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Etsy, ice cream and flirting: What emails show about U-M’s Mark Schlissel

Emails sent by former University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel reveal a man who shops online, watches popular TV and appeared to use his official email in a relationship that got him fired. (Courtesy photo)

The University of Michigan Board of Regents released more than 100 pages of email transcripts Saturday to back up allegations of an inappropriate relationship between President Mark Schlissel and a subordinate — a relationship that cost the 64-year-old his job and a multi-million dollar retirement package.

Taking over on an interim basis will be former U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, whom Schlissel succeeded in 2014.

Schlissel’s alleged relationship with an underling violates school policy against supervisors having romantic relationships with their employees, and comes at a time when the university was reeling from sex scandals involving a former provost and a former athletic department physician.

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The emails, all sent or received on Schlissel’s official U-M email account, appear to show a relationship that goes beyond normal boss/underling. 

They also appear to chronicle the arc of a relationship, from the 2019 sharing of a story about “Sexual Fantasies of Everyday New Yorkers” (Schlissel was born in Brooklyn), to, 13 months later, excitement over an order of Indian food (“Get psyched!” the college president wrote).

Beyond that, the emails offer a glimpse into the life of a married man who, until Saturday, led one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. 

Bridge Michigan examined the emails. Here are the highlights.

A long-term, apparently deep connection. The emails released by the regents begin in September 2019 and end Dec. 3, 2021 – five days before the regents received an anonymous complaint about the alleged relationship. The messages are often sweet – Schlissel signing several July 2021 emails with the abbreviation “TOY: (Thinking Of You), and a text that month saying “I am looking forward to seeing you later. That thought will get me through the day.” On June 29, 2021, Schlissel emailed, “Love can come at any time in life, and it’s beautiful and joyous whenever it does.”

Connections during travel. The emails seem to indicate Schlissel and the woman employee connected socially on U-M business trips, including, apparently, a trip to India (“What if we miss our connection and get stuck in Paris,” he wrote), and a 2019 trip to California (“Can we plan a CA trip around that game?” he wrote)

He made $927,000 a year and was not a big tipper. Receipts for several carryout meals Schlissel ordered online are included in the emails. Those receipts show Schlissel routinely leaves a tip of 10 percent.

He’s a fan of “Only Murders in the Building.” In September 2020, Schlissel shared a link with the female employee to a promotion for the popular Hulu limited series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez. “Got good reviews in NYTimes,” Schlissel wrote. When the employee expressed interest, Schlissel wrote back, “another connection.”

He shared his Hulu account login. He may have been the president of one of the most prestigious public universities in the nation, but Schlissel is like many in his willingness to share streaming accounts. “you have my HuLu credentials, right?” he wrote. “and when it asks you "who's watching" just click Mark.”

That “sexual fantasy” story isn’t what you think. In September 2019, New York native Schlissel forwarded a New Yorker story to the female employee with the title “Sexual Fantasies of Everyday New Yorkers.” The article is actually a humor piece about life in the big city. An example form the article: “My greatest sexual fantasy is just to have regular sex in my own apartment. But, in my fantasy, my apartment has a washing machine and a dryer.” Schlissel sent a link to the story, writing “just for fun.”

He shops on Etsy. In April 2020, a month into the pandemic, Schlissel shared an email receipt from Etsy showing he purchased two $9.50 University of Michigan facemasks, “one for you, one for me if you like it (and would wear it!)”

He has a weakness for ice cream. Ice cream was a theme in the emails. In January 2021, Schlissel shared with the employee a link to a promotion from Pizza House offering an ice cream truck with home delivery. “They may be on to something,” he wrote. Eight months later, Schlissel forwarded an Amazon receipt, saying he’d “just sent you a present in our mutual interest to compliment your ice cream maker!” (The improper use of “compliment” is one of several grammatical or spelling mistakes Schlissel didn’t fix in his emails.)

Oh, and knishes. Someone gave Schlissel a gift of a box of a dozen Knishes — some type of filling (often potato) covered in dough and deep-fried. Schlissel emailed the female underling, asking, “i can lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?”

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