SACUA Chair Allen Liu explains new parliamentarian role in Senate Assembly. Courtesy of Vanita Seed. Buy this photo.

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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually on Monday to hear from Provost Susan Collins about potential COVID-19 policies for faculty in the Fall 2021 semester, which is expected to be closer to a typical, in-person experience. SACUA also discussed the Supervisor-Employee Relationships Policy and approved a rule change concerning future virtual Senate Assembly activities.

SACUA member Kanakadurga Singer inquired about the possibility of a policy for opting out of in-person teaching in the upcoming fall semester.

“There is a petition written up (for an opt-out teaching) policy,” Liu said. “It’s been sent to me and it hasn’t been circulated yet. They’re looking for SACUA support and (are) interested in sending it out to the Senate Assembly or maybe even broader — (the) Faculty Senate.”

SACUA discussed concerns pertaining to the unavailability of COVID-19 vaccines for children of faculty members who are under 16 years of age. Currently, the Pfizer vaccination is only available for ages 16 and up while the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccinations are only approved for those 18 years of age or older — though news broke shortly after the SACUA meeting that the Pfizer vaccination may soon be approved for children as young as 12 as well. Vaccinated faculty members who are parents of children in age groups who do not qualify for COVID-19 vaccines are worried they might unknowingly infect their unvaccinated children if they teach in-person in the fall. 

After the executive session with Collins, which was closed to the media, SACUA addressed the rules for virtual Faculty Senate meetings. This discussion comes in advance of the upcoming Senate Assembly on May 10. Singer asked about the possibility of implementing parliamentarians at future Faculty Senate meetings.

“Eight universities in the Big 10 have parliamentarians, and we thought that would be useful to have someone like that to cover full Senate Assembly meetings … (based on) what we experienced last fall,” Liu said. “So the (parliamentarian role) was added in (to help with) quorum and voting rules.” 

Last fall, during a Senate Assembly meeting regarding a vote of no confidence in University President Mark Schlissel, there was some confusion over including absentee ballots in the vote.

Banasik agreed adding parliamentarians to large virtual faculty government meetings would help them run smoothly, pointing out the difficulty of directing constructive conversations in a meeting with hundreds of faculty members.

“The reason that having a parliamentarian is related to electronic meetings is because we can have much larger, more complex meetings when we have electronic meetings, and we would have never had a meeting with 2,400 people pre-technology, in person,” Banasik said. “It’s just not manageable to have that size of a meeting without having a parliamentarian, and we experienced that firsthand in the fall.”

Education professor Donald Freeman pointed out additional benefits of facilitating electronic meetings, even during a typical semester.

“It’s very timely, even had we not been living through the year that we’ve been living through,” Freeman said. “I think the level of participation that comes about when you can open up electronic participation is what we need, honestly, to make faculty governance more vital. By having a parliamentarian you just have an anchor to say, ‘This is the way that this needs to run,’ and that makes it more credible, both for people who are not participating and who hear it later but also for those who are in it.”

Liu pointed out the number of changes — including the addition of a parliamentarian role — made to the SACUA electronic meeting rules and asked the committee if there were any further concerns members wanted to raise before the rule changes are officially announced at the next Senate Assembly meeting next week.

In response, Music, Theatre & Dance professor Colleen Conway alluded to the backlash which arose during a pre-pandemic Senate Assembly meeting when similar policies concerning electronic faculty government activity were proposed.

“There was so much energy that was like, ‘No, we couldn’t possibly move to electronic voting,’ and electronic meetings (are) now (taken for) granted,” Conway said. “I feel like (the topic of electronic voting) might come forth next week.”

Tangential to the committee’s discussion about electronic voting, Liu advanced the possibility of hybrid Senate Assembly meetings in the fall semester.

“The University said the larger meeting(s) would likely be more anchored towards electronic participation, but (we’ve had) some members express interest in in-person participation as well,” Liu said.

SACUA member J. Caitlin Finlayson asked Liu for clarification on how faculty members participating in person would be able to see those attending virtually.

“(It’ll be) like how hybrid classes work in schools — they still log in (to a video conferencing platform) through the iPad, even though they have the option of looking up and seeing the speaker speak,” Liu said.

Conway explained the only way for all members to participate would be by un-muting and speaking through the microphone on their individual device even if they are attending the hybrid meeting in person.

“So (the Faculty Senate might) be in the room together (physically), but the only way to speak is to actually be logged in so that basically everybody’s on a Zoom call,” Conway said.

After the discussion on electronic meeting rules and the hybrid format, SACUA concluded their meeting and approved the agenda for the Senate Assembly next week.

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

Correction: A previous headline of this article stated that SACUA heard about an opt-out fall teaching option from Collins. SACUA discussed a potential option, but Collins did not present it.