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University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel fired for improper relationship

Mark Schlissel, shown here in an interview with Bridge Michigan, was fired from his position as president of the University of Michigan Saturday. (Bridge file photo)

University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was fired Saturday by the university’s Board of Regents for an alleged inappropriate relationship with a U-M employee.

The termination takes effect immediately. Former U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, who Schlissel succeeded in 2014, will serve as interim president until a new president is chosen.

The board met Saturday behind closed doors, and did not take a public vote. The dismissal letter was signed by all eight regents.

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The firing comes after an investigation that began in December when the board received an anonymous complaint that Schlissel was involved in a years-long inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate. The university released 118 pages of transcripts of emails Schlissel sent to the employee, using his official University of Michigan email account, that the school said included communication that was “inconsistent with the dignity and reputation of the University.”

The relationship as chronicled in emails appeared to be outwardly consensual. But U-M has a policy against relationships between supervisors and those over whom they have supervisory authority. If such a relationship develops, the employees must disclose the relationship to management (which in the case of Schlissel, would have been the Board of Regents). Failure to report a relationship “is a serious offense and cause for discipline, up to and including dismissal.”  

The transcripts were redacted to hide the identity of the employee on the email exchanges with Schlissel. Some of the messages were flirty, and others appeared to be arranging times and places to meet.

Schlissel appeared to send a link to a New Yorker article titled “The sexual fantasies of everyday New Yorkers,” above which Schlissel wrote “Just for fun.”

 Other email exchanges included:

  • On Oct. 10, 2019, Schlissel wrote to the subordinate, “can I lure you to visit with the promise of a knish?”
  • On March 24, 2020, Schlissel sent the female employee a link to a New York Times article about drive-in movies, writing “I hope they are playing a movie I would like.” She responded, “I’m sure there will be something you like.” Schlissel responded, “you mean the movie? Or the company…”
  • On July I, 2021,  the subordinate emailed to say her "heart hurts," to which Schlissel responded "i know. mine too,” and that "this is my fault." Schlissel continued, saying he was “in pain too" and that "I still wish I were strong enough to find a way."
  • On Jan. 9, 2021, the subordinate wrote in an email ' "Oh yes!" Schlissel’s response: "Love it when you say that."
  • On Sept. 1, 2021, the employee sent Schlissel a link to an advertisement for an all-electric Audi, writing “Hmm, I could be just like you,” to which Schlissel responded, “but always a bit classier/sexier.”
  • On Sept. 16, 2021, Schlissel sent the employee a link to the confirmation of an Amazon purchase, writing, “just sent you a present in our mutual interest to compliment your ice cream maker!”
  • On Oct. 10, 2021, Schlissel wrote a one-word email to the female underling: “lonely”
  • On Nov. 4, 2021, he emailed the woman regarding a University of Michigan basketball game he was scheduled to attend. In the email he expressed disappointment that he would potentially not be sitting with the subordinate, stating "the only reason I agreed to go was to go with you. there is a conspiracy against me."
  • On Dec. 3, 2021, Schlissel responded to the subordinate regarding the Big Ten Championship "President's Suite briefing Info" stating that "You can give me a private briefing."

You can read the emails released by the Board of Regents here.

In a letter to Schlissel announcing his termination, the board wrote that Schlissel’s conduct was “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.”

The letter goes on to demand Schlissel, whose salary was $927,000 a year, turn in his keys and keycards, university ID, laptops and phones.

Schlissel has 30 days to vacate the presidential house, which is located on campus, according to the letter.

The termination is a shocking conclusion to a presidency that was lately marred by sex scandals. Former provost Martin Philbert was accused of widespread sexual misconduct in 2020, and the university paid out $9 million in settlements to eight women. In addition, more than 850 former U-M students came forward to say they were sexually assaulted by former U-M physician Robert Anderson, from the late 1960s to the early 2000s. Many of those who were assaulted were athletes. One alleged Anderson victim, Jon Vaughn, has been sleeping in a tent outside Schlissel’s university presidential home for more than a month, the same home Schlissel is now ordered to vacate within 30 days.

Schlissel began his career as a medical doctor and a faculty member at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He served as a dean at the University of California-Berkeley, and provost at Brown University, before coming to Michigan. He is married, and has four children.

The firing comes three months after Schlissel, who had a rocky relationship with the board, announced he was stepping down June 2023, one year before his contract was due to expire.

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