Alumni Q&A With President Schlissel

On behalf of U-M President Mark Schlissel, the Alumni Association thanks our alumni who submitted questions and took part in this event. For those who were not able to attend, the recording of the event is available below.

Additional Written Responses

Provided on Dec. 17, 2020.

Q: The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging and stressing institutions of learning in profound ways. Many institutions that were already struggling financially may not survive this new challenge. What impact does that have on U-M in general and specifically as it relates to plans for tuition, financial aid, investment in equipment and infrastructure that isn’t being used, etc.?

A: The University’s financial situation has been stabilized in the short term, but there is much uncertainty ahead. As we move into the winter semester, the University continues to make significant investments in technology and training to help instructors create the best possible remote learning experiences that allow students to maintain academic progress and work toward their degrees. In addition, we will continue to provide services like Counseling and Psychological Services and career counseling and offer many co-curricular opportunities online. The University continues to meet its commitments for student financial aid, including the Go Blue Guarantee for in-state undergraduates. The hiring and salary freeze remains in place along with strict limits on discretionary spending and travel. Planning for the fiscal year 2022 budget is just getting underway now.

Q: Based on what you have seen and heard, how are students managing remote and online learning? Has the University considered classes being offered synchronously, even if they also have to be recorded for students in other time zones?

A: The University surveyed students about their experiences during the fall semester and incorporated that data and other engagements and feedback into winter term planning. With such a large and diverse student body, it’s no surprise that there was a wide range of responses.

Academic leaders have developed tools to help enhance the teaching and learning experience, and the University is providing support resources to instructors and students. The University offers an array of academic support and accommodation resources for students to balance academic focus online and maintain health and well-being.

Instructors have noted the advantages and disadvantages of synchronous and asynchronous instruction in remote classes. It’s important to note that we’re also learning during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. U-M’s schools and colleges are committed to learning from the experiences of students and instructors.

The health and well-being of our entire community is our highest priority. Our goal is to best serve our mission while balancing that with the health and safety of everybody in the community. 

Q: Now that cases are on the rise all over the country, is there a chance sporting events will be stopped?

Update as of Jan. 23, 2021 — the University of Michigan Athletic Department has immediately paused athletic activities in all sports, including games, team, and individual training sessions, until further notice and up to 14 days.

A: The University of Michigan Athletic Department cancelled the final three football games of the regular season because of an increasing number of positive COVID-19 cases and student-athletes in quarantine. We will continue to monitor conditions closely to maximize the safety of our student-athletes, coaches, and staff.

From a public health and safety perspective, testing is one of the many tools we have integrated into our public health-informed practices, including frequent testing of student-athletes. The Big Ten Conference provides testing for student-athletes, and this does not affect testing capacity for others on our campus. We are relying on daily testing for student-athletes since their sport does not allow them to use methods to prevent the spread of disease available to everyone else — masks, social distancing, and the avoidance of interacting with large groups of people. 

Q: How can alumni assist with addressing how the COVID pandemic is disproportionately affecting students and people of color?

A: U-M researchers have embraced our public mission and are conducting research on virtually all aspects of the pandemic, including its disproportionate effects on different communities and the inequities and structural racism that underlie those disparities.

Inspired by donors, the University has created COVID-19 support funds to provide support to students in need and to research and educational initiatives. We would encourage U-M alumni to reach out to the Alumni Association on ways to support students and the broader U-M community. 

Q: What can we expect from U-M leadership now that the political climate is shifting? Specifically, how are you addressing Black Lives Matter and the events that are occurring in relation to them? Aside from inclusion policies, what is actively being done to ensure that BLM is being discussed and, essentially, being implemented on campus?

A: The University has launched a number of new anti-racism initiatives, and enhanced a number of existing programs, as part of a national reckoning on race and as deep-rooted structural inequities in American life have been magnified. The initiatives, as well as the University’s new George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, are designed to further advance the University’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; anti-racism education; and the DEI Strategic Plan. The University’s new and updated anti-racism initiatives include:

  • Creating a task force on policing and public safety for the Ann Arbor campus.
  • Hiring at least 20 new full-time faculty members in the next three years with scholarly expertise in racial inequality and structural racism.
  • Expanding resources and infrastructure to support new and current U-M scholars working in the area of anti-racism.
  • Reevaluating race and ethnicity curriculum requirements across the University’s 19 schools and colleges.
  • Strengthening faculty and staff professional development opportunities related to anti-racism.
  • Incorporating ways to address structural racism in the University’s Democracy & Debate Theme Semester.
  • Creating a task force to develop a community-engaged process for diversifying the names considered for campus spaces, facilities, and streets.

Read more on the University’s efforts here.