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The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met virtually on Monday to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the winter semester and the replacement process for the temporary SACUA position vacancies.

The meeting started off with the committee approving the minutes and proposals put forth in their previous meeting. Allen Liu, chair of the University Senate Advisory Committee, moderated the discussion and updated the committee on the SACUA agenda. He announced that SACUA is co-sponsoring a panel on academic freedom in partnership with National Center for Institutional Diversity (NCID) on Feb. 22. 

Thomas Braun, professor in the Department of Biostatistics, introduced the Committee on Oversight of Administrative Action, who is tasked with recommending modifications to the faculty grievances process and clarifying U-M Board of Regents bylaws 5.09 and 5.10. The 5.09 bylaws discuss plans in case of termination of a tenured or tenure-track faculty member, while the 5.10 bylaws discuss severance pay. He outlined that their goal is to work directly with the Administration Evaluation Committee, responsible for developing the surveys that evaluate faculty performance. 

“We are trying to come up with (a plan for the surveys) by the end of this year which is meaningful toward the process of how we evaluate our administrators,” Braun said.

Frank Pelosi, associate professor of internal medicine, commented on the pandemic changing in the upcoming months due to the proliferation of at-home COVID-19 tests. He provided suggestions regarding accommodating faculty and students who are less comfortable with attending in-person classes. 

“I do think that if we can focus on a few pillars of COVID response I think we can all move forward in a very effective way, such as having enough information to identify faculty that are most vulnerable and ensuring that students will not feel pressured to attend class when they are ill,” Pelosi said.

In late December, over 800 faculty members and students penned an open letter asking the University to adapt their opening plans to return to in-person learning at the beginning of the semester. Despite the feedback from community members, the University returned to in-person learning on Jan. 5. As a result, faculty members proposed an e-pivot to encourage instructors to teach virtually for the first two weeks of the semester to curb the spread of the omicron variant. 

Rachel Goldman, associate director of applied physics, explained that the College of Engineering has Zoom-equipped computers in every classroom that facilitate synchronous teaching for students who are sick and unable to attend in-person classes.

“If LSA and other schools were to install setups that would enable Zoom teaching in the classroom, it would be helpful as it would reduce the density because some students would stay at home, and (it) also would give students a way to participate even if they are sick,” Goldman said.

Liu concluded the Senate meeting by thanking the councilmembers for their active involvement, summarizing what the committee had discussed and encouraging further discussion regarding COVID-19 policies in the next SACUA meeting.

“In the next meeting, Provost Collins will be here, so some of the questions we are talking about we can directly get her for answers next month,” Liu said.

Daily Staff Reporter Shehrez Chaudhri can be reached at shehrez@umich.edu.