Mr. Mark S. Schlissel, the president of the Institution of Michigan, has been sacked for having a connection with a subordinate that the university’s Board of Regents determined broke university policy and was handled “in a way inconsistent with the dignity and repute of the university.”
Dr. Schlissel’s employment was terminated effective immediately following a special meeting on Saturday, with the board ordering him to return all university property and cancelling an agreement that would have allowed him to receive his base salary of $927,000 for an additional two years after his contract was set to expire in 2023.
The board said in a letter to Dr. Schlissel on Saturday that it had received an anonymous allegation on Dec. 8 alleging that Dr. Schlissel had engaged in an improper sexual relationship with a subordinate. Dr. Schlissel was informed of his dismissal on Sunday.
A spokesman for the university stated in a letter to the university that “there can be no doubt that you were keenly aware that any improper behaviour or contact between you and a subordinate would do severe damage” to the dignity and reputation of the university.
Allegations of sexual misbehaviour in higher education are fairly uncommon, although they are more often associated with students and academics than with university presidents. As a head of one of the country’s most famous colleges, Dr. Schlissel was fired, which made his dismissal all the more noteworthy.
On Jan. 1, Dr. Schlissel’s university profile said that he is married and has four adult children. Dr. Schlissel did not respond to attempts to contact him for comment.
Dr. Schlissel had sent hundreds of emails to the employee from his university account over a period of many years, according to the findings of the probe. The board of trustees placed 118 pages of those communications on the university’s website in the goal of “full openness,” according to the board.
The emails continued, and in November, Dr. Schlissel wrote to the subordinate to express his disappointment at the prospect of not being able to sit next to her at a University of Michigan basketball game in December. “The only reason I decided to attend was so that I could accompany you,” he wrote.
The emails, according to the letter from the Board of Regents, were sent in a “inappropriate tone and with unacceptable language,” and they demonstrated that Dr. Schlissel had exploited official business to conduct the relationship. Dr. Schlissel’s behaviour was deemed “especially heinous” by the board since he had taken a public stance against sexual harassment, according to the board.
According to the letter from the Board of Regents, Dr. Schlissel wrote to the institution in August 2020 after a provost, Martin Philbert, was accused of sexual misconduct. In his letter, Dr. Schlissel said that “the utmost priority” was to make the campus “safe for everyone.” Mr. Philbert resigned from his position at the institution.
A faculty no-confidence vote against Dr. Schlissel was successfully sponsored by Rebekah Modrak, a professor of art and design, in September 2020, partly due to worries regarding pandemic policy. Dr. Schlissel was subsequently fired. It was her and other faculty members’ opinion, she said, that the administration had not been properly attentive to concerns of sexual assault and harassment on campus.
Schlissel said in October that he will step down in June 2023, a year earlier than initially intended, but that he would continue to serve as a special advisor and president emeritus of the organisation. There has been a termination of the contract.