On June 13, 2019, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel was due in U.S. District Court in Detroit to explain the University’s sexual misconduct policy in a settlement conference for the ongoing Doe v. University of Michigan lawsuit. On June 12, this hearing was delayed until further notice. The stay, prompted by an emergency petition sent by University lawyers, was the latest in a set of actions by the University to keep Schlissel from testifying publicly on the matter. We as an Editorial Board feel that the University should stop delaying the case and encourage President Schlissel to appear before the court; furthermore, we find the University’s lack of clarity surrounding the policy in question to be extremely disconcerting, and it should be actively working to remedy this issue.
The lack of adequate reasoning for Schlissel’s abstention from testifying, especially in a situation where he is not intended to be cross-examined, is concerning. It is clear that President Schlissel’s position grants him oversight over the University as a whole, but it remains worrisome that he is uncomfortable or incapable of publicly explaining the intricacies of the University’s sexual misconduct policy; a policy that is integral to student safety and rights. These sentiments were publicly supported by Judge Arthur Tarnow, who criticized Schlissel for his and the University’s unwillingness to streamline the case proceedings, writing, “The University’s attorneys appear to be more concerned with keeping the President out of the public eye than with prompt resolution of this case and providing a fair process for adjudicating sexual misconduct claims.”
The lack of definitive public figures surrounding the University’s sexual misconduct policy points to broader confusion surrounding the foundation of the policy itself. When legal representatives for the University offered to bring in a different spokesperson to testify about the sexual assault policy, they were unable to identify who that would be when prompted by the judge. This begs the question: Who is the authority who can be held accountable for the policy and its implementations, if not President Schlissel? It is evident that the University does not have a clear person in charge and is hoping to merely avoid confrontation about this lack of leadership. This is unacceptable, and we implore the University to point to a clear and reliable source on the matter.
Considering the current social climate regarding sexual misconduct, especially within institutions of higher education across the country, we feel that President Schlissel and the University should be considering a settlement meeting regarding these University policies to be a top priority. Delaying the process more will ultimately only serve to undermine the University’s authority on the subject going forward. The University’s President should have a clear idea of the direction we are moving in terms of our treatment of accusations and cases of sexual misconduct, and avoiding policy discussions like this is only counter-productive to the creation of a fair and safe school environment.
Clarification: In the time since legal representatives had asked to bring an unspecified official to the case proceedings, the University has named the General Counsel as the point person on the policy. The lack of immediate response to the question is what prompted student concern.