Michigan president Mark Schlissel fired over employee ‘affair’

Anonymous complaint produces evidence of long-running relationship with employee; former president Coleman to temporarily lead institution

January 17, 2022
Source: University of Michigan
Mark Schlissel

The University of Michigan has fired its president, Mark Schlissel, after investigating allegations that he engaged in a sexual relationship with an employee.

Mary Sue Coleman, a former president of the university and of the Association of American Universities, was named by the institution’s board of regents to temporarily replace Professor Schlissel.

In announcing its decision to fire Professor Schlissel, the regents released more than 100 pages of email exchanges between Professor Schlissel and the employee involved dating back to September 2019. The board said that the investigation “revealed that your interactions with the subordinate were inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan”.

The records released include emails using official university addresses where Professor Schlissel referred to the employee as “sexier”, and describe numerous meetings involving university events including the Big Ten conference football championship game last month in Indianapolis where he referenced a “President’s Suite briefing” and told her, “You can give me a private briefing.”

The investigation arose from an anonymous complaint last month, the regents said.

The regents, in a letter of dismissal, told Professor Schlissel they considered the matter “particularly egregious considering your knowledge of 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”.

Professor Schlissel’s removal comes less than two years after that of his provost, Martin Philbert, also because of sexual misconduct allegations. At that time, Professor Schlissel wrote to the Michigan community saying the incident taught him not only “how many people were badly hurt by Philbert’s behaviour, but also how afraid they were about coming forward”.

Also in 2020, Professor Schlissel narrowly fought off a faculty senate vote of no confidence over concerns about his handling of Covid and of campus-wide sexual assault and harassment complaints. He then announced this past October his plans to leave the presidency in June 2023, ahead of his contract expiration.

That departure agreement called for him to be paid his $927,000 (£678,000) salary for another two years after he left. His forced dismissal voids that severance and gives him 30 days to leave the presidential residence.

Michigan is one of the top public US research universities, with nearly 50,000 students on its main campus in Ann Arbor.

Dr Coleman led the institution from 2002 to 2014, when Professor Schlissel took over, and will again lead it until a permanent successor is found. “While deeply saddened by the circumstances of the invitation,” Dr Coleman said in her own letter to the community, “I accepted the interim appointment because of my love and respect for this institution.”


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