The University of Michigan College of Engineering has announced a newly formed committee to evaluate climate issues and lead recommendations for change within the Computer Science and Engineering Division (CSE). The CSE Climate Assessment Committee (CLASS) has been charged with organizing and overseeing an assessment of the overall culture and climate in CSE, in response to expressed concerns from students and other community members. The committee held its first public meeting with CSE community members on March 2.
Members of the CSE community have made calls for action to be taken to build a more inclusive climate. Issues including oversubscribed courses, the need for more support and participation for underrepresented students, and allegations of sexual misconduct involving Division faculty have all been raised as reasons to examine climate more closely. In an open letter, members of the CSE faculty and community urged Division, College, and University leadership to take several steps to “rebuild [student and community member] trust.” The letter requested that an outside consultant and panel be commissioned to review culture and practices.
“We are joining together in writing this letter because we believe that the faculty and administration need to earn back trust from students and community members and need to work to improve the CSE climate for ourselves, our students, and the broader community,” the letter said.
Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, announced formation of the CLASS Committee in February to help reach that target. The committee will select a third-party firm to complete an assessment of the Division’s climate, and, based on the outcome, develop a set of specific recommended actions for Division leadership.
“I recognize the strong sentiments that the recent incidents have raised in the CSE community. It will be upon us to engage everyone in a constructive and forward-looking discussion of what constitutes an inclusive and safe work environment.” says CLASS Committee Chair Tuija Pulkkinen.
In the initial community meeting with CSE, attended by more than 50 people, Pulkkinen outlined the selection criteria for the third-party firm, including experience with academic, diverse and underrepresented communities, and alignment with the College of Engineering values. The assessment will place a special emphasis on the experiences of diverse and underrepresented populations, she says.
The committee intends to conclude its work by July, 2021. Committee members have outlined several milestones, with a followup CSE community meeting to share preliminary findings in June. Throughout the process, the committee says it will inform community members of all progress both on a CSE climate initiatives website and through future email communications. The committee also discussed its willingness to join faculty, student organization, and staff meetings throughout the semester, and to reach out to involve others, such as alumni or parents. Members intend to schedule additional open community meetings as well, according to Pulkkinen.
“Transparency means different things to different people,” says committee member Westley Weimer, a professor in CSE. “To some, it means being able to see where we are in the process. To others, transparency may mean having multiple voices involved in the process and having your voice heard. While this sort of activity has happened elsewhere at the University,” Weimer continued, “An external climate assessment is new to CSE, and the burden is on this Committee to make all aspects of this process — from how we assess outside firms to what they find to how we interpret those results and what the recommendations are — clear to the community.”
Ultimately, Pulkkinen hopes to help CSE “build a better climate,” emphasizing a continued focus on giving “everyone the chance to work toward a common goal and grow professionally.”
The CLASS Committee is comprised of six members from the College of Engineering and CSE: Tuija Pulkkinen, CLaSP Department Chair; Jon Kinsey, College of Engineering Chief of Staff; Heidi Sherick, College of Engineering Director of Leadership Development; Mary-Ann Mycek, College of Engineering Associate Dean for Graduate and Professional Education, Professor of Biomedical Engineering; Rada Mihalcea, Janice M. Jenkins Collegiate Professor of Computer Science and Engineering; Westley Weimer, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Chair of the CSE Diversity and Outreach Committee.