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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Monday afternoon to vote on adding a sexual misconduct statement to all class syllabi and to encourage the University to create an office for ethics and compliance with a direct reporting line to the Board of Regents. 

At her last meeting as director of the Faculty Senate Office, MaryJo Banasik began the meeting with her parting remarks. Banasik has served in her current position since August 2019. She reflected on how faculty governance has grown during her tenure with the increased engagement from members of the U-M community.

“We’ve noticed a very large increase in participation, which is fantastic,” Banasik said. “I’m very excited to see how faculty governance has gone from ‘Can we get a quorum or not’ to ‘We have a lot of people that want to get involved.’”

Classical studies professor David Potter serves as the chair of the Sexual Misconduct Working Group, a group in SACUA that focuses on addressing sexual misconduct policies at the University. Potter began the meeting by discussing the purpose of implementing a syllabus statement on sexual misconduct to protect students. 

“The syllabus statement emerges primarily from the survivors,” Potter said. “This could be a recommended statement that faculty should put on their syllabi, discussing modes of interaction. It is based on preventing the kinds of interaction that allowed Confroth to target his victims.”

Former American Culture lecturer Bruce Conforth was accused of sexual assault by several female students who attended the University between 2008 and Conforth’s resignation in 2017. Survivors of Conforth contributed to writing the statement and is intended to be included in every undergraduate syllabus. The goal of adding a statement about inappropriate student-instructor relationships to the syllabus, SACUA members said, would be to help inform both students and instructors about what constitutes an inappropriate interaction. 

The Michigan Daily was not able to obtain a copy of the sexual misconduct syllabus statement in time for publication.

SACUA chair Allen Liu, professor of mechanical engineering, questioned whether the syllabus statement is too limiting. For instance, Liu mentioned that it declares Slack as a non-University platform, meaning instructors could not use it to privately communicate with students. Other platforms included GroupMe and What’s App, as well as personal phone numbers.

“I just wonder, if you start putting things like Slack, which is actually used by the University … you should be listing all media except for University email,” Liu said. “I look at this as a little bit restrictive.”

Another clause in the statement prohibits off-campus class meetings, trips and events from being held at locations that serve alcohol. Liu also raised concerns about the distinction between engaging in alcohol consumption and meeting at a location that serves it.

“Consuming alcohol is different from going to a place that serves alcohol, that is half the restaurants around,” Liu said. “You don’t have to order it.”

Senate Assembly vice chair J. Caitlin Finlayson, U-M Dearborn associate professor of English, said students are often taught to be responsible on social media. Finlayson questioned other’s concerns regarding the use of social media, as it is so widely used in teaching and people’s daily lives. 

“We spend a lot of time in my units working with students on their digital literacy and digital etiquette … I understand the problems about private communications on these platforms, so I do understand the potential there,” Finlayson said. “This is already stuff that most of us use and are pedagogy in various ways. I find this antiquated fear of social media a little bit problematic.”

SAUCA member Sara Ahbel-Rappe, professor of Greek and Latin, said Conforth used social media, including anonymous accounts, to avoid getting caught for sexually assaulting students.

“Bruce Conforth used the media to victimize, target, recruit and rape his students on this campus,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “This guy used social media so that he couldn’t be tracked by other students and by the administration.”

Finlayson responded that she did not intend to offend anyone, by supporting instructor access to certain social media platforms. She clarified that she meant to say social media platforms on their own are not the problem. 

“I don’t doubt that (Conforth) used these platforms in these ways,” Finlayson said. “I’m just saying that many (instructors) use these platforms in our daily work and our daily interactions with students. These platforms in and of themselves are not necessarily the problem.”

Potter said the syllabus addendum aims to let undergraduate students know when an action taken by an instructor crosses the line and becomes inappropriate. Instructors should not consider the guidelines in the syllabus insert as unreasonable, Potter said.

“This should be setting a standard of conduct of behavior between an old faculty and undergraduates,” Potter said. “In light of what (the victims) had to deal with, this is not an unreasonable request.”

SACUA voted to pass this matter as “best practice,” the rationale being that if not all faculty members include it on their syllabi, students will still see it on other syllabi from other classes and will be informed on its content.

The Senate Assembly will also discuss it at the next Senate Assembly meeting on April 18. 

SACUA also discussed a resolution to urge the University to establish an office for Ethics and Compliance “with a reporting line to the Board of Regents as soon as is practical.” The resolution comes after the SACUA WilmerHale Task Force and consulting firm Guidepost Solutions conducted a review of how the University compares to other institutions dealing with sexual and gender-based misconduct. 

According to the resolution, other institutions that have dealt with misconduct cases have implemented an office for ethics and compliance with a direct reporting line to the regents. 

The resolution states that 47 out of the 58 Association of American Universities have created offices for Ethics and Compliance. Education professor Donald Freeman said the University is one of few Big 10 schools that has not implemented an office of this kind. 

“The three big-ten universities that don’t have this office are Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska,” Freeman said. 

The SACUA WilmerHale Task Force was created Sept. 2020 in response to law firm WilmerHale’s independent investigation into numerous allegations of sexual harrassment against former University Provost Martin Philbert. Following the WilmerHale report, the University hired Guidepost Solutions to help implement the final recommendations to address sexual misconduct policies.

SACUA voted to pass this resolution.

Daily Staff Reporter Caroline Wang can be reached at wangca@umich.edu.