Dear Michigan Engineering community,
Harassment and misconduct remain painfully prevalent in our field, as we know through a 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.
The vast majority of that comes through microaggressions, but it can also take the form of grave sexual misconduct. Recently, we have heard of visible allegations against members of our Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) division, including criminal charges against Professor Peter Chen in late January. While it is essential that each case is considered on its own terms, allowing due process to move forward, any allegation weighs heavily on all of us.
As a result, some students, faculty and staff have expressed feeling hurt, insecure and angry. I want this to be a place where our community feels safe and supported. We must work together to ensure that the future is better, and that no individual works in an environment where they feel unsafe.
We do not have any current evidence that there is a connection between the allegations and the CSE climate, however we cannot rule this out. The CSE department faculty has taken first steps in calling for outside help to evaluate how its climate can be improved, and trust rebuilt.
That is why I am announcing today several new initiatives:
- An independent, cross-departmental committee at the College, led by CLaSP Department Chair Tuija Pulkkinen. Their charge and goals are in development and will be shared soon.
- A third-party firm will be chosen by the committee and employed by the College to evaluate the current climate and make actionable recommendations. The outcomes will likely be applicable to the College at large, and will add to our diversity, equity and inclusivity actions.
- Communications mechanisms, including regular updates, will be deployed to maintain transparency and open lines for feedback and awareness.
These are just the first steps in how I will challenge our leadership, and indeed each of you, to participate in and take accountability for rooting out sexual harassment and misconduct within Engineering. I would like to thank CSE Department Chair Michael Wellman for his support of this process, which is independent of the work continuing within the department on several fronts to improve department culture and climate.
Tackling these deep-rooted societal problems is not easy, but now is the time to show leadership and step up to the challenge. Time and again over my nearly three decades at Michigan Engineering, I have seen us do just that. I have faith that we can do so again, striving to always be leaders and best, and to fulfill our mission to serve the common good.
Alec D. Gallimore, Ph.D.
Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering
Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor of Engineering
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Aerospace Engineering