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Students on the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus want the next University president to take their concerns seriously, something they felt was lacking from the previous administration. Chief among these concerns were carbon neutrality and sexual misconduct, problems that have plagued the University community over the past decade.
The webinar-style session was hosted by Regent Denise Ilitch (D), co-chair of the search committee, and John Isaacson of Isaacson-Miller, the executive search firm hired by the University to guide its search for a new president. Members of the Presidential Search Committee were also in attendance. With a time limit of two minutes per speaker, 25 University community members spoke at the session.
Many speakers discussed the University’s commitment to carbon neutrality and the need for the next president to take a more aggressive approach to campus carbon neutrality. The topic has been a recurring theme in listening sessions and among campus bodies such as the Central Student Government.
In March 2021, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN), created by former University President Mark Schlissel in 2019, released a report recommending the University take steps to achieve its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
Rackham student Austin Glass, said the University needs a president who will not only take swift action in achieving carbon neutrality but also has a track record of implementing policies prioritizing environmental protection and sustainability.
“The next leader of this institution must be someone who understands on day one the scope of this challenge and the work it will take,” Glass said. “And she needs to be someone who has the skills and experience… to convert existing fossil fuel infrastructure to future-proofed and future-ready sustainable systems.”
LSA senior Zackariah Farah, vice president of LSA Student Government, expressed disappointment with the University’s inaction on the PCCN’s recommendations. Though Schlissel and the Board of Regents announced their commitment to the PCCN’s plan in May 2021, Farah said the University has made little progress on these efforts.
“I am also very disappointed that we seem to be dragging our feet when it comes to implementing the PCCN recommendations,” Farah said. “I’m disappointed that it took such a long time to have a detailed plan for how to reach carbon neutrality. It should have happened much earlier.”
Farah said the previous administration often failed to listen to students regarding issues such as carbon neutrality, instead of investing millions of dollars into fossil fuels.
“I think that this university needs a president that is willing to talk with student groups about issues like carbon neutrality,” Farah said. “There were students that said,’ maybe investing $80 million into a fossil fuel plant on campus is not such a good idea in the year 2019’. But the administration did not listen to students… That’s so disappointing. And that could have easily been prevented if the president had listened to the students.”
Community members went on to discuss the need for a president who prioritizes transparency and accountability for perpetrators and enablers of sexual misconduct as well as support for survivors in the campus community.
Alum Isabelle Brourman, a survivor of former University lecturer Bruce Conforth, said she was “deeply disturbed” by interim president Mary Sue Coleman’s appointment. In July, a report by the WilmerHale law firm was released alleging Coleman was informed of the sexual assault allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert during her original presidency. Brourman said she wanted to see transparency and representation of sexual assault survivors on the presidential search committee.
“I’m not confident in the Board of Regents and in this committee until you include survivors on the committee, and I don’t see any reason why you should have a shortage of that since there are thousands of us,” Brourman said. “Mary Sue Coleman issued a statement saying how (importantly) sexual misconduct was being taken. And I haven’t heard from her except that she won’t give us our information for a FOIA request.”
Aditi Jain, Business sophomore and co-president of Roe v. Rape, compared the University’s response to the allegations against former University athletic doctor Robert Anderson with Michigan State University’s response to the Larry Nassar case. She said the latter has created a webpage dedicated to providing information about its role in Nassar’s abuse. Jain said the University should follow MSU by providing support for survivors of sexual assault and holding both perpetrators and enablers accountable.
“MSU’s response to Nassar has been much, much better than Schlissel and U of M’s have been,” Jain said. “MSU gymnastics coach Kathie Klages was punished for her cover-up of Nassar’s actions. And I think that the new president should prioritize removing all titles and all honors from every faculty and staff who assisted in that cover up of Dr. Anderson’s actions.”
Several speakers also discussed the importance of the next president facilitating open communication with students, staff and faculty members, taking their concerns into consideration.
Rackham student Karin Brown said the new president should have a sense of humility and empathy for community members of different backgrounds.
“(We need) someone who doesn’t approach student requests for change with combativeness,” Brown said. “Rather, (we need) someone who has a proven track record of taking students seriously and collaborating with them to make things better… I feel like that empathy across differences was something that was missing with the previous administration.”
Other prominent points of discussion throughout the session were a background in the social sciences. Speakers also discussed cross-campus interaction, the administration’s treatment of international students and greater accessibility to U-M education for the broader state of Michigan community.
Thursday’s session was the fifth of a series of listening sessions conducted by the Board of Regents and presidential search committee throughout the month of February. The final listening session, for the Dearborn campus community, will be held on Feb. 23. An online survey has been created for community members who are unable to attend the sessions to give their input.
Daily Staff Contributors Alec Hughes and Tina Yu contributed to the reporting of this article.
Daily Staff Reporter Irena Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.