The University of Michigan is committed to engaging with members of its community as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic and other issues affecting the campus and country, President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan Collins said.
In a Sept. 11 email to Ann Arbor students, faculty and staff, Schlissel and Collins acknowledged current tensions on campus and called on people to work together to address their differences.
“We write to you today out of a deep concern for our university community — one that feels fractured, with some expressing frustration, anger and distrust,” they said. “This comes in the context of an extremely high level of anxiety and uncertainty due to the many national crises we are grappling with — from the pandemic to the economy to structural racism — all in the midst of a contentious national election landscape.
“We recognize that we must do more to engage with and include members of our community as we grapple with the complex decisions to be made going forward.
“Working, studying and living through a global pandemic requires all of us to manage a host of challenges and we, like you, are working tirelessly to provide resources to support you, to help you pursue your ambitions, and to keep our community safe.”
The message addressed several topics, including the pandemic, policing on campus and strikes by U-M graduate students and resident advisers in campus housing.
Schlissel and Collins said health and safety are fundamental human rights, and that they have made repeated efforts to ensure that faculty and graduate student instructors and graduate student staff assistants represented by the Graduate Employees’ Organization were treated equitably so requests to work from home could be accommodated.
“The university is ready to continue discussions with GEO so that all students are able to continue their studies without further interruption. It is certainly our preference to resolve concerns with productive discussions rather than outside appeals,” Schlissel and Collins wrote.
Addressing concerns about student quarantine and isolation housing, Schlissel and Collins said U-M is continuing its commitment to meal delivery. They said all Michigan Dining meals will come in microwavable packaging, and microwaves will be provided to students. They noted that Student Life staff check in daily with each student who is in quarantine or isolation.
Regarding police reform, Schlissel and Collins said they and Division of Public Safety and Security Executive Director Eddie Washington are committed to immediately addressing any issues that arise in the community.
U-M public health experts met individually with members of GEO to address their concerns around policing, the email said. Similar avenues will be available for faculty and staff.
“Policing concerns are not readily resolved through union negotiations,” Schlissel and Collins wrote. “Instead of a unilateral strategy — such as defunding the police — or addressing these critical issues through a bargaining contract that applies only to one group of employees, we endorse thoughtful engagement with the broader university community to surface both problems and opportunities.”
Schlissel and Collins said it is clear that work needs to be done to rebuild trust and confidence in the community. They said they are committed to engaging and listening.
“We know that you share our deep commitment to this great university — from the health and safety of each of you, to our shared values of transparency and to the research, teaching, learning, service and patient care that are the reasons we all chose U-M,” they wrote.
“Let us work together to address our differences, even those that are strongly held, and to leverage our passions and our shared values.”