rate — have been mild, and that’s also a big positive we look at.
TMD: You voiced your support for Ukrainian students on campus in an announcement earlier this month. How will students be able to obtain said temporary protected status benefits and additional Visa applications?
MSC: Our International Center is working on that very carefully, and we’ve reached out to all of those students to do everything that we can to make sure that their studies are not interrupted and that they’re safe. So we’re paying a lot of attention to them because we don’t want bad things to happen to them as a consequence of this war that’s going on. Pretty horrific.
TMD: Does the University plan to take any further action regarding support for its students and academic partners based in Ukraine?
MSC: I’m sure those discussions are still going on. I don’t think we have any U of M students in Ukraine. I think if there’s anybody in Russia, they’ve been advised to leave because those recommendations have come from the State Department. We care very deeply. I don’t know whether it’s going to be possible to have any academic partnerships in Ukraine given what’s going on. But, clearly, our International Center and our academic units will be looking carefully for anomalous issues.
TMD: On March 15, the University announced it would be divesting $40 million from Russian accounts due to “increased financial risks” associated with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In addition to these financial risks, were there any other factors involved in making this decision?
MSC: We don’t really call it divesting because that’s not what it is. What we decided on that date was to not make any new investments. We were invested in a very small fund — $40 million out of our $17 billion endowment — less than a half of 1%. So we weren’t invested in it to any significant degree anyway.
TMD: The University removed the “Hail to the Victims” campsite organized by Robert Anderson survivor Jonathan Vaughnon March 7. When The Daily asked why it was removed, the University had no comment. Can you speak on why the campsite was removed, and if you had any say or prior knowledge of this decision?
MSC: I think I addressed that the last time we met. It was time to go.
TMD: Was Vaughn’s removal part of the $490 million settlement?
MSC: It was not a condition.
TMD: Following the removal of the campsite, Vaughn announced that he is hiring a pro-bono private investigator to look into allegations that the University “sanctioned” a study by Dr. Robert Anderson that researched the sperm of “elite athletes.” The press release alleges Anderson forced athletes to provide sperm samples and illegally sold the sperm to unknowing parties. Has the University been in contact with the investigative team, and what do you have to say to these allegations?
MSC: Well, I think that was pretty well researched in the WilmerHale report , and I don’t think there’s anything to it, so there’s been no contact with anybody.
TMD: On March 24, the University reached a settlement with students in a class action lawsuit which accused the University of failing to protect students from sexual misconduct. As part of the settlement, the University has agreed to the formation of a Coordinate Community Response Team (CCRT) to increase transparency between the student body and the University’s sexual misconduct policies. Can you speak on how the decision to create the CCRT was reached and the role you hope the committee plays on campus?
MSC: So I was really very pleased with this when I heard about the creation of this group because I do think it’s an excellent way for us to continue to create the kind of culture and environment that we want to have at the University, and this kind of group was apparently created at the University of California-Berkeley. It’s similar, and I think theirs was sort of a model that was used. It was all under discussion before I came, so I wasn’t really wasn’t part of it , but I think it can be extraordinary. I’m really pleased with the leadership and the people who are going to be on it.
TMD: How will CCRT members be chosen?
MSC: That’s up to the leadership of the committee, and I’m looking forward to hearing from those people. I think having both the community input and the campus input and the leadership team that we’ve got, I just imagine it’s going to be really productive and new for us, which will be a positive.
TMD: On March 24, Dentistry Dean Laurie McCauley was approved as interim provost and vice president of academic affairs following the end of current Provost Susan Collins’s term. Can you speak on why McCauley was chosen, and can you elaborate on what her role as interim provost will entail?
MSC: It should be like the provost. She will have the functioning role that the provost does, which is the chief academic officer for the University. All the deans report to the provost. I selected her after consideration of a lot of potential individuals on campus. I thought it needed to be somebody at the dean level because that’s the normal route that provosts come from, and she is widely respected. I consulted with a number of people on campus about who they thought might be good, and her name kept coming up over and over again because she’s so well regarded. So that’s how she was chosen. I chose her.
TMD: On March 21, School of Social Work students walked out of classes to rally for Payments 4 Placements (P4P), a student campaign demanding that the University pay Master’s students for their social work internships. Does the University plan to begin compensating MSW students for their work?
MSC: No. That’s not something that’s done nationwide and in social work programs that do these kinds of experiences. They’re part of the academic program and not compensated, and the University has no plans to compensate these students here because they are students.
TMD: A recent Daily investigation found University Housing “failed to properly respond to numerous undisclosed safety concerns brought by residential staff members between 2018 and 2021.” In response to this investigation, what is the University doing to better support Student Life employees?
MSC: I’ve talked to Vice President Harmon about this, and he feels that the story was not really accurate, and he’s responded to it. I think they’re doing everything that they can to ensure the people who work as employees feel valued and are doing well. So he’s well aware of what the complaints were, I think he has a different point of view, but he’ll continue to make this a desirable situation for employees.
TMD: Is the Presidential Search Committee still on track to have a new president installed by the time your contract expires in July? As we approach the announcement, do you have any updates on what your role will be in the presidential transition process?
MSC: I believe they are. They’re working hard. Of course, that’s very confidential, and I don’t have any say in that process. They had a whole series of listening sessions. I’m sure they have a search consultant, and I’m sure they’ve been trying to elicit interest in the position. This will be a very attractive presidency. And even though they don’t consult me about anything, which they shouldn’t do, this is really the search committee’s role. But I’m sure they’re hard at work. I encourage them all the time to be hard at work.
TMD: On March 31, LSA juniors Noah Zimmerman and Jackie Hillman were elected president and vice president of Central Student Government. What relationship does the President of the University have with CSG, and do you have any plans to meet with Zimmerman and Hillman?
MSC: It can be helpful to them, even though I won’t really be here. I would certainly want them to be able to meet as quickly as possible with the new president. When I was here before, I enjoyed getting to know the leadership of Student Government. It was always very helpful to me to hear what they were hearing on campus. We usually scheduled a couple meetings per semester so I could get a sense about what was going on. I would expect the new president would want to do that.
TMD: There is currently only one academic building on campus named after a woman — Mary Sue Coleman Hall. What is the process for naming a building? Is there a reason behind the lack of diversity in building names? Are there any upcoming plans for new building names?
MSC: I think the simplest answer for the lack of diversity is that most of the buildings around here were named decades and decades, if not a century, ago. So there wasn’t as much concern about inclusiveness and diversity. I think that this recent push, not only here but on a lot of campuses, is a very positive one to reflect what we are as a university. So I know that probably many more opportunities will exist in the future.
We have a building naming process and a committee. But one of the things that I think is pretty exciting is this idea that because all this has risen now, there’s much more thought on campus about inclusiveness and how we think about our history and how we think about and honor people who have made a really positive impact on the campus. I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more about that in the coming years, and I think it’s exciting as we approach commencement (in) spring 2022.
TMD: Do you have any plans for your upcoming commencement speech, and just what are your overall thoughts on being back in the Big House?
MSC: We haven’t decided yet, but one of the things that I admire so much is the resiliency of the students that are graduating in 2022 during their college — they’re not the only class, of course. But there’s a lot to admire, and I suspect that I’ll be talking about some of those themes in the speech.
How do I feel about being in the Big House? It’s going to be bittersweet in many ways. This will be my last time and I just, I loved commencement. It’s such an iconic place to have it. I think most of the students who were there realize this is the last time they’ll be with their colleagues, and they’ll be in the Big House, which is a really special place on campus. So I think it’s gonna be wonderful.
TMD: We always like to end these interviews with a fun, lighthearted question, so our question today is: what’s your favorite pizza place on campus?
MSC: If my husband and I are thinking about grabbing a pizza we usually order from Domino’s and go pick it up. I love Domino’s, but there are lots of good pizza places.
TMD: What toppings do you get?
MSC: I love pepperoni and mushroom together on the same pizza. I don’t eat it often because it’s pretty high in calories, but I love it anyway. It’s a good treat.
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