Senate Assembly talks Tri-Campus, remote attendance options at year's first meeting

Monday, September 17, 2018 - 6:37pm

Members of the Senate Assembly discuss their summers at the first Senate Assembly of the academic year in Palmer Commons Monday.

Members of the Senate Assembly discuss their summers at the first Senate Assembly of the academic year in Palmer Commons Monday. Buy this photo
Sarah Kunkel/Daily

The University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly convened Monday afternoon for its first meeting of the academic year. The group discussed a motion to create a tri-campus committee for the Senate Assembly, as well as a resolution to change the assembly rules to allow remote attendance and electronic voting for representatives.

The meeting opened with remarks by Joy Beatty, vice chair of the Senate Assembly and an associate professor at U-M Dearborn, in which Beatty explained the foundational principles of the Senate Assembly to new members, as well as the assembly’s position in regard to other governing bodies at the University. The assembly consists of 74 elected faculty members from across schools and departments on the University of Michigan’s three campuses.

“I’d encourage you to be an ambassador for the importance of faculty governance,” Beatty told the assembly. “People aren’t always aware of what we do, so thank you for being here and for standing up for faculty governance.”

Later, the assembly discussed potential improvements to their current execution of meetings and potential guests to invite to their future assemblies. Members noted a disconnect between the administration and the Senate Assembly, except when the University needs the faculty in times of crisis.

David Potter, secretary of the Faculty Senate and a professor at U-M Ann Arbor, cited the instances of white nationalist Richard Spencer’s efforts to speak on the University’s Ann Arbor campus earlier this year, stressing the importance of collaboration between the University administration and Senate Faculty to unite in these instances instead of divide.

“I think that the ideal is to create a dialogue between faculty and the administration through these organs of the Senate, without waiting for a crisis to take place,” Potter said. “The University works better when they’re actually listening to the community.”

The meeting continued with the introductions of two resolutions. Sarah Lippert, an associate professor at U-M Flint, proposed a resolution to create a permanent tri-campus committee within the Senate Assembly. Within the three campuses, differences in interpretations of various policy documents and a lack of communication between each campus present issues in terms of relaying accurate information to all faculty. The committee will serve as a central repository for all policy documents and resources across campuses and standardize explanations of such documents to prevent confusion and miscommunication within the entire University.

As stated in the resolution, if passed, the committee will aim “to consider points of interest... such as those that relate to the relationship between the three campuses or policies across the institution.”

“One of the needs that the tri-campus task force identified was that it would be really helpful to have a permanent group that people could refer to when there are interpretation issues,” Lippert said. “It would be a committee that looks at things relevant to faculty across the institution, not at local governance below that.”

An ad hoc Tri Campus Taskforce already exists in faculty governance after the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs voted to reinstate the body last fall, hoping to improve communication between the three campuses. In April, members of Flint’s Faculty Council penned a letter opposing the creation of a standing Tri Campus taskforce due to a lack of clarity on the proposed body’s jurisdiction. 

The meeting closed with another resolution introduced to the assembly, touching on current issues regarding quorum and the allowance of electronic voting during Senate Assembly meetings. Scott Masten, rules chair and professor at the Ross School of Business, mentioned that since 2004, there have only been quorums at three Faculty Senate meetings. The meetings in which quorum was reached occurred only during meetings related to tenure, course evaluations and other issues closely related to the faculty. Quorum for the Faculty Senate is 100 out of the 3,000 total members.

This continued lack of participation is partially due to the fact that most faculty confuses the Faculty Senate with the Senate Assembly, a much smaller body of University representatives.

“Most faculty don’t know they’re on the Senate,” Masten said. “People don’t understand that they’re actually Senate members.”