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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) met virtually on Monday for the first — and likely only — time this month to hear from University of Michigan professor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Heather Ann Thompson about Standard Practice Guide (SPG) Policy 601.38, which requires U-M faculty and staff to self-disclose felony charges and convictions. They also continued a previous discussion concerning the possibility of amending Faculty Senate rules so the political framework would be in place to allow the Senate Assembly to appoint an outside parliamentarian in October.
The University initially implemented SPG 601.38 to promote safety and security within the U-M community. However, Thompson emphasized to SACUA that the policy has unintentionally had adverse consequences. In fact, the negative impact the policy has on U-M faculty is so pervasive, Thompson said, that it should be amended or abandoned altogether.
“There has been very little word from the administration in terms of either movement in response to people’s concerns about (the policy) or providing any more evidence that it is needed,” Thompson said. “The University needs to revisit it.”
Thompson expressed her dissatisfaction with the “vague and broad” language used in the original policy. She also said she was disappointed in the lack of action being taken by the administration in regards to amending the policy based on faculty-collected data. Though Thompson did not share any specific studies or data points at the meeting, she said that data suggests it exacerbates the impacts of the criminal justice system within the University.
“If we pride ourselves on being a university (that takes) research and studies that our own faculty have conducted seriously, the claims that this policy makes – that it increases public safety – are not borne out by the data,” Thompson said. “The risks of this policy far outweigh the claims of its benefits.”
Various SACUA members agreed with Thompson that the policy was passed behind closed doors without adequate support from U-M faculty. Thompson also noted that no faculty members who worked on the U-M Carceral State Project — a University-funded interdisciplinary research initiative studying the historical and modern-day impacts of carceral control in the U.S. — were consulted when the policy was being drafted.
U-M spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen did not respond to this specific concern from Thompson when asked by The Michigan Daily. However, she said University President Mark Schlissel had met with stakeholder groups who expressed concern with the policy back in 2019.
According to several SACUA members, the SPG policy was passed just after Larry Nassar was convicted for sexually assaulting student athletes at Michigan State University. SACUA member J. Caitlin Finlayson pointed out several issues she had with the policy. Finlayson said she feels several of these issues might have been initially overlooked because the University was in such a rush to release new guidelines pertaining to felonies in light of current events at the time.
“In the middle of being charged with a felony, you have one week to report,” Finlayson said. “It has caveats like, if you don’t report in enough detail you can be removed … The reporting is (done via) an online form, which makes me wonder about issues of privacy.”
Broekhuizen wrote that the felony charges and convictions are taken under consideration for each individual case.
“Those with criminal records are welcome to apply for jobs at U-M and those with felony charges or convictions can remain part of our university community depending upon the nature of the crime and the specific job they hold at the university,” Broekhuizen wrote.
Thompson concluded her presentation to SACUA by encouraging SACUA to join her in drafting a new proposal that would prioritize faculty input to replace the existing one. Though replacing the mandatory self-disclosure policy is her ultimate goal, Thompson said she also hopes her efforts can “ban the box” on U-M forms that applicants to University positions must check if they have been convicted or charged with a felony.
“The way you have a safer society is by having an educated society,” Thompson said. “Once you serve the time, it is done.”
Broekhuizen responded to the ‘ban the box’ conversation by writing that the University has already taken action on the matter. She wrote that the University has been using ‘the box’ since 1999 and that the wording and use of the word has been regularly reviewed.
“The university has acted on (the box) and felony and misdemeanor disclosures are not going to be required at the time of application to a U-M job,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Changes were also made that included updating questions on student admissions applications, that removed misdemeanor infractions from consideration and limiting felony charges and juvenile criminal infractions to only those involving violent or assaultive behavior, weapon possession, property destruction or sexually related offenses.”
After Thompson left the meeting, SACUA transitioned their discussion to their plan to elect a parliamentarian to facilitate Senate Assembly discussions in the fall. In May, SACUA had discussed the possible benefits and drawbacks of adding a parliamentarian position to faculty government and they defined the responsibilities that would be designated to this individual. At Monday’s meeting, SACUA announced a Faculty Senate election for the position would take place in October.
Currently, the section of the SACUA rules defining the parliamentarian position dictate that the elected individual would serve for three years, and would be eligible for reelection thereafter. The rules also require that parliamentary candidates be current or retired Faculty Senate members.
However, several SACUA members suggested that parliamentary candidates should be outsourced from beyond the University. Senate member David Potter said that this would ensure a neutral standpoint when overseeing discussions related to university affairs.
“Complete neutrality has to be clear,” Potter said. “With an outsider, we are not going to be worried about that.”
SACUA Chair Allen Liu brought the discussion to a close, recognizing that changing the rules to allow a wider variety of candidates to run for the position may be a possibility going forward.
“From reading the rules, it seems to suggest that we need to find someone from within,” Lui said. “But if we can’t find anybody and need to look outside (of U-M faculty government), then SACUA can decide at that time.”
Daily Staff Reporter Nadir Al-Saidi can be reached at email@example.com.