After the University of Michigan Board of Regents fired now-former University President Mark Schlissel for an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate Saturday, the board announced President Emerita Mary Sue Coleman would serve as interim president while the board searches for a permanent replacement.
Coleman wrote in an email to the campus community Sunday that while she was saddened by the unfortunate circumstances bringing her back into the president position, she hopes to use her experience to make a positive impact on campus.
“I have spent my entire academic career at or advancing public research institutions and their teaching function,” Coleman wrote. “My deep and profound belief in the students, faculty, staff and alumni of this institution’s three campuses gives me great confidence that we will come together during this period to advance the values and the excellence that define the University of Michigan.”
Coleman was the first female University President and served from 2002 until her retirement in 2014, making her the fourth-longest serving president in University history. In March 2021, the Mary Sue Coleman Hall in the U-M Life Sciences Institute was named in her honor, the first academic building on campus to be named after a woman.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, University spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald wrote that Coleman committed to serving as interim president until the Board selects a successor. Fitzgerald also noted that she did not yet have a finalized contract, but that it would be shared once Coleman signs one.
Fitzgerald noted that Schlissel’s firing and Coleman’s appointment would both be legally affirmed at the Feb. 17 Board of Regents meeting.
“The Board of Regents voted by email on Jan. 15 to remove Mark Schlissel as president and also to appoint Mary Sue Coleman as interim president,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Both actions will be affirmed at the Feb. 17 meeting.”
Coleman received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Grinnell College before moving on to pursue a doctorate in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She then worked as the director of a cancer research center at the University of Kentucky for 20 years before serving as President of the University of Iowa. Coleman also served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the University of New Mexico.
During her tenure as president of the University of Michigan, Coleman oversaw the digitization of the University’s seven-million-volume library through a partnership with Google. She also opened the University’s Detroit Center and championed the University’s affirmative action policies before the Supreme Court, even after the 2006 affirmative action ban in Michigan.
Coleman also helped spearhead The Michigan Difference, a capital campaign that raised over $3.2 billion. The campaign helped finance the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and Weill Hall at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
However, Coleman’s term was not without controversy. After allegations of sexual misconduct against former provost Martin Philbert surfaced in 2020, a WilmerHale report released in July alleged that Coleman may have been aware of Philbert’s misconduct as early as 2010.
According to the report, Coleman said she did not remember receiving any information regarding allegations against Philbert, but the report said Coleman acknowledged that her reaction to the report might have been different compared to today.
“She (Coleman) also acknowledged that she— and perhaps others who may have received this information regarding Philbert—likely would not have given it the same weight in 2010 as she would today,” the report reads.
Daily News Editor George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org