Faculty Senate’s vote of no confidence in University’s reopening plan fails, GEO motion passes

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 7:54pm

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Courtesy of Alec Cohen

 

A vote of no confidence in the University of Michigan’s reopening plan failed to pass the Faculty Senate at an emergency meeting Wednesday afternoon. More than 2,000 faculty members participated in the votes. At the meeting, 915 said they had no confidence in the administration’s reopening plan while 991 voted against the no-confidence motion, with 198 abstaining.

The Faculty Senate also held a vote of no confidence in University President Mark Schlissel’s leadership. Results show 957 voted no confidence in Schlissel with 953 voting against the motion and 184 abstaining. However, some members of the Faculty Senate expressed confusion as to whether the abstaining votes counted against the majority needed to pass the motion.

The votes of no confidence are symbolic, meaning neither Schlissel nor other University administrators would have lost their jobs because of their passage. The Faculty Senate itself is  an advisory body, so its actions are consultative. 

LSA professor Silke-Maria Weineck submitted the motion of no confidence in the administration’s plan with Engineering professor Annalisa Manera and Kinesiology professor Stefan Szymanski supporting it. 

The motion cites public health experts’ disapproval of the plan; students, staff and faculty’s expressions of unsafety; and a leaked Ethics and Privacy Committee report declaring the plan does not meet a “reasonable standard” of safety.

Weineck pointed to warnings from public health experts who have called the University’s plan ill-informed. She said the University’s low positivity rate is not necessarily indicative of success given the low number of tests administered.

“Are we doing better, as much is implied, or worse?” Weineck said. “Experts tell me we don’t actually know.”

Several faculty members also spoke against the motion, including Gilbert Omenn, chair of the Ethics and Privacy Committee. Critics of the administration have cited the committee’s leaked report as evidence the University should not have reopened. 

Omenn said there have been missteps, like the reliance on policing to enforce social distancing, but said he is optimistic about the University’s current path. He cited low positivity rates and favorable public health metrics so far in Washtenaw County. 

The second vote of no confidence focused on Schlissel’s leadership, highlighting his lack of consultation with the campus community on reopening, failure to establish widespread testing in time for the beginning of the year and loss of trust among graduate students and faculty. The Faculty Senate was split on the vote.

Weineck brought a motion to the floor demanding the University withdraw its court filings against GEO and make a good faith offer to end the strike. She said a vote for the motion is not a vote in support of all of GEO’s goals, but a vote to resolve the dispute.

“I think this is not the time for strong-arm tactics,” Weineck said. “I don’t think this is the time for conflict.”

The motion overwhelmingly passed 934-360 with 100 abstaining. Many faculty members had dropped off the call by the time the GEO motion passed. 

After opening remarks from Music, Theatre & Dance professor Colleen Conway, Schlissel addressed the Faculty Senate in a rare appearance before the body. He discussed his commitment to the University.

“I’d like to thank the faculty from each of our many disciplines for their contributions to making this semester possible, and for raising important issues and concerns,” Schlissel said. “Criticism and challenges are qualities that make universities great.”

Schlissel touched on his rationale for bringing students back to campus, noting the University’s plans to ramp up surveillance testing and said he heard “important and valid” calls for greater engagement and transparency.

“What I haven't heard is a lack of commitment to this university that we all love,” Schlissel said. “The pandemic will be with us for a long time — let's join together to focus on how we'll beat it.

Other topics discussed at the meeting include a motion submitted by the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs allowing the Faculty Senate to conduct official business through electronic meetings. The Office of General Counsel has told the Faculty Senate Office that the faculty governance body does not have the authority to hold online meetings. 

However, in an email to The Daily, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote that the OGC told the FSO there would be “little risk in proceeding with remote meetings,” indicating that their virtual meetings and motions would likely not be legally challenged.

The motion passed with 1,933 respondents in favor, 37 against and 35 abstaining. 

Another motion, submitted by Information professor Kentaro Toyama, demands the University engage with faculty governance when making major decisions relevant to them. The motion cites lack of SACUA consultation in the hiring of former Provost Martin Philbert and a failure to take faculty recommendations to ensure the Office of Institutional Equity seeks “truth and justice.” It also notes that Schlissel did not consult with SACUA before appointing Provost Susan Collins. 

Public Health professor Rita Loch-Caruso spoke to the “failure” of the University in allowing Philbert to rise to Public Health dean and provost even after faculty had filed allegations of misconduct through the proper channels to alert upper administration. 

“This failure is, I believe, a terrible lesson in the false logic of letting a few in the elite inner circle make critical decisions without truly broad and diverse faculty input,” Loch-Caruso said. “We need an end to insider University politics.”

The motion to engage with faculty governance passed 1328-615, with 179 abstaining. 

The fourth motion called on all members of the University community to work together to overcome the challenge of fulfilling the “educational mission” during the pandemic. It states that the “actions of the University should be based on facts and reason, not fears and rumors.” LSA professor Neil Marsh submitted the motion. 

The motion ultimately failed, with 826 voting for, 953 voting against and 354 abstaining.

LSA professor Peter Railton submitted a motion for the University to release models that have guided the University’s fall plans, the thresholds that would change those plans and arrangements to reduce spreading infection to other communities at the end of the semester. In strike negotiations with the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the University said it does not have a model that predicts infection rates “with sufficient reliability.”

“If so, let us see these expert recommendations and their grounds so that we can move forward from here discussing these issues as reasonable, knowledgeable, caring participants in the joint project that should be, and can be, the University of Michigan’s response to this pandemic over time,” Railton said.

Art & Design professor Nick Tobier said the University has pressured many Art & Design lecturers to teach in-person classes by requiring hybrid first-year courses. 

“Many of these lecturers express private concern about their safety, but have not objected to teaching in person out of an obligation to be a good citizen or in fear of not being reappointed if they speak up,” Tobier said. 

Tobier criticized the University’s low testing capacity compared to peer universities like the University of Illinois and the University of Wisconsin. 

“President Schlissel, a scientist, seems to have modeled this testing plan on that of our U.S. president, who had the brilliant theory that intentionally slowing down testing would lower U.S. infection rates, which means that we’re missing nine cases for every one that’s confirmed,” Tobier said.

The motion passed 1635-293, with 118 abstentions. 

Twice during the meeting, motions were offered to suspend the gathering until problems with screenreading technology used to help the visually impaired could be addressed. Both votes failed.

Daily Staff Reporter Calder Lewis can be reached at calderll@umich.edu.