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The Senate Assembly at the University of Michigan met for the last time in the Winter 2022 semester on Monday to discuss U-M sexual misconduct policies and to hear departing remarks from assembly members. 

Senate Assembly Chair Allen Liu started the meeting by discussing his recent visit to the Big Ten Academic Alliance Senate Leaders Conference, which took place at Rutgers University on April 8 and April 9. He said the conference brought the Senate Assembly chairs of different Big Ten universities together so they could all better understand the practices and policies implemented by peer institutions.

“We were sharing best practices of running meetings electronically and it was really interesting to see how different institutions run electronic voting meetings,” Liu said.

Liu also updated the assembly on current events around campus concerning alleged racially-motivated vandalism. On April 9, Markley Hall Resident Advisor Solomon Lucy posted a video of a destroyed bulletin board with ripped posters in his hall. The bulletin board had previously displayed several posters celebrating Black History Month and Women’s History Month, highlighting historic Black women, along with an introduction of Lucy as an R.A. 

Melissa Overton, Division of Public Safety and Security (DPSS) spokeswoman, said in a previous interview with The Michigan Daily that, despite there being no current evidence suggesting the incident was a hate crime, DPSS is actively investigating the vandalism. Allen said students, faculty and staff have offered Lucy support. 

Rebekah Modrak, Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs (SACUA) member and Art & Design professor, spoke at the meeting and is a member of Community Advocates, a U-M group comprising faculty and students that work to uphold workers’ rights and sexual misconduct issues. Modrak helped Lucy by reprinting posters of the vandalized material and having them posted across campus.

The conversation then transitioned to a discussion about the potential creation of a new ethics and compliance office to deal with sexual misconduct allegations between faculty and students at the University. The University and the University of Iowa are the only two Big Ten universities that do not currently have an ethics and compliance office. An ethics and compliance office would be charged with investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, fraud and other violations of U-M rules on campus. 

Nursing professor Christopher Friese, Senate Assembly member, supported creating an ethics and compliance office for the University similar to Michigan Medicine’s compliance office

“The health system does have a compliance office,” Friese said. “I think the resolution is one thing but in terms of implementation we have to think carefully in terms of who goes where and those types of pieces.” 

Modrak also leads a Sexual and Gender-Based Misconduct Policy Working Group whose task was to come up with ideas to educate faculty on how to facilitate safe spaces on campus to ensure the safety of students. The working group consists of U-M alumni Isabelle Brourman and Cassie McQuater, both of whom are sexual assault survivors of former U-M American Culture lecturer Bruce Conforth and were present at the meeting. The working group created an optional syllabus insert to outline boundaries for student-faculty interactions. The insert would be added to all undergraduate syllabi in the Fall 2022 semester, and was presented to the Senate Assembly at the meeting.

“The abuse that has been documented is enough to mobilize this (insert),” Modrak said.

Senate Assembly member Rogério Pinto, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation at the School of Social Work, said the working group committee should broaden their potential reach as it would lead to bigger impacts for the safety of students on campus.

“There is a lot of focus on closed doors policy and conversation, however, it is important to consider that a lot can happen over zoom verbally and physically as well,” Pinto said. “This should not be a pledge on the syllabus, it should be a policy through campus.”

Senate Assembly member Clifford Lampe, Information professor, said he supports the implementation of the syllabus insert policy. 

“The syllabus insert is a wonderful first step and I am excited to include this in my own syllabi,” Lampe said.

A portion of the insert would prohibit professors from taking their students to restaurants that serve alcohol. This section sparked debate over the insert at the meeting, as many professors expressed that it was tradition for them to go to specific restaurants and that the syllabus insert should ban the ordering of alcoholic beverages with students present as opposed to banning the restaurants altogether. The working group’s response advocated for professors to find more professional settings to meet students where students are not put in the position of having to say no to ordering alcoholic beverages.

Education and Mathematics Professor Vilma Mesa raised concerns that the policy could potentially interfere with teachers’ traditions with their students.  

“I usually take my students to lunch at the end of the semester to Pizza House and I’m curious to know would Pizza House be an avenue that’s banned or do we just not have to order alcohol?” Mesa said.

Brourman responded to many of the faculty’s questions and inquiries regarding which restaurants would be banned as well. 

“We believe safety far outweighs the tradition of going to a specific restaurant, so Pizza House would be one of the banned restaurants,” Brourman said.

The meeting concluded by discussing the assignment of Senate Assembly seats. Seat distribution within the Senate Assembly is based on the growth of the number of faculty members each school has, with the maximum seat number being 74. The colleges of LSA, Engineering and Public Health each lost one seat and the Medical School gained three seats.

The meeting concluded with a final vote on the discussion policies. The SACUA resolution on the office of compliance passed with a 95.7% passing rate, the syllabus insert ballot passed with a 73.3% passing rate and the Senate Assembly Reapportionment vote passed with a 95% passing rate.

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

Correction: A previous version of this article spelled Isabelle Brourman and Cassie McQuater’s last name incorrectly. The article has been updated to reflect the correct spelling.