President Mark Schlissel told Faculty Senate members that he plans to engage more with them about U-M’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and also is developing a new initiative around public safety and policing.

In the Sept. 15 email message, Schlissel said he will establish a faculty group specifically devoted to the issues related to COVID-19 on campus. He said he and Provost Susan M. Collins will meet with the group regularly to discuss the pandemic’s impact and how to work together to improve the university’s response.

The email followed a campuswide virtual town hall with Schlissel and Collins, and was sent in advance of a Sept. 16 Faculty Senate meeting where six motions, mostly related to the university’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, will be considered. Schlissel encouraged all eligible members to vote, and said he would speak there as well.

He said he and members of his leadership team already have consulted with — and will continue to consult with — faculty and staff experts on the many dimensions of the pandemic, including health and safety, jobs, revenue uncertainties and challenges to academic and research enterprises.

However, the president also acknowledged what he said were shortcomings in his level of engagement with faculty.

“I further want to apologize for and address what I have come to understand is my insufficient level of engagement with faculty throughout this pandemic, during a time when uncertainty and disruption to our personal and professional lives called for greater and more inclusive outreach and cooperation,” he said. “This has contributed to an erosion of trust for which I am ultimately responsible. I would like to begin to rectify that.”

Schlissel said he and Collins will explore similar structures to improve engagement with undergraduate and graduate student governments and the Voices of the Staff group.

Additionally, Schlissel said he would like to reinstitute his visits to each of the schools and colleges and meetings with faculty, something he did his first summer on campus in 2014.

“My current inclination is that there will be no pre-set agenda, just a discussion about what’s on your minds and mine,” he said, adding he is open to other suggestions for how to develop a broader and deeper relationship with university faculty, students and staff.

Turning to the topic of policing on campus, Schlissel said he and Collins will collaborate with the community to build an initiative around public safety and policing that identifies what is going well, what needs to be improved, and how the university can address anything that isn’t working.

He said the leadership team, including Eddie Washington, executive director of the Division of Public Safety and Security, fully supports the goal of U-M being a model for others to follow.

“All people at our university deserve to be and feel safe, and I appreciate the students and many community members who have spoken passionately on this important issue,” he said. “We will be reaching out broadly to get our community’s advice about the best approach and want to get going together on this important task as soon as possible.”

The Sept. 16 Faculty Senate meeting will be from 3-5 p.m. on the videoconferencing platform Zoom. The Senate is part of U-M’s central faculty governance system and has about 4,300 members consisting of all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans.

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