Senate Assembly tables resolution on faculty climate action letter, hears presentation from medical affairs VP

Monday, April 15, 2019 - 6:38pm

The University of Michigan Senate Assembly voted to table a resolution that would support the faculty open letter on climate change action.

The University of Michigan Senate Assembly voted to table a resolution that would support the faculty open letter on climate change action. Buy this photo
Kayleah Son/Daily

In its final meeting of the semester, the University of Michigan Senate Assembly voted to table a resolution that would support the faculty open letter on climate change action. Marschall Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs, also spoke to the assembly about the Medical School and University health system.

If passed, the resolution would have expressed the assembly’s support for the faculty open letter on climate action and encourage members of the University community to sign it. However, the resolution was tabled during the meeting. The letter, written by Deborah Goldberg and Knute Nadelhoffer, professors of ecology and evolutionary biology, currently has 30 pages of signatures.

At last week’s Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs meeting, the assembly voted to unanimously support the efforts of the faculty who wrote the letter and encourage other faculty to support the letter. The resolution from the assembly would have been considered separate from the SACUA resolution.

Assembly members debated the possible resolution, considering changing its language to support the intentions of the letter. Ron Larson, College of Engineering representative, expressed his concerns with the letter.

“I’m probably very much a minority on this, but I don’t support this letter,” Larson said. “I think the issue is very complicated. For example, the definition of carbon neutrality … To me, we have a committee that’s looking at this carefully, and carbon neutrality is something very hard to define.”

The assembly further discussed the March 15 Washtenaw County Climate Strike, during which 10 demonstrators were arrested and given citations at the Fleming Administration Building for trespassing after a 7.5 hour sit-in. Emily Campbell, school of information representative, said she thought the assembly should encourage the police department to not charge the demonstrators.

Joy Beatty, U-M Dearborn representative and Senate Assembly vice chair, said she met with University President Mark Schlissel during the sit-in. She explained it did not sound like the demonstrators would be charged.

“Schlissel said he had had experiences at Berkeley where they didn’t make people leave,” Beatty said. “I guess he had learned from that experience that you have to get people out of the building.”

After discussing their thoughts on the letter and possibly amending the resolution, the assembly made the decision to table it, although they have no meetings remaining for the duration of the school year.

In addition to tabling the resolution, the assembly listened to a presentation by Runge. In his presentation, Runge focused on the future of the University Medical School and health care. He said the main areas of focus for the Medical School include research, education and clinical care, as well as emphasizing the importance of learning through discovery science.

“Many important advances in medicine have come from discovery science,” Runge said. “They weren’t necessarily targeted science … Discovery science today is driven by really some top investigators in a wide variety of fields that someone who’s doing research as a graduate student, (if) they feel like their focus is on cancer, that research may also turn out to be important in neurological diseases or vascular diseases or other areas.”

Runge also discussed increasing the comfort, value of care and cost of care of University health systems, highlighting two new Brighton and Ann Arbor health care locations. He said the medical system is working to improve and become a better institution.

“We want to have an accountable culture, we want to have a positive culture,” Runge said. “We want to have a culture that advocates for patients, advocates for respect, advocates for anything that makes us more diverse, more inclusive and recognize that we all have well-being issues. A big issue in medicine is a phenomenon called burnout … and that has to do with relieving the stress that we all render and how we can most effectively prevent those.”

Following Runge’s presentation, assembly members asked Runge questions regarding his presentation. Campbell said she has been volunteering at the hospital for 11 years. She expressed support for the ability to ensure the well-being of doctors and questioned how to support them.

“I’m very impressed with the focus on the patient and family care … I’m just really impressed with that focus on making sure that our doctors are people, too,” Campbell said. “But what I’m worried about is making sure that we’re asking people to be incredibly expert at something and also be human. How do we support doctors in that way and make sure they’re getting the self-care they need?”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Neil Marsh made closing remarks as the outgoing Senate Assembly chair.  

“One of my personal motivations for taking on this responsibility of chair in the Senate has been that I get to interact with a whole bunch of smart, interesting people where if I had just stayed in my department in chemistry, I’d never ever meet and never ever know,” Marsh said. “I think that’s a valuable thing, and I think the opportunity to interact with your colleagues who you wouldn’t be otherwise is a valuable reason for being on Senate Assembly.”