Faculty members bring invaluable perspectives to universities and should have a voice in decision making, President Santa J. Ono told members of the University of Michigan’s Senate Assembly at its monthly meeting March 20.
“This is exactly the kind of interaction that I want to have with you, where I first come and listen to your ideas — because your ideas are excellent — and second, I take these ideas and bring them back to the executive officers so that we can have a conversation,” said Ono, who added he hopes to have regular meetings with faculty.
Ono addressed a live and virtual audience at Palmer Commons in his first visit with the Senate Assembly, a 74-member elected arm of U-M’s central faculty governance system, which also includes the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs and the full Faculty Senate.
Senate Chair Allen Liu introduced three Senate Assembly members who delivered brief presentations about ways the university can better support faculty.
SACUA member Rebekah Modrak, professor of art and design in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, said the Faculty Senate should play a larger role in the university. She said faculty members have the capacity to anticipate the evolving nature of the institution and should therefore play a significant role in determining university policies and practices.
“Your arrival on campus has brought with it an era of openness and engagement. Our hope is that you will help restore the spirit of shared governance at Michigan,” Modrak told Ono.
Alex Yasha Yi, professor of electrical and computer engineering at UM-Dearborn, said the university needs a better strategy for faculty retention and recruitment. He said U-M should examine pay equity, and support opportunities for professional development, access to resources, and a positive work environment to retain top talent.
Seth Guikema, professor of industrial and operations engineering, and of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering, said the university should provide better support for faculty child care. He said child care is too expensive for many students and faculty members, and he urged Ono to explore solutions.
Ono said he agreed with the priorities the speakers outlined and that he would bring the issues to his executive officers later this week. He said he’s dedicated to shared governance, and the results from recent university climate surveys are providing recommendations for further areas of improvement.
“We know that the culture and climate of our institution is something that has been challenging over the past couple of years and we certainly will continue to take steps to respond to each of the recommendations of the different reviews that have occurred,” Ono said.
Ono said campus child care has been one of his priorities for quite a while. When he served as president of the University of British Columbia, he said, the university created the largest child-care hub in North America on its Vancouver campus. He said he liked the idea of partnering with day-care and child-care facilities and seeking solutions to availability and cost issues.
In a question-and answer-session, Simon Cushing, associate professor of philosophy at UM-Flint, asked Ono how he views the connection between the three campuses.
Ono said he is committed to involving all three campuses in his strategic visioning process. He said he has made efforts to spend time on the Flint and Dearborn campuses, and he hopes to cultivate a sense of community with the faculty, staff and students of each campus.
“I very much view all three campuses as being integral parts of the university, and they have to be part of the visioning process,” Ono said.
Cliff Lampe, professor of information and associate dean for academic affairs at the School of Information, said several U-M professors are on Turning Point USA’s “professor watchlist” that targets faculty for leftist research. He asked Ono his views on protecting the intellectual freedom of the faculty.
Ono said any attempt to suppress academic freedom is unacceptable.
“The university should be supportive of faculty, regardless of their views. That’s part of academic freedom,” Ono said. “It can be very chilling to have governments and organizations calling you out for your own scholarships.”