Message from the Director
In a topsy-turvy world, University Senate governance carries on...
Since March, we have heard the words "unprecedented," "unusual," "challenging," "unparalleled," "unequaled" and "extraordinary" to describe what we are experiencing. While our physical campuses have been unusually quiet, a lot has happened in University Senate governance since the May Spring 2020 Semester Update. The University, Civil Service, P&A, Student, and Faculty Senates and their committees have been busy discussing, organizing, developing responses to administrative proposals, and responding to the issues of our time related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. The University Senate met five times over the summer, and consultative and other committees have been meeting regularly. In my humble opinion, the words to describe the result of the work of those who demonstrated their commitment and effort throughout the summer—working long hours, and often on weekends, in support of our University—are the same as the times we are currently in: "unprecedented," "unusual, "unparalleled," and "extraordinary." Who are they? They are you—who have chosen to contribute to the greater good of the University through your service in University Senate governance, and you have done it with aplomb. On behalf of the University community, thank you for your outstanding service.
Once again, fall is in the air and it is the time of the year that typically brings excitement and energy to the campus. No, it is not the same this year. Far from it; but if we close our eyes and let our minds go there, we can feel it; we can hear it; and we can see it. Let’s work together to keep each other safe and to suppress this virus so that we can be back together one day soon.
Have a safe and productive semester. Please mask up!
Vickie Courtney, director
The Big Issues
Last spring, we found ourselves in a new working and learning environment when the University transitioned to emergency contingency planning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtually all aspects of higher education were impacted by these changes, and, in anticipation of resulting budgetary challenges, President Gabel charged a Finance and Operations Planning Work Group (Work Group) in April 2020 to provide her with recommendations on strategic plans related to the institution’s financial future. The Work Group developed its plan in alignment with a set of guiding principles, including retainment of current employees, whenever possible, and to scale a salary reduction plan to weight more of the financial burden on individuals with higher salaries.
After consultation with a number of senate committees by the Work Group, the Faculty Consultative Committee (FCC) voted to support a temporary reduction of faculty compensation and issued a statement. Additionally, the P&A Consultative Committee (PACC) and the Civil Service Consultative Committee (CSCC) offered valuable feedback to senior leaders (see letter from CSCC members to the co-chairs of the Work Group here, and the letter that PACC sent to the Work Group here).
Then, on June 9, 2020, a Faculty Senate special meeting was held to discuss a faculty salary reduction proposal pursuant to Section 4.5 of the Board of Regents Policy: Faculty Tenure in response to the University’s financial stringency declaration due to COVID-19. During the senate meeting, an alternate proposal was introduced and the two were debated. In the end, the Faculty Senate voted to endorse the alternate plan with a salary reduction for faculty (although it impacted other employee groups as well) who earn $60,000 or more. The proposal was approved by the Board of Regents at its June 11, 2020, meeting.
As we all know, while we are not “out of the woods” yet in regard to the pandemic, President Gabel continues to engage with the Work Group, senior leaders, and shared governance to develop a long-term financial plan for the institution.
The Senate Responds to George Floyd's Murder
The heinous killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020, sent a shockwave through the city, University, state, and country, and ignited calls to action in sectors ranging from education to professional sports. The University Senate Equity, Access, and Diversity Committee (EAD) called an emergency meeting for that Friday to respond to this tragic and infuriating event. At that meeting, the committee drafted a statement of support for the actions of then-president of the Minnesota Student Association (MSA), Jael Kerandi, and President Joan Gabel. The statement also called for the formation of a University task force on racism at the University, among other things. EAD advocated for an amendment to the agenda for a previously-scheduled University Senate meeting on June 1, 2020, allowing the body to address the statement before discussing financial matters related to the pandemic. The Senate Consultative Committee agreed to this amendment, and a passionate discussion of the statement ensued at that meeting. Senators offered myriad amendments to the statement, which EAD revised and brought back to the University Senate on June 5, 2020, for a vote. The senate endorsed the statement at that time, and President Gabel made a commitment to action on this issue. The Office of the President is now in the process of creating the task force called for in the statement. While acknowledging that these actions are not nearly sufficient to fix or atone for centuries of racism, EAD hopes that these will be the start of meaningful change that is long overdue.
Students Stand Up for Justice, Equality, and Reform
The killing of George Floyd and ensuing cries for justice, equality, and reform have been heard across the country over the past several months. These calls for change are happening on a number of different levels, including calls from University students who want change within the University community. Toward that effort, several proposals were brought to the June 29, 2020, University Senate meeting for information that addressed student concerns regarding policing, weapons on campus, campus safety, and campus climate in general.
In addition, at that same meeting, senators discussed and voted on a proposal for a University Senate bylaw change to create a campus safety committee under the rubric of University Senate governance. The discussion indicated considerable appreciation for the concerns raised by the senators who wrote the proposed amendment, and it also raised concerns about the need for further consultation and suggested ideas on how the bylaw amendment could be improved. The amendment was favored by a majority of the senators who were present and voting. However, the vote did not meet the threshold required by the University Senate Constitution for a bylaw change (a majority of all voting members of the University Senate). Further steps will be discussed at upcoming Senate Consultative Committee meetings and the University Senate will be informed of the outcome of these deliberations.
New Title IX Regulations
On May 6, 2020, the federal government announced changes to requirements on how universities respond to sexual misconduct cases, including how investigations, hearings, and appeals, must be conducted. The deadline given to universities to have their plans in place was August 14, 2020. Tina Marisam, director and Title IX coordinator, Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, working along with students, faculty, and P&A and civil service staff, worked tirelessly to arrive at a single, compliant sexual misconduct grievance process for all University members systemwide. This required leadership from the Faculty Consultative Committee, Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, Senate Committee on Faculty Affairs, and the Senate Judicial Committee to propose an amendment to the Board of Regents Policy: Faculty Tenure that would bring the policy into compliance with the new Title IX regulations. After significant consultation, faculty leadership recommended to amend the policy to apply the preponderance of the evidence standard and to carve out sexual misconduct from the tenure policy. Composition of the hearing panels was another consideration that required significant discussion and consultation among students, faculty, and P&A and civil service staff. It was their strong preference that hearing panels be composed of five members—not three, as proposed by the policy owner. The proposal was discussed at the June 29, 2020, University Senate meeting and then approved by the University Senate on July 15, 2020, with the caveat that the hearing panels would be composed of five members. The Board of Regents considered the proposal at its July 30, 2020, special meeting. While the board approved the changes to the tenure policy and administrative policy that address the federal Title IX regulations, some board members raised concern about the efficacy of a five member panel. In response, on August 11, 2020, leadership of several committees sent a letter to the board reaffirming their position on this issue.
Over the course of the summer, University leaders worked diligently to create plans to allow students, faculty, and staff to return safely to campus, especially if their work could only be done on campus. During Julymester, in-person courses were considered successfully delivered, with students, staff, and faculty following the safety protocols, inspiring optimism for the fall. However, many higher education institutions across the country saw spikes in COVID-19 transmission as the fall semester started, and in some cases, the institutions were forced to change their approaches to online learning to slow the virus’s spread in their communities. As a result, University leaders developed the Maroon and Gold Sunrise Plan for fall 2020. In response to this updated plan, student leaders from the various governance groups expressed their concerns to President Gabel and members of the Board of Regents in a letter dated September 2, 2020, and P&A and civil service leaders expressed their concerns, particularly about safety issues, to President Gabel in a letter dated September 9, 2020. As with everything else during this pandemic, it stands to reason that plans may change as the circumstances shift.