University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel discussed anti-Black and anti-Islam posters hung around campus recently at the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting Tuesday, praising faculty response.
Faculty members also expressed concerns about the recently launched University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, with some characterizing it as a quota system for increasing diversity.
In response to the poster incidents, Schlissel said he felt reassured by the number of faculty — including members of SACUA — he saw take action, calling the posters “overtly racist and pretty disgusting.” He encouraged an open dialogue among committee members on how he can increase campus engagement between faculty and students.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of racism on the Michigan campus, or anti-Semitism or homophobia,” Schlissel said. “I think that faculty have a big role to play in helping our students.”
Schlissel also noted that throughout his interactions with various groups on campus about the incident, students have expressed disappointment that many professors did not bring up the incidents in their classrooms to discuss.
“It was on the forefront of the minds of a lot of our students, almost in a way that distracted from learning,” Schlissel said.
In the discussion that ensued, Schlissel and many committee members talked about increasing faculty interaction with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, a center dedicated to improving teaching responses to events that impact campus climate, by having the center facilitate trainings on having difficult discussions in classrooms and phasing in training for faculty new to campus.
SACUA member Robert Ortega, a professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture and engineering, suggested extensive resources should be made available to faculty.
“I think some of the students have difficulty with the kind of language to engage in these conversations; some don’t even have the words,” Ortega said. “Our approach really has been one of humility and that is, even the instructors don’t have the answers — we certainly can aim the discussion, but it has to be done with great care.”
Though Schlissel acknowledged that making the use of CRLT resources mandatory for faculty members might receive an adverse response, he said he hoped faculty would want to use resources the community had deemed important.
“Mandatory scares people, but if it’s something that really touches our values as a community, I don’t think mandatory should be threatening … but something that we as a community agree is important enough to make mandatory ourselves,” Schlissel said.
In response to the concerns of member of SACUA regarding the DEI plan, Schlissel stressed that a quota system is not part of the University’s strategies.
“There is no quota system,” Schlissel said. “There are no quantitative targets as part of the plan.”
Specific racial quotas are illegal in college admission policies, after the Supreme Court ruled setting aside specific seats for minorities went too far in diversifying schools in 1978. The Supreme Court has since upheld a Michigan proposal banning race-based affirmative action of any kind in 2014.
The University stopped using affirmative action in 2006, when voters approved the statewide ban, and Black enrollment slipped from around 10 percent at the time to under 5 percent today.
In addition to discussing the posters and the DEI plan, Schlissel and members of the committee also discussed improvements in financial aid, an issue heavily emphasized in the upcoming University Board of Regents’ elections, especially as tuition prices continue to increase each year.
“We’ve increased our shared investment and financial aid has gone up over 10 percent per year,” Schlissel said. “The quality and the depth and the size of our pool is fantastic. What we really have to do is work hard on socioeconomic diversity and all the other points of diversity.”
Ortega echoed Schlissel’s remarks and stressed outreach as a crucial factor in changing the way financial aid is allocated.
“When we talk about the Michigan difference, that’s part of the difference,” Ortega said. “The other one is what they get while they’re here as part of the difference and what happens after.”