'U' admin talks testing plan, face criticism from commenters at Regents meeting

Thursday, September 17, 2020 - 9:50pm

The University of Michigan Board of Regents held their first meeting of the Fall semester over Zoom Thursday afternoon.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents held their first meeting of the Fall semester over Zoom Thursday afternoon. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Jasmin Lee

The University of Michigan Board of Regents held their first meeting of the fall semester Thursday afternoon over Zoom amid the turmoil over the reopening plan and following a recent Faculty Senate vote of no confidence in University President Mark Schlissel.

The meeting began with remarks from Schlissel, who addressed the WilmerHale report published in response to allegations of misconduct made against former Provost Martin Philbert.

Schlissel said misconduct reports of senior administration officials will be directed to the executive vice president and chief financial officer instead of the provost, and the University’s policy on consensual relationships will be updated as well. These policy changes comply with recommendations in the WilmerHale report and are designed to avoid a situation such as the one where Philbert was tasked with overseeing the department charged with investigating him. 

“This change removed the possibility of a conflict or hesitancy in reporting due to our Office of Institutional Equity being overseen by the Provost,” Schlissel said. “It follows WilmerHale’s recommendations that we follow alternative oversight for sexual misconduct allegations involving members of the Provost’s Office, which is ordinarily responsible for overseeing the Office of Institutional Equity.”

Provost Susan Collins then addressed what she referred to as “false statements” regarding the agreement the University reached with the Graduate Employees’ Organization on Wednesday after more than a week of striking. Collins stated the University never pursued criminal or monetary action against grad students. In its court filing, the University did threaten to pursue these actions if GEO continued its strike.

University Regent Denise Ilitch (D) read a statement of support for the administration and the University’s reopening plans on behalf of the board. She said the board knows the University needs to communicate better with the broader community, but they are committed to improving.

During the Central Student Government report, CSG President Amanda Kaplan, an LSA senior, addressed the Big Ten Conference’s Wednesday vote to restart the football season. Kaplan said CSG was unhappy with the recently announced plan to play this fall.

“We want to express our deep disappointment upon learning that we voted to reinstate college football,” Kaplan said. “Personally, I am a huge football fan. But as Student Body President, I know that this symbolically signaled to our campus community that ‘we are doing fine.’ A sentiment which will, without a doubt, enable larger student parties on the cusp of Halloween, already one of the most notorious party weekends at Michigan.”

Kaplan also addressed the inequity some students feel with athletes being given priority for COVID-19 testing. 

“With the backdrop of all of the advocacy on campus, it also signals a profound favoritism to athletes who will be getting safety testing over GSIs, R.A.s, DPEs (Diversity Peer Educators), and other University Employees who have been fighting to be getting any testing at all,” Kaplan said. 

Schlissel commented on the testing for student athletes, saying it is provided by the Big Ten and will not “affect our campus testing capacity.”

Public Health professor Emily Martin then shared a presentation about the COVID-19 Sampling and Tracking Program and announced a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services. Martin said the University had previously worked on widespread influenza tracing before COVID-19 and they used the skills from that program to work on the new surveillance program.

“It’s possible that everything we’re doing to prevent COVID could also prevent influenza,” Martin said. “That would be a great situation, but I think we need to prepare for the next phase of the pandemic.”

During the U-M Flint campus report, Flint Chancellor Debasish Dutta expressed his satisfaction that the Flint campus will participate in a pilot to bring telehealth services to its residential students in conjunction with University Health Services. The pilot would also bring Student Legal Services to Flint for the first time.

“We heard from our students as well as our faculty that student health services and student legal services need to be made available to U of M-Flint students,” Dutta said. “...We are able to provide a pilot at this point in time in the fall semester to give the telehealth services to our students in residence halls. We will work and see how best to make it available to all students next year… We are (also) pleased to report that all students at U of M-Flint now have access to Student Legal Services.”

The One University Campaign and others had previously engaged in a campaign for these services to be extended to the U-M Flint and U-M Dearborn campuses. In a press release about the pilot program, the campaign expressed excitement at the addition of health services, while urging the campus to extend a program to its non-resident students as well. The statement and several commenters also demonstrated frustration with the board and Dearborn Chancellor Domenico Grasso for not implementing a similar program there.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, 15 community members spoke to the board, addressing issues including testing on campus, the fall opening plan, divestment from fossil fuels and the GEO strike.

Zaynab Elkolaly, an activist supporting GEO, criticized the University administration and its handling of the strike.

“Being an Arab Muslim woman, I chose the University of Michigan for the safe space it claims to provide for marginal communities,” Elkolaly said. “But with recent events, I have learned that this notion is an absolute lie, and that this administration cares about nothing other than revenue.”

Graduate student Jared Eno, a GEO member, said the union accepted the University’s offer under duress and that they would not have done so but for the threats levied against GEO.

“No explicit threats of arrest were necessary, it was built into your legal action,” Eno said, disputing Provost Collins’s earlier statement on threats made against GEO. “You said you wanted our trust while you were suing us. The academic term for that is bulls—. We took your deal. It’s a terrible deal. It results in nothing that the University should not have been doing on its own. You offered us transparency about your public health modeling as a bargaining chip? How is that not public information from day one?”

Suzanne Levy, a parent of a U-M student, expressed concern about GEO’s acceptance of the University’s offer, saying “it doesn’t sound like a true agreement was reached.” She encouraged the parties to pursue voluntary arbitration.

Daily Staff Reporters Dominic Coletti and Jasmin Lee can be reached at dcoletti@umich.edu  and itsshlee@umich.edu.


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