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LSA freshman Jack Thompson was one of the first students to arrive outside of former University President Mark Schlissel’s residence after news broke that he had been fired by the Board of Regents on Saturday. With a saxophone in hand, he satirically played George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” and the classic Big House anthem “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers as fellow protesters gradually gathered and cheered around him.
“I live in East Quad, and my friends and I were sitting in a lounge and I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if we stopped by and brought an instrument?’ And we’ve kind of amassed a bit of a group here,” Thompson said.
Over 100 students gathered outside the president’s house on Saturday evening following the report of Schlissel’s termination by the Board of Regents earlier this afternoon. Schlissel was fired for engaging in an “inappropriate relationship” with a subordinate at the University of Michigan as early as September 2019. In December 2021, an anonymous complaint was filed which led to an internal investigation into Schlissel’s behavior.
The investigation revealed inappropriate emails sent from Schlissel’s U-M email account to the subordinate, referred to as Individual 1. Schlissel’s emails contained an article related to sexual fantasies, details of travelling to California and Paris with Individual 1 as well as other inappropriate comments related to their relationship.
“It’s recently been revealed that (Schlissel) had an affair with a staff member, and that’s not really a good thing when you’re the president of one of the biggest schools in the country,” Thompson said. “Kind of makes a mockery of our name. So I’d like to return the favor a little bit.”
As Thompson continued to play into the night, more students joined in and began chanting “Show your face!” and “Mark, are you home?” at the only window with its blinds half open on his house. Cars driving by frequently honked as students cheered in return and “Mr. Brightside” and “Pump it Up” filled the background. One protester held a “Can I have a private briefing?” sign in reference to one of the emails Schlissel sent to the subordinate.
“I love performing and it’s a really good chance to kind of get a crowd out here,” Thompson said. “I feel terrible for his family. I can’t believe that he actually did something in such a high position of power. I mean, that’s simply an abuse of power. And that’s something that I don’t think any of the students in Michigan would stand for.”
The last time the Board of Regents dismissed a president was in 1863, when former University President Henry Philip Tappan was dismissed due to “difficulties with the regents on matters both of policy and personality,” according to the Bentley Historical Library.
LSA sophomore Neil Peterson came to Schlissel’s house with fellow Residential College students who brought instruments. Peterson brought his trumpet to have a “celebration.”
“I started reading the emails. And I realized that the former president of U of M is apparently a middle schooler in his vernacular, but also in his flirting attempt,” Peterson said. “It was pretty funny.”
Engineering sophomore Sarah Multer joined in the celebration and said she was excited about Schlissel’s termination.
“I was really excited to hear that President Schlissel has been removed from office,” Multer said. “I was really disappointed in his COVID policies throughout the year and his handling of this pandemic as a whole and I’m thrilled to see someone new take his place.”
Engineering sophomores Ankith Udupa and John Trager showed their support for Schlissel’s termination with signs imitating Schlissel’s emails: “Can I get a private briefing?” and “Anyone tryna miss a connection in Paris?”
Udupa said that he was surprised by the announcement and found it unexpected.
“It’s a moment that is historic, and it probably won’t happen again in our college careers,” Udupa said. “So we wanted to see it for ourselves.”
Trager said he felt Schlissel’s termination was unsurprising, given the former president’s track record, but he was surprised the dismissal did not come from another controversy.
“Mark Schlissel is a huge hypocrite,” Trager said. “Because, like, he’s been neglecting protesters outside of his house for months, so I’m surprised that this is what he was dismissed for, but also not really, I think he had it coming.”
Engineering freshman Abigail Duke shared the same sentiment regarding the Hail to the Victims protests.
“I’ve been walking past people in these tents for so many months and he’s done nothing about it,” Duke said.
LSA freshman Isabelle Thyfault showed up after hearing about the gathering through group chats and Yik Yak.
“(My first reaction was) shock and laughter, pure unadulterated laughter as part of that, mostly because considering the fact that we’re sitting right outside of the massive encampment of sexual assault protesters,” Thyfault said. “This is not what I expected (him) to get fired for.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Nithya Arun, Central Student Government president and Public Health senior, said she hoped CSG could formulate a relationship with the interim University President Mary Sue Coleman before the Board of Regents selects her successor.
Arun said Schlissel’s actions reflected poorly on the University and it was important he faced the consequences of his actions.
“These rules are in place for a reason, and in a sense if you do things that are morally or ethically wrong, then it will catch up to you and you will have to bear the consequences,” Arun said. “I think there are multiple reasons for why President Schlissel should have gotten fired, and it’s unfortunate that it’s only happening now… it is largely inappropriate, and someone who holds the title President should not be acting in a way (that) really deteriorates the image of our university.
In an email to The Daily, Yeager, Graduate Student Employee Organization Secretary, wrote that while GEO did not yet have an official statement, as an individual student they were appalled by the situation.
“As a student at the University of Michigan, I am shocked by the situation but ultimately recognize this as being one instance within a larger institutional problem with misconduct,” Yeager wrote.
LSA sophomores Mitchel Carter and Grey Tingstad-Carl joyously danced and took pictures in front of Schlissel’s house with a speaker in hand. Carter said he feels sympathy for Schlissel’s wife and daughter and described the breaking news as “a moment for the University.”
“There are times in life where you feel like sometimes reality is stranger than fiction, and this is one of those times,” Carter said. “When you have a president sexting over his university email account, it seems like if it was something written in a TV show or a movie, you’d think ‘Oh, yeah that’s a funny joke. It’s a bit played out. But that would never happen in real life.’ But then it does. And it makes it 10 times more absurd for it to happen, especially at a place like U of M.”
As the night went on, students began trickling away, still buzzing with sustained surprise.
“It’s a long time coming,” Tingstad-Carl said. “And I think that’s just a bizarre and funny moment in history, and that’s why we’re here. We’re here to see it.”
Daily News Editor George Weykamp contributed to reporting.