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The Michigan Daily sat down with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel Thursday to discuss the ongoing protest of former athletic doctor Robert Anderson survivors outside his house and the recent 40% growth of the University’s endowment. Read part two of the interview for Schlissel’s thoughts on the Bright Sheng controversy and University employees who remain unvaccinated. This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The Michigan Daily: Jon Vaughn and other survivors of late University doctor Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse have been camped outside your house day and night for over a month. They say you haven’t spoken with them yet, and that they are committed to remaining there for 100 days or until you and the regents speak with them. Why haven’t you gone to speak with them?
Mark Schlissel: I want to reiterate that I do appreciate Mr. Vaughn. He’s a passionate advocate for something that’s really important. I admire him for the courage of stepping up and speaking out about what he went through. But as I said at the last board meeting, the regents and I are listening in many different ways.
We’ve heard directly from folks who sign up to speak in public and at our meetings, and when they do that they’re speaking not just to us, but to the assembled media, so it gets really quite wide coverage. We’ve heard directly from many Anderson survivors. We read media reports, we get other direct messages from the survivors, and I want to reiterate how important it is as we work to update and improve our sexual misconduct policies and practices and we try to continue to make campus safer, that the experiences and the opinions of survivors of all different types — because survivors aren’t monolithic, you know, many of them have different opinions from one another — that all of our policies are vetted and discussed with the survivor community, and we promise to continue to do that.
We’re continuing to meet in mediation with attorneys hired by the Anderson survivors, including Mr. Vaughn and his attorney, and will continue to heed the judge’s advice not to discuss the process of mediation outside of these mediation sessions. I really know Mr. Vaughn is interested in sharing his story — he’s been doing it quite widely. I’ve been listening to him and other survivors, and perhaps where we don’t agree is how that listening should occur. But rest assured, we are listening.
I can’t provide an update on the mediation. The University remains apologetic, sincerely, for what the survivors went through, and we want to treat them well. The mediation, as I said, is confidential, but we are very anxious to come to a good, fair closure. And all the while we continue to implement new policies and processes and procedures, all aimed at making the campus safer.
We’re a long way from where we need to be, and everybody needs to contribute. Mr. Vaughn is contributing, the survivors of what happened 30 years ago are contributing, as well as the survivors of today. So we’re committed to doing this together and getting it right.
TMD: You said that you think that you and some of the survivors might disagree on how the listening should occur. Can you expand on that and what you think that disagreement might be?
MS: So, for example, I’ve been invited to attend an open forum up in the Michigan League this weekend. A panel of survivors, as well as an attorney representing some of the survivors, and media will be there. My concern is if I sit in a forum like that, I become the story rather than the survivors becoming the story, and they really deserve to tell the story without the hoopla of the president being called out continuously.
Fortunately, the organizers of that forum are live streaming it on YouTube, so I can watch it here in the president’s house without disrupting the proceedings by being there. Others may disagree, but that’s my choice as the best way to get input from that forum without disrupting the forum in a way that might diminish the ability of the survivors to tell their stories.
TMD: What has it been like for you to have this camp outside your house? How has it affected your day-to-day life?
MS: Probably under Mr. Vaughn’s influence, this group of survivors and supporters have been enormously respectful, despite how aggrieved they feel and how passionate they are. They have made their points known — there are placards up and there’s a bulletin board where people can sign and the like, and there have been some demonstration-type protests with chanting and the like — but that said, I do not feel mistreated.
I feel like Mr. Vaughn and others who are camped outside are not disrupting my ability to come and go from the house. I have guests at the house where I do the University’s business quite often — that’s why I live on campus. That hasn’t been disrupted. So I want to really shout them out for the respectful way that they’re persistently advocating their cause, and that’s the way change happens. I understand the passion, and I respect the high level of character with which they’re propagating their protest.
TMD: The protesters have said you enter and leave your house through the side door, and have not directly acknowledged their presence in person. Why do you always leave out of the side entrance of your house? Even if you won’t have a conversation with the survivor protesters, could you physically acknowledge their presence?
MS: Well, obviously I just did, because I told you the nature of their character and actually complimented them, but the way I’ve chosen to listen to members of the survivors’ community doesn’t include stopping by the front of the house and listening to a group of folks in tents. But rest assured that myself and the regents are listening to not just Mr. Vaughn and the others who are out there, but the broader community. I get emails all the time, and we’ll continue to listen throughout the process.
TMD: In terms of physically avoiding the protesters, this protest has garnered significant regional and even national media attention. How do you think that your physical avoidance of the protesters reflects on the University?
MS: I don’t have more to say. I explained the rationale for how I’m engaging and how I’m learning about the experiences of not just Mr. Vaughn, but the many others who have been impacted by Dr. Anderson, and then all the other episodes of misconduct that have occurred through the years at the University.
TMD: You said the mediation is confidential. At this time, I’m curious to know if there’s a specific protocol in place that prohibits you from speaking to survivors?
MS: I’m not an attorney, but the judge-ordered behaviors have to do with the mediation and aspects of relevance to the mediation.
TMD: Is the 4.5% disbursement rate of the endowment up for reconsideration given the recent 40% growth of the endowment?
MS: The endowment is actually what makes us different from most large public universities. This year we’re taking $404 million out of the endowment. Compare that to the $330 million we got from the state of Michigan — we’re getting more out of the endowment. That amount grows every year, and it’ll grow even faster because of this spectacular year the endowment had.
What we worry about in good years — and this was the best year the endowment had in a long time — is that there are also bad years. Last year the endowment was almost flat, and three years before that it went down a couple of percent. No matter what, the things we support with endowment — like financial aid, medical research, some faculty salaries — those are every-year obligations. It’s important that we have a smoothing function that allows the endowment payout to grow in a way that doesn’t go wild in good years and doesn’t crater in bad years.
The board reconsiders the payout formula regularly. This formula has served the University well for a long time. You’re reading the news like I am — inflation has gone up, the market is starting to get a little wobbly, employment is difficult right now, the economy may go down next year. But because of this big growth, over the course of the next decades that endowment is going to pay out significantly more every year than it would have under normal circumstances, and that’s fantastic. We have to be disciplined and not get too excited in a good year and not to panic in a bad year.
TMD: In what ways will the students of the University see the benefits of this recent endowment growth?
MS: For the students that are here now, next year’s payout will be marginally higher because the corpus grew. But it’s a seven-year average. We do all kinds of mathematical modeling, and our normal model calls for the endowment to grow on average 7% per year. The value of the endowment is affected by inflation and by the payout. We’re paying out 4.5% and we model a 7% growth and there’s a couple of percent inflation, maybe more this year, so it grows gradually.
Over the course of the next decade the endowment is likely to pay out an extra $1 billion because we had a really good year. The fact that we didn’t take it out all at once means that over the next 10 years it’s going to compound and continue to grow at a dramatically higher rate. If we didn’t have the part of the endowment that gets targeted for financial aid, for example, the average cost of attendance would be $6,000 higher.
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