The result of a faculty no-confidence vote in President Mark Schlissel’s leadership is under review after questions arose about procedural rules after the vote.

During a Sept. 16 Faculty Senate meeting, senate members voted 957-953 in favor of the no-confidence proposal, with 184 abstentions.

A separate motion for a statement of no confidence in the university’s plans to reopen the campus for the fall semester failed 915-991, with 198 abstentions.

David Potter, the senate’s interim secretary, counted abstentions among the total number of members voting and announced at the meeting that the no-confidence motion against Schlissel had failed. According to Faculty Senate rules, more than 50 percent of those voting must favor a motion for it to pass. 

Later, Faculty Senate leaders said they would review whether the abstentions should have been counted in the tally.

 “We need a few days to consider,” Faculty Senate Chair Colleen Conway said in an email. “If we decide, based on the review, that the 184 do not ‘count’ towards those voting, then we will issue a statement changing the vote.”

Conway also noted that this was the first electronic Faculty Senate meeting, and that the issue stems from transferring its rules to electronic meetings. 

 Schlissel and his executive team said they’re reviewing that vote and others that were taken at the meeting. 

 “President Mark Schlissel and his whole executive team will carefully consider the Faculty Senate votes today,” U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said. Faculty Senate votes are advisory in nature.

“President Schlissel already has committed to increasing his engagement with the faculty across all of our 19 schools and colleges. He and Provost Susan M. Collins also have committed to engaging the entire community on the topic of policing so that U-M and our Division of Public Safety and Security can be a national leader on campus safety.”

More than 2,000 Faculty Senate members watched the meeting, which was conducted over Zoom.

At the start, Schlissel spoke about the strike by the Graduate Employees’ Organization, policing, the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and administration interaction with faculty, all topics that have created division on campus in recent weeks.

He thanked faculty members for their contributions to making the semester possible, and for raising important issues and concerns.

“Criticisms and challenges are qualities that make universities great,” Schlissel said. “They also provide an opportunity to create solutions that benefit from multiple perspectives. We can and must work together as a university to solve problems.”

He reiterated the previous day’s announcement of a task force that will study policing, and a new faculty group that will promote broader faculty engagement on campus issues related to COVID-19.

The no-confidence motion against Schlissel criticized his handling of U-M’s response to the pandemic and sexual misconduct allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert.

“He has engaged in evasion, misdirection, distortion and falsehoods,” said Stephen Ward, an associate professor of Afroamerican and African studies who submitted the motion.

Peter Washabaugh, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and associate professor of aerospace engineering, said he has faith in Schlissel’s leadership. He said all of his students this fall have expressed gratitude that the university was at least attempting a partially in-person semester.

“I’ve seen this president take the correct path, even though it might be difficult or uncomfortable. … I believe he has demonstrated thoughtfulness and caring actions,” he said.   

Speaking in favor of the proposed statement of no-confidence in U-M’s re-opening plan, Silke-Maria Weineck, professor of German studies and comparative literature, said testing and other aspects of the plan have been insufficient.

“Contact tracers are overwhelmed,” said Weineck, who submitted the motion. “Parents are scared. The city is worried. Graduate students, residential advisers and dining hall workers walked off the job. All of them demand a better pandemic plan, one finally responsive to all of their voices.”

Taking the other side was David Wright, associate professor of accounting. He said people throughout the Stephen M. Ross School of Business have worked collaboratively to deal with the pandemic.

“I’m very impressed with the constant flow of information I’ve been receiving, the respect with which our opinions have been received, the transparency of the process and the highly impressive set of protocols that we have in place,” he said.

Also at the meeting, Faculty Senate members voted:

  • To allow the Faculty Senate to conduct electronic meetings. The motion passed 1,933-37, with 35 abstentions.   
  • To demand that the university “implement a permanent policy requiring the administration to engage in substantive consultation on all matters relevant to faculty (including lecturers) with existing bodies of faculty governance at the programmatic, departmental, unit and university levels, including but not limited to the faculty’s representative bodies, SACUA, LEO and the Senate Assembly.” The motion passed 1,328-615, with 179 abstentions.   
  • Against calling for faculty, staff, students and administrators to “engage constructively together” to overcome the challenges related to the pandemic and “work together to deliver the educational mission of the university to the fullest extent possible.” The motion failed 826-903, with 354 abstentions.
  • To call upon the administration, and specifically Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins, to “release details about the models and assumptions that have guided university planning for the current ‘inresidence fall term,’ including the justification for the testing protocols adopted, the evidentiary ‘circuit-breakers’ that would cause the administration to discontinue current plans, and the arrangements the university will make to reduce the risk of spreading infection beyond the university community in such an eventuality or at the projected end of term.” The motion passed 1,635-293, with 118 abstentions.
  • To demand that the university withdraw its request for an injunction and restraining order against GEO and make a good faith offer to GEO to end the strike. The motion passed 934-360, with 100 abstentions.

The Faculty Senate is part of U-M’s central faculty governance system. It has about 4,300 members and includes all U-M professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans.

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