‘U’ was aware of three previous sexual misconduct allegations against faculty, Free Press report finds

Monday, February 24, 2020 - 3:47pm

University of Michigan administrators and faculty members were aware of numerous incidents of sexual misconduct, according to the Detroit Free Press.

University of Michigan administrators and faculty members were aware of numerous incidents of sexual misconduct, according to the Detroit Free Press. Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

University of Michigan administrators and faculty members were aware of numerous incidents of sexual misconduct, including in the cases of former Music, Theatre & Dance professor David Daniels and late University athletic doctor Robert Anderson, according to the Detroit Free Press. The report comes soon after University Provost Martin Philbert was placed on paid administrative leave on Jan. 22 due to allegations of sexual misconduct and found implicated in previous lawsuits surrounding these claims. 

According to the report, the University knew about previous sexual misconduct or workplace harassment allegations in the cases of Anderson, Daniels and Philbert. Daniels and Philbert remain on paid administrative leave as a result of ongoing investigations into these claims of sexual misconduct. 

The University launched a formal investigation into Anderson’s behavior in 2018 after a former athlete wrote a letter to Director of Athletics Warde Manuel alleging abuse. Anderson was accused of abuse and sexual misconduct by numerous student-athletes ranging from the 1960s to 1990s. The Washtenaw County prosecutor’s office declined to pursue criminal charges, citing the fact that Anderson died in 2008. 

Steven Hiller, chief assistant prosecutor at the county prosecutor’s office, told The Daily in a previous article the statute of limitations for sexual assault cases expired, making criminal prosecution impossible.

“There really was no viable avenue for any prosecution, in this case, because of the age (of the allegations) and because the suspect was deceased,” Hiller said. 

The University was also previously aware of sexual misconduct claims against Philbert during his career in the School of Public Health. A 2004 lawsuit filed by Thomas Komorowski, a former research associate of Philbert’s, claimed that Komorowski was wrongfully terminated from his position because Philbert had an inappropriate relationship with a female researcher. 

University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily that investigators are still uncovering the facts of the case. He said the complaint did not mention a sexual relationship between Philbert and the researcher. 

“Discovery in the case confirmed that the plaintiff was not claiming there was a sexual relationship and the settlement was not based on any evidence of such a relationship,” Fitzgerald wrote. 

According to court filings obtained by the Detroit Free Press, faculty members also voiced concerns about Daniels’s behavior as early as 2015 when initial discussions about hiring him as a Music, Theater and Dance professor took place. 

Daniels, a famed opera singer, became tenured in May 2018 and was accused of sexual assault by singer Samuel Schultz in August 2018. Previous Daily reporting revealed that reports of sexual misconduct by Daniels filed in March 2018, two months before he made tenure, were not mentioned in his tenure review. In July 2019, the University began to formally fire Daniels and the process is still ongoing. 

In light of these claims, the University formed a tenure bylaw working group to recommend changes to Regents bylaws 5.09 and 5.10, which deal with terminating the appointment of tenured faculty members accused of crimes. These changes are still being discussed among the group.

When asked about the University’s response to these recent allegations, LSA freshman Ceciel Zhong told The Daily that having Philbert on paid leave is still not the best way to handle the situation.

“It seems that they hired a third-party law firm to investigate, and that sounds somewhat promising to me,” Zhong said. “But it’s still very disappointing that Philbert is on paid leave. There should probably be a systemic change to how sexual assault cases are handled because he has so much power, but yet he used his power to do such things.”

Sources told the Detroit Free Press the University could have prevented these incidents and those who were previously aware of these allegations should be asked to step down from their positions. 

“Figure out who knew what and why they didn't act,” Mark Danbury, a University parent, said. “Fire them if they are still here and then make sure you pay for counseling and help for those people who were hurt.”

Fitzgerald said he did not have anything to add about the allegations but said University officials did not know of any sexual misconduct claims against Daniels before Schultz’s report. 

In University President Mark Schlissel’s statement on sexual assault at the Feb. 20 Board of Regents meeting, Schlissel encouraged students, alumni and faculty to come forward and address the situations at hand. He expressed the University’s commitment to protecting the community from abuse and harassment. 

“All members of our community, students, faculty and staff deserve to feel safe and supported,” Schlissel said. “We must remain vigilant in encouraging reporting and supporting those who come forward or who have been affected by sexual misconduct. These are actions we can all take to address the issue and make our community safer and better.”

News editor Liat Weinstein can be reached at weinsl@umich.edu and reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu