Schlissel outlines new sexual misconduct plan, pending Spencer visit

Monday, March 5, 2018 - 6:15pm

University President Mark Schlissel speaks on sexual misconduct policy at the SACUA meeting in the Fleming Administration Building Monday.

University President Mark Schlissel speaks on sexual misconduct policy at the SACUA meeting in the Fleming Administration Building Monday. Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

The University of Michigan Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs spoke with President Mark Schlissel Monday about the University’s sexual misconduct policy, the potential visit from white supremacist Richard Spencer and the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan. SACUA also discussed the upcoming Senate elections and ideas to increase faculty attendance at governance meetings.

Schlissel discussed his plan to tackle sexual misconduct through proposed culture education training. The trainings would aim to make faculty aware of protections for reporters and whistleblowers, and more comfortable with reporting any complaint or concern regarding social and sexual misconduct. He went on to endorse the hiring of an outside professional to assess how well the University is addressing sexual misconduct, and improving certain procedures, such as hotline calls, in comparison to other universities.

The University’s Office for Institutional Equity’s annual report released in January showed a 40 percent increase from 2016 in misconduct-related reports. The increase in reports may be due to the University’s revised policy, which broadened the definition of misconduct and added new types of allegations to be addressed by the policy. An independent crowd-sourced database of sexual misconudct in academia called the whisper network” detailed more than a dozen incidents of sexual assault, harassment and rape perpetrated by University faculty members.   

Schlissel also referred to the outside review at the first Board of Regents meeting earlier this year. University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald later told The Daily no specific firm has been hired yet. 

“We want to have an outside expert come in,” Schlissel said to SACUA. “So we can say, ‘Look, are we doing the best we can? Are our procedures at the level of other schools and our commitment as well?’”

SACUA Chair Robert Ortega, an associate professor of social work, brought up concerns from faculty members who are unsure if they should report certain situations, or if they are unintentionally handling situations involving misconduct due to lack of proper training.

“There’s always a concern of, ‘Am I trained well enough?’” Ortega said. “‘Do I know, do I recognize signs or do I see something that I don’t fully understand?’ That seems to be one of the main concerns among faculty, whether we can recognize these situations.”

Schlissel referred to mandatory reporting, which requires faculty members to report situations of misconduct by law. He also agreed that more training for sexual misconduct is necessary.

“We need to make a commitment to have everyone trained to a certain level, and retrained,” Schlissel said.

SACUA member Joy Beatty, an associate professor of management studies at the U-M Dearborn campus, suggested the mentality of sexual misconduct reporting would be difficult to change immediately, even with increased training efforts.

“Culture change takes a long time,” Beatty said. “You can’t just send people to class and expect them to change.”

Schlissel also updated SACUA on scheduling a space for Spencer to speak on campus, saying Spencer’s representative was not interested in the date the University offered. He also mentioned Spencer’s appearance at Michigan State University on Monday after a months-long legal battle between Spencer’s legal team and MSU, highlighting the conflict MSU faced when representatives such as former MSU President Lou Anna Simon outwardly stated they didn’t want Spencer to speak on campus despite his eventual engagement in East Lansing.

He ended his discussion highlighting some successes of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative, such as the Campus Climate Survey, Go Blue Guarantee, Wolverine Pathways and DEI Innovation Funding, which awards grants up to $10,000 to faculty and students with ideas to improve inclusion on campus. Last year’s Campus Climate Survey found 43.8 percent of all underrepresented minority undergraduates had reported an instance of discrimination at the University.

SACUA then moved into status report updates on the proposed Intra-University Summit and the upcoming 2018 SACUA elections.

Ortega provided results of a feedback survey for the Intra-University Summit, an event that will bring together Michigan public universities to address campus issues such as DEI efforts and sexual misconduct policies Schlissel mentioned. Seven universities replied to the survey, providing insight on potential topics to be discussed and recommended for discussion.

SACUA elections will be held March 19 and faculty governance members will vote to fill the three seats which will be vacated by Ortega, Dave Wright and Stefan Szymanski at the end of April. The members discussed ideas to increase faculty attendance at governance meetings. Electronic voting was one suggestion to improve attendance at elections. SACUA member Neil Marsh, a professor of biological chemistry, said improving attendance and interest in meetings among faculty will be a long-term project.

“We need to think long-term about how to interest people to come to Senate meetings,” Marsh said. “It’s not something we can just come up with now.”