Members of the University’s Senate Assembly received a visit from President Mary Sue Coleman at their first meeting of the year yesterday.
In her speech, Coleman highlighted positive developments at the University during the last year and touched on the University’s financial status.
Coleman said research expenditures achieved more than $1 billion in research grants this year. The package included $421 million from the National Institutes of Health — with more than $160 million in stimulus funding research awards from NIH alone.
“That really gives me just tremendous confidence that people are ready, they’re waiting and when they get their proposals out they are really good proposals,” Coleman said.
Coleman also said that the 100 new faculty members hired as a part of her 100 New Faculty Initiative launched in 2007 are “absolutely outstanding.”
While many universities across the country are enforcing hiring freezes due to the economy, the University of Michigan has continued to hire new faculty members.
Coleman said the new faculty members have proven to be “very, very high quality scholars.”
She added that the University is constantly fighting the perception that because the state of Michigan is “just a basket case,” the University is also suffering.
“What I want to counter to people is that we are managing our resources well, that we are hiring faculty, that we have not closed the doors,” Coleman said. “And so the fact that we are still out there in the marketplace is another good signal that we are competing, and competing effectively.”
Despite the economic downturn, Coleman said she was also impressed with the way the University has handled its budget while other institutions across the country “are trying to deal with this era of constraining resources.”
However, Coleman stressed that the University faces many challenges concerning the budget moving forward.
“I don’t want to tell you that everything is just rosy, and we don’t have anything to worry about because that’s not true,” she said to the assembly.
She cited the fact that both the endowment and private giving were down more than 20 percent last year. State support has also declined 10 percent over the last seven years, and the University has reduced spending from its general fund by more than $135 million within that same time period.
Over the next three years, Coleman said the University will most likely have to identify an additional $100 million in savings.
She said this combination of factors has led the University to be more “prudent” and “strategic” in handling the budget in order to guarantee a sense of stability for the future.
“To make it better for our successors, we want to keep the institution strong because we are about the infinite horizon,” she said. “We are not about what happens next quarter or next year, so this is something we continue to work on.”
Coleman cited several cost-cutting measures including forming new faculty travel policies, offering more classes in spring and summer terms, sharing the staff for centralized servers and making better use of buildings.
Coleman said cooperation among administrators, faculty and staff will “make a big impact on the institution” and will help the University deal with budget issues.
“Because the budget problem isn’t just my problem, it’s not the regents’ problem, it’s everybody’s problem,” she said to the assembly, “the challenges are there for everybody, and so I appreciate certainly any help that you can give us as we’re thinking about how to tackle this.”
Changes to Grievance Review Board
After Coleman spoke, Senate Assembly members discussed changes to the composition of the Grievance Review Board — a body that hears complaints from University faculty against other faculty, staff or administrators and aims to settle disputes.
Currently, the board consists of three members — two of the members are from the department of the faculty member making the complaint and one is from an outside department.
Last January, Provost Teresa Sullivan asked the Faculty Grievance Process Task Force to implement standards proposed the previous year by the Policy Task Force and create a report. In the report, one of the proposals that came from the Policy Task Force was that all three members hearing the grievance come from outside departments.
However, the Process Task Force recommended the board consist of two members from an external unit and one from the original unit.
According to the Faculty Grievance Process Response report, the Process Task Force believed a member from the department of the grievant “would provide perspective and insight into the culture of the unit that could be gained in no other way.”
During the meeting, Senate Assembly members debated whether or not to adopt the changes to the Grievance Review Board. The provost must approve the changes before they go into effect.
Members discussed whether it was fair to have two external members and one internal member — arguing that the internal member might be biased for or against the grievant.
Despite these recommendations, the assembly voted to have the boards comprise of five members, with three members from an external department and two members from the department of the grievant.
The assembly decided both the faculty member making the complaint and the member who the complaint was made against could make separate lists of people they would like to have as the internal department member. Each party would then choose one name from the other party’s list.
Robert Fraser, SACUA vice chair, said the board drops grievances that aren’t considered valid.
“Typically that ends the discussion,” Fraser said. “If it’s not considered grievable, it stops there. There are a very few occasions when SACUA has pressed upon the provost that this needs to be reconsidered.”
However, the new proposal states that a grievant may appeal a complaint found not grievable to SACUA. This is the first time there has been a proposed process to deal with grievance appeals.
— Chelsea Lange contributed to this report