Academic Senate discusses mental health, diversity, and pandemic ramifications

CMU Vice President Betty Kirby and Associate Vice President Kaleb Patrick present on "CMU Online and Innovation" at the Academic Senate meeting Tuesday.

During its first meeting in November, the Academic Senate discussed the upcoming semester break, various faculty and student concerns, and updates to Central Michigan University’s online education programs. 

Semester Breaks

When senators had an opportunity to raise questions to President Bob Davies, Senator Amanda Garrison raised a concern about the abnormally short length of the upcoming break between the fall and winter semesters. This year's winter break for students is from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9, according to the CMU Academic Calendar, while faculty and staff have from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2. 

“I’m really concerned about the sustainability of our spirits, our morale and so on with the break so short and not enough time to refresh or rejuvenate between the fall and spring semesters,” Garrison said. 

Garrison also pointed out that the recent pandemic was not a temporary hiccup in university or global activities. Instead, Garrison said, it has changed the way we do everything. 

“We have not had any healing time from the trauma of that,” Garrison said. “We have not had any recuperation time."

Davies said the reason the schedule may not reflect student need after the pandemic is how far ahead the academic calendar is established. 

"The academic calendar is set on a five or six year rotating basis," Davies said. "As we think about that in the future, that's something that we'll definitely attack."

Hiring new professors

Senator Alan Rudy asked Davies about the hiring process for new professors in his department. Rudy said there is a significant difference in the diversity represented by the students in the department and the faculty members who teach them. 

Rudy was also concerned about the hiring budget for transitioning new faculty members into CMU. 

“We’re not funding their time here,” said Rudy. “(It) really worries me about the message it’s sending to the students – sending to the faculty.”

Healthcare for international students

Carolina Hernandez Ruiz, a second year pre-medicine student from Spain, asked Davies about health insurance policies for international students like herself. Ruiz was there with the other senators representing the student body. Her questions were also raised in a recent Central Michigan Life guest column

Davies said CMU only started requiring health insurance for its international students last year, and is providing comparably low priced insurance. 

“That was one of the requirements that we put forward and one of the requests that came back,” said Davies. “We will continue to work with the international students to fully understand their concerns.”

CMU Online and Innovation

Vice President Betty Kirby and Associate Vice President Kaleb Patrick presented “Online and Innovation,” the newest stage of CMU’s online and distance learning initiatives. 

The CMU Board of Trustees approved the initiative in June 2022. This new approach, Kirby said, is intended to better accommodate current learning trends for higher education. 

Kirby said that, for many young people, mobility is a priority, and some pursue their degrees in “bursts,” taking a few classes or a year of classes at a time. This is also an approach that makes higher education more accessible, she said. 

“We’re going to have to look for other ways to bring in students and adult learners,” said Kirby.

Kirby said these online options also better serve students who are active duty in the military, earning degrees from various locations around the U.S. and the world.

Approving new honors course

A new Honors 209 course “Discrimination in the United States,” was on the agenda and gained senate approval.

The course would examine different forms of discrimination throughout U.S. history, and is a response to surveyed student interest in more courses pertaining to cultural diversity, Honors Program Coordinator Zachary Evans said. 

Every first year student in the Honors Program is required to take a seminar class their first semester. There are usually seven to nine options provided. 

Evans explained that the new course would be another option for incoming honors students to choose from. 

Eliminating Health Communications Minor

The senate voted to remove health communications as an available minor program because there are no students currently in the program. 

Instead of offering the minor, the senate will consider making the program into a certificate, according to Senate Chair Tracy Davis.

Academic Senate meetings are held from 3:30 to 5 p.m. bi-weekly on Tuesdays in the French Auditorium. Meeting livestreams and recordings are on the senate website