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In the days following former University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel’s termination, students, faculty and staff have voiced their opinions on the impact that Schlissel’s departure, and the introduction of interim President Mary Sue Coleman, will have on the University.
While some have taken to social media to join the conversation — making memes about the contents of his emails as well as critiquing his vernacular and his Pizza House order — others have released statements condemning Schlissel’s actions and warning the community to be mindful of the “memes, jokes, and comments” surrounding the situation.
Business sophomore Faith Richardson said the emails gave insights about Schlissel’s character in addition to his relationship with a subordinate.
“(The emails) gave you a strange insight into former President Schlissel and just little things about (his life),” Richardson said. “Like ‘You only tip 10% to Pizza House’, or, we’re all worried about COVID and he’s out here being like, ‘Oh, when can we go to Paris’ or whatever.”
LSA sophomore Keara Broome said she was happy to hear about Schlissel’s termination because she didn’t support his handling of the GEO strike, his COVID-19 policies, and other University issues. However, Broome said she was uncomfortable with the nature of how Schlissel was dismissed.
“As funny as it is to see the memes about it and to see everybody posting on Yik Yak about it, it’s awful. Like, I can’t forget that this is super gross and exploitative,” Broome said. “Obviously, power imbalances and sexual misconduct from those in authority is not some kind of crazy surprise. But then this just kind of piles on to the University’s stack of issues.”
Richardson said she was surprised by the announcement of Schlissel’s firing but is looking forward to the healing impact that it may have for the survivors of sexual assault from the University.
“I almost see this as a win for Jon Vaughn,” Richardson said. “He has been protesting outside of Schlissel’s house. I mean, it’s obviously not the outcome anyone was expecting. I don’t think this is the end of the fight. In a way, it was like a small win for (the people) who have been so frustrated with the administration and even the Board of Regents to just kind of be like, ‘Okay, something right happened for once.’”
In an email to The Michigan Daily, Art and Design professor Rebekah Modrak wrote she is looking forward to a permanent replacement for Schlissel. Modrak also wrote she is specifically hoping for a president who is humble, kind and ethical in addition to someone who takes action when they hear about violations and who appoints critical co-leaders.
“There’s an army of administrators who ensure that reports of violations are suppressed or obstructed,” Modrak wrote. “The culture of this university, from the Regents through the upper administrative levels, is one that is autocratic and discourages dissent. It’s completely against academic principles involving criticality and the search for truth. I’ve asked critical questions in meetings and had my hand slapped as a public warning to me and to other members of the committee not to get out of line. Schlissel’s departure will have no impact on them.”
Looking ahead, Modrak wrote she expects little to change in terms of the University’s handling of sexual misconduct, despite the terms of Schlissel’s dismissal.
University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald told The Daily in an email that the University’s updated sexual misconduct policies prohibit teacher-learner and supervisor-supervisee relationships.
“The university is going to extraordinary measures to put critical protections in place on top of earlier protections,” Fitzgerald wrote. “We continue to work with the nationally recognized consulting firm of Guidepost Solutions on additional measures.”
Guidepost Solutions, a consulting firm, was hired in Dec. 2020 to examine and improve the University’s culture around sexual misconduct after the independent law firm WilmerHale conducted its investigation into sexual assault allegations against former Provost Martin Philbert. Guidepost has also worked to develop a new “relationships in the workplace” policy, which Schlissel told the Board of Regents he supported.
Fitzgerald also confirmed that Schlissel will continue to receive tenure at the University.
“He has a tenured faculty position, as outlined in his employment contract, and nothing has changed about that,” Fitzgerald wrote.
Public Health lecturer Kirsten Herold — president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization (LEO) and president of galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAM) — discussed the impact of Schlissel’s termination on LEO and GLAM’s future plans, particularly regarding the bargaining of GLAM’s first contract, a process that began in early December, and the element of uncertainty the leadership change introduced to the process.
The University also announced that President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman would be serving as interim president until a permanent president is hired. Herold — who was employed during Coleman’s first term as president — said she was optimistic for her leadership despite past concerns.
“Mary Sue Coleman did not have a reputation of being particularly pro-labor when she was president, but that was seven years ago,” Herold said. “And I certainly believe we should give her a chance and we shouldn’t just automatically assume the worst.”
“I was here when Mary Sue Coleman was president for 12 years. She was not a particularly hands-on person with this kind of stuff,” Herold said. “If anything, (she was) less hands-on … I mean, Philbert didn’t get fired on her watch, right? And he was Dean on her watch. He was made Dean on her watch when allegations were made against him.”
One University Campaign, launched in 2018 under now-former University President Schlissel, lobbies for equitable funding between the U-M Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses so that each campus can successfully carry out its distinct mission. In May 2021, Schlissel faced backlash from a survey question suggesting that expanding the Go Blue Guarantee — a campaign that offers free tuition for in-state families with incomes under $65,000 — to Flint and Dearborn campuses would sacrifice academic excellence and lower salary growth at the U-M Ann Arbor campus. Following increased community activism, the Go Blue Guarantee was expanded to the Flint and Dearborn U-M campuses in June 2021.
In a statement released Jan. 16, One University Campaign said of Schlissel’s termination: “After watching our campuses suffer due to his neglect of our student bodies, our specific missions, and our staff and faculty colleagues, we greet this decision with relief and gratitude.”
LSA senior Logan Smith, a member of One University, said that he looks forward to the perspective of a new President. Particularly, he hopes for a leader that is more receptive to a more equitable budget model and more robust support for liberal education.
“Schlissel, he did a couple of good things: the fossil fuel divestment, there was some money sent to Flint and Dearborn (via) the expansion of the Go Blue Guarantee, but none of those things he did have his own accord,” Smith said. “He only did the fossil fuel divestment under a lot of pressure from climate activists, and pressure that lasted a long time. He only expanded the Go Blue Guarantee after a year-long push from the One University coalition of students, faculty, staff, labor organizations, community members, and even when he did that, it was in a limited fashion … So (he) shouldn’t get credit for any of that because he fought tooth and nail against all of that every step of the way.”
The University of Michigan’s chapter of College Democrats released a statement Saturday evening condemning the actions of former President Schlissel. LSA senior Julia Schettenhelm, communications director for the College Democrats at the University, wrote in an email to The Daily writing they are preparing to prioritize and work towards preparing for the midterm election.
“Along with our statement published on Saturday night, we as an organization would like to add that we are disappointed in former President Schlissel’s inappropriate behavior,” Schettenhelm wrote. “As we all work through this transitional process, we are prioritizing the needs of our College Dems community and the larger campus community. Going forward, under the leadership of Mary Sue Coleman, we will continue with our work preparing for the midterm elections and hope that the Regents find a qualified permanent replacement.”
Business sophomore Brendan Chaudoir said he was surprised by the conditions of Schlissel’s termination, though he thought there were grounds to fire Schlissel before the investigation into his relationship with the subordinate. Chaudoir also shared that he understands the difficulty Schlissel faced making decisions about COVID-19 that would be universally popular among communities on campus.
“He’s kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Chaudoir said. “So there’s not really a decision that will be popular, but a lot of times he kind of either waited until the last minute to decide on things or didn’t make them as transparent as I would have liked. So overall, it’s a tough job to do, but he still found a way to not do it very well.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the One University Campaign lobbies for the merger of the three U-M campuses. The campaign advocates for equitable funding so that each campus can successfully carry out its distinct mission.
Daily News Editor George Weykamp and Daily Staff Reporter Matthew Shanbom contributed to reporting.
Daily Staff Reporter Anna Fifelski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.