Senate Assembly debriefs committee activity in past year Courtesy of Vanita Seed Buy this photo.

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The Senate Assembly held their final virtual meeting of the academic year on Monday to discuss the proposed change to the Assembly’s electronic voting policy and to reflect on the work done by the Senate Assembly committees in the past year. 

Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) member MaryJo Banasik commenced the presentations on the various Senate Assembly committees with an overview of the Academic Affairs Advisory Committee’s (AAA) work. AAA’s focus this year has been on the impact COVID-19 has had on faculty and student experience along with anti-racism efforts, Banasik said. 

This year, AAA oversaw the Committee on the Economic Status and Social Well-Being of the Faculty (CESWF) and the Committee on the Oversight of Administrative Action (COAA), Banasik said. AAA also had a hand in the WilmerHale task force, which has worked to promote anti-racist initiatives and combat structural racism at the University.

Additionally, Banasik reviewed the progress made by the Financial Affairs Advisory Committee (FAAC), which advises University Chief Financial Officer Kevin Hegarty and is chaired by LSA professor Douglas Richstone. Banasik said FAAC’s work played an important role in looking at the impact of the pandemic with regards to the University of Michigan’s financial considerations.

“(FAAC’s) primary focus was COVID-19 disruptions and understanding how University investments are doing,” Banasik said. “Hegarty was particularly interested in … what features of pandemic-induced work patterns can be carried into future operations, (such as) how can working from home increase job satisfaction and what strategies might mitigate parking problems.”

Banasik reported that FAAC is currently starting to lay out ideas for how the University will work towards carbon neutrality at the administrative level and the financial considerations of implementing geothermal power, if the University were to elect to use geothermal power in order to divest from fossil fuels, an idea recommended by the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. 

After a brief Q&A session, Banasik gave updates on other faculty committees, including the Information Technology Committee (ITC) and the Research Policies Committee (RPC). The RPC, chaired by associate professor Natalie Colabianchi, moved to change their committee’s name to Research Advisory Committee (RAC) in a 39-2 vote.

After opening the floor for another Q&A session pertaining to the different faculty committees, the Senate Assembly moved on to discuss the proposed rule change concerning electronic voting during meetings. 

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the Senate Assembly did not officially have rules in place regarding electronic voting. At the May 3 SACUA meeting, the council discussed adding a potential rule to accommodate for electronic voting even if meetings are held in a hybrid format or in person in the coming academic year. At Monday’s meeting, Engineering professor and SACUA chair Allen Liu officially presented the proposal to be voted on by the Senate Assembly. 

According to Liu, prior to the Senate Assembly, Engineering professor Michael Atzmon had sent an email to members questioning the legitimacy of votes submitted by members who do not attend meetings. In his email, Atzmon had allegedly called into question the electronically collected voting results from a contentious Faculty Senate meeting last semester during which the Faculty Senate voted on a motion expressing no confidence in the University administration. Atzmon allegedly claimed in his email the number of votes cast during the meeting and the number of votes cast after the meeting did not line up, suggesting that faculty might have voted without attending the meeting and listening to the discussion.

According to Liu, in Atzmon’s email, Atzmon juxtaposed the way the Faculty Senate runs to the way the U.S. Congress runs, though neither Liu nor Atzmon explained the significance of this comparison.

“The University Senate cannot be compared to the U.S. Congress,” Liu said. “(The University Senate) has over 4300 members and meets once a year. (The U.S. Congress) has 535 members for 330 million people in the U.S … . (Atzmon’s) most worrisome issue is the seemingly broken voting system. Simply Voting is used by over 3000 organizations from 67 countries. Personally, I trust it more than a person counting (votes).”

At the end of the meeting, the assembly voted on whether or not to accept the rule change and allow for electronic voting. The motion passed 29-11.

Music, Theater & Dance professor Colleen Conway wrapped up the meeting with closing remarks, reflecting on the high levels of interest and involvement in faculty government this year across campus and her hopes for the year to come.

“(There was) of course our historic Faculty Senate meeting back in September, which certainly did propel us into having a lot more interactions (between faculty during Senate Assembly meetings),” Conway said. “I think our biggest challenge in the next year is to make sure that we make the most out of what we learned.”

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