SACUA discusses vaccine incentivization options for faculty members. Courtesy of Vanita Seed Buy this photo.

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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) met virtually Monday to discuss potential issues after Ann Arbor Public Schools (AAPS) recently announced that all of their traditional before- and after-school childcare programs would not be operating during the upcoming academic year. SACUA also discussed a possible vaccine incentivization program for faculty, as well as how virtual learning has impacted student-athletes.

Allen Liu, Engineering professor and SACUA chair, opened the meeting with updates from SACUA’s May 17 meeting, during which the committee discussed the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the campus community. Liu said he has recently been invited to join a new collaborative working group created by MHealthy and the Office of the Provost that is looking for ways to incentivize — without requiring — vaccinations among U-M faculty and staff.

Liu said the committee is currently developing software that will allow faculty to upload proof of vaccination and access some sort of reward or prize for doing so.

“There’s talks about using either a gift card or football tickets, concert tickets or something like that (to incentivize staff to get vaccinated),” Liu said. “(University) President (Mark Schlissel) wants this (vaccination incentivization plan) finalized by the end of this week.”

Liu also announced that he met with Ravi Pendse, vice president for information technology and chief information officer, to discuss Simply Voting, the electronic voting software SACUA and the Senate Assembly have used throughout the past year to virtually vote on motions. At the May 10 Faculty Senate Assembly, the assembly debated whether or not collecting votes electronically would work best for U-M faculty government meetings next year. 

Depending on health and safety conditions in the Fall, meetings will likely be conducted in a “hybrid format” with both in-person and online meeting options. In a 29-11 vote during the May 10 meeting, the Senate Assembly approved a motion to continue collecting votes electronically next year. During his recent meeting with Pendse, Liu said he asked if it was possible to eliminate anonymous voting with Simply Voting.

“(According to Pendse), in Simply Voting there is a way to create a template which allows you to know exactly who voted for what,” Liu said. “So that’s an option that I’d like to discuss more amongst SACUA, to decide on the pros and cons of (eliminating anonymous voting)..”

SACUA then began discussing a recent decision made by AAPS to close their before- and after-school programs for the 2021-2022 school year due to COVID-19 safety concerns. During the discussion, several SACUA members said they were worried about how the lack of school-sponsored childcare might negatively affect members of faculty government who are also primary caregivers to AAPS students. 

SACUA member J. Caitlin Finlayson, an associate professor at U-M Dearborn, said the time at which SACUA and Senate Assembly meetings are currently scheduled conflicts with AAPS release times.

“Our Senate Assembly meetings happen from 3 to 5 and (K-12 school) pick-ups start at around 3:30,” Finlayson said. “So you can have a lot of people with kids getting out of school that they’re going to have to pick up, and it’s not simply a matter of not having childcare at that particular location. You’d have to pick up your child from (school) and get them somewhere else for childcare, so it’s going to have a real knock-on effect in terms of teaching or meeting after three o’clock for anybody who has kids.”

Sara Ahbel-Rappe, LSA Greek and Latin professor, said that the University Deans and Provost Susan Collins should be proactive and start brainstorming a solution now. She said it is likely the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO) will raise the issue with administration if it is not addressed soon.

“I’m sure the graduate students will also take this up, because they’re (AAPS) parents and they’ll be on the rampage,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “And we already had that terrible strike (last fall).”

Colleen Conway, Music Theatre and Dance professor of music education, suggested the University create a specific task force to address this concern or reinstate the COVID-19 Faculty Council to examine this issue. SACUA originally formed the COVID-19 Faculty Council in October 2020 to examine the impact the pandemic had on different groups within the campus community including faculty. 

“The (COVID-19 Faculty Council) is a group that already met last year (to discuss these issues),” Conway said. “This is right up their alley.”

Finlayson suggested that besides working to solve the immediate issue concerning faculty who are AAPS parents, the Deans should consider how to accommodate the needs of all faculty who identify as primary caregivers going forward.

“(We should) encourage the Deans to help (faculty members) identify their needs and then be flexible about those needs, right,” Finlayson said. “Maybe that means moving somebody’s class from a three to five (P.M.) slot to earlier in the day so that class is still taught but at a different time. Also, they should look at the fact that this is a year-long thing of parents without aftercare. What other things can the University do to step up to help this situation?”

SACUA then transitioned to a discussion about the benefits and drawbacks of virtual learning for student-athletes and how faculty and staff can help ease the transition back to in-person learning for this group. 

Conway said she found that remote learning and pre-recorded lectures helped student-athletes stay on top of their classwork while traveling for away games.

“During the pandemic they’ve been able to access a lot of the missed instruction because of the digital format,” Conway said. “I don’t know if anybody’s looking at a way to continue that. There was a sense from the athletes that, ‘I was able to integrate my academics a lot more when I was able to still essentially attend class even though we were traveling.’”

Finlayson pointed out that continuing to record lectures next year with the majority of students attending and participating in-person might violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) if the recorded conversations involve “personally identifiable information” that can be used to identify a particular student. Regardless of its legality, Finlayson said, recording lectures might place additional stress on students and discourage them from comfortably participating in the classroom.

“For instance my classes run more like seminars with conversations,” Finlayson said. “Students are constantly interacting in that environment and you’re going to be recording them. We don’t have permission to record them and then give that material to other people.”

Liu said a committee he serves on is currently collecting feedback from student-athletes about their preferences regarding lecture recordings next year. The committee will send their findings and suggestions to SACUA by Wednesday. 

Daily Staff Reporter Vanita Seed can be reached at vseed@umich.edu.