In Conversation: Schlissel talks sexual misconduct ruling, potential investment procedure changes

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 8:57pm

University President Mark Schlissel discusses the Office for Institutional Equity’s yearly sexual misconduct report during an interview with the Daily at the Flemming building Monday morning.

University President Mark Schlissel discusses the Office for Institutional Equity’s yearly sexual misconduct report during an interview with the Daily at the Flemming building Monday morning. Buy this photo
Matt Vailliencourt/Daily

University President Mark Schlissel sat down with The Daily Monday morning to talk about recent developments on sexual misconduct training and investigations at the University of Michigan, voting laws in Michigan, recommendations to change the current Regent investment protocols and more.

Sexual Misconduct Data and Sixth Circuit Court Ruling

The recent Sexual Misconduct Report from the Office for Institutional Equity, released in early September, shows an increase in reported cases of sexual misconduct, even while the number of case investigations dropped.

Schlissel said he interprets the number as a sign that the rate of reporting is increasing, and credited the #MeToo movement and broader societal change for increased willingness to report.

“In general, it’s actually a good thing that the number of incidents reported is going up,” Schlissel said. “The incidence of this conduct is intolerably high, but the frequency of reporting is far lower. So, it’s a good thing, and I think it’s a product of some of the educational campaigns we’re doing on campus but also heightened sensitivity and awareness of misconduct in the broader society.”

Schlissel said there are several reasons for the reduced number of investigations. He noted the University doesn’t have jurisdiction in cases that don’t involve students or faculty at the University — in which case a report is filed and the case is referred to the Ann Arbor Police Department — and said complainants sometimes choose not to pursue investigations into reported misconduct.

“We’re going to continue to try to get everyone who feels as if they’ve been treated inappropriately to step forward and ask for help,” Schlissel said. “And then we’ll work with them to figure out the best way forward with the goal of reducing this to as low a level as possible, if not zero.”

Schlissel also spoke about the recent ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stating, in cases of sexual misconduct, universities must give the accused student or an attorney an opportunity to cross-examine the accuser in a hearing. Court filings obtained by the Detroit Free Press show the University argued for a third party mediator, but the extent to which misconduct investigations will change remains unclear.  

“(The University) is no longer contesting whether the investigative model they have used to date is sufficient, and understand that they must provide students in Title IX cases with a live hearing including cross-examination,” the filing reads.  

Schlissel expressed his concern about the ruling and stated the University is working to accommodate complainants as well as possible.

“We are concerned that a procedure that requires a person who is bringing a complaint to confront the person who they think is responsible for an act of misconduct may really have a very difficult effect on people’s willingness to step forward and seek help and bring a complaint,” Schlissel said. “So, we’re looking for ways that will allow us to satisfy the requirements of the court ruling, to allow some kind of hearing, but to do it in a way that is as sensitive as possible to all of the parties who are involved in the complaint.”

Schlissel stated the University is approaching the court to ask for clarification and find out if other proposed cross-examination methods will legally fit with the ruling.

Investment Considerations

Last August, the University announced the University’s Board of Regents will consider moving investment decisions currently in the public board meetings to the investment offices after a recommendation from an independent review by accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. According to Schlissel, this is only a suggestion that the board will consider, not an actual action item that will be implemented.

These suggestions come after months of reporting, originally published in the Detroit Free Press, claiming the University has invested up to $4 billion of its $11 billion endowment into the global properties of the largest University donors including real estate developer Stephen Ross, investor Sandy Robertson and businessman Sam Zell. The Free Press also reported Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) accepted campaign funds from donors who receive investments from the University. Schlissel and University statements have denied these claims.

In an effort to clarify the role of the Investment Advisory Committee, Schlissel said the committee would use its financial background to help the University make better investment decisions in the future.

“They’re largely alums … who are leaders in all different sectors of the investment work,” Schlissel said. “We discuss what we think future trends are in different types of investments. We don’t discuss specific investments … These are volunteers and the expertise they bring to the table is just enormously valuable, so we need to model our future budget and to do that, we need good predictions of how much money the endowment is going to earn and this group helps us think about what reasonable expectations are. It’s remarkable service by volunteer alumni basically.”

Currently, the board hears and approves specific investments in the monthly meetings and suggests regents be removed from voting due to conflicts of interest. In the proposed revision to meeting agenda, the board would vote on broad investment decisions and allow private committees to act on these recommendations and make investments themselves.

Schlissel said this change, proposed by PricewaterhouseCoopers and not guaranteed to be enacted, would bring the University up to speed with common investment practices at other institutions.

“(PricewaterhouseCoopers said) other universities like us, the boards of regents or the boards of trustees don’t vote on individual investments,” Schlissel said. “The level of professional expertise that it takes to figure out whether a particular investment is a good one is really complicated. We hire professionals in our investment office to do that so that was a suggestion made by the PWC people and we’ll consider it … The PWC folks pointed out that we’re an outlier and they don’t know of other universities that vote on individual investments on the Board.”

In regard to the image of moving a public decision to a private committee, Schlissel claimed it wouldn’t affect the University’s openness on investment decisions.

“We currently provide a report every year on the University’s investments and that’s all public and that’s a normal practice,” Schlissel said. “It wouldn’t be a change in transparency because these things are already reported on an annual basis.”

Financial Aid Programs

According to the Office of Financial Aid, the University cost of attendance for in-state students is $30,298 and $64,386 for out-of-state students. When discussing other leading institutions like New York University’s medical school covering tuition for all of its students and Stanford University covering tuition for all students whose income is below $125,000, Schlissel focused on Michigan’s prominent aid program — the Go Blue Guarantee.

The Go Blue Guarantee covers tuition for in-state students whose income is below $65,000. Schlissel said this is a big accomplishment for a public university.

“We are, as far as I know, the first public university ever to make a guarantee of four years of free tuition and fees for half of the families in the state of Michigan,” Schlissel said.

Schlissel added universities like Stanford University or Harvard University that have the financial capacity to grant more aid is beneficial for their students. For the University of Michigan, on the other hand, he said the Go Blue Guarantee does good work.

“What Michigan has done (with the Go Blue Guarantee), to me, it’s the thing I’m proudest out of everything I’ve accomplished since I’ve been here,” Schlissel said.

For out-of-state-students, Schlissel said the University meets the federally-calculated financial need, based on the FAFSA. He said the University would like to help more students attend but will prioritize in-state families with programs like the Go Blue Guarantee.

“I would love to be able to do corresponding things for other populations of people, but our first responsibility as a Michigan public university is to the members of our community here in the state,” Schlissel said.

Schlissel said other public universities are following the University’s example and expanding financial aid budgets and programs to make college more affordable.

“Ohio has copied us, Illinois is copying us, and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Schlissel said.

Michigan Voting Laws

The University of Michigan and Michigan State University’s chapters of College Democrats recently filed a lawsuit against the Michigan Secretary of State over what they see as unnecessarily restrictive state voting laws, bringing renewed attention on campus to voting accessibility.

Schlissel was instrumental in starting the Big Ten Voting Challenge, an initiative aimed at increasing voter registration and turnout at Big Ten schools. After hearing the idea, originally proposed for just the University of Michigan, Schlissel wrote the other 13 Big Ten university presidents and proposed a contest for the greatest increase in the percentage of registered voters and the biggest campus turnout. The others responded positively and began the initiative.

Schlissel expects campus turnout to be much higher than in previous elections and lauded the recent public focus on voting at the University.

“Anything that makes it more difficult to exercise the right to vote — I think you have to be enormously careful about,” Schlissel said. “And what we’re trying to do is encourage all Michigan students to get registered, whether it’s here in the state or their home state — and to vote. … I’m really optimistic that the turnout is going to be much greater than it has been in recent elections because of all the focus on this. It’s much better to participate in the process than to complain about elections.”

Schlissel also addressed the possibility of not holding classes on Election Day, as mentioned by CSG President Daniel Greene at the board meeting last week. In the short term, the administration has asked faculty to be mindful of the date and try not to schedule exams or events on that date.

Schlissel has also discussed canceling classes on Election Day and making up the lost class time by shortening Fall Break by one day, an idea that has seen a mixed reception among students.

Detroit and the University

Last week the University announced a partnership with Harvard University and the city of Detroit to create programs to combat the opioid crisis, improve economic mobility and provide educational opportunities at Marygrove College in Detroit for students and teachers. The University also recently acquired the remainder of the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building in Midtown.

With these recent announcements, Schlissel said the University plans for a higher profile involvement in Detroit.

“I’m trying to find ways for all the different research and teaching programs that touch Detroit to synergize with one another, to know about each other, and to take advantage of one another’s expertise and contacts,” Schlissel said.

In navigating the communities within Detroit, Schlissel said it’s important to have partners in the community and to communicate with them.

“The worst thing in the whole world is to come in, do a research program, and leave,” Schlissel said. “There you’re really taking advantage of people. What the best research and teaching does is it identifies great partners in the community, works together to define what the important problems are that need to be studied or addressed and then collaborates on their solution.”

Schlissel added the thought process behind collaborating with Harvard for the new program in Detroit was to utilize their data science and economists and pair them with Michigan’s expertise of the city itself. 

Future Plans

In announcements and focuses for this semester, Schlissel said he would save large announcements for his leadership conference coming up in a few weeks. However, he did mention the University will be looking at sustainability and involving the arts in other areas of campus.

The focus on environmental sustainability comes after members of the University of Michigan Climate Action Movement spoke during public comment at last week’s board meeting. Members stressed the University’s place as a leading figure in reducing carbon emissions. The group pushed the University to go carbon neutral by 2035 and carbon negative by 2040.