Board of Regents hires consulting firm to oversee sexual misconduct overhaul after Philbert report

Thursday, December 3, 2020 - 8:22pm

The University of Michigan Board of Regents met virtually Thursday afternoon to approve the hiring of Guidepost Solutions, who will help the University enact WilmerHale's suggestions.

The University of Michigan Board of Regents met virtually Thursday afternoon to approve the hiring of Guidepost Solutions, who will help the University enact WilmerHale's suggestions. Buy this photo
Courtesy of Calder Lewis

The University of Michigan Board of Regents gathered virtually Thursday afternoon to announce the hiring of Guidepost Solutions — a New York-based consulting firm — to help implement recommendations from WilmerHale’s report on former Provost Martin Philbert’s sexual misconduct. The regents also said goodbye to outgoing administrators and approved a new president for the University of Michigan Health System. 

Philbert sexually harassed women for nearly two decades at the University, the report found, while climbing the ranks from professor to Provost even though top administrators knew of sexual misconduct allegations against him. WilmerHale’s recommendations include ensuring sexual misconduct reports reach the Office of Institutional Equity, basing OIE’s findings on full investigations and improving scrutiny of wrongdoing in the hiring process.

In an August letter to the campus community in the wake of the report on Philbert, University President Mark Schlissel wrote that the University had “fallen far short” of creating a culture that rejects misconduct and protects against retaliation for reporting. 

“What kept coming through to me was how many people were badly hurt by Philbert’s behavior, but also how afraid they were about coming forward,” Schlissel wrote.

On Thursday, he said the Board of Regents selected Guidepost because of its experience consulting in higher education and on sexual misconduct issues. 

“The firm will help us ensure that we implement the recommendations as quickly and effectively as possible while leveraging the considerable work that U-M has done to this point,” Schlissel said. 

Regent Denise Ilitch (D) also acknowledged the University’s failure in protecting its students and employees. She said hiring Guidepost will help to provide the necessary guidance to rebuild trust in the University.

“This step is not announced with any expectations, but a recognition that full transparency about the steps we are taking is necessary as we begin this journey,” Ilitch said.

Both Ilitch and Schlissel emphasized that the process will incorporate survivors who wish to work with the University in reforming the structures that facilitated Philbert’s misconduct.

The meeting was the last of Regents Mark Bernstein (D) and Shauna Ryder Diggs’s (D) eight-year terms. Bernstein was reelected last month, while Republican Sarah Hubbard will replace Ryder Diggs on January 1. 

Other regents praised Diggs’s tenure on the board. Ilitch fought back tears as she proposed a resolution granting Regent Diggs emeritus status, an honor the University bestows for a career of distinguished service.

“Shauna has an unbelievable commitment to the University and has been a tireless advocate for those in need,” Ilitch said. “She’s highly accomplished. She’s a devoted wife and mother. She’s an outstanding physician. She’s got a sense of fun like no other.”

Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president of government relations, also retired after 25 years at the University. Wilbanks gave a brief statement, and several regents honored her with statements of their own. 

Regent Paul Brown (D) quipped that while Schlissel technically runs the University, “Cynthia’s in charge.”

Brown then read a resolution granting Wilbanks emeritus status.

“Her relationships, local and at the state and national level, together with her unmatched knowledge and quick wit, made her an icon of the University and beloved by all who’ve had the good fortune to work with her,” the resolution read.

Dr. Marschall Runge, executive vice president for medical affairs, announced the appointment of Dr. David Miller as the president of the University of Michigan Health System. Miller replaces outgoing president Dr. David Spahlinger, who will return to practicing medicine.

Central Student Government president Amanda Kaplan, a Public Policy senior, presented her end-of-semester report. She highlighted successful CSG initiatives such as exercise class and grocery subsidies and the Pass/No Record Covid grading system instituted for the entire 2020-21 academic year.

Kaplan called on the University to work with the city of Ann Arbor to find shelter for homeless people as COVID-19 surges and the weather gets colder. City Council and CSG have both passed resolutions asking the University to engage on the issue. 

“Creative solutions have been suggested, including converting unused winter dormitories into emergency shelter housing,” Kaplan said. “But at the very least, we owe our community partners a conversation.”

As part of its winter semester plans, the University announced a universal right to work remotely for all instructors. This came after activism from the Graduate Employees’ Organization throughout the fall to implement the measure for graduate student instructors, among other demands.

Rackham student Marshall Case, president of Rackham Student Government, called on the University to provide more transparency and contact tracing of potential COVID-19 exposure. He said students who feel uncomfortable with safety measures in their workplace should not fear retaliation from their advisors or professors should they opt out of in-person activities. 

Case also suggested the University compensate students on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committees and provide parking stipends for immunocompromised students unable to take public transportation.

Public commenters included members of One University, as well as Jaz Brennan, an alum who asked the University to provide support for individuals experiencing homelessness within the Washtenaw County community. 

Schlissel congratulated LSA senior Amytess Girgis on being named a Rhodes Scholar last week, the 29th student awarded this honor in the University’s history. Girgis has been a continued presence at Regent meetings in recent years, often giving public comment for equitable funding for the Flint and Dearborn campuses on behalf of One University.

One University’s Twitter account pointed out much of Girgis’s activism has been against Schlissel’s administration, saying in a tweet, “Perhaps he deserves credit for her win - her resume wouldn’t be as strong without him!”

The board also voted on contracts with conflicts of interest, a requirement under state law whenever a public employee will benefit from a government contract. Among the approved contracts was a one-year, $9 million contract with LynxDx Labs — owned by two University professors — to continue supplying COVID-19 saliva tests. This contract will enable the University to mandate weekly testing for all students who use on-campus resources in the Winter 2021 semester.

Daily Staff Reporters Dominic Coletti and Calder Lewis can be reached at dcoletti@umich.edu and calderll@umich.edu

 

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