After discussing digital learning and affordability with University Provost Martha Pollack during their monthly meeting Monday, the Senate Assembly approved a resolution discouraging faculty from signing confidentiality agreements or orally agreeing to not disclose information from executive sessions.

When broad confidentiality agreements are conditions of committee or board members, the resolution states that requests should be presented to the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs.

In recent months, SACUA members have discussed concerns related to confidentiality agreements, particularly the agreement for members of the University’s Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics, the body charged with providing input to the University’s Athletic Department. The current confidentiality agreement prevents members of the board from discussing concerns with anyone apart from the University’s president.

Scott Masten, chair of SACUA and professor of business economics and public policy, said assembly members are currently asked to serve on various University committees or advisory boards. Because these policies or judgments can be sensitive in nature, SACUA proposed that confidentiality only be invoked for compelling reasons, rather than to avoid debate or accountability.

Masten, who serves on the ABIA, has not signed that board’s confidentiality agreement and has been allowed to continue participating in meetings, according to a University release.

“The aim of the proposal is to make sure that confidentiality is not used so broadly that it avoids accountability,“ Masten said. “It’s just too easy to say, ‘Everything here is confidential,’ and not really think through does it need to be.”

Provost discusses priorities

During her presentation, Pollack highlighted four areas of focus: innovation in teaching and learning techniques, pursuit of bold research projects, fostering a diverse and inclusive campus and ensuring the affordability of a University education.

At a time when new technology is making education formats more widely available and open, Pollack said the University is also thinking about the kind of learning experiences that will prove most relevant as students enter careers post-graduation.

“If your world is uncertain and ambiguous, you need the ability to take risks,” Pollack said. “You don’t learn that by being lectured to. If the world is complex, you need to be able to synthesize various complex ideas.”

Though online tools can often diversify the learning experience, Pollack said online education tools would not erode the value of face-to-face education.

Apart from digital and engaged learning, Pollack also discussed the importance of diversity and inclusion at the University, noting one of the institution’s largest challenges remains increasing the enrollment of under-represented minority students.

In the last year, students have called on the University to address issues of diversity and inclusion, most prominently as part of the Being Black at the University of Michigan campaign lead by the University’s Black Student Union. In December, University President Mark Schlissel announced he would release a campus-wide plan during winter semester to address the topic.

Pollack said she is hopeful that the University’s efforts to reach out to high performance students from low-income areas, such as initiatives to waive application fees, will improve diversity on campus.

University funding was also a point of discussion. Noting that the majority of public higher education institutions face a challenge fiscal climate, Pollack cited state disinvestment in higher education as a continuing challenge for public colleges and universities.

“One thing that then happens is we become more reliant on philanthropy,” Pollack said. “The future remains challenging and we’ll have to work together to address them.”

In recent years, the University has ramped up its private fundraising. In November 2013, the University launched the Victors for Michigan campaign. The fundraising effort is intended to raise $4 billion, a quarter of which will be earmarked for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance.

During the session, Microbiology and Immunity Prof. Patrick Schloss asked how President Barack Obama’s higher education proposal — to make two years of community college free for many Americans — would impact the University.

Pollack responded that the more the federal government recognizes the value of higher education, the better. She said it is important that a University education can be affordable as well.

“If you’re an in-state student from a low-income family, a Michigan education can be essentially free,” Pollack said.

The next Senate Assembly meeting will be held Feb. 16.

This article has been updated to include additional information from the Senate Assembly’s resolution..

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