Michigan Fires President

Mark Schlissel accused of an affair with a subordinate. Board of Regents cited his “inappropriate” tone and language.

January 15, 2022
 
University of Michigan
Dr. Mark Schlissel

The University of Michigan Board of Regents fired its president, Dr. Mark Schlissel, Saturday after investigating an anonymous complaint that he was having an affair with a subordinate.

“As you know, the regents received an anonymous complaint regarding an alleged sexual affair between you and a subordinate. An investigation has revealed that your interactions with the subordinate were inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan,” said a letter signed by the regents.

The letter cited examples. “On July 1, 2021, you exchanged emails with the subordinate using your University of Michigan email. In this exchange, she states that her ‘heart hurts’ to which you respond ‘i know. mine too.’ You state that ‘this is my fault’ and that you are ‘in pain too.’ You finish with ‘I still wish I were strong enough to find a way.’”

Or: “On January 9, 2021, you responded to an email from the subordinate’s official University of Michigan email address. In her email, the subordinate had said ‘Oh yes!’ In your response you wrote: ‘Love it when you say that.’ You made a similar remark in an email dated April 25, 2020.”

Or: “On September 1, 2021, you wrote to the subordinate’s official university email address and referred to her as ‘sexier.’”

The emails “demonstrate that you were communicating with a subordinate through the University of Michigan email system using an inappropriate tone and inappropriate language,” the letter to Schlissel said. “They also demonstrate that you were using official University of Michigan business as a means to pursue and carry out a personal relationship with the subordinate.”

He was ordered to return all property “associated” with his presidency and to vacate the presidential mansion within 30 days.

In October, Schlissel announced that he would step down from the presidency in June 2023, a year earlier than the end of his previously announced term. Schlissel’s announcement came slightly more than a year after faculty members narrowly voted no confidence in his leadership and amid recent tensions between him and faculty members, as well as the university’s Board of Regents.

The Emails

The Board of Regents released the emails involved.

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The regents said, “In the interest of full public disclosure, we have released dozens of Dr. Schlissel’s communications that illustrate this inappropriate conduct, as well as the letter that we sent to Dr. Schlissel explaining our decision. All this information is available on the university’s website. Our community and our state deserve as complete an understanding of this situation as possible.”

Mary Sue Coleman, a former president at Michigan, will serve as interim president. She is a former president of the Association of American Universities.

Coleman said in a statement, “While saddened by the circumstances, I am honored to be asked to again serve the University of Michigan. When I left the U-M campus at the end of my presidency in 2014, I said serving this great university was the most rewarding experience of my professional life. I’m happy to serve again in this important interim role.”

In November 2020, the university agreed to pay $9.25 million to eight women whom Martin Philbert, a former provost, harassed during his tenure.

Michigan released Philbert from his duties in January of 2020 and later released an outside report finding that he’d harassed women over two decades, starting when he was an assistant professor. While he was dean of the School of Public Health, prior to becoming provost, Philbert engaged in sexual relationships with at least three staff members, using university offices to do so and storing explicit photos on his university-owned devices, Michigan’s inquiry also found. As provost, Philbert was in simultaneous sexual relationships with at least two university employees, according to the investigation. Philbert did not participate in the inquiry, which also found that some university officials knew about the behavior but did not formally look into it.

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