SACUA requests funding for new member training, discussion of racial tensions in classroom
The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs convened Monday afternoon to discuss increasing the body’s budget, standardizing the training protocols for the University Faculty Ombuds — a body of University of Michigan officials who handle cases of grievances among faculty members — and incorporating the topic of campus racial tensions into classroom discussion.
SACUA Chair Robert Ortega, an associate professor of social work, discussed the results of their private meetings with President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martin Philbert, executive vice president for academic affairs, last week. Following these meetings, SACUA requested an increased budget to cover the expenses of digital innovations aiming to educate new Senate Assembly members on the inner workings of SACUA.
“We had thought about doing a number of public service announcements ... through some kind of a web-based video educating people,” Ortega said. “We told the provost that these will be expensive, so we wanted to put these requests into an increase in our budget.”
SACUA member Neil Marsh, a professor of chemistry, also raised his concern about incorporating increased communication between those on faculty governance bodies and other faculty members into the new budget.
“Doing communications effectively requires somebody whose job it is to do that in terms of putting out newsletters or bulletins or organizing informational sessions,” Marsh said.
According to Senate Assembly member Sami Malek, an associate professor of internal medicine, Schlissel agreed to stronger representation of the whole University faculty through these communication efforts.
“We need to gain further interest and legitimacy in representing the core faculty,” Malek said. “(Schlissel) fully agreed with that … in order to make that point, we need to reach more of the faculty.”
However, Malek’s meeting with Philbert proved SACUA needed to take budget funding into its own hands and raise funds itself by connecting with development.
“Development are these people that raise money for whatever cause you want to go after,” Malek said. “If tomorrow you want to raise money in your department that you cannot get grant fund money for, that doesn’t mean that through development you couldn't find a sponsor or someone who feels like they want to fund you.”
The Tenure, Promotions and Professional Development Committee chair, John Lehman, an LSA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, served as the guest speaker and reported the committee’s inactivity last year.
“We had no continuing business last year because we had no meetings last year,” Lehman said. “So this year we met three times … and went over model grievance procedures.”
He emphasized the committee will be making up for its lack of work last year by addressing the institutionalization of the University Faculty Ombuds training process this year. A faculty ombud is assigned to each school and serves as an unbiased mediator for faculty grievance conflicts. The ombuds are responsible for conducting confidential coaching, tracking problem areas and providing feedback to senior administration.
According to Lehman, recent reports from unit ombuds reveal discrepancies in training practices among the different schools, such as differing term lengths and unequal training between recent and seasoned ombuds. As a result, the committee aims to standardize the training regimens for incoming ombuds.
“We have to take an active role in institutionalizing a training program because we’ve got people who come in saying that the terms are differing from unit to unit,” Lehman said. “Some people will come in and say, ‘It’s a two-year term in my unit and I spend the whole first year just learning the ropes and then I just got that one year.’”
Due to these concerns, Ortega found ombuds to be lacking in their duties toward mediating grievance concerns within their own units. This raised questions regarding training and qualifications among the faculty ombuds.
“I’m not convinced that there’s an equal training and equal designation of persons qualified,” Ortega said. “So when we did our research to figure out who were the active ombuds in these units … there were some names were listed on the website who weren’t there. We’re starting to think about how serious is your unit taking these, how serious is the training.”
In order to address these issues, Lehman and the SACUA members proposed creating a faculty grievance model, providing ombuds with more specific instructions, guiding mentors and annual training sessions.
“If we could come up with a model for grievance policy or grievance model practices and the same thing for ombuds, that would be a great contribution,” Ortega said.
At the request of Schlissel, SACUA discussed how to properly incorporate current topics on campus racial tensions into class syllabi. According to Malek, Schlissel wanted SACUA to explore the idea and see how it would be sought by faculty.
“He wanted help from the faculty in dealing with the racial tension involving central campus,” Malek said. “Whether through statements … or in the syllabus of individual lectures.”
Ortega further contemplated how to incorporate such sensitive topics into the classroom in a way that would promote learning and awareness.
“How can this present itself in the classroom setting and present itself in syllabi that talks about tolerance and inclusion, some kind of statement that reflects the importance of diversity and experiences of diversity that can be part of the learning process,” Ortega said.
Faculty senate secretary David Potter, an LSA professor of Greek and Latin, proposed collaborating with Central Student Government to connect faculty and students on the concept.
“That kind of discussion I think should be involving both SACUA and Central Student Government so that we can develop a statement in common,” Potters said.
Senate Assembly member Stefan Szymanski, a professor of kinesiology, proposed accumulating faculty academic research on these social issues and make them available to the University.
“I think there is a way in which we can have some kind of unifying project and put it into one place as a resource for anyone associated with the University. That would make very clear where we as a University stand,” Szymanski said. “We don’t have any advocates for discrimination, lack of inclusion or inequity.”