The board of regents has launched a search for the University’s next president following its unanimous vote on Jan. 15, 2022, to immediately remove Mark Schlissel. The board appointed Mary Sue Coleman, who served as U-M’s 13th president from 2002 to 2014, in the interim and affirmed its decision during its Feb. 17, 2022, meeting.
These actions came after the regents received an anonymous complaint on Dec. 8, 2021, that Schlissel was involved in an alleged inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and subsequently launched an investigation. When making the announcement (see page 19), the board also released 118 pages of texts and emails—which Schlissel sent from his U-M email account—between him and the employee. The communications date back to 2019. The investigation, the board stated in its letter to Schlissel announcing its decision, “revealed that your interactions with the subordinate were inconsistent with promoting the dignity and reputation of the University of Michigan.”
The letter also noted that Schlissel’s actions took place even as he oversaw sweeping revisions to the University’s approach to addressing sexual misconduct on campus. Announced in July 2021, the revisions prohibited supervisors from initiating a romantic relationship with anyone they supervise, among other policy changes. The changes came as part of the University’s work with a consulting firm following the sexual misconduct of former provost Martin Philbert.
Schlissel’s termination occurred during his second five-year term at U-M. He assumed the presidency in 2014, and his current term would have ended in 2024. However, the University announced in September 2021 that he would leave on June 30, 2023, one year earlier than previously planned. He stated at the time that the earlier exit would provide the board with more time to search for his successor.
Despite his termination as president, Schlissel—a professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and microbiology and immunology, with tenure—retains faculty appointments in LSA and the Medical School. The appointment was granted in 2014 as part of his initial employment agreement and confirmed in his most recent agreement.
This is the second time in the University’s 205-year history that the board has fired a president. The other time was in June 1863, when Henry Philip Tappan, the University’s first president, was dismissed due to difficulties “with the regents on matters both of policy and personality,” according to the University’s website.
In assuming her new role as president, Coleman outlined her priorities for the coming months in a Jan. 27, 2022, message to the U-M community. First, she stated that the University would work to rebuild trust. “I hope, too, we will pledge to respect one another, listen to one another, and to care for one another.”
She added that the search for a new president also is a high priority. The search for a new provost had been a priority, but with the Feb. 9, 2022, announcement of the departure of Provost Susan M. Collins to serve as the CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, Coleman said she will close the provost search that was initiated last fall. That search had been initiated because Collins planned to return to the U-M faculty when her appointment as provost concluded June 30, 2022. With Collins’ earlier departure to the Federal Reserve, Coleman will instead appoint an interim provost to serve through the leadership transition period. That will allow the University’s new president to select the next permanent provost.
Coleman also vowed to maintain the University’s academic portfolio. “The university’s academic excellence, flourishing research and creative endeavors, and dedicated patient care are among the finest in higher education. I will work with you to advance the most critical agendas and initiatives in each of these areas over the next several months to ensure continued strength and momentum.”
The Returning President
Mary Sue Coleman, U-M’s 13th president, returned in January to lead the University until the board of regents selects a 15th president. In her first meeting with the board since her return, Coleman spoke of her admiration for the University.
“From the time I first arrived at the University in 2002, I have been moved by the dedication and passion that students and alumni hold for this place,” she said at the Feb. 17, 2022 meeting.
“My pride in what this institution has stood for over its entire history is what brought me back now for this interim period. I look forward to working together to uphold Michigan’s purpose.”
Coleman, the University’s first female president, has agreed to serve for six months or until a new president is on the job. Following are a few highlights from Coleman’s U-M presidency:
U.S. Supreme Court votes 5-4 to uphold the U-M Law School affirmative action policy, which favors minorities.
U-M launches the Michigan Difference campaign with a goal of $2.5 billion.
U-M and Google announce a partnership to digitize the University’s 7-million-volume library.
The University, Michigan State, and Wayne State establish the University Research Corridor to transform, strengthen, and diversify Michigan’s economy.
The Michigan Difference campaign ends after raising $3.2 billion, the most ever by a public university at the time.
U-M purchases the former Pfizer site in northeast Ann Arbor.
The first employees move into the site, now named the North Campus Research Complex.
North Quadrangle, U-M’s first new residence hall in more than 40 years, opens its doors.
The new C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital opens.
U-M announces the largest gift in its history, $110 million from Charles Munger for graduate student housing and fellowships.
The Presidential Search is On
In a Feb. 8, 2022 message to the U-M community, Regents Sarah Hubbard Hubbard and Denise Ilitch announced the members of the presidential search committee, which includes the eight regents along with a group of alumni, faculty, staff, and students from the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses and Michigan Medicine. The committee, co-chaired by Hubbard and Ilitch, will work with executive search firm Isaacson, Miller to identify and review candidates and make recommendations to the board.
To solicit feedback from faculty, staff, and students, the committee held a series of six virtual listening sessions in February. Those who chose to participate were asked to focus their comments on these questions:
- During the next three to five years, what priorities should the new president set to be successful?
- What background, qualifications, and experience should the next president possess to be successful in advancing the University mission?
Qualities that topped the list during two sessions on Feb. 18 included integrity, empathy, good communication skills, and a commitment to social justice, according to the University Record. A presidential search website provided additional opportunities for feedback via an online survey and links to submit nominations and applications.
The regents have said they hope to hire U-M’s 15th president as early as this summer.
“The leader of the nation’s top public research university is one of the most prominent and influential positions in all of higher education,” Ilitch wrote in the Feb. 8 message. “The committee’s work will rely on the university community’s insight into the challenges and opportunities that may face our university and its new president in the coming decade, as well as the personal characteristics and experiences needed to lead the university at this moment in time.”
BOARD ANNOUNCES REMOVAL OF PRESIDENT, APPOINTMENT OF INTERIM
It is with great disappointment that we announce that the University of Michigan Board of Regents has removed Dr. Mark Schlissel as President of the University of Michigan, effective immediately. The Board has named former U-M president Mary Sue Coleman as Interim President and we have full confidence that she will provide the leadership our University community needs during this critical time of transition. The Board will affirm these actions during its Feb. 17 formal session.
On Dec. 8, 2021, via an anonymous complaint, we learned that Dr. Schlissel may have been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a University employee. 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.
In the interest of full public disclosure, we have released dozens of Dr. Schlissel’s communications that illustrate this inappropriate conduct, as well as the letter that we sent to Dr. Schlissel explaining our decision. All this information is available on the University’s website. Our community and our state deserve as complete an understanding of this situation as possible.
Interim President Coleman has the experience of leading this institution for 12 years and she will be supported by a strong team of trusted leaders, who understand and are committed to practicing the University’s values. We expect she will serve until a new President is named, perhaps as soon as this summer.
As has previously been communicated, we already had planned to start the search for the next President in the coming year and that process has now been accelerated. We will provide updates to the University community as this process takes shape.
Each one of us, as members of the Board of Regents, aspire to create an environment where everyone in our community is able to thrive and achieve their best work, and where all feel safe and respected.
We understand the decisions announced today are unexpected and this kind of abrupt change can be especially difficult. We take our constitutional role as a governing board seriously and we all agree that this decision is in the best interest of the University we care about so deeply.
With sincere appreciation.
Members of the University of Michigan Board of Regents:
Jordan B. Acker, chair
Michael J. Behm
Mark J. Bernstein
Paul W. Brown, vice chair
Katherine E. White