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Michigan faculty: "no confidence" vote in president did, in fact, pass

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

Update: Friday, September 18, 6:40 p.m.: The faculty Senate at the University of Michigan has voted "no confidence" in President Mark Schlissel's administration.  

That announcement, however, comes two days after the vote itself took place. That's because the "no confidence" motion was initially ruled to have failed during the September 16 meeting, when 957 faculty members voted in support of the motion, 953 voted in opposition, and 184 said they were abstaining. A majority of all votes cast is required for a motion to pass, and the Senate's interim secretary incorrectly counted those abstentions as part of the total votes. 

"Abstentions should not have been counted as votes, and Motion 6 should have passed," faculty Senate chair Colleen Conway said in an email addressed to all faculty Friday afternoon. "We ask for your patience and understanding while we not only discussed how abstentions should be handled, but we also discussed in depth our concerns about the lack of accessibility to voting experienced by some of our colleagues."

Update, Thursday, September 17, 10:24 a.m.: The University of Michigan faculty Senate leadership is reviewing whether a second motion of "no confidence" in President Mark Schlissel's administration did, in fact, narrowly fail as announced during a contentious meeting Wednesday. 

According to faculty senate chair Colleen Conway, while there was some confusion about how to properly interpret the electronic voting results, the takeaway from meeting remains the same: widely shared concern about the administration's handling of both the University's reopening plan and broader campus safety. 

"To me the bottom line is, the message is the same in my mind: whether we’re calling this a vote of no confidence or not, the message has been sent. At the end of the day, we can get really lost in these numbers, or we can pick up our bootstraps [and move forward.]"

The faculty senate considered two motions of no confidence Wednesday. The initial motion, which was the second item on the agenda, is called Motion 2. Motion 2 criticized the administration's reopening more broadly, but failed by a vote of 915-991, with 198 abstentions. 

Later in the meeting, an additional motion of no confidence (aka Motion 6) was considered. That motion, while similar in criticizing the school's reopening plans, was more critical of President Schlissel in particular.

It also said Schlissel "failed to properly and effectively address reports of [former Provost] Martin Philbert’s misconduct, despite the university receiving information 'various times over the course of more than 15 years, including during key periods when he was under consideration and later selected for senior positions within the university,'" quoting a report done by an outside firm the University hired to investigate Philbert. 

Faculty senate members voted 957-953 in favor of the second no-confidence proposal, with 184 abstentions. As the University Recordexplains:

"David Potter, the senate’s interim secretary, counted abstentions among the total number of members voting and announced at the meeting that the no-confidence motion against Schlissel had failed. According to Faculty Senate rules, more than 50 percent of those voting must favor a motion for it to pass." 

Now, Conway says, they're reviewing whether the abstentions should in fact have been counted. Part of the complexity has to do with electronic voting: Potter was able to see how many people voted yes, no, or abstained, as well as how many people just didn't vote in the poll at all. 

"In David’s mind, our rules state that it has to be a majority of those who voted in order for the motion to pass," Conway said Thursday. "He called it at the time, but we’re going to take a couple of days [to review it]...and to seek some outside counsel.


"If we decide in the next couple of days that that [motion] should have passed, we’ll announce it."


 Original post, Wednesday September 16: A University of Michigan faculty Senate vote of “no confidence” in President Mark Schlissel’s administration narrowly failed Wednesday, the latest development on the increasingly unsettled campus.

The failedmotion reads as follows:

“WHEREAS, public health experts have widely condemned the University’s re-opening plan; Whereas, the Ethics and Privacy Committee appointed by the UM President has declared that it does not meet “the reasonable standard for safety recommended by our report”; WHEREAS, staff, graduate students, undergraduate students, and faculty have expressed that they do not feel safe; WHEREAS, vulnerable populations in Ann Arbor and beyond will bear the biggest burden should infection spread widely, WHEREAS, the faculty of the University of Michigan has lost trust in the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, BE IT RESOLVED that the Faculty Senate of the University of Michigan has no confidence in the administration’s re-opening plan.”

Members of the Graduate Employees' Organization (GEO), which is in its second week of striking, expressed frustration and disappointment in the outcome of the vote. 
Still, the vote was hardly a validation of the administration and its handling of the school’s re-opening: 991 faculty members voted against the motion, with 915 voting in support and 198 abstaining, according to early social media reports. Representatives of the faculty Senate didn’t immediately respond to requests for final numbers.

President Mark Schlissel addressed faculty ahead of the vote, saying school leaders hear the community’s concerns, and are ramping up testing across campus.

In a letter to facultysent Tuesday, Schlissel reiterated assurances that, while decisions around re-opening the University’s dorms and some in-person classes had been difficult, those calls had been made with expert guidance.

“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,” the letter read.

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

Just hours earlier, members and supporters of the GEO held a press conference on an otherwise largely quiet central campus about their ongoing strike.

Student dining worker Nik Von Seggern said they wouldn’t be coming back to work until staffers could be routinely tested for COVID-19.

“Because the dance building, which is right next to where I work, has 10% of its department quarantined right now. I wondered, how many of these students who would go to class there would come over to our dining hall to eat?” said Von Seggern.

Zoey Angers, an undergraduate and resident advisor, told the socially-distanced gathering that someone in her East Quad dorm tested positive for COVID-19, but isn't coming forward, so the RA team only learned about it secondhand.

“If housing had any commitment to thorough testing, then each student in that hallway would be tested immediately. But when we reported this to central housing, they said there was nothing they could do,” said Angers.

Michigan Radio asked housing administrators and the university’s public affairs office for comment on these allegations, but the school did not immediately respond.

Hours after two groups of GEO picketers marched with signs reading “ON STRIKE: U-MICH WORKS BECAUSE WE DO” or “HEALTH OVER WEALTH,” GEO leadership announced an emergency meeting Wednesday evening.

“We have been on strike and are gaining momentum! Come to this emergency meeting; we are expecting an offer shortly. We will decide on the offer and discuss the injunction,” a reference to the University’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop the strike.

Editor's note: the initial post has been corrected to give the accurate count of yes, no, and abstention votes for Motion 2. The U of M holds Michigan Radio's license.


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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