Schlissel discusses sexual misconduct, free speech at Senate Assembly

Monday, December 10, 2018 - 7:10pm

University President Mark Schlissel discusses financial aid for in-state students during the University of Michigan Senate Assembly meeting in the Michigan League Monday afternoon.

University President Mark Schlissel discusses financial aid for in-state students during the University of Michigan Senate Assembly meeting in the Michigan League Monday afternoon. Buy this photo
Allison Engkvist/Daily

The University of Michigan Senate Assembly convened Monday to discuss affordability, equity, sustainability, sexual misconduct and free speech on campus.

The Senate Assembly planned to vote on a new Faculty Senate Secretary and electronic voting at future meetings. However, with between 60 and 70 members in attendance and a required quorum of 100, they were unable to vote, Senate Assembly Chair Neil Marsh said. As a result, LSA professor David Potter will remain the interim Faculty Senate Secretary.

Marsh then addressed the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs' interest in allowing electronic voting in future Senate Assemblies.

“What we would like to be able to do is change the rules so that we can put forward items of concern to the Senate through electronic means,” Marsh said.

Electronic voting has been the subject of debate for several years and is seen as a way to facilitate remote participation to achieve the necessary to quorum to vote on issues before the Senate Assembly. Since 2004, there have only been three instances in which a vote could occur due to the requirement that a minimum of 100 faculty members be present.

University President Mark Schlissel discussed initiatives he hopes to implement next semester and in the future. Schlissel said he is working to promote access, affordability and equity for all students and applicants. He claimed the new Go Blue Guarantee program, which provides in-state students with an annual family income of $65,000 or less with free tuition and fees, has increased in-state applications by 24 percent. However, there has only been a 6 percent increase in those who actually attend.

Schlissel also discussed the Wolverine Pathways program, which aims to help students in grades 7 through 12 prepare for college. He said while these younger students still need to do the work to be accepted to the University, this is an effort to prepare them as much as possible when that time comes.

“A lot of these students come from schools where it is kind of harder to show how talented you are,” Schlissel said. “So we have to work on better ways to identify talented kids coming out of less advantaged communities.”

Schlissel discussed academic innovation and posed questions regarding the meaning of having a degree from the University and whether the University should focus on teaching skills that lead to employability. 

He also pushed for University professors and students from all schools to work together to get the University on a “path towards carbon neutrality.”

During the second half of the assembly meeting, Schlissel discussed sexual misconduct at the University for both student-student relationships and faculty-student relationships. Schlissel claimed his administration has always been aware of sexual misconduct on campus, but now he is placing more emphasis on preventing it. 

“My executives and I — the deans, the provost — we really increased our attention and tried to figure out ways to be increasingly proactive,” Schlissel said. “This is an area we have always tried to stay on top of, but we’re really doubling down because of the level of importance and the level of scrutiny that the University and society has placed itself under.”

Schlissel said campus climate surveys have revealed a lot of gender-based mistreatment at the University. He said all staff and students should feel comfortable and valued on campus, and noted this could lower the number of sexual misconduct allegations.

To combat these sexual misconduct issues, Schlissel said the University is making an effort to change its sexual misconduct policies. One aspect of this effort is recruiting a former employee of the Obama adminstration with Title IX experience to lead a critique of the current Department of Education policy changes to Title IX.

“We’ve also called in an outside expert to do a critique of our rules and regulations and procedures around this kind of misconduct,” Schlissel said. “So she’s seen all around the country how different colleges and universities carry out Title IX function. She’s critiquing it for us and making suggestions for how it can be better.” 

Schlissel did not name the person hired by the University to review its Title IX practices.

The presentation ended with Schlissel discussing a new policy to be enacted in January to change the process of responding to sexual harassment allegations. After the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling mandating cross-examinations in student sexual misconduct cases, the University had to change their model to incorporate an in-person hearing. 

“We’ve developed an interim policy that will begin in January that does involve a hearing,” Schlissel said. “But the hearing will be conducted by a trained professional hearing officer ... who will control the nature of questioning between the parties to try to make that questioning as respectful and sensitive as possible while still allowing the hearing officer to figure out what the truth is.” 

In a brief question and answer session, associate professor Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, director of the Arab and Muslim American Studies Program, said the University’s disciplining of American culture professor John Cheney-Lippold, who refused to write a letter of recommendation for a study-abroad in Israel as part of an academic boycott, inhibited freedom of speech.

“I have found that the University Dean’s Office response to my colleague was silencing of freedom of speech,” Khabeer said. 

Schlissel responded by saying silencing freedom of speech on campus was never the intention. 

“There was no intentionality of stunting speech,” Schlissel said. “It was largely based on what we believe is a shared commitment to prioritize the needs of our students.”

Schlissel ended the Assembly meeting by emphasizing the balance the University hopes to achieve between student support and political beliefs.

“This is not an arena where we want to threaten tenure,” Schlissel said. “What we’re trying to figure out is what our shared values are...What we need to discuss as a faculty is what is our shared commitment to our students compared to our personal political beliefs.”