University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel will step down from his presidency beginning in June 2023, a year earlier than initially planned.
In a tweet Tuesday afternoon, Schlissel said his decision to announce that he was stepping down now would allow for “a smooth & thoughtful leadership transition.”
“The work we do matters,” Schlissel wrote. “It’s work that the president of this university has the immense privilege of leading and being a part of. Every day we heal, discover, teach and serve – advancing a public mission and strengthening the immutable Michigan bond of knowledge and values.”
Schlissel also said he decided this timing is appropriate after discussion with the Board of Regents.
“The new horizon gives the Board time to consult with our community, think about the future and thoroughly plan and conduct a search for my successor, while allowing us to continue momentum on important and time-critical efforts that are underway,” Schlissel said.
The Detroit Free Press reported that tensions between the regents and Schlissel had “reached a boiling point” in September 2021 after Schlissel failed to communicate with the board about the status of the failed Detroit Center for Innovation project. A week after the Free Press report, the board gave Schlissel a 3% pay raise for the upcoming year.
Schlissel first took office in July 2014 and was previously provost of Brown University.
Schlissel’s accomplishments as president include creating the Go Blue Guarantee to make a U-M education free for in-state students from families below Michigan’s median income, and then expanding to it the Flint and Dearborn campuses — with a controversial GPA requirement for those two campuses — after years of student activism. He also promised complete carbon neutrality for the University by 2040 after extensive activism by the campus community, which included arrests of some student activists.
The later years of Schlissel’s presidency have been marked with turmoil, from a Graduate Student Instructor strike in the fall of 2020 to sexual misconduct scandals against Provost Martin Philbert and late Dr. Robert Anderson.
Schlissel’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic received a considerable amount of criticism, particularly his decision to bring students back for a “public-health informed” fall 2020 semester. The University changed course in winter 2021, when residence halls were closed and almost all classes were held online.
In September 2020, the University’s Faculty Senate held and passed a vote of no confidence in Schlissel’s leadership. Though the largely symbolic vote did not impact Schlissel’s employment status, it was representative of their frustration with the pandemic reopening plan. This was the first time a vote of no confidence passed in University history.
Regents Jordan Acker (D), Mark Berstein (D) and Ron Weiser (R) thanked Schlissel for his leadership and service to the University in a Tuesday press release from the University’s Office of Public Affairs.
“I appreciate the leadership of President Schlissel throughout his term and know that he is going to continue to work hard to advance our great institution,” Acker, the chair of the board, wrote.
Weiser thanked Schlissel for his work and noted the difficult circumstances he faced during his term.
“I have enjoyed working with the president for more than four years and I look forward to continuing to work with him during the next two years,” Weiser wrote. “While we have had some differences of opinion, he has done an extraordinary job of leading our institution during a difficult time.”
Bernstein echoed these comments and said the Board of Regents will continue actively working with Schlissel until the end of his term to support the University.
“Perhaps most importantly, especially at this moment in our society, President Schlissel leads our university with integrity, decency and compassion,” Bernstein wrote. “Of course, there is much more to be done in the coming years, and I’m eager to run full speed through the finish line with him.”
Regent Sarah Hubbard (R) wrote Schlissel well wishes in a text message to The Daily.
“I fully support (President) Schlissel’s decision and look forward to doing great things together as he completes his term,” Hubbard wrote.
Regent Paul Brown (D) called Schlissel “the right president at the right time” in a text message to The Daily.
“The Board could not have known we would face a global pandemic when they hired this President, but the university was incredibly fortunate to have one of the world’s leading immunologists as our president when faced with the challenges of a deadly virus,” Brown wrote.
Brown wrote that Schlissel often had to choose between two negative outcomes.
“He always handled these impossible tasks with a steady hand and learned mind,” Brown wrote. “UofM has faced unprecedented challenges, and even some highly publicized failures, but President Schlissel will be leaving the next president a University that is the leader and best.”
Regent Denise Ilitch (D) declined to comment on Schlissel’s announcement. Regents Katherine White (D) and Mike Behm (D) did not respond to request for comment.
Schlissel will address his plans for the next year of his presidency on Thursday morning in his annual leadership address, which will be live streamed here at 8:30 a.m.
With the end of his tenure still 20 months away, it is unclear who would be considered to succeed Schlissel for the fall 2023 semester or when that decision would be announced.
This story has been updated with context about University President Mark Schlissel’s tenure, including the impact of student activism on his most prominent decisions.
Daily News Editors Calder Lewis and Hannah Mackay contributed reporting.