Regents meet for final winter meeting

Thursday, March 28, 2019 - 7:54pm

University President Mark Schlissel listens to protesters denouncing the University's inaction on climate change and new felony disclosure policy, among other causes, at the Regents meeting in the University Golf Clubhouse Thursday afternoon.

University President Mark Schlissel listens to protesters denouncing the University's inaction on climate change and new felony disclosure policy, among other causes, at the Regents meeting in the University Golf Clubhouse Thursday afternoon. Buy this photo
Danyel Tharakan/Daily

The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents convened Thursday afternoon for the last meeting of the winter 2019 term. Regents Michael Behm (D) and Mark Bernstein (D) were not present but called into the meeting, while Chair Ron Weiser was unable to attend or call in.

University President Mark Schlissel began the meeting by addressing the March 16 active shooter scare. He acknowledged that though there was no actual shooter, the fear community members felt was real. He thanked responders from the Division of Public Safety and Security and external law enforcement partners. He further said while many parts of their response went well, some had issues.

“While many aspects of our response went according to plan, we know we must improve others,” Schlissel said. “Communications during this crisis proved to be problematic with some notifications delayed and others not delivered as expected. We are committed to rectifying this critical deficiency.”

The shooter scare occurred on the Diag during a vigil for victims of the shooting in two New Zealand mosques. Schlissel said the University has worked with Department of Public Safety Security to make it easier to receive alerts and to widely share information about what to do in active shooter situations and about opportunities for in-person training. Additionally, he wrote an email to students that is also available online.

Schlissel also shared the four individuals — Randy Schekman, University of California, Berkeley professor and Nobel Prize winner; Mark di Suvero, sculptor and peace activist; Leslie Uggams, award-winning actress and singer; and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — he recommended for honorary degrees. These individuals will receive their honorary degrees at the University’s commencement ceremony in May.

Additionally, Schlissel commended S. Jack Hu, vice president for research at the University, for his work to elevate campus research with an unwavering commitment to integrity and public impact. Hu is leaving the University in July to be the next senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia.

Schlissel then directly addressed points students would be discussing during the public comment portion of the meeting. He first addressed the “dissenting views” surrounding the recently announced felony self-disclosure policy by saying information helps maintain a safe community. Schlissel noted the University already has felony-related information about new employees through background checks, but this policy gives the University information about current employees.

“To be absolutely clear: history of a felony conviction does not automatically prevent an applicant from working at the University, nor would it necessarily result in a current employee losing their job,” Schlissel said. “Knowing about a serious criminal charge allows the University to take timely action in instances where there could be a significant risk of harm in the workplace.”

He noted this policy triggers an internal review and the University will “closely monitor” the policy to ensure it doesn’t have disparate impacts on certain communities.

Schlissel then discussed carbon neutrality by emphasizing he shares students’ urgency about the issue. He clarified the University will develop a plan to achieve carbon neutrality, and then will commit to a specific date.

“When we are at our best, our impact does not stop at the borders of our campuses,” Schlissel said. “We seek to change society, to help others and to make significant, measurable differences on the world we share.”

Schlissel noted the University has already achieved carbon reduction and carbon emission is down 7 percent from the 2006 baseline, while the physical campus has grown since then by 20 percent. He also said he is aware of the controversy surrounding the plan to expand the Central Power Plant, but said the University would need to purchase more coal-based electricity. Functioning as a university, especially one with a major hospital, requires a lot of energy, and fossil fuels are the only way to provide enough energy for the foreseeable future, Schlissel said.

He also noted the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality added a public session of the commission on April 9. To end his speech, he commended University athletic teams for their success throughout the year.

After Schlissel finished, Regent Denise Ilitch (D), vice chair of the board, commended Schlissel on his election into the John Hopkins Society of Scholars. The society — the first of its kind in the U.S. — honors faculty who have served at least a year at Johns Hopkins and have received distinction in their discipline while not working at the school.

Following Schlissel’s remarks, Joy Beatty, vice chair of Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and a professor at U-M Dearborn, said faculty care about the University and are well-poised to offer advice on University affairs. She requested faculty to be included in decision-making processes so there is time to offer constructive and helpful feedback.

Specifically, Beatty noted faculty’s longstanding concerns about the Office for Institutional Equity’s processes, including lack of notification, due process and opportunity for appeals as well as long timelines for investigations. She said the Senate Assembly is preparing suggestions for improvements and passed resolutions to share with the Office of the Provost.

“To realize the full benefit to the community that stems from the consultation with involved faculty, elected faculty representatives need to be included early in decision-making processes, so that there is time to offer constructive and thoughtful feedback,” Beatty said. “If we are consulted after decisions have already been made or too late in the process for substantive feedback, the administration risks becoming entangled in conversations which miss key points of community concern.”

During updates from the regional campuses, it was announced that Schlissel will be on the U-M Dearborn campus next week to give a speech about the future of higher education and the importance of a growth mindset. Additionally, according to the board, significant progress on scholarships and funding for student support has been made on the Flint campus because of the success of the Victors for Michigan campaigns.

The board voted on appointments, buildings, degree programs, policy and partnerships. One action request that was approved was a master affiliation and related joint venture agreement between Michigan Medicine and Sparrow Health System of central Michigan.

The board also approved an addition of classrooms and accessibility improvements to the Detroit Observatory, the second-oldest building on campus. The project will cost an estimated $10 million.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, commended Daniel Greene, Central Student Government president, for his leadership. She called him "tenacious" and said his leadership has made "the University stronger."

In his final address to the board, Greene, a Public Policy senior, said he struggled to decide what to discuss. He began by thanking faculty members and DPSS, then discussed how to build a better University in the future.

He said in the past he has spoken on a variety of topics — from food insecurity to mental health awareness on campus — but reflected on how the University can be more accessible and inclusive going forward. Greene emphasized it is important every student feels welcome and safe on campus.

Greene noted the University’s strides in these areas, including the Go Blue Guarantee, the Maize and Blue Cupboard, the Trotter Multicultural Center and the holistic well-being model. However, he said he realizes the campus community at-large still has a long way to go. Greene said CSG ideally represents all students, but he hoped his role has also been as an advocate for those voices who were not heard on campus.

“Our institutional values include equity, diversity, liberty and justice,” Greene said. “Our mission statement calls for developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future. Unfortunately, those values and mission are not always upheld. We as a campus community still fall short in our mission and, unfortunately, oftentimes fall short for the most vulnerable members of our campus community. For me, the Michigan of the future has a campus community where visible and invisible identities … do not predict the quality nor the potential of each student’s Michigan experience.”