SACUA talks commencement postponement, University financial situation
The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met Monday afternoon via BlueJeans to discuss a meeting SACUA had with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel earlier that morning. Members also heard statements from SACUA members running for chair and vice chair.
During the meeting with Schlissel, SACUA members said they asked the president about virtual commencement, as well as financial effects from COVID-19.
SACUA Chair Joy Beatty said the administration is working on finalizing various pre-recorded videos from commencement speakers, such as Al Gore and others, as discussed in the earlier meeting. According to Beatty, there will also be videos from the School of Music, Theater & Dance performing “Hail to the Victors” and other “nostalgic type things to make people feel Michigan pride.”
She mentioned there are talks still under development about a formal ceremony next year with the 2021 graduates.
“(The) intent is to celebrate commencement but not be a replacement for commencement,” Beatty said. “They are actually thinking about offering some type of more formal commencement ceremony next year.”
Beatty said SACUA members also asked Schlissel about the University’s financial situation with COVID-19. The University refunded $1,200 to students who moved out of residence halls by March 25 and has faced other unexpected financial outflows.
“Money is down,” Beatty said. “This is going to be a problem. They’re worried about it. They’ve been thinking about state appropriations. They don’t think that money will be taken from us this year because it’s so late in the budget cycle but likely there could be some effect next year when the budgets get rolled out.”
Beatty also mentioned the financial aid office will have to come up with “creative ways” to support students given that aid is usually allotted based on tax documents. However, strains on families due to loss of income or other hardships related to COVID-19 will not be reflected in last year’s documents.
Last Friday, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. announced colleges and universities in Michigan’s 12th district will receive more than $66 million in emergency grants to make up for financial losses due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The University will receive $25,244,052 total.
The University announced earlier this month that employees of the University who require absence from work for COVID-19-related reasons are eligible for a paid time off supplement through April 30. Beatty said Schlissel is working on a plan starting May 1.
In Schlissel’s meeting with SACUA, Beatty said he emphasized the University, in taking steps to adjust the budget, will prioritize employment relations with faculty and staff.
“They want to avoid breaking the moral contract with employees,” Beatty said. “The last step, according to (Schlissel), would be reductions in force and layoffs… They are unlikely to be able to continue after May 1 at 100 percent. (Schlissel said he is) confident (they) will make it through and aim to be equitable in how those cuts need to be made.”
Beatty also said the administration is dedicated to restart research soon but will proceed carefully and adhere strictly to public health officials’ recommendations. According to Beatty, these recommendations will also be the guideline for making decisions on students returning to campus.
SACUA Vice Chair Colleen Conway was also in the meeting with Schlissel. She clarified a previous announcement about a digital diploma, explaining graduates will receive both a printed diploma in the mail as well as an additional, free digital version of their diploma.
Lastly, Beatty said Schlissel reassured SACUA that Michigan Medicine has enough personal protective equipment to handle the COVID-19 crisis. According to Beatty, each worker is matched to their needed level of protective equipment based on their proximity to COVID-19 patients, as the hospital does not have enough resources to give every worker the maximum protective gear.
Some workers at Michigan Medicine have raised concerns about wanting the maximum protective gear to ensure their safety at work. Schlissel said Michigan Medicine thus far discourages workers from bringing their own equipment from home, which leads to uncertainty in verifying that the gear is adequate and correct. He said a clearer policy on personal protective equipment at Michigan Medicine is underway.
The meeting turned to discussions on SACUA elections for the position of chair and vice chair, which go live at 5 p.m. Monday through an electronic voting website. The results will be processed tomorrow.
Music, Theatre & Dance Professor Conway is running uncontested for SACUA chair. SACUA members Annalisa Manera, Engineering professor, and Deirdre Spencer, librarian, are running for the seat of vice chair.
In her statement to the SACUA body, Conway spoke of how much she’s enjoyed being a part of SACUA thus far. She said she hopes to continue Beatty’s work as chair and enhance communication between the Senate Assembly and its committees.
“When I ran for SACUA two years ago, I don’t think I would’ve ever predicted that two years later I would be saying ‘I think I would like to be chair of this organization,’” Conway said. “Especially over the past year, I’ve really enjoyed watching Joy and getting to see how we balance this funkiness being (a liaison) with administrators and having an opportunity to be their ear and be helpful to them at the same time as supporting faculty. Sometimes those things are difficult. It’s been fun to watch (Beatty) and get a sense of that.”
Spencer emphasized her experience as a librarian, which she said involves working with different entities and trying to build consensus between two sometimes opposing bodies. She said she wants to help others and talked about how she would like to see SACUA shift to better serve both students and faculty.
“What I see us looking more at is the way faculty look at us as a help,” Spencer said. “I don’t think that faculty and student well-being and rights should be mutually exclusive. That said, I feel that SACUA, as a resource for faculty, could do some things differently (such as modify the way we hear faculty grievances).”
Manera spoke about the importance of thinking critically and listening attentively for feedback especially with shifts due to COVID-19. She also said faculty must consider the economic repercussions of the pandemic.
“With COVID-19, I think it’s important that faculty take an active role in making recommendations to administrators on what can be done to improve things and considering the fact, especially, that we now have a lot of financial stress,” Manera said. “We have to have critical thinking and be able to collect feedback from the rest of the faculty at large and bring up a unified voice to the administrators … Not to be antagonistic but to defend the interest of the faculty. I think I can provide analytical thinking and support to the new chair.”
Members of SACUA discussed the potential of having subcommittees to divide up work so they can more quickly address faculty issues, mirroring the structure of the Board of Regents. This conversation was tabled with the hopes of future talks into whether this would be effective and helpful.
Two faculty ombuds joined the call for a discussion on medication services, which was then moved to executive session and closed to the press.
Daily Staff Reporter Rebecca Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com.