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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Wednesday to discuss the possibility of increasing the presence of undergraduate and graduate students on a range of SACUA committees; however, the idea was met with backlash from several members of the committee.
The implementation of a system that encourages broadened communication between faculty members and students has been a longstanding priority for members of Central Student Government. The specific proposal arose in an earlier meeting between CSG President David Schafer and Chukwuka Mbagwu, Rackham Student Government president.
During their meeting, Schafer and Mbagwu agreed that there should be more substantial involvement of students in various academic advisory committees. These positions would allow CSG and professional students to channel their desire for institutional academic improvements through participation in SACUA committees and to work in consultation with Rackham Student Government representatives.
SACUA Chair Bill Schultz proposed additional seats for another Ross School of Business student in the Committee of Financial Affairs, a law student in the Graduate Student Advisory Committee and a medical student in the Medical Affairs Advisory Committee
Silke-Maria Weineck, chair of the department of Comparative Literature and an LSA representative, opposed the proposal, saying the program could be more disruptive than expected.
“I’m familiar with several officers who actually complained about this program and said that they weren’t always sure whether this was productive,” Weineck said. “I know when I was a student, I certainly didn’t have the slightest clue how a university worked.”
Weineck additionally expressed worry that students would encounter misunderstandings, which would act contrary to SACUA's efficiency.
Other members shared Weineck’s concerns that increasing undergraduate and graduate student presence on University of Michigan committees could create miscommunication, ultimately acting contrary to the program’s intended mission.
Robert Ortega, associate professor in the School of Social Work, said the time required to train students on how best to provide constructive comments to the various committee meetings is cause for concern, based on his experience. Ortega said, once trained, student representatives are sometimes reticent to voice their views, as they do not feel qualified to represent the whole student body.
Schultz responded to the criticism, arguing the purpose of the program is to promote professional development, making it easier for students to envisage futures as faculty in their respective academic fields. By matching students to committees of corresponding interest, Schultz said the program makes an effort to ensure that people have a natural interest in their comittees.
“Based on my experience, the presence of these students is strong,” Schultz said.
During the Wednesday meeting, committee members also discussed the possibility of campus-wide faculty training in reaction to the recent shootings at the University of California at Los Angeles.
In the past, faculty members were encouraged to follow the “run, hide, fight” mantra in handling active shooter situations, Ortega said. He expressed concern that this rhetoric is outdated and rarely applicable to emergency situations. Ortega worried that prior training forced faculty members to prioritize issues of perceived liability over conscious decision making.
“Am I expected to run if I have a student in a wheelchair?” Ortega said. “I was concerned about the real expectations, especially when you have excessively challenged students.”
In response, Schultz suggested that YouTube videos could be used as effective tools in training students and faculty members in how to respond to an active shooter emergency.