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The University of Michigan Faculty Senate will be voting Monday afternoon on five motions regarding the lack of remote teaching options, the absence of a weekly testing requirement for vaccinated individuals and the University’s response to sexual misconduct. The motions also call for the University to resume classroom COVID-19 notifications, which were discontinued earlier this month, and better support faculty with unvaccinated children.
The Faculty Senate is meeting at 3:15 in the Michigan Law Honigman Room, with a remote option on Zoom. University President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins will speak at the meeting and answer questions from the faculty.
Schlissel responded to the motions in an email to the Faculty Senate Thursday. In the email, he defended the widespread return of in-person classes as key to the experience of a residential university and noted recent changes to the University’s handling of sexual misconduct.
Motion 1 requests greater COVID-19 protections and support by amending Work Connections with input from faculty. Work Connections is the University-developed integrated disability management program responsible for responding to instructors’ health-related requests. U-M instructors have been communicating with Work Connections to obtain remote teaching options for instructors with medically-documented needs, according to the motion
Faculty believe that Work Connections is not providing them with sufficient support, citing 15 instances where their medically documented needs were rejected by Work Connections.
Schlissel responded that though each request is carefully considered by medical personnel, it is not Work Connection’s role to review certain requests. The number of faculty seeking remote teaching options is also extremely low, Schlissel said, with only 28 requests so far on all three campuses.
Motion 2 requests an increase in COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated individuals and implementation of more efficient contact tracing. It asks that unvaccinated individuals increase testing to twice a week and that weekly testing be mandatory for vaccinated members of the community.
Schlissel responded by saying the U-M COVID-19 mitigation strategy was developed by experts and designed to make in-person classes possible. He noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend regular testing for vaccinated, asymptomatic people.
“However more than 8,000 tests are available weekly for asymptomatic community members through our Community Sampling and Tracking Program – and we’re working to expand availability based on community feedback,” Schlissel said. “Currently, many morning slots are going unfilled so we have surplus capacity.”
In an email to the U-M community Friday, Schlissel also announced that a new CSTP center will open at the Central Campus Dance Building on Oct. 4. The opening of this center adds 4,200 tests every week.
Motion 3 requests a reevaluation of the University’s in-person teaching policy to consider more faculty input. Faculty wrote in the motions document that the University’s policy “effectively coerces an in person method of instruction, denies a fundamental prerogative of the faculty and flouts the stated views of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the U-M Office of the Provost.”
Schlissel responded that the University worked with the schools, colleges, and faculty to create course schedules that would satisfy students and staff during the primarily in-person fall term. This was done with the understanding that these modes of instruction would be maintained throughout the semester, Schlissel said.
“To do otherwise would create major and unpredictable disruptions for many students,” Schlissel said. “The provost and I value the expertise and creativity of faculty, and we will continue to support their choices about methods of instruction and other dimensions of pedagogy within published course schedules and modalities.”
Motion 4 asks that the University adopt sexual misconduct policy recommendations made by survivors of former Provost Martin Philbert and called for a committee made up of survivors of alleged sexual misconduct by Philbert, Robert Anderson, Bruce Conforth and Walter Lasecki.
Schlissel wrote that the University implemented “transformative changes” to the sexual and gender-based misconduct policy and created the new Equity, Civil Rights & Title IX Office. which replaced the controversial Office for Institutional Equity.
Motion 5 calls for increased attention to instructors who have young, unvaccinated children and may have fears about in-person teaching. Faculty wrote that it is the University’s responsibility to ensure that instructors thrive in both their teaching and research environments.
“The additional burden on instructors who care for young children is considerable and at times unmanageable,” the motion reads. “This burden is unevenly distributed, leading to measurable negative effects on the careers of women and people of color in particular and care-givers in general.”
Schlissel responded by emphasizing his dedication to supporting U-M staff members. He said the University will continue to explore how to best support faculty with parenting responsibilities while adhering to U-M’s policies.
“Provost Collins and I have both emphasized that we’re a residential university, and it’s important to transition back to the general expectation that instructors be available for on-campus engagement- of course while continuing to follow U-M policies and procedures for those instructors with special health needs,” Schlissel said.
Daily Staff Reporter Justine Ra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.