SACUA discusses faculty culture, tuition and faculty-student relationships

Monday, April 1, 2019 - 7:16pm

 Provost Martin Philbert joined the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to discuss the importance of institutional culture, tuition and the new policy regarding faculty-student relationships.

Provost Martin Philbert joined the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs to discuss the importance of institutional culture, tuition and the new policy regarding faculty-student relationships. Buy this photo
Kayleah Son/Daily

The Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs met on Monday with Provost Martin Philbert and discussed the importance of institutional diversity, tuition and the new policy regarding faculty-student relationships.

Incoming SACUA members Elena Gallo, associate professor of astronomy, and Sara Ahbel-Rappe, professor of Greek and Latin, attended the meeting but are unable to vote until they officially become members on May 1.

SACUA chair Neil Marsh, professor of chemistry, said elections for chair and vice chair of SACUA will take place at next week’s meeting.

Philbert began his meeting with SACUA by thanking them for their work throughout the semester.

SACUA member Sami Malek, professor of internal medicine, said SACUA and the administration should try to improve institutional culture among faculty and not just focus on policy changes.

“You know, a lot of what we’ve done here at SACUA really centers on not the common daily routine, but rather the accesses and the discretions and the punishment and whatnot,” Malek said. “But the issue of sort of culture, this place and how we can all make it more collegial and better.”

SACUA member Sarah Lippert, associate professor of art history at U-M Flint, agreed with Malek and said she would like to see a culture shift in terms of prioritizing and promoting ethics as a primary goal.  

“I think one thing that to me strikes me regarding culture is I would like to see the University — and this requires participation from administrators, the regents, faculty, students, staff — really become more focused on the integrity and ethics of how we treat each other. And I don’t really, I’ve worked with the University of Michigan for a while, I do see us trying to work towards those goals, but I don’t really see it as a stated focus.”

In response to a question about the budget for the fall 2019 semester, Philbert said the administration is not sure about state appropriations or tuition increases yet. He said tuition is the largest and most stable component of the budget, but the market is not very elastic, and they have to balance the needs of the school with the needs of students and families.

He said if programs such as the Go Blue Guarantee began covering fees outside of tuition, the payment for that would come from other families’ tuition.

“So, one of the one of the underlying principles to our budget making is long-term sustainability, and long-term sustainability not just for us internally, but in terms of adding a degree of predictability for families who will pay their tuition,” Philbert said. “We also operate under the general understanding, though I haven’t been able to find it written anywhere, that if we add 1 percent in fees, that comes off tuition, so it is a zero-sum game.”

After Philbert left, SACUA discussed the new Standard Practice Guide policy regarding faculty-student relationships. Lippert said SACUA agrees with the intention of the policy, to increase the ease of the reporting process, but the language of the policy itself is vague and has potentially harmful loopholes.

“The issue is that this policy has ambiguities that can actually lead to harm to students and faculty in the ways in which it could be applied,” Lippert said. “... In order for the policy to work perfectly and not harm people through misuse, we have to have perfect HR systems, we have to have perfect general counsel, we have to have perfect administrators. And what we’ve seen is we don’t have perfect systems.”

Ahbel-Rappe said SACUA is dedicated to the safety and security of all community members, and that should be made clear throughout any statements they release regarding the policy.

“We should be very clear that SACUA is concerned to do whatever we can to protect our students and people in positions of less power from sexual predation,” Ahbel-Rappe said. “I don’t think that we should just say you have problems with this policy and not emphasize that we are committed to the well-being of the people on all accounts.”