Each month, The Michigan Daily Administration Beat sits down with University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel to discuss important questions about University policy, commitments and challenges. This month’s interview included discussion about hate crimes on campus, Title IX policy revisions, carbon neutrality and more. This transcript has been abbreviated and reordered for reader clarity.


The Michigan Daily: An FBI report found the University of Michigan to have the second-highest number of reported hate crimes of 110 public and private universities surveyed in 2017. The report claimed there were 15 hate crimes reported at the Ann Arbor campus, while the Dearborn campus and Michigan State University only reported one hate crime. While the increase in reporting hate crimes may come from students’ familiarity and willingness to disclose them to the University, some students are still frustrated with the University’s inadequate responses to bias incidents on campus. What do you think the FBI report’s findings say about our University’s campus climate? Do you see the high amount of reported hate crimes as a success on the University’s part, or as a sign the University needs to work harder to prevent bias incidents? Why?

President Mark Schlissel: I think it’s very hard to know, but I share the frustration, and really the anger, that members of our community have to be subject to hate of any kind and particularly the hate of the type we’re talking about here — a hate crime based on identity. We are a very large, complicated organization with a lot of people coming and going, a lot of geography to cover, a lot of public buildings, and when hate is as simple as someone rolling down a car window and shouting something terrible at one of your fellow students or a faculty member, it’s a big challenge … I think we should continue to aggressively investigate all episodes that are brought to attention, recognizing that sometimes it’s very hard to track down a perpetrator given the scale and the openness of the campus … Probably some of it is a reporting incident, and remember, the number 15 is a big number, but there’s 45,000 students on campus, 30,000 employees, so there shouldn’t be any episodes and 15 should be 0 and we have to work in that direction. But I don’t want to dismiss it as enhanced reporting, but look at it for what it is and mitigate it. … One of the things I’d like to pay elevated attention to in the context of our DEI work is acts of religious bigotry and bias and some of that comes to the floor in discussions around Israel-Palestine politics, and I think we have to be wary of increases in anti-Semitism, increases in anti-Muslim bigotry and I think we are going to feature education and programs around that more prominently in the year ahead.

TMD: Along with information from the FBI report on hate crimes on university campuses, data from the Division of Public Safety and Security showed from 2015 to 2017, the Black community reported the highest number of hate crimes followed by the Muslim, LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities. Given that different marginalized communities on campus may have varying comfort levels with reporting hate crimes, how do you plan to work with individual communities who are often targeted to prevent bias incidents?

MS: Me personally, but more importantly, Student Affairs, is continuously engaging with groups, and new groups come forward every day. I have every year, and we’ve already done several this academic year … meetings at my home over either breakfast or pizza for dinner to discuss these issues with leaders and members of all different kinds of groups, and various arms of student affairs have very regular interactions with student leaders representing each of the identity groups you mentioned. But those are just a handful and there are more. We’re all individuals that carry with us many identities and unfortunately at different moments we’re all subject to unfair or inequitable treatment and I think we have to prioritize eliminating this prejudicial treatment wherever we see it.

TMD: In a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in December 2018, researchers discussed the impact of the HAIL scholarship on the applications and attendance of students from low SES backgrounds. The study indicated personalized intervention, especially through attractive letter packaging and contact through HAIL, positively impacted students’ choice of more selective, elite schools. Given the study has only drawn conclusions from the first two years of the program, is it too soon to deem the scholarship a success in regards to substantially decreasing the income gap? Why?

MS: In the case of this HAIL Scholarship, which is a study led by Professor Dynarski from the school of Public Policy, the results were so incredibly striking that although the professor continues her study and this NBER publication was the first public report of the data, we’ve begun implementing it already … It’s such a major goal of our University, to make sure a Michigan education remains accessible and affordable, and we attract talented people from all different parts of the economy, and we’ve already implemented it and it’s already showing success … and one of the main take-homes from the HAIL Scholars program is in the setting of this high-touch interaction with potential students, instead of saying to them, if you say, ‘We give generous need-based financial aid and we’ll meet your full calculated need,’ if you say to them, ‘If you come from a family at or below a family income of 65,000 dollars, you don’t pay any tuition — it’s free,’ it turns out that’s really powerful and the HAIL study, it increased the frequency of applicants two-and-a-half fold compared to a control group. … The HAIL Scholarship program really completely revolutionized the way we reach out to people in different parts of the Michigan economy. The early data — it’s only been one admissions cycle — but this year’s freshman class has increased its fraction of first-generation students, has increased its representation of students from the lower socioeconomic quadrants or quintiles of the economy, and it’s exceeded our expectations and we’re going to stick with it. And not only that, the study got national attention. So, it’s the buzz of the community of people around the country that are struggling with the problem of enticing talented kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to be brave enough to apply to great universities. So I’m really, I’m as proud of this as anything we’ve done.

TMD: Are there any plans to implement the paper’s findings about increased personalized, early intervention for all types of scholarships the University offers?

MS: We continuously learn what resonates as we do outreach around the state, so the goal is to have people from all around the state and all around the country think of us as an outstanding opportunity for their college education. And financial aid is part of it. We’ve tended to focus a lot of our resources on need-based aid … We try to use the lessons we learn from something like HAIL to improve the effectiveness of our outreach to students, and you know, it must be working. The number of applications we get is going up by leaps and bounds every year. This last year we got over 65,000 applications, the year before we were in the high 50s. Two years earlier we were in the 40s … We’re quite good at attracting the attention of talented people to apply here.

TMD: At the final University of Michigan Senate Assembly of 2018, you discussed the University’s revisions to the policies regarding student sexual misconduct as well as a ban on faculty-student relationships. Some of the revisions involve establishing two different ways to settle cases — either through adaptable resolution or investigative resolution —the involvement of a case member from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution during each investigation, and the option for students to cross-question one another. What about the new policies will allow the University to deal with sexual misconduct more effectively?

MS: One of the biggest challenges we’ve had for years now, not just a new challenge, is getting people to report. Our survey data showed that the frequency of reporting is far less than the frequency of people (who) are experiencing misconduct and in order to help folks, we do many things. We do education, we are trying to diminish the frequency of the problems, but we want people who’ve been subject to sexual misconduct to step forward and ask for help essentially. … The new aspects of this policy, in addition to a setting where this direct questioning can happen mediated by a hearing officer — a highly trained hearing officer — this (is) providing students with the option called, of what’s called, adaptable resolution. That’s essentially where the two parties, if they’re willing, can talk to someone from an office in student life who will kind of arbitrate the problem and get the two parties to agree to a resolution that doesn’t involve having to go through this hearing and this confronting of one another. It’s kind of like mediation, as opposed to a hearing and an adjudication. … The hope is by providing the second pathway, students who did not want to come forward and expose themselves to a hearing might come forward and say, ‘Yeah, I’d like to consider this other way of getting justice here,’ a more negotiated way to get justice. By offering that as an option, we’ll get more students to step forward and ask for help.

TMD: How will the addition of more avenues for handling sexual misconduct and the inclusion of a case manager from OSCR impact the amount of time it takes for each case to be investigated?

MS: One of the criticisms we’ve heard quite a bit from existing processes is sometimes it’s hard for a student that’s involved, either as a complainant or a respondent, to actually figure out what’s going on. The procedure takes a while. In the interview mechanism, by the time you’ve interviewed people and gotten their written statements and sent them back to edit and revise, time goes by, and students are wondering, ‘what the heck is happening with my complaint?’ … So having a case manager is a person with a specific job of being the go-to person for both parties to get information about the status of the case and to get reminded of the resources that are available to them … I think it can only help … The other modification is we lengthen the window of time that we told students it may take to get to a conclusion. The reason why is we were finding it impossible to meet this 90-day expectation — too many people involved, things were too slow. Part of the slowness is trying to keep up with the world load of an increased number of reports of misconduct … and then from the side of the students, the students continue to be responsible for classes and tests and assignments and all the things you got in life … so there are delays in interating the investigation to what happened because of the availability of complainants or witnesses. You’re students at the same time and you’re not perpetually available for this … we set a more realistic expectation.

TMD: Last semester, the University discussed the formation of a commission to establish a timeline and distinct goals for achieving carbon neutrality. While the University is making efforts to cut back on carbon emissions, some environmental groups are curious as to how the administration is making sure the construction projects on campus are following low carbon guidelines. What regulations, if any, are in place for ensuring the construction projects help the University reach its goal of carbon neutrality? How are you monitoring the projects’ adherence to the University’s initiative to reduce its carbon footprint?

MS: We’ve established energy efficiency standards for our buildings and we’ve established a commitment to use the lead certification program to shoot for a certain minimum level, if not exceed, a certain level of lead certification, all of which are designed to diminish the energy needs of a building. That’s been going on for six or seven years and we’ll continue, and hopefully the work of the commission will tell us how to go beyond that. This work around energy efficiency has actually been successful in that our energy consumption per square foot since we began this project has a 15- or 16-percent decrease of something per square foot since we started this back in 2006. The reason it’s timely to stand up a commission is this is a profound problem. I’m confident we can get to our 25-percent decrease in greenhouse gas emission goal even early, but that’s not enough, and we literally do have to figure out how to approach 100 percent, how to approach a sustainable level of carbon cycling in the environment. It’s not just us, the whole society has to do it. At an academic institution, we’re in a great spot to solve the problem for us in a way that others can take what we’ve learned and come up with and tested and use it for themselves …

TMD: Could you go into a little more detail about the specific construction that are going on on campus? How are you monitoring those to make sure they are up to the standard?

MS: For example, we’re building a robotics building on North Campus, and the design of that building done by the architects and the engineers are scrutinized for the projected energy efficiency of the building once it’s complete, the theoretical energy efficiency measurements. That goes into approving what material is used, how thick the walls are, what kind of insulation is there, what the heating and cooling systems are, how many energy conservation mechanisms are built into the building, are there motion sensitive lights around, are there cycles of heating and cooling that are daylight sensitive, time of the year sensitive. Even the glazing on windows is subject to scrutiny for energy efficiency, and that’s stuff we’ve been doing for a while and continue to do. We try to have a minimum threshold and we try and test ourselves to see how high above that minimum threshold we can go.

TMD: As we begin a new semester at the University, what are some initiatives you are most excited about implementing on campus? How will these initiatives relate to the ones you have expressed in past semesters?

MS: A lot of the things we’re doing are things of importance that we have to focus on consistently. Our efforts around diversity and inclusion, for example. In order for all students to have a similar opportunity on campus, we have to improve the diversity of the campus and then the way people feel valued and included in it. That’s work that never diminishes in importance. Same thing around sexual misconduct and the climate around gender. With the terrible events associated with MSU, for example, and the Dr. Nassar and his assaults of hundreds of women, it’s really elevated scrutiny of how we educate and protect and adjudicate all the issues we’ve been talking about, and that’s front burner. We spend very large amounts of time trying to get this right. … I’m also leading a search for a new chancellor of the Flint campus, and that’s very important to get good leadership for Flint. … We’re expanding our Poverty Initiative, particularly in the city of Detroit, we launched a new collaboration with Harvard about economic mobility in the city of Detroit, we’ve got foundations that are lining up to help us in our economic development work in Detroit, working to help promote efforts from the School of Education on developing a new kind of public school in the city of Detroit, where the school is used to train new teachers in a way that’s analogous to the way our hospital trains new doctors, so that’s an exciting project … Lots of good stuff going on.

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