A message to the University of Michigan Faculty Senate

Dear Colleagues:

A number of you have asked questions or expressed frustration or disappointment over the decisions that went into offering in-person instruction this semester, the process that went into making those decisions, and the amount of information we’ve shared about our COVID-19 plans.

Additionally, I know that many of you have asked for more detail around key components of our COVID-19 response. Those details are now published here.

I credit and thank the members of SACUA, the Faculty Senate and individuals and groups in our community for helping to keep these issues at the fore.

The decisions about the current semester were and continue to be highly complex. The leadership team and I consulted with faculty and staff experts on the many dimensions of the pandemic, including health and safety, jobs, revenue uncertainties, and challenges to our academic and research enterprises before making decisions about fall or the measures we took throughout the summer.

From the very beginning, we held on tightly to the principles we stated early on: to continue to deliver each critical component of the mission of the University of Michigan to the full extent possible given the constraints of the pandemic, while always valuing, protecting and supporting our people. We sought to preserve the University of Michigan’s long-term excellence – including the values of diversity, equity and inclusion – and to communicate frequently, effectively and thoughtfully with our community.

I can assure you that we never strayed from these principles.

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. This has contributed to an erosion of trust for which I am ultimately responsible. I would like to begin to rectify that.

On this point, I commit to finding more and better ways to seek ongoing faculty input and engagement during this pandemic and beyond.

In collaboration with Provost Collins and with the advice of SACUA and others, I plan to set up a faculty group specifically devoted to the issues raised by COVID-19 on campus. This will be in addition to the faculty experts who have been and will continue to advise us on community health and safety issues since the beginning of the pandemic. The provost and I would meet regularly with this new group to discuss the impacts of the pandemic on campus and in our broader community and work together to improve our campus’ response.

We will explore similar structures to improve engagement with undergraduate and graduate student governments and our Voices of the Staff group.

In addition, I would like to reinstitute doing something that I did my first summer here on campus: visiting each of our schools and colleges and meeting with faculty.  My current inclination is that there will be no pre-set agenda, just a discussion about what’s on your minds and mine. I enjoyed and benefited from this back in 2014 as I was first learning about the campus as a new president – and the discussions led to several great ideas.

I am open to other suggestions for how to develop a broader and deeper relationship with Michigan faculty, students and staff during these challenging times.

The full Faculty Senate will be meeting tomorrow to consider a number of resolutions related to our COVID-19 plans, and I encourage all eligible members to vote. I will be attending the meeting and speaking, as well.

Finally, I invite all of you to view the faculty conversation that Provost Collins and I had earlier today with Prof. Scott Page from our College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and Ross School of Business. We invited him to pose any questions he would like on COVID-19 or related issues and appreciate his candor and ability to drive the discussion of many important issues. The full video of the event will be available on the University Record website as soon as it’s ready.

During that conversation, we discussed the importance of engaging with the societal crisis around policing. 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.

Together with our community, we will build an initiative on public safety and policing that identifies what is going well, what needs to be improved, and how we can address anything that is not working. The leadership team, including Division of Public Safety and Security Executive Director Eddie Washington, fully supports the goal of U-M being a model for others to follow.

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.

Thank you very much for your commitment to our university, and I look forward to better and more frequent discussions with you.


Mark S. Schlissel