U-M leaders discuss campus culture values at assembly

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University of Michigan leaders gathered to discuss key U-M values in this year’s second Culture Journey Community Assembly.

“Values should reflect who we are and what we stand for,” Sonya Jacobs, chief organizational learning officer, said during the Sept. 28 session, which took place over Zoom. “The unifying, shared values are the foundation to our culture and can help us build one where everyone can thrive.”

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Jacobs, who co-chairs the Culture Change Values Identification Working Group, was joined by President Mary Sue Coleman and Provost Laurie McCauley along with other university leaders involved in the culture change efforts.

Coleman expressed her hope for the culture journey in light of events in recent years.

“I know we’ve all been hurt by the episodes of sexual and gender-based misconduct of recent years. It’s been traumatic for many people, but I’m proud of how we have responded and how we continue to respond,” she said.

Earlier this summer, the university launched the Coordinated Community Response Team, a collaborative group of about 30 people charged with addressing misconduct issues and providing input from different perspectives.

“I want Michigan to be at the forefront of making college campuses safer, welcoming and responsive,” Coleman said about the CCRT. “We will never be perfect, but we must never relax our efforts to create a culture that is safe and respectful.”

“We might get it wrong, but we’re willing to go back and look at it again,” Coleman continued. “I feel so optimistic about our ability to get there, and that our willingness to say when we make mistakes, we will hold ourselves accountable. We will hold our leaders accountable.” 

The university’s culture journey will continue under the helm of Santa J. Ono, who will become U-M’s 15th president next month. McCauley said the university is looking forward to working with Ono to continue bettering the U-M community.

“We’re at a pivotal point — a moment of leadership, transition and renewed commitment to all that makes Michigan great,” McCauley said. “The importance of the culture change journey is at its core an effort to rearticulate and then recommit to the values that we hold dear.”

Prior to the first culture journey community assembly in May, faculty and staff were asked to select values that best represent the university culture they want to create. The top three were integrity, excellence and respect. Following that meeting, the university created focus groups and sent pulse polls to expand upon the definitions of these values.

U-M performance consultant Carmeda Stokes said the results, compiled from more than 3,000 responses, showed a majority of faculty and staff believes DEI should be combined as a single value rather than listed as separate values. The majority also concluded that excellence is an outcome as opposed to a value.

Stokes also said groups are continuing to analyze the polls, and further refinement of the definitions of the values is underway.

“We are at a unique moment, one of shared commitment to coming together, stating our values explicitly and working together to ensure we live those values day in and day out, no matter what our role is in the university,” Stokes said.

During a Q&A session that was part of the assembly, pre-submitted questions sought insight on the university’s efforts to restore trust within the U-M community and the plans to create a culture that promotes belonging, equity and inclusion for all students, faculty and staff.

During the session, Tabbye Chavous, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, elaborated on the university’s steps toward a fair and equitable culture amid the Black, Indigenous and People of Color community’s fight for culture change.

“One of the things that is exciting about the DEI strategic planning process that we’ve been engaged in is that it is exactly about culture change around DEI that is moving away from DEI being relegated to the responsibility of particular communities in particular spaces, to it being standard operating practice across our units and across our institutions,” Chavous said.

The discussion also touched upon flexibility with hybrid working. Rich Holcomb, associate vice president for human resources, described the work being done by a committee Coleman announced last spring, and which plans to issue recommendations by the end of the calendar year.

“We’re looking at policies, practices, tools that can support the various forms of work and levels of flexibility for the units to adopt, and we need to be creative in how we define flexibility,” Holcomb said. “Our university is really too big and comprehensive and complex to apply a single approach for the entire organization.”

In the coming months, the university will continue to engage with the campus community about defining its top values through conversations with faculty and staff stakeholder groups.

“We look forward to continuing our journey, to identifying unifying shared values to guide how we create a workplace culture where all can thrive,” Jacobs said.

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