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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually Monday afternoon to discuss anti-racism initiatives at the University of Michigan as well as current enrollment data. The committee also met with the Electronic Meetings and Accessibility Task Force to explore ways to raise awareness around and identify best practices for digital accessibility.
Provost Susan Collins discussed anti-racism initiatives the University is pursuing. The first is working with deans from various colleges at the University to take a comprehensive look at the race and ethnicity requirement to assess whether more diversity and inclusion courses should be included. The race and ethnicity requirement, mandatory for all students in LSA, has received scrutiny in past years for not explicitly addressing issues of racial inequity.
“Each of our schools are kind of in a different place, so the idea was for the deans to develop a process that engaged faculty, students and staff, given where they were to think about how to move (race and ethnicity curriculum) forward,” Collins said.
The second initiative will grant scholarships to departments to hire faculty from diverse backgrounds, focusing on people who have been involved in serious anti-racism research. The Office of the Provost is working with the University Office of Research and the National Center of Institutional Diversity to bring in eight new faculty within the University’s first round of hiring.
In response to the second initiative, Deirdre Spencer, a University librarian, said it is important to provide scholarships and grants to these faculty in order to promote inclusivity.
“Diversity of scholarship is something that’s got to be supported,” Spencer said.
Collins said she hopes to highlight anti-racism work that is not necessarily known with the scholarships and upcoming faculty hires.
“One of the key things we do as a University is our research and scholarship, and so finding a way to really shine a spotlight on the great work that’s already happening around anti-racism research and the impact that it can have, and the ways that it can also support our students and improve our curriculum, is really important to me,” Collins said.
The third initiative involves a public safety task force consisting of 20 University students, faculty and staff. Collins said she hopes the task force will bring representation to communities of color who have been negatively impacted by over-policing.
The task force — which will examine current practices within the Division of Public Safety and Security — was formed after multiple instances of police brutality by the Ann Arbor Police Department and Washtenaw Sheriff’s Office unrelated to DPSS, though DPSS works in close conjunction with the other two departments. The Graduate Employees’ Organization’s strike last semester, which lasted nearly two weeks, also included a demand that the University divert funds away from DPSS. The task force was one of the stipulations agreed upon by the University in ending the strike.
“They’ll be doing more outreach publicly, so we’ll be hearing more about them,” Collins said. “By the end of February, the charge asks them to have their initial findings from the discovery period for public purviews so people know what they’re working on.”
Collins also shared an update on enrollment data, noting that while undergraduate enrollment increased about 1% during the fall 2020 semester, graduate enrollment decreased 3.76% and international graduate student enrollment fell 6.4%.
“At this stage (the enrollment percentages are) really close to being final,” Collins said. “They’re better than we had feared, so there’s some good news, but there’s also, as expected, some more challenging news as well.”
During a discussion period, Sara Ahbel-Rappe, professor of Greek and Latin, raised concern about faculty’s access to childcare. Ahbel-Rappe said many faculty members are struggling with their academic and professional work due to having inadequate childcare resources available to them.
“Those faculty members who are taking care of children are at a disadvantage when it comes to their (performance) review … Having had their salary frozen, and now coming up with the situation where they’re not going to look as good as those faculty who don’t have children,” Ahbel-Rappe said.
Other SACUA members brought up similar concerns with the lack of childcare, a problem which Collins said she hopes to address quickly in order to support faculty.
“The challenges that are being raised … are exacerbating the inequities that were already there,” Collins said.
SACUA also met with the Electronic Meetings and Accessibility Task Force to address and implement meeting procedures for the Faculty Senate and Senate Assembly to combat barriers to electronic accessibility. These procedures include using Communication Access Realtime Translation services, also known as closed captioning, as well as providing meeting materials to participants in advance and updating rules for electronic meetings.
“Digital accessibility is really about ensuring that people with disabilities have access to and can engage with digital products, tools, information and resources in a way that’s equitable, inclusive and empowering,” Phil Deaton, digital information and accessibility coordinator of the task force, said. “I think digital accessibility is an important part of having an accessible University for folks with disabilities, whether those are faculty, staff or student members of the community.”
The Electronic Meetings and Accessibility Task Force presented a document outlining best practices for electronic accessibility to SACUA and plan on presenting it at the upcoming Senate Assembly meeting on Feb. 15.
Daily Staff Reporter Cynthia Huang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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