For years, leaders at the University of Michigan have been entangled by sexual misconduct allegations involving employees, both past and present. The fallout continues.
Just as a $490 million settlement was reached with more than 1,000 victims who had been assaulted by Dr. Robert Anderson, a sports doctor employed by the university for decades, President Mark S. Schlissel was removed from office by the board of regents.
The cited reason was “ …information about an inappropriate relationship with a university employee.”
Although he was immediately released from presidential duties, Schlissel still has the potential to hold a professorship position at the school.
Reasons Behind the U-M President’s Removal
The board announced the decision on January 15 and explained it came about after receiving an anonymous complaint about the improprieties.
“After an investigation, we learned that Dr. Schlissel, over a period of years, used his University email account to communicate with that subordinate in a manner inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the University,” the announcement stated.
The regents also shared the dismissal letter sent to Schlissel, who began serving as University of Michigan’s president in 2014. The former president was already navigating treacherous waters and planned to step down in 2023, one year earlier than initially scheduled.
The letter expressed that the board considered his conduct was particularly egregious “…considering your knowledge and involvement in addressing incidents of harassment by University of Michigan personnel, and your declared commitment to work to ‘free’ the university community of sexual harassment or other improper conduct.” it said.
Along with the Dr. Anderson case, another major case the regents were referring to was no doubt that of Martin Philbert, a former provost at the University of Michigan. In 2020, after Schlissel received an anonymous letter about sexual misconduct allegations against Philbert, the university unraveled the former provost’s long history of misconduct involving employees and students, which eventually led to Schlissel dismissing him on January 21, 2020.
Back then, Schlissel stressed the school’s stand against sexually inappropriate behavior to the students, faculty, and U-M community. At the time, he stated, “We take allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously, and our policy is clear: Sexual misconduct will not be tolerated in the University of Michigan community.”
The University of Michigan settled with eight of Philbert’s accusers for $9.25 million later that year.
And last fall, as the pandemic raged and school officials were overhauling safety policies in light of revelations concerning Dr. Anderson, it was clear Schlissel was losing the support of students, faculty, as well as the board of regents. However, it would not be made public until weeks later. The board, deeply divided over his performance, met with Schlissel in September 2021, at which time he agreed to the early departure.
However, all previous deals are off the table with the new revelations.
While an investigation against Schlissel is ongoing with the board of regents looking into the possibility of the former president using university money to engage in the relationship, the board did release emails discovered on Schlissel’s school account.
The board explained the decision to share the emails was based on “… the interest of full public disclosure.’’
In a July 2021 email exchange, the employee wrote to Schlissel sharing that her “heart hurts.” Schlissel responded, “I know. mine too. He also said in that exchange, ”This is my fault” and that he was “in pain too.”
In an earlier email exchange in January of 2021, the employee emailed the statement: “Oh yes!” with the then-President Schlissel responding, “love it when you say that.”
Two days later, another email exchange was about an August 2019 article from The New Yorker titled “Sexual Fantasies of Everyday New Yorkers.”
Reaction From University of Michigan Sex Abuse Victims
Jon Vaughn, a former University of Michigan football player who went on to play in the NFL, was sexually abused by Dr. Anderson repeatedly from 1988-1990. For more than three months, Vaughn held daily protests outside the president’s residence urging school officials to have direct conversations with the victims.
After he received word of the board’s removal of Schlessel, Vaughn shared his reaction on Twitter:
“This news is fuel for my mission: the safety & protection of the students of this university. After 99 days of being ignored in front of former President Mark Schlissel’s home, the regents finally made 1 good choice. But there must be many more if U-M is to be fully accountable.”
Another victim, Robert Stone, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1972, followed by a master’s degree in 1973 from the University of Michigan, believes school officials have used tenure and “toxic masculinity” to help cover up misconduct.
“I don’t know how much embarrassment this university can take before they decide to make a true change of course,” Stone told the Associated Press. “But over time, if this continues, a degree from the University of Michigan is just going to be an embarrassment and it’s going to take a real change in attitude among the Board of Regents to turn this around.”
The news that Schlissel would be able to stay on as a professor was not revealed when the board of regents announced it was releasing him of his current duties. However, news reports, including one in the Detroit Free Press on Jan. 28, confirmed he could continue working for the school.
“Mark Schlissel is entitled to a tenure-track faculty position, which was granted as part of his initial employment contract at U-M and confirmed in his most recent contract,” University of Michigan spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed to the newspaper.
Former University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman has been appointed interim president. Schlissel’s removal and Coleman’s appointment will be affirmed during the board’s Feb. 17 formal session.