President Mark Schlissel sent an email to Faculty Senate members Sept. 30 clarifying information related to five resolutions they’ll vote on next week, saying the proposals give the wrong impression about COVID-19 on campus.
“I would like to provide additional context and information that you may want to consider before the two days of voting,” Schlissel wrote. “The resolutions collectively leave the impression that COVID-19 is getting worse on our campus. The facts tell a different story.”
The Faculty Senate will discuss and then vote on the resolutions, which are advisory and would be non-binding, at an Oct. 4 meeting. Voting will remain open for 48 hours.
Four of the motions relate to the pandemic. One addresses sexual misconduct.
In his email to Faculty Senate members, Schlissel said U-M has relied on faculty and staff experts in campus health and safety matters, and that U-M has put in place strategies that are informed by science, data and federal, state and county public health guidelines.
“In contrast to last fall, when cases rose steadily during the first weeks and months of the semester, cases this fall are steadily declining after the initial increase associated with the repopulation of our campus,” he wrote.
Schlissel said classrooms have not been associated with confirmed COVID-19 transmission due to the university’s masking requirement, high vaccination rates and ventilation that meets or exceeds Centers for Disease Control and Prevention standards.
Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins are scheduled to speak at the Oct. 4 Faculty Senate meeting, which will begin at 3:15 p.m. in the Honigman Auditorium at the Law School. Senate members also have been emailed instructions on how to participate remotely. Zoom participants must register at least 24 hours in advance. The meeting also will be livestreamed.
The Faculty Senate has more than 4,000 members and consists of all professorial faculty, librarians, full-time research faculty, executive officers and deans.
Here’s a summary of the topics covered by the five motions, and the responses in Schlissel’s email:
Motion 1 calls for the university to, among other things, direct Work Connections to support all medically supported requests to work remotely and institute a process for appealing determinations by Work Connections.
Schlissel said that for several years, faculty and staff with medical conditions that necessitate a modification to their assignments have been asked to provide supporting medical documentation to Work Connections. He said each request is carefully considered and individually assessed by medical personnel against Michigan Medicine and CDC criteria.
“Ultimately, academic units, not Work Connections, decide on the accommodations, which may also include changes to classroom layouts, adding an air purifier or relocating a class when virtual teaching is not a medically-supported restriction,” he wrote.
Testing and ResponsiBLUE
Motion 2 calls for the university to, among other things, increase COVID-19 testing frequency to twice a week for unvaccinated people, make it so the ResponsiBLUE symptom-checker app does not instruct vaccinated individuals to automatically check “no” as an answer to a question about having contact with someone who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19; and re-establish the notification of close contacts.
Schlissel said U-M always has and continues to directly notify all close contacts identified through case investigation. He said the broader notifications via email, which recently ended, had been implemented for awareness before vaccines were available and did not indicate close contacts.
The university is following CDC guidance in testing unvaccinated individuals who have an approved vaccine exemption, along with anyone not fully vaccinated, he said, adding the CDC does not recommend routine asymptomatic testing for vaccinated people.
He also said the suggested response related to close contact exposure on the ResponsiBLUE app for those who are fully vaccinated is consistent with CDC guidance.
In-person instruction policy
Motion 3 calls for the university to “immediately re-evaluate and adjust its policy for in-person instruction, so as to better incorporate the legitimate input of the faculty.”
Schlissel said U-M’s schools and colleges take the lead on decision-making about course modalities. The mode of class delivery is under the authority of academic units.
“With the exception of the crisis period last year, U-M practice has always been that faculty do not have individual discretion to move courses scheduled to be in-person to a remote modality,” Schlissel said.
Motion 4 calls for the university to adopt a recommendation made by women survivors of former provost Martin Philbert’s sexual misconduct and their attorney that would require members of faculty or administrative search committees to retain a written statement from each committee member attesting that they disclosed all known or suspected details of allegations of sexual misconduct.
The motion also asks, among other things, that the university allow the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office to act on iterative reports by reopening or reframing investigations as a way to call attention to and actively search for patterns of sexual misconduct.
Schlissel said U-M has made transformative changes in how it prevents and addresses sexual and gender-based misconduct. They include a new policy on supervisor-employee relationships, a universitywide policy on sexual and gender-based misconduct, the creation of the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office, and launching a broader cultural change effort.
U-M has established a formal process that includes checking for any record of complaints or investigations with ECRT regarding all internal candidates. In addition, the university checks internal personnel records and obtains updated criminal background checks. It is examining ways to further scrutinize external candidates.
Instruction options related to child care
Motion 5 calls for the university to, among other things, provide instructors and staff who care for young children the option to move their teaching or office work online if their children cannot attend school in person. It also calls for the university to devote significant resources to support parents of young children.
Schlissel said U-M policy is that “supervisors are encouraged to accommodate the child care and family care needs of staff members, to the extent possible and consistent with the operating requirements of the unit, by adjusting work schedules and starting and quitting times.”
Schlissel said he and Collins have emphasized that it’s important to transition back to the general expectation that instructors be available for on-campus engagement, while continuing to follow U-M policies and procedures for those instructors with special health needs.