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Former Brown Provost Mark Schlissel fired as University of Michigan president for inappropriate relationship

Firing followed years of complaints, including unanimous faculty vote of no-confidence

<p>Schlissel served as Brown provost from July 2012 to 2014 and served as University of Michigan president for over seven years<strong>.</strong></p>

Schlissel served as Brown provost from July 2012 to 2014 and served as University of Michigan president for over seven years.

The University of Michigan's Board of Regents voted unanimously Jan. 15 to fire its president and former Brown provost Mark Schlissel P’15 effective immediately.

In a letter to Schlissel, the Regents wrote that the termination comes in response to an anonymous complaint about an alleged sexual affair between Schlissel and an individual who was his subordinate. The complaint alleged that the affair was “inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan.”

The Regents appointed Mary Sue Coleman, former president of the University of Michigan, as interim president.

The letter lists five occasions in which Schlissel exchanged inappropriate messages with a subordinate using his University of Michigan email. A Sept. 1 email was addressed “to the (individual’s) University email and referred to her as ‘sexier.’” On Dec. 3, Schlissel responded to the individual in an email by writing, “You can give me a private briefing.”

In total, the Board released 118 pages of messages exchanged between Schlissel and the individual from September 2019 to December 2021. 

Schlissel could not be reached for comment.

Schlissel served as Brown’s provost from July 2011 to July 2014. As provost, Schlissel oversaw the strategic planning of Building on Distinction: A New Plan for Brown, a plan to strengthen academic excellence through increased faculty support and financial aid. Additionally, as chair of the Academic Priorities Committee, the University Resources Committee and the Space Committee at Brown, he worked closely with faculty and students. 

University spokesperson Brian Clark declined to comment about Schlissel’s firing and referred The Herald to the University of Michigan.

Associate Vice President for Public Affairs at the University of Michigan Rick Fitzgerald referred The Herald to a press release announcing Schlissel’s firing and declined to comment further.

After he left Brown, Schlissel went on to spend over seven years as University of Michigan’s 14th president.

Rebekah Modrak, professor at Michigan’s Stamps School of Art and Design, sponsored a September 2020 unanimous faculty vote of no-confidence against Schlissel before allegations of the inappropriate relationship surfaced. In an email to The Herald, she wrote that faculty had previous concerns with Schlissel, and his termination was “long past due.”

The faculty vote of no-confidence came in response to Schlissel’s “poor COVID management, disdain for faculty expertise and concerns, his appointment of an alleged sexual predator as Provost in 2017 and his failure to acknowledge responsibility for his role in empowering an alleged predator,” Modrak wrote.

“He should have been fired for his role in appointing Martin Philbert to provost, despite numerous warnings — over a period of at least 13 years — of Philbert’s sexual misconduct including butt-grabbing, showing nude photos of women to students, inappropriate sexualized comments and advances and manipulating and threatening subordinates,” she wrote.

Modrak cited the University of Michigan’s Standard Practice Guide 201.97, which addresses supervisor-employee relationships. It requires faculty to disclose supervisor-employee relationships to prevent abuse of power and coercion and ensure fairness among all employees. Similarly, Brown has a Non-Fraternization Policy that sets rules for supervisor and employee or student relationships.

Modrak noted that the Standard Practice Guide was created by Schlissel himself in response to the Philbert investigation in August 2020. The investigation found that former University of Michigan provost Martin Philbert was sexually harrassing female employees and graduate students.

In a letter addressed to the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor community from Aug. 3, 2020, Schlissel wrote, “we will need an environment where it is safe to report free from the fear of retaliation. It is appalling that we have been unable to accomplish this.”

In the letter, he wrote that he had missed an anonymous allegation of sexual misconduct against Philbert in 2019, and that if he had seen it, he “would have reported it immediately to the Office for Institutional Equity for evaluation.”

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Schlissel began his term as provost of Brown University in July 2012. In fact, Schlissel began his term in July 2011. The Herald regrets the error.

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